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.

Gesso

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.

DOWNLOADS:

Family History Shrines – PDF file

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Aisling’s Artistamps 2000 – 2005

I’ve been making artistamps since around 1978.

My first stamps were handmade, one by one, and sent with my zines of that era. I hand-carved a border that looked like a perforated stamp edge, and stamped it repeatedly to create the ‘frame’ of each stamp. Then, I put art in the middle.

At present, I don’t have copies of any of them. (I may find some as I go through old boxes of art supplies, etc., but that’s unlikely.)

But hey, if those mailings brought people joy, they served their purpose.

This webpage features many of my early digitally-created artistamps. Many of them are clickable, opening printable images… of varying quality. (When I saved my first digital files, I didn’t always understand things like resolution. So, some of them look and/or print better than others.)

airmail artistamp rhiannon artistamp 1 rhiannon stamp
create! artistamp ecp April Fool's artistamp electronic collaborative project artistamp
another ECP stamp - Sojourn in Egypt kilmallock post office stamp

Sunrise Series

This block of stamps features some of my sunrise paintings.

sunrise paintings

Tapestry Parade Series

This block of six stamps includes photos of Disney’s EPCOT parade, Tapestry. The puppeteers include Disney cast member Jeremy Pace (in the lower left stamp). The link opens a PDF version of the stamps.

Tapestry parade stamps

Disney World Tribute Series

This series features photos from Disney World. This set is not available in printable size.

disneyworld artistamps

Ballynafae Mardi Gras – 2001 Series

Also not available in printable size, this series includes photos from the popular tourist attraction, ‘South of the Border’.

Mardi Gras stamps - Ballynafae

Kilmallock Ireland Series

Kilmallock is south of Limerick, Ireland, and it’s one of my favorite towns in Ireland. Many of my ancestors came from this area.

kilmallock artistamps

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Art Day 2005 Mail Art Call: Art in the Streets

The theme for the Art Day 2005 mail art call was “Art in the Streets.” These 18 entries were diverse and fabulous.

In 2005, Art Day was under different management than in the years that followed. So, this was the only year I was the organizer for that event’s mailart celebration.

I received the art in Houston, Texas, and scanned. Then, I forwarded it to Los Angeles, Calfornia, and from there it was placed on public display as part of a large Art Day celebration in nearby Glendale.

The scans include postcards, envelopes, and any enclosures in them. If the return address was clearly part of the art, it is displayed. If I wasn’t certain, I omitted it or blurred it.

THE ARTISTS: The participants were, alphabetically by last name: Vycki Angel (Pinson, AL), Julia Cardia (Vinhedo, Brazil), Sylvia Cunha (Campinos, Brasil), Michel Della Vedova (Limoges, France) Dante Erbolato Neto (Sao Paolo, Brazil), Sandoval LeFebure (Austin, TX), Suzlee Ibrahim (Shah Alam, Malaysia), Joe Messiah (Portland, OR), George Rivera (Denver, CO), Ashley Schick (Clearwater, FL), Shmuel (Brattleboro, VT), Pablo Wright (Cincinnati, OH),

 

AL1aAL1bAshley-Schick-a
dante-erbolato-netoFR1a
FR1b george-rivera
Joe-Messiah Julia-Cardia-a
Julia-Cardia-bpablo-wright-1a
pablo-wright-1bpablo-wright-2a
pablo-wright-2bSandoval-Lefebvre
suzlee-ibrahim-1a suzlee-ibrahim-2a
suzlee-ibrahim-2bSylvia-C-Brasil-a
Sylvia-C-Brasil-env-a Sylvia-C-Brasil-env-b
sylvia-cunha-2asylvia-cunha-2aenv
sylvia-cunha-2aenvbAL1a
AL1b Ashley-Schick-a
dante-erbolato-netoVT2b

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Wax Paper and Artists Journals

Two artists' journals pages by Aisling D'Art.Wax paper is always among my basic journaling supplies, and I use it any time I need to protect pages that include glue, water media, or anything sticky.

When I travel, I pre-cut sheets of wax paper, and tuck them into the back of my journal.  Usually, I use a rubber band or a binder clip to hold them in place, so I don’t lose the sheets.

The following article is based on one that I wrote around 2005, and it’s still important for many people creating artists journals.

Wax paper can be a vital tool if you’re keeping an art journal. Wax paper can separate damp art journal pages — after they’ve been painted or collaged — so they don’t stick together. I carry wax paper with me when I travel, so I can work on several journal pages in a row, and not wait for pages to dry completely.

Photo of wax paper.Wax paper has many great features:

  • Wax paper is inexpensive.
  • It’s slightly porous (so the pages dry underneath). In other words, the air can get through.
  • It’s super-easy to use.
  • Wax paper is environmentally friendly.
  • You can often use the same sheet two or three times before throwing it away.

You’ll find wax paper at the grocery store, in the aisle with foil and plastic (cling) wrap. In the States, the leading brand is Reynolds’ Cut-Rite wax paper. That’s it in the photo. The package is about the same size as a roll of foil or plastic (cling) wrap.

