FAQ's About My Art Journals & Altered Books

How long have you been art journaling? 

I think I've lost track....ha! But a good long while now. I was first introduced to the concept of altering a book when my daughter brought home her 8th grade art project.  She was transforming an old book by tearing it up, putting it back together, slapping paint into it, and collaging pictures into it.  It was one of those lightening bolt moments.  I was obsessed! My husband found an old children's book for me at a junk store and gave it to me to play in.  I haven't looked back since. 

What is the purpose of art journaling?

My journals are the most important body of work to me.  Besides my beloved dogs, they are the thing I would grab if my house was on fire. It is the safe place I can go to play, explore, and work things out. My books are about the process, not the outcome and they are for no one but me.  They don't need to be pretty and they don't need to make sense. I can choose to share my pages with the world, or not. Sometimes the work is very deep and emotional.  Sometimes I'm simply trying out some new art supplies to see what they can do.  Often, I can turn to a page and tell you exactly what that day was all about....and other times, I don't remember how the pages happened.  They just do.  And I feel that sums up a journal......and life.....precisely. It's monumental in one moment, and forgetful in another moment. They are noble and humble. Ugly and beautiful. Common and priceless.   

Do you have a favorite kind of journal? 

I should probably film a video on this topic someday.  Ha!  I love all kinds of journals for all kinds of reasons.  I love a fresh, crisp, store bought sketchbook and I love a battered, scruffy old book. I love giant books and I love tiny books.  They all offer different opportunities to me creatively.  

When it's a store bought journal, I really appreciate a paper that can hold up to the many layers I lay down.  Watercolor or mixed media paper are my favorite kinds of paper to work on.  I do have some inexpensive sketchbooks that I reserve for dry mediums (pencil and felt tip pens) while TV watching. When it comes to choosing old books to alter, I just know what I like when I find it. It has a certain "feel" to it.  It must lie flat.  I despise fighting with a book that won't submit to my will.  The older the book, the better.  What's fun about altering books is you can choose to let some of the imagery inspire your spread, or you can cover it completely.  I love the "history" an old book brings to the party.

Do you prep your journal pages?

Sometimes. But I don't have a hard fast rule about this. I usually just jump in.  I often have journals nearby when I'm doing other work. If I have extra paint at the end of a session, I'll slap it down on a blank page because I can't stand to waste paint.  When I get around to working on that page someday, I've got a jumping off point. 

My altered books (usually old books) do require a little more prep, depending on the state of the book.  I will sometimes go through and "purge" a few pages from the spine of the book, to ease some of the "chonkiness" that happens when you load a book up with layers. Depending on the weight of the pages, I will also often glue some pages together with gel medium, as I really love a sturdy, thick page to work on. Sometimes I gesso these pages, sometimes I don't.  Lately, I'm really into skipping the gesso and working straight onto the book page, allowing some it to peek through the layers.

Do you work in several journals at a time?

Yes!  I always have a few books going at the same time, so it can take many months for me to fill one cover to cover. I tend to work front to back in each book.  I don't really skip around with the order in which I  complete one, and I usually save the front and back covers for last. 

Do I need lots of supplies to start art journaling?

Art supplies are fun!!  I TOTALLY GET IT!  And I admit, I'm as giddy as the next gal about a new art supply to try!  But the truth is, no, you don't need lots of supplies to get started.  Gather up what you already have and start.  

What are your favorite art supplies for journaling? 

Acrylic paint - I use all brands and all viscosities.  And I mix them.  I use cheap craft paints, and I use expensive fluid acrylics, and everything in between.  I enjoy acrylic inks as well.

Gesso - My favorite brand is Liquitex, but there are many on the market to try.  I always have regular white gesso and clear gesso on hand. I also love their "super heavy" gesso when I want some added texture. 

Gel Medium - I love the Liquitex brand for this too.  I keep a regular matte gel and a heavy matte gel on hand.  I also use a lot of  matte Mod Podge. I use all of these for gluing down collage elements, and strengthening pages by gluing them together.

Pencils - My all time favorite pencil is the Stabilo All graphite pencil.  It's water soluble, so you can get wonderful effects by wetting it with water or varnish. For colored pencils, I love Prismacolor. But! I enjoy experimenting with all kinds of pencils, and have achieved some beautiful scribbles with some cheaper "off brand" pencils. 

Paint Pens - Uni Posca paint pens are hands down, my "go-to" acrylic paint pen.  They come in a large range of colors and nib sizes.  They are consistent and reliable, and never let me down. There are now even some fun metallic and glitter options, which I love, especially on colored paper.

Water Soluble Crayons - Caran d'Ache Neocolor 2 Crayons.  These are a soft (but not too soft) buttery crayon that you can use alone, or activate with water. There is a also a Neocolor 1 that is NOT water soluble. It's a firmer crayon, and my second favorite. Good for permanent marks that you don't intend to alter. 

Ephemera - I keep a bin and small rolling cart of papers handy for collage.  It's an assortment of painted papers I've created myself, vintage scraps, bits that I collect from life such as ticket stubs, airplane tickets, concert tickets, magazine clippings, etc.  Sometimes they are the star of the page, sometimes they are used as background layering. And let's not forget how wonderful washi tape is!

How do you keep your pages from sticking together? 

I strive to mostly use a "matte finish" in my books.  The glossier the medium, the more likely it is that things will stick, especially during the humid months of summer. Sometimes when I'm done with a spread, I'll give it a quick spritz with a matte fixative, or I'll brush with clear gesso, and that will solve a sticky situation. Sometimes I'll insert a piece of waxed paper between some pages for a little added protection.

Side note: I do not strive for ultimate perfection in my books.  It's inevitable that things will get spilled, carry over to another page, or get stuck.  That's just part of it....and worrying about keeping everything perfect takes the fun out of it for me.  Diving in and enjoying my books in the moment is my main goal. 

How do I start an art journal? What if I don't have time?

You just start.  Grab a book and get after it.  It's really that simple.  Listen, we're all busy....so if this is something you feel is important to you and your creative practice, you've gotta MAKE time. We all have different lifestyles and obligations, so it's up to you to figure out what works best for you.  Perhaps you set a timer for 15 minutes and keep your hands moving for that entire time.  Maybe you wake up a little earlier each morning, and set your daily intentions in your journal.  Do what you can to make it easy to work in small increments.  You'll be surprised at how much work can get done in a month when you do little bits at a time! Happy Journaling!