what is an art journal

What is an Art Journal? Tips for Art Journaling

More and more artists (and other people) are turning to this accessible way of recording ideas. There’s every chance you’ve seen some stunning art journals on Instagram or when hanging out with your artist friends. Is it time to start one?

What is an Art Journal?

An art journal is a chance for an artist to record all of their ideas. Journals are different for everyone and many people use them as a form of self-care and therapy. Some artists use them to record their daily inspirations, others might use them to try out new techniques.

You don’t have to be a particularly talented artist to start an art journal, and many people find that simply getting their thoughts out on paper is a helpful way to boost their mental health

This study from the University of Rochester discusses many of the mental health benefits of recording your ideas in this way.

An art journal can be a personal exploration, and for some people it is effectively a diary of their thoughts. It’s common for these journals to include written prose, notes, and even quotes that someone finds inspiring or helpful.

Art journals are often the place where the best ideas form. In the same way that a guitarist or lyricist might jot down ideas for use in a future song, an artist may be able to use a journal to progress their thoughts.

The Rules Are: There Are No Rules

Your art journal is all about what you want to make it. Sure, you can look for inspiration elsewhere, but your journal can be whatever you wish. It may tell a story, or tales from your life, or it could be total fantasy. It might be full of cartoons or it might be full of expressionist paintings. Whatever works for you!

Choosing an Art Journal

If you are going to go ahead and create your own journal, you need to choose the book itself to contain all of your work.

Usually, the journal itself is perfect for mixed media. A heavy paper that can cope with a variety of paints, pens, and experimental techniques opens up the most possibilities.

This Strathmore notebook is a great solution. It is heavyweight enough so that you can use paints and even watercolors, along with pastels, crayons, charcoal, and more. It will handle pretty much whatever medium you wish to work in.

You can choose from a variety of sizes, too. This means it is possible to go for a small book if you want it to be portable, or something larger for more fully-formed ideas.

Did you know, you can even make your own art journal? If you are particularly creative and have the dedication to do so, follow this incredible tutorial.

The Difference Between an Art Journal and a Sketchbook

The difference between an art journal and a sketchbook is different for everyone. The differentiation for a lot of people is that a sketchbook is more throwaway. It doesn’t matter if you need to tear out a page or use a page for your shopping list. An art journal is more personal and closer to being a more complete piece of work.

It’s not something that an artist will probably want to display in a gallery. You might not even be an artist, it could just be a personal documentation of your life. However, an art journal feels a lot more of a precious thing than a sketchbook.

The therapeutic difference is clear, too. A lot of people treat their journal as a way to focus on something creative. Think of it as about 4 levels up from adult coloring. It’s a lot more original and expressive, but the process is similar and allows you to get some mental benefits and clarity.

Benefits of Art Journaling

So, what are some of the benefits of keeping an art journal?

  • If you are an artist, it lets you work on technique. Art journals are the perfect place to work on something you’ve wanted to try out.
  • It creates a permanent record. It’s unlikely that you’re going to go back to old sketchbooks when you’re older, but a journal is much more of a treasured item. It might even define a period in your life.
  • As we’ve already discussed, the expression that is possible via journaling can be brilliant for your mental health, or working through emotional distress.
  • Art journals can act as a portfolio. It is a way to show people what you are doing at any given time, and the sort of techniques you’re working on.
  • You can ensure you never miss an idea. If you’re suddenly inspired to work on something, you can do so in your journal.
  • You might be more encouraged to work on art daily. It’s a good place to set yourself targets, and avoid any paralysis that might come from overthinking.

Should You Keep an Art Journal?

If you’re considering journaling then the answer is often “yes”. It’s a great way to document your ideas and to boost your health and wellbeing. If you are studying art, you will probably be strongly encouraged to keep a journal.

Art Journal Ideas and Inspiration

One of the coolest things about an art journal is how much it can vary. You can work on a detailed, hyper-realistic sketch on one page, and on the next, you could work on a collage.

Below, we’ve included a few images of some exceptionally cool art journal ideas and inspiration.


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A post shared by Pretty Journals (@pretty.journals)


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A post shared by Yomou Chan (@yomouchan)

The above images come straight from Instagram, where there is an amazing community for people creating these sorts of journals. Use some of these hashtags to find them!

  • #artjournal
  • #artjournaling
  • #artjournalpages
  • #artjournaleveryday

Some Great Equipment for Art Journals

As we’ve already said, there are no rules! You can create an art journal using whatever type of medium you like, and whatever materials. However, there are some tools you will find particularly useful when you are creating an art journal.

Some of the things I always find useful include:

  • Glue. Good-quality glue makes it easy to stick in clippings, or even paste ideas that started out in your notebook.
  • Fineliners. Fineline pens are often sold in sets giving you an option for different widths and looks.
  • A set of pastels or conte crayons, great for quick sketches using colors, but also easily portable.
  • A good pencil set. You will pretty much always need one of these, along with…
  • A reliable eraser. We recommend kneaded erasers in this post, but it’s really up to you what type you use.
  • Colorful markers. These come in handy for highlighting.

You might also want to take things like watercolors or watercolor pencils out with you. It’s your space to experiment, so choose whatever you see fit for your own diary.


We hope we’ve answered some of your questions, including “what is an art journal?” – We would encourage anyone to give it a go. All you need is a quality sketchbook or you can even make your own.

Journaling is a good hobby to get into whether you are an artist or not. It can be a way to express yourself and blow off steam. You don’t even need to be able to draw or paint well. You might choose to collage or create more abstract art. Plus, if you don’t think it warrants showing to other people, you certainly don’t have to. It may end up being a very private thing for you.

If you have examples of your own journals to share feel free to drop us a comment below.

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