How to Collage in Your Art Journals – 2008 Art Journaling Update


art journal collage



Collage is an easy way to add art to your diary or journal.

For years, I started each day with a quick torn-paper collage, the same as I used to create my handwritten “morning pages,” taught in The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity

Collages are a visual version of “morning pages.”

I wrote about my collage process in 2002, when I was the owner of the ArtistsJournals (and AJ2) Yahoo!Groups. 

What follows is my 2008 update, as my art journaling process changed (slightly).

Most days, I allow an hour for each collage, and I try to create them in the morning, soon after I get up. That seems to be when my right-brain (creative side) is most active and open to imagery.

Sometimes – but not often – I go back several times throughout the day to add things.

Preparing the journal

Usually, I work on pages in a spiral-bound sketchbook, just as they are.

Sometimes I’ll gesso a few pages my journal, ahead of time. Then they’re strong enough to support heavily embellished collages.

That’s all gesso does: Make the page stronger, for embellishment, and – if you’re going to use paint – gesso prevents the paper from soaking up too much paint.

Most of the time, I don’t use gesso. I work directly on the paper.


Remember that gesso is entirely optional. In fact, most people don’t use it at all.

I just like the option of adding paint or heavy embellishments to my art journaling pages. For that, gesso creates an ideal working surface in your sketchbook or other paper support.

I use any acrylic gesso that’s cheap, from any store that carries gesso. Michael’s can have some great deals, especially their house brand or as a student-grade product.

I buy the largest container they’re selling, for the best price.

Yes, you can buy gesso in colors, but if you start with white, you can add color to it, using dye, food coloring, or watercolors, or mixing in acrylic paint.

Now and then, I use black gesso for art journal pages on which I’ll stamp text in white, or use a white gel pen. Here’s an example.

art journal collage

For more information about gesso, see my other article, Gesso – What it is, how to use it

Photos, pictures, and other images

I store a variety of images – ad flyers, tickets, programmes, handwritten notes, vintage paper and photos (etc.) –  in folders. For now, they’re kept in a heavy cardboard portfolio, to use when I want to create a collage.

In plastic bins, I store stack of magazines & newspapers, too.

(In addition, I keep a separate “junk bin” for junk mail flyers. I put those beneath my images as I’m applying glue to the back of the collage elements.)

I’ll grab whatever images, words, and phrases strike my fancy at that very moment.

If they connect somehow, great.

If they’re completely disrelated, that’s okay too. It usually makes sense to me after I put it all together, in the context of my thoughts at the time.

My favorite magazines for collage include the fashion magazine,  W, because it includes great images, heavy paper, and very large words and phrases that show up nicely on my pages.

I also like glossy magazines such as National Geographic, because the colors are great, the images are unusual, and – since the pages are clay-based – I can use the magazine for image transfers.

(I’ll talk about that at another time. It’s a more complicated collage and embellishment technique.)

Gel medium

[As of 2021, some of the following information is outdated. I’ve stopped using gel medium for most of my art journaling collages. I’m getting far better results with Yes! Paste.]

I love layers in my work. For this reason, I’m very big on using colored tissue paper. I use Golden Gel Medium (soft/gloss) for the adhesive, and when the tissue paper is saturated with the gel medium, it remains translucent after it dries.

However, the gel medium will make the paper buckle sometimes. I like that, because I’m very process-oriented. I’m not interested in a collage that looks pre-printed.

The buckling and extra glops of gel medium work for me, but I know that not everyone likes the buckled-paper look.

I apply the gel with a sponge brush. I often forget to rinse them, so they’ll be used just once or twice, and I stock up on the cheapo ones (10 – 15 cents each during Michael’s store sales) regularly.

Wax paper keeps the pages from sticking

While the page dries, I’ll place a piece of waxed paper over it so I can turn the page and work on another page in my journal.

If the damp collage is facing another gel’d page, I’ll keep waxed paper between the pages for a week or two until the gel is fully cured.

Otherwise, the gel remains tacky enough to stick to the facing page.

For more about using wax paper when creating art, see my article,
Wax paper and art journals.

Other art journaling embellishments

I highlight some of my collages with leafing… gold, copper, etc. I adhere it with gel medium, too. Don’t get caught up in using the most/only perfect adhesive for the job; gel medium works well for almost anything.

When it won’t hold, I use Household Goop!

art journal collage
On a “hurting” day, a band-aid may hold an image in place. And there are grommets, paper clips, straight pins, safety pins, and so on. Look around you and see what might work for your collages. Give them texture. It can enhance the originality!

