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How I started my art journals

by aisling d'art ©2001 - 2006

Late in 2001, my friend Erin asked me how I work on art/journals. The following notes are edited from my reply to her:

Generally, I have a couple of journals going. From 1999 - 2001, when I was approaching my divorce, I kept an angry one that no one will ever see. It's unattractive, but it kept me from venting too inappropriately sometimes. Pain and rage were scribbled on its pages. I was processing a lot of anguish.

If I see a time in my life that is unique or compartmentalized--a journey, or time alone, or a very intense teaching schedule or something like that--I'll create a journal just for that theme alone.

Then there's my everyday journal. It's at hand for my random thoughts, sketches, bits of paper & receipts, and collages. Sometimes it has a theme, but usually it's just my everyday journal. The theme may seem obvious later.

The journal structure

Generally, I start with standard sketchbooks. You know, the ring-binder kind that they sell at Michael's, and other art supply shops. I like the 5" x 8" size. (For the following illustrations, I'm using my "Hogwarts" journal from late in 2001.)

If I'm going to use paint on the cover, or heavy embellishments--and I generally do--I gesso & paint and then collage the cover. (Gesso keeps the paint from seeping into the paper.) I use whatever gesso is cheap & available in bulk.

(To learn about using gesso in your journals, see my article, Gesso - what it is, how to use it.)

This is the cover of my "Hogwarts" journal:

hogwarts journal cover
click to see larger (16k)

(full size is 5"x8")

Recently, I added a hemp/string & button closure to this journal, because the pages are too irregular for it to stay closed. I lace the string through two mini-grommets I've mounted in the back cover, and I wrap the hemp/string around the antique button loosely sewn on the front. (It's secured with a smaller antique button on the inside of the front cover.)

Next, I start the title page... emphasis on start, because I won't complete it until the journal is full. The title page will evolve as the journal does.

What goes into my journals

Usually, I alternately write and make art in my journal. (I like the phrase "make art" because it sounds like "make love," and it's an equally passionate expression.)

I deliberately gesso ahead a few pages when I'm doing art, to make certain I keep punctuating my journal with art.

Here's another early page from this journal, with a magazine line "You are not alone":

hogwarts journal page, alone
click to see larger (39k)

(full size is 5"x8")

This entry was from the time when I deliberately dropped my boundaries and started leaving my house and meeting people. It was a little scary. It was more than a little difficult for me.

As I began to spend time with friends--many of them married or in relationships--I had to face what was missing in my own life.

This is the text from the page that's shown, above:


The tissue paper--like most of my images--was applied with Golden Gel Medium (soft, gloss). This leaves the tissue transparent enough to read the text through, while giving it the sense of layers that I value in my art.

Generally, my elements are antique paper (from flea markets), magazine images & text (W magazine and Nat'l Geographic), art & text that I create on the computer, and acrylic paint, glitter, and sometimes gold leaf. Surface embellishments include found feathers & other items, antique buttons, freshwater pearls, and... whatever else finds its way into my art supplies!

And yes, the pages do buckle and bubble beneath the gesso, paint, gel medium, and layers. That's why I use a string-and-button closure. And no, I don't mind that it's such an irregular and funky design. I'm very process oriented, and if the pages buckle and warp... so be it.

Those are the basics of how I started my art journals. I added more kinds of embellishments, and refined my technique a little as I created more torn paper collage journals.

This summarizes my approach, and--with no additional information--you can probably do the same thing with your journals. Or, you can read more of my how-to pages at this website, and skip some trial-and-error steps that I went through.

Have fun with this process. Don't take it too seriously.

If/when you make a mistake, one of my favorite quotes is from the BBC show, Changing Rooms. In the 100th episode, Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen said, "It's not a problem; it's an opportunity for excellence!"

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