Art Journals v. Artist’s Journals

I wrote the first draft of this article in 2006, when the arts community was still deciding if we were “art journaling” or creating “artists’ journals.”  Then, I expanded the article in 2011, weighing in on the continuing debate. (Today, the phrase “art journaling” seems preferred, so I’ve updated the article… but only a little.)

rainbow stripe divider

Two phrases are often used interchangeably:  ‘art journals’ and ‘artists journals.’

For me, an artist’s journal is an illustrated diary or journal representing the artist.  It’s about the person’s life, or some aspect of it, such as a travel journal, a diet & fitness journal, or something like my ‘decluttering journal’.

It usually includes art and the journal is also a work of art, in itself.

Many people call that “art journaling,” and I suppose it is. I mean, are we getting tangled in semantics, when the art is what really matters?

So what else is an art journal?

Art journal page showing inspirationBy contrast, an art journal is where I keep notes about art I’m working on or might want to create later.  It includes visual inspiration – photos, articles, etc. – as well as my own thumbnail sketches, etc.

It’s sort of my pre-art brainstorming, in a journal format.

At left is a page from a 2011 art journal. The photos and sketch represent ideas that I used to inspire an oil painting.

I use an art journal as my on-paper memory of inspiration and original ideas.  It’s sort of like a visual thumb drive of art ideas, for later use.

If I don’t jot down my ideas in a journal, they’ll vanish from my thoughts in a matter of days, if not hours.  I tend to have a steady stream of creative ideas, and one soon replaces another in my consciousness.

For me, it’s part of the creative process.

Here’s how my ideas develop, through my art journaling

People often ask me where I get my original art ideas. Well, I’m not sure that they’re entirely “original,” but they are fresh and new, if only to me.

Here’s a typical sequence: I started by surfing the Internet to see what other artists are currently working on.

Yesterday, I viewed a website called The Starving Artist’s Way, which included a project using second-hand woolen sweaters that had been washed and dried to shrink them in a “felted” style.

I didn’t think much more about that – not on a conscious level, anyway – but later in the day, after a nap, I woke up thinking about what else I could do with that kind of wool.

While the thoughts were still fresh in my mind -and evolving – I jotted them down in my art journal. These are my two pages of notes:

felted journals page

 

In a nutshell, I was thinking about the kinds of wearable art that I could make with felted-style wool.

(Geek note: It’s not actually “felted” wool when you wash & dry woven/knitted/etc. wool to shrink it. It’s called “fulled” wool. Felting is when you use the raw fibers and a tool to tangle and/or compact them.)

This merged with the Mondrian art that I was reminded of when I was playing an online game, Kingdom of Loathing, yesterday.

And, once I started jotting down these ideas, I remembered when I used to make stained glass windows. Those patterns would adapt nicely to this kind of wool treatment, too.

I’m not sure that I’ll ever actually do anything with this idea. I get a bazillion of these ideas, steadily.

So, I’m scanning the pages from my idea journal, and putting them into my next art zine. I’m doing that for two reasons.

First, it documents that it was my idea. It drives me crazy when I decide to run with an idea and it turns out that another artist has been working on a similar concept… and people think that one of us is “copying” the other, when we’re not.

Second – and more importantly – I am sharing this idea so that someone else might be inspired by it and adapt the concepts (or copy it line-for-line, for all I know/care) to his or her own art.

Sharing art journaling, and the “copying” issue

    My grandfather was a successful inventor and used his ideas to create his own (large) company.
    When his original ideas were copied, he used to chuckle and say, “Plenty more where that came from.”
    In other words, he didn’t complain about those who copied him.
    I’ve always liked that, and he was the richest man I knew, when I was growing up. He literally made millions (when that was a lot of money) from his creative ideas; he was a good role model.

So, I’m okay with the idea of sharing my art journal pages so that people see what one can look like.

However, these may be my own definitions.  How you use the terms ‘art journals’ and ‘artists journals’ may be different… and that’s fine with me.

The creativity that matters more than the words!

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Saving Images for Your Art Journaling and Mixed Media Collages

Are you art journaling? Do you struggle to collect and organize collage photos, papers and ephemera?

I’ve found a system that works well for me. It might help you, too.

Art journaling – and mixed-media collage – can require lots of images. And, to remain “in flow” as you’re creating a new journal entry (or embellishing an older one), organization can be vital.

Here are some tips.

Step One: Sort collage elements by themes

I save my collage elements – especially magazine photos – by color, in manila folders. I start with the major color groups (red, blue, green, etc.) and then expand (lime green, turquoise, etc.) as my collection of saved images becomes too large for anything simpler.

I include all kinds of papers in my folders. So, when I want something blue, I open my “blue” folder and I’ll see my primarily blue magazine images, but also blue tissue paper, maybe some bits of blue ribbons or fabrics that I intend to use in collage, and so on.

Of course, my art journaling collages are usually more color-driven than image-driven, per se. So, organizing by color makes sense to me.

For someone else, it might make more sense to organize by other themes, instead of (or in addition to) by colors.

And, I’ll admit that – for art journaling – I’ve started folders that say things like “skies” and “green plants.”

Your categories might be “faces” or even more specifically, “women’s smiling faces,” etc. Or, “nature,” “dark-looking castles,” “cute cottages,” “kissing,” “fast cars,” “vintage images,” or whatever.

Step Two: Store the folders in a big portfolio

All of my manila folders are stored in one large, flat old-fashioned artist’s portfolio. You know, those huge black folders. Some are made from heavy cardboard, covered with a black, textured surface. Others are fabric, and sometimes reinforced.

If the portfolio is inexpensive (under US$20) and comes with a handle or shoulder strap, that’s ideal.

(Collaging the outside of your portfolio is optional.)

But, any good, big portfolio will work fine.

In my studio, the collage elements portfolio fits nicely on top of my chest of drawers.

That’s the same one that holds my fabric art and mixed media supplies, like my iron, fusible webbing, and fabrics like muslin, etc.

Of course, you can also hide the portfolio folder under a bed, behind a door, between or in back of bookcases, and so on.

I’ve tried many organizing systems for my stacks of wonderful papers and collage images. This has worked the best for me.

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Composition Book Artists Journals

 

Mead composition bookA composition book art journal is any journal that’s kept in a composition book. Those are generally school-type, saddle-sewn (along the crease) notebooks with cardboard covers… similar to exam/test booklets, but a little more permanent.

Composition books are inexpensive, so many people like them especially for informal journaling. It feels less intimidating to use a journal that doesn’t cost much, and is familiar from our years in school.

They’re so affordable, you can buy several. Put one in your car, one in the baby bag, one by your bed, and so on. Then, you’re ready to create a journal page when you have some free time. The journals are so inexpensive, you can rip completed pages out and bind them into your more formal artist’s journal.

(“Binding” the loose page can be as easy as taping it into your other journal. Or, you can glue it, sew it, staple it, etc.)

Composition books have lots of lined pages in them… as many as 100. They come in a variety of sizes, but the traditional ones are about 8″ x 10″ or so. The traditional ones often have a b&w cover that looks sort of marbelized.

You can also find composition books with red covers, plain manila covers, green covers, and so on. You may want to choose one with a color that reminds you of your childhood. (But, the color may not matter if you’re going to cover it with art anyway.)

Also, it’s easy to embellish the cardboard covers. I’d still use something (such as fusible interfacing) on the back so that threads don’t pull through, but you can sew through the cardboard with a crewel needle. Then, you can embroider on it, add beads & buttons, etc., in addition to other embellishments.

(For more about sewing on your journal pages and covers, see Sewing on Journal Pages.)

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