Most completed journals won’t fully close

5" x 8" journal entitled "Hogwarts Journal."I never fret because an item means that the journal won’t close nice & flat.

Frankly, by the time I complete lots of pages, my journal may be so thick – or so buckled – that it hasn’t a chance of closing flat, ever again!

I may sew a button to the front cover of the journal, and a piece of string (I like hemp twine) or ribbon attached with a grommet to the back cover, so I can tie the journal closed when I carry it around or shelve it.

Art journaling as self-discovery

These collages are exciting to me, because I never know how they’ll turn out until I start putting the random bits of paper together and realize what the internal message is. It’s sort of like bringing what’s deep inside me, forward.

But I love collage and I love journaling, and what I learn about myself and others in the process.

More? You’ll find additional notes on collage techniques in my Insight Shrines class handouts and in my letter to Erin about art/journaling.

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Journaling Your Past – Free eBook

You can write your own life story in just 15 minutes a day.  Really.

I’m probably best-known for my personal journaling workshops and online art journals.

Journaling Your Past - free workbookI want to share one of my favorite workshops with you in this free PDF about journaling your own history.

Journaling Your Past is a free 26-page manual, and it’s like taking one of my workshops at home.  (This PDF was the foundation of my Artfest 2001 workshop of the same name.)

You’ll learn how to create a rich and rewarding journal of your personal and family history easily, in just 15 minutes a day.

Whether you’d like to record your life story for future generations, or introduce your family to the fascinating study of genealogy and family history, this is a great way to start.

This workbook includes class notes, reproducible worksheets, and tips on how to teach this class yourself.

It’s also ideal for homeschoolers, Scouts or church groups, or for family evenings at home.

This ebook is a PDF you can read with the free Adobe Acrobat Reader program.

To read or download this free ebook, click here:
Journaling Your Past by Aisling D’Art

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Family history shrines

You can make your own family history shrine or display using this free 14 page PDF.

  • This illustrated ebook includes a supply list, plus step-by-step instructions.
  • It also includes helpful tips for finding family photos, preparing them, and assembling your own family history shrine.
  • In addition, you will find suggestions for teaching this as a workshop.

You can download it as a PDF file, and share that link with others.

You have my permission to make additional copies for other people.

The only conditions are:

  • Keep my copyright notice on each page and
  • Don’t charge money (beyond what you were charged, per copy) to distribute it.

You can also freely teach this as a workshop using this PDF as a handout. Just make it clear that I’m the one who designed the project.


Family History Shrines – PDF file

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Planning for your future

artist-monalisaval-jThis morning, I read Seth Godin’s blog in which he posted a joke set of predictions for 2008.  (He claimed to have written them in 2002.  Obviously, he’d written them this week.)

But, as he concluded his post, he stated his point very well:

“…just think about how impossible it is for your to predict what your life is going to be like in four or six years… being ready for anything is the only rational strategy. So, why exactly are you planning on the future being just like it is now, but with better uniforms?”


Many of us have accepted traditional goal-setting strategies.  They include looking ahead five years to what you can reasonably achieve, but perhaps with a slightly starry-eyed vision.

That’s where I recommend a shift to the Getting Things Done view, mixed with a little of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits…

Think in terms of wild success.   I mean success beyond your wildest expectations.  How would that look?  How would your life be different?  What would your workday be like?

And then, plan for that.  Take the steps to integrate those changes into your life right now.

Remember what you’re doing this for.


Is it to be a successful, well-paid artist?  Well, do you dress like one?  What about your car… is it as immaculate inside (and out) as it would be if you had a chauffeur to maintain it for you?  Do you always have nice, upscale business cards with you, to hand out to fans (or people you’d like to have as fans or clients)?

Are you doing this to be famous for future generations?  Okay, what are you doing to create a name for yourself, right now?  Do your PR strategies include getting your paintings into highly visible locations, such as your town offices, state offices, the offices of your Congressional reps, every local museum… and then work up from there?  Have you contributed (or contributed to) a very visible mural in a public space?

Are you working on your art so you can be a full-time artist?  That’s great; how much time are you dedicating to your art.  I don’t mean the commercially successful art that can be the first step into the marketplace. I mean strange, deeply expressive and authentic art that may never match the colors in anyone’s sofa, and may only make sense to you.

The fact is, no one can predict the future with certainty.  The five-year plan was fine when five-year intervals could be predicted.  Today, life moves and changes at a vastly faster pace.

Don’t plan for the forseeable future.  Plan for a wildly successful future.  That’s what’s within your reach, and perhaps sooner than you think.

Start now.  Plan with the end in mind:  Success beyond your wildest dreams.

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