A “journal” – according to the Oxford dictionary is a “daily record of news and events of a personal nature: a diary.”

From food to prayer to scrapbooking, dream to fitness to meditation, the “journal” has come a long way over the last few years and the way in which you can create one is deeply personal and varied.

Having kept a written journal for over 20 years and now a sketchbook, there are times when I find the two fusing together.  After all, if you keep a daily sketchbook and choose to draw your day you are essentially creating what I would class as an art journal.  I personally think its sometimes difficult to define the difference between an art journal and sketchbook.

I’ve been inspired to look a little more deeply into what defines an art journal. Admittedly I come from the sketch booking format perspective.

What is an art journal?

Firstly, an art journal is largely filled with artwork, imagery and words.  Its a visual version of a journal. Famous artists that have kept one are Frida Kahlo and Leonard Da Vinci. Even Van Gogh’s letters which have been encapsulated into bound books arguably become a type of art journal – a visual recording of his days and feelings alongside his written letters sent to his family.

Even as far back as 65,000 years ago, three caves across Spain (Chabot Cave in the Ardeche valley) evidenced the first recordings made on cave walls by Palaeolithic ancestors who were unable to yet write.  In the absence, not only of written words, or of the materials we have today (including paper!), mankind still felt the need to record their existence with the meagre resources they had to hand.  Did they do so to pass on and share expertise in hunting,  to record that they had been there or to demonstrate some other symbolic and deep meaning purpose known only to them?  Or perhaps all three? I love the idea that primitive man had to communicate complex thoughts in pictures in art journals that were cave walls.

An art journal is a medium by which to create and express your ideas and it is up to you to decide how you develop the style by which you use it.

There are a few that I love to follow. Dion Baker’s “Draw Every Day” movement combines the written word and illustrations in her sketchbooks. Her sketchbooks chart daily life, current affairs and the charm of drawing and scribing in a variety of calligraphies that quote words, affirmations and ideas. Another is Cao Becky, who documents food and the landscapes around her whilst conveying a love of watercolour.

How to start an art journal.

  1. Invest in a robust heavy weight paper journal that can cope with a range of mixed media across its pages. (Over 150gms).
  2. Decide on the type of journal you want to have a go creating. Are you a textile artist for example? Sue Brown has a unique approach combining textiles and ink in her journals.  Or perhaps you are motivated by gluing and sticking pages into your sketchbook almost like a scrapbook with left over pieces of paper or random materials like leaves or glitter. Perhaps you want to draw your day like Dion Baker does and stick to a sketch book format to help you.
  3. Aim to work in it every day for at least 10 minutes and collect items you can be inspired by or use within it. You are free to choose the approach you want to take. I absolutely LOVE Lucia Wild from Wild Ink Art. If you haven’t come across her whimsical, creative and simply stunning stylised depictions of life around her then do check her out.  Her use of calligraphy is also very beautiful having studied as a calligraphy artist. She combines mixed media techniques and creative ideas beautifully as she charts her daily life.
  4. Gather your materials. Choose your space. Create some time to dedicate to journalling and commit to maintaining a habit. More on that here!
  5. Choose a daily, different theme or even a focus on sketching or drawing or painting or cutting out of one object or subject. Your subject matter is often the anchor of your page.  It could be a word or an image. In my case (the feature picture to this blog post, for example) is of an apple. I used it as my starting point drawing different sides of the apple and then using allusions to apples in literature (I studied Renaissance literature) I mapped out quotes from famous texts.  You might decide you are going to focus on creating a personal development journal for example and theme pages around your journey.  The same could go for a travel journal where you sketch and stick mementos and written descriptions of what you have seen or experienced in the pages. Alicia Aradilla depicts the travel journal and famous landmarks in her journals perfectly!

There is quite a lot more to cover on a subject like this one, but I thought I would leave you with some inspiration from the sketchbook project, a global library of sketchbooks which you can download digitally.  I often look at it for inspiration and love the idea that there is an archive of people’s creativity waiting to be explored!

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