Journal spotlight: Art journal

I’m going to start simply by saying that an art journal can be anything you want it to be, really.

In its most simple sense, an art journal is any kind of journal where you express yourself visually. Often art journals are mixed media – that is, a combination of elements such as collage, acrylic or watercolour paint, gouache, pencil, crayon, stamps, inks, etc.

I’ve spent the past two years trying to figure out exactly what an art journal is, at least for me. I’ve seen the beautiful works of people like Tamara Laport, the simple but touching pieces by Nicole Rae, the messy and inspiring sketchbooks of Lisa Sonora, and the gorgeous and striking works by people like Alena Hennessy and Hali Karla.

I’ve worked in sketchbooks, gluebooks, journals, binders, altered books… I’ve collaged, stamped, painted, drawn, written, sprayed, taped, watercoloured, lettered… and still I have struggled to define exactly what art journaling is.

I’ve struggled to find my own style and really claim my own art journaling approach.

Then, a dear friend of mine pointed out that I do have my own style – I just wasn’t acknowledging it.

You see, I had always thought that art journaling was not the same thing as visual journaling. In fact, here is an awesome video that discusses this point quite nicely.

So while I’ve been journaling visually for some time – in a similar sketchbook style to Lisa Sonora (if I may be so bold as to suggest that), I haven’t felt as though I have been art journaling, really, at all. Sure I was incorporating art techniques into my visual journaling, but it certainly wasn’t art.

Perhaps it’s the word ‘art’ in the name art journal – I mean, no pressure, right?!

I much prefer the term visual journal, or creative journal.

For a while, I saw an ‘art journal’ as more focused on particular techniques and creating a specific, visually pleasing outcome, and the term ‘visual journal’ as more about the process and self expression. Now… I’m not so sure.

When I saw Lisa Sonora had blown up images from her sketchbooks to put up onto the walls of her studio, a little thought crept into my head: maybe, just maybe, this could also be art? She says,

They’re not art…but they are artifacts of a creative journey. It’s like meditation, but with art supplies.

I don’t know. Seeing them up on the wall like that, they sure look like art to me. Surely they can be both?

As for my own messy journals – I may not have found a style that looks anything like the work of Tamara, or Alena, but I’ve got my own visual approach. Who’s to say it’s not art, in some form? And it will continue to evolve over time, as I do. I figure as long as I’m expressing myself visually, well, that’s all that matters.

My advice to anyone who wants to start an art journal: grab some art supplies you like (acrylic paint is a good one, as are stamps) and play. That’s it. I was going to give some lengthy list of instructions but really, you don’t need them and they would only serve to confuse or intimidate someone starting out. Find an artist you love and copy their style for a bit, then copy the work of someone else. Do this many times over and you will start to find your own style. Give yourself permission, try to get past the fear of creating, and practice being imperfect. You don’t have to show anyone, or you can join 15 Facebook groups and show the world. There is no right or wrong way.

Do you keep an art journal? How do you define art journal? Do you see art journaling and visual journaling as different things? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments.


9 thoughts on “Journal spotlight: Art journal”

  1. Hey Jen I just wanted to thank you for the awesome ‘Blog and Business Planner’ as part of your sign up offerings. I was feeling a bit like a deer in the headlights with all the possibilities of post ideas and your planner has made it so much easier to organise my ideas into a cohesive and sensible order! I love the creativity you have brought to what can be a bit of a daunting task!

    PS Your 5 Day Intuitive Challenge looks like a fantastic way of connecting to our inner guidance – I can’t wait to see what creativity might reside within just waiting to be unleashed 🙂


    1. Hi Jen, thanks so much for your kind words and you are most welcome. I’m so glad to see it being used and to hear that it is helpful 🙂 I hope you have signed up for the challenge and will join us for the 5 days!


  2. I started an art journal several years ago but never finished it. It included art collages, poems, and some painting and construction pap[er cutouts. I am trying to put together a program for the library where I work where we create simple art journals within an hour. Do you have any advice for that?


    1. Hi Jenny – it really depends on what the intention is with the journaling. Is it to learn new techniques and create an interesting/nice looking page, or is it to get people working through emotions on the page, visually? I feel like the intention will help with how to create a program because you might take different approaches for each. Do you know what the intention is?


    1. How interesting Brian – I would imagine art journaling having less writing and visual journaling having more! I guess it just goes to show that we all have our own ways of defining these different approaches – perhaps there is no one ‘correct’ definition.


  3. I agree with the whole thing! I’ve been art “journaling” for almost 2 years . . . some pages appeal to me, but when I try to copy them, I don’t feel the same appeal. So I’m still trying to discover my style. While I do that I am LEARNING a lot of techniques, about supplies and so much more. A WIN-WIN I’d say! Thanks for your insight!


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