Some Art Journal Basics

I’ve really been enjoying the time I’ve been spending creating entries in my Art Journal.  I’ve had a few people ask a question or two about the process, so I thought I would share some of my thoughts and my process for creating one.

The Rule of Four

This is my current Art Journal.  It is my second one and I got it when I went to a workshop at Kentucky Girl Designs studio.  The instructor, Virginia Simpson-Magruder, told us she picks up old hardbound books at garage sales, flea markets and thrift shops.  I’m filling this one up this month because I’m doing 30 Days of Creativity and most days I’m doing a two-page spread in here. 

The book is a little more than 6 inches wide and 9.5 inches tall.  It is about 1.50 inches thick (and growing) but I’m not certain of the starting measurement because I’ve already ripped out some pages and added other materials into it.

My first Art Journal was this beautiful old book I found in a vintage shop.  It has a great cover but in retrospect, it hasn’t been the best book to use as a base for an Art Journal. The binding is weak and the paper is very fragile, old and crumbly.

Wild Life

But how could I resist this cover?

Before I say anything else about what makes a good Art Journal, I think the most important thing to remember is it is YOUR project and you can do it any way you want.  Here is a great site, The All-New Adventures of Corey Marie, where Corey Marie writes about the Do’s and Don’t’s of Art Journals.

I want to point out that the two I mentioned above are Art Journals created in Altered Books: a book that has been repurposed from its original purpose and altered in some way.  It may still be used in some kind of book form but the original text and/or pictures have been enhanced or most often covered up so it is no longer readable. 

You can create an Art Journal using an altered book (the act of creating your Art Journal will make it an altered book), or craft one in a blank sketchbook or notebook. The following stack of books includes, from the bottom, my Image Journal – made mostly from images torn from magazines and pasted into a large, blank sketch book. 

Journals & Altered Books

The next three are hardbound books I found on sale at a used book store in Half Moon Bay.  Since I started this post, I’ve added to my collection.  I found several at my local library book sale.  The prices ranged from $4 down to $1.

My Art Journal is in an altered book, so I’ll be writing about that.  You want a sturdy, hardcover book. Look for one that has a stitched binding instead of glued binding.  Not that you can’t create one with a glued binding but with the various wet mediums used in the books creation and evolution, the stitched binding is a better bet for keeping the book in one piece.

In the photo you can see a spiral bound book that was created by an unknown artist using a vintage cookbook.  I got it as a gift from my friend, Lisa, and I use it to practise writing out different fonts.  Because I like to do two pages at a time in 2-page spreads, I prefer something without that coil in the middle, so I probably won’t use a spiral bound book for my own Art Journaling, but it might be perfect for you.

Different books lend themselves to different projects.  Some people like to keep a journal on hand all the time.  In that case, they might prefer something on the small side that will be easy to bring along.  I saw a friend’s project where she had taken a childs board book in a clever folded style, and made the whole book into a beautiful card for her daughter’s 21st birthday.

For most altered books, you will need to slim it down by tearing about  about a third of the pages.  You will be adding things to the book and taking pages out means you’ll have room for the stuff you put back in.  In the case of a short kids book, especially a board book, you probably would not need to do this step. 

When you start on a spread, you should glue three pages together to provide a sturdy canvas for your creation.  I use a Uhu glue stick and I like the one that starts out purple and dries clear.  It’s just easier to see where you’ve put glue.   However, I don’t glue all the page spreads together ahead of time because you might want to make a pocket or a niche or something that will need a different arrangment of pages.

Open Book

The next thing is gathering material to fill your pages.  There are countless sheets of beautiful printed papers sold for scrapbooking and other crafts sold in art stores, paper stores, scrapbooking stores, and craft shops, both online and in brick and mortar stores.  But there are also other places to find paper to use for your project.

Here are some I gathered in my apartment: Calendar pages, pages from old books, the lining of envelopes, maps, sheet music, paint chips, stamps, flyers, labels from packages, tags, greetings cards and postcards. 


Magazines are loaded with images.  Once you (and your family) are finished reading a magazine, go back through it and pull out pages with images that catch your eye.  I ask friends and family for magazines they’re discarding and I pull out images I find interesting or striking.  For me this is relaxing and easy to do – some people tell me they thumb through magazines while watching TV (maybe only during ads?). I do it sitting up in bed.

I especially look for pictures in these areas: People, Places (both interior and exterior), Words – text that catches my eye, and Things.

Magazines and Pages

Next I sort the images into categories.  Once you’ve grabbed a bunch of pages out that YOU find interesting, you’ll probably start to see some similarities.  Put like things together and name the category. 

I find it much easier to have my images sorted so when I’m looking for just the right picture, I can go to one type of picture instead of looking through all of them.


Sometimes I make a category and then subdivide it later. And the reverse is also true; sometimes I come up with a title and then stick other things in there because I don’t know where else to put them.

Saturated Color

My organizational method is to stack these images by catagory between labeled pieces of cardstock and then I keep the whole stack in a plastic case.

Plastic Image Case

My sister has her collection divided into old manila file folders with the sides taped shut.

File Folders

These steps should get you started on creating your own Art Journal.  There is more about other supplies and tools I use but I’ll save them for another post.

If you do have or start one, I would love to share pictures in my Readers’ Gallery.  Take a look at the tab at the top of the page – I’ve just added pictures of my sister Kathleen’s Art Journal.  More to come!

Thanks for the visit.


Filed under 30DOC, Crafts

6 responses to “Some Art Journal Basics

  1. thanks for letting me know how to! 🙂

  2. I’ve been collecting images…scraps of this and that that catches my eye…I think my family thinks I’ve lost it…when I cut something off a wrapper…but, I just say…It’s for my book…

  3. Pingback: An Art Journaling Afternoon | dianne faw

  4. Pingback: Art Journaling and Old Books | Pearltrees

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