As an artist and art educator, I highly recommend keeping an art journal to record your daily thoughts and ideas. Art journaling can aid in creative expression, and I have found it helps me chronicle my thoughts and feelings, and it also helps me when I am collecting ideas for a bigger project like a painting, sculpture, or series of prints.
Gina Bronzini Ahrens’ Painted Faces course may offer you some exciting and inspiring prompts for you art journal, and the following recommendations will help you get started with the process of keeping your own art journal.
Before beginning, it’s critical that you find a journal that fits your needs. As someone who has kept a sketchbook for nearly twenty years, it took me a long time to find a book that contained paper that I like. Some people choose spiral-bound notebooks, while others choose to keep loose sheets of paper in a small box. I take large sheets of 11” x 17” paper and crease them down the center, securing them with a piece of baker’s twine down the seam. This enables me to take pieces out, photocopy them, move them around, or cut them up. Be patient with your choice, sometimes it takes time to find the right size and paper for your unique style.
Assemble your drawing kit and include paper, pens, markers, pencils, and paints of your choosing. I tend to keep a small pencil pouch with me that can hold a number of drawing materials that I like. Hand held watercolor kits come in a number of very small sizes, making them easy to cart around in a purse or backpack.
Here are ten great ideas to help get those creative juices flowing:
1. Take a Walk Outside
On the weekend, my husband and I often take at least one long hike. On our hike I pay close attention to what is around me and what I see. Sometimes I see a unique bird or an interesting tree, and when I return home in the afternoon, I sit and record in my journal, the things I remember. Memory drawing can be interesting and revealing, and I recommend taking the time to sit and recall the things you saw on your walk. Did you see an interesting car? Did you overhear a funny conversation? What was the weather like outside? Put all these things together in a single page or a double page spread to record your day.
2. Draw a Grid
The artist Gary Panter recommends drawing a grid and filling it with everything you can think of from whatever is in front of you to elements of last night’s dreams. As an art journal prompt, I recommend filling each square with one object or idea that you came across during your day. If you’re interested in expanding your toolkit, try Anne Edwards’ Pen & Ink Drawing for Beginners. Pen and ink can offer a stunning graphic element to your art journaling repertoire, and is a portable medium that can travel easily.
3. Expand the Grid
Take a single element from the above exercise and expand it. Start a new page (perhaps next to the previous grid exercise) and draw or paint a larger version of one of the images inside the grid again, but using a different perspective. Draw the object’s surroundings. What color is it? What does the surface of the object look like? If you drew the original using pen and ink, switch to a different medium like watercolor or collage. If you drew the original image in photorealistic pencil, draw the expanded image with a thick black outline or use markers to create a bright and vivid image.
4. Alphabet Soup
Sometimes I can’t think of anything to draw or paint in my journal, so I resort to handwriting. Pick up your favorite writing implement and draw the alphabet so that it fills and entire page. Choose a single letter, or your initials, and draw them on the facing page in ten different font styles. Practice your cursive. Write your letters with your opposing hand. Embellish these letterforms with decorative elements, or design your own font. Attempt to create a unique alphabet using at least three different tools.
5. Make a Word List
Sit quietly with a piece of blank scrap paper and a pencil. Write down 100 different words in a list. Include feelings, objects, ideas, adverbs, and verbs. Include the things that surround you, and think about how you’re feeling as you write these words down. Write down these feeling words too. Once you’ve completed the list, choose a word (I usually pick a random number that corresponds with one on my list) and write it at the top of a blank page in your art journal. Create a page that describes the word you chose using images.
6. Random Lines
Grab a book from your bookshelf, or any piece of literature near you that has writing on it (junk mail is great too). Open the book and close your eyes. Point your finger to a random place on the page and write down the sentence that appears under your finger. Create a page dedicated to this sentence with the help of Evan Peelle’s Drawing with Confidence course.
7. Magazine Tears
Most libraries have a free section with discarded magazines. I check my library out weekly for these freebies and have found some excellent copies of National Geographic and Time among others. If you have magazines at your house, grab one and find an image inside that resonates with you. Tear out the image and glue it to the left side of a blank page spread in your journal. On the facing page, draw what happens next in the image. Your style doesn’t have to match that of the magazine image. In fact, I think it’s more interesting to choose a medium that works to enhance or create tension with the opposing image. If you chose a photograph, for example, try drawing with dark black outlines. If you chose an illustrated image, try a detailed colored pencil rendering beside it.
8. Design a Character
Find a photograph of a person or animal and head to Ben Colefax’s Beginners Guide to Drawing Cute Cartoon Characters. Ben will help you develop some great basic techniques to create dynamic characters that you can easily add to your art journal to create interest within the pages. As a quick warm up, take the image you chose and paste it down to the left side of a two-page spread, and grab a black marker or pen and ink. Draw the image as a cartoon. Does the person or animal have large eyes or small eyes? Is the person or animal fat or thin? Take each facial feature and exaggerate it to come up with a humorous and interesting approach to drawing cartoon characters.
Gather a few crayons of any color, a jar of black India ink, a craft knife, and a paintbrush. Cover a page in your art journal with a thick layer of crayon, making sure to apply the crayon evenly. Next, lay down a layer of black ink, and make sure the ink isn’t watered down as you want the layer to be thick to conceal the crayon layer entirely. Once your ink layer has dried (you can use a hairdryer on a low setting to expedite this process) take your craft knife and begin to “draw” with it by scratching into the ink layer. If you need to “erase” a line, cover it with a splash of ink and keep drawing. This is a great way to honor mistakes and see the beauty in every mark you create.
10. Out the Window
Using a window as a frame, sit in a single spot and paint, draw, or collage everything you see out your window. What is the weather like? Is it morning or evening? What does the light look like? Are there people passing by? Can you see the sky? Is it cloudy? If you live in a basement apartment, what kind of shoes do you see walking by your window?
Finally, it’s important to remember that an art journal is an excellent tool to help you unwind after a difficult day or to record your innermost thought and feelings. Keeping an art journal is a practice I highly recommend, and if you’d like more information about getting started creating art, try Karen Anderson’s Creating Art Basics. An art journal can help you express yourself using words and pictures, and is a great way to record you daily musings and thoughts.