Sometimes it’s half-hidden on the bottom shelf. In other areas, wax paper is a popular product for use with microwave ovens, so you’ll find wax paper more prominently displayed.

Regular wax paper is generally not recyclable. The wax surface (often made with petroleum products) is considered a “mixed” paper product.  I have not yet tried any of the recyclable wax papers (like “If You Care” brand wax paper) with my artists journals.

When I’m separating journal pages with wax paper, I try to let each page dry so it’s only damp, not wet. (Sometimes I have no choice.  If the page is really sticky and I can’t wait for it to dry at all, I have to hope for the best.)

Then, I place the journal so the pages are as flat as possible.

After that, I cut or tear the wax paper so each piece is slightly larger than the journal page it will protect. An extra half-inch on each side is usually enough.

The key to success is not to allow much weight or pressure on damp pages. In other words, the wax paper should practically float on the damp page. Don’t press it onto the page.

WAX PAPER AND GESSO

Generally, I gesso five or six pages at a time. I’ve successfully gesso’d up to eight pages at a time. However, I’m usually working with spiral-bound sketchbooks. They’re generally my favorite journals.

If I was working with a regular, bound journal, I’d watch carefully to see how much the binding “pulls” the pages back together. I might have to work with just two pages at a time.

(Big binder clips can come in handy if the binding on the journal is really tight. Clip the dry pages together — in separate bunches, if necessary — and that should take some of the pressure off binding, keeping the damp pages apart.)

Remember, wax paper is not 100% reliable when you want to keep wet pages apart.  If your journal page is the most perfect thing you’ve ever created, and you’d be devastated if it was damaged… well, stop journaling until that page has dried completely.

From my experience, wax paper sticks about 10 – 15% of the time. I may collage over those pages later, since the surface of the page is already a bit distressed. Or, I may leave them “as-is” to reflect the creative process.

It all depends upon how they look when the page is dry, and I take a fresh look at it.

I’ve used wax paper when I’ve gesso’d in airplanes (very dry air) and — at the other extreme — in sultry, humid Houston.

I have slightly better success with wax paper when the air is dry and the pages dry more quickly.

If you try wax paper and don’t have much success with it, try gently crushing the wax paper — before you use it — so it holds the pages slightly apart.

Note: It’s important to gently crush the wax paper; if you fold it enough that the wax falls off at the crease, that line (or point) may stick to wet paint, gel medium, or gesso.

WAX PAPER AND PAINT

When I want to separate wet, painted journal pages, I’m far more careful with the pages.

Then, I will separate two pages at the most: The one that I’ve just painted, and the one that I’m currently working on. Because wax paper isn’t 100% non-stick, I don’t want to risk damage.

Remember: Less weight or pressure on the wax paper means less risk of sticking.  Also, the drier the pages, the better.

Paint is designed to be sticky and adhere to paper.  If it’s so wet that the moisture actually penetrates the wax paper, the results may be disappointing.

Weigh your options carefully.  If your painted journal page is the best thing you’ve ever created, maybe it’s more important to preserve that, as-is, than rush into the next journal page.  (If you’re in a class and this happens, have a second or third journal with you.  Then, you can keep working while the first journal page dries, and not miss any valuable class time.)

WAX PAPER AND GEL MEDIUM OR GLUE

Wax paper is best for separating pages with small amounts of wet gel medium or glue on them. However, most gel medium won’t stick to wax paper.

In storage, I also use wax paper to protect every page of my collaged art journals. Then, even during sultry summer heat, the gel medium doesn’t re-soften and stick to the page opposite it.

Think of it this way: We use an iron to “melt” gel medium for image transfers. Likewise, gel medium can become sticky if you store your journals in a hot attic, garage, or other really warm area.

Unlike gel medium, glue can be hit-or-miss with wax paper. It can vary with how wet the glue is, and if the glue contains alcohol or any kind of solvent.  (Alcohol and solvents will dissolve the wax on the wax paper, so it’s useless.)

You can test this ahead of time. Put a blob of the glue on a piece of paper, and place a piece of wax paper on top of it. Press gently, enough so contact occurs.

Then, wait a minute or two and see if the wax paper sticks to the glue. If it does, wax paper won’t protect your journal pages where that glue is wet and exposed.

You may be safe with sheets of foil as separators. Or, consider thin sheets of teflon-coated plastic, sold in kitchen supply shops; they were invented to safeguard very sticky cookies, meringues, and so on.

Plastic wrap (cling film) isn’t usually helpful. It tends to stick to paint, gel medium and glue, and some glues will completely melt it.  If you have to choose between plastic wrap and nothing between the damp pages, opt for nothing.  Really.  Some plastic wraps — especially the more expensive kinds — are practically guaranteed to stick to your damp pages, prevent them from drying (ever), and not peel off (ever).

SUMMARY

Wax paper is a valuable tool when you’re working with damp pages in your art journal or illustrated diary.

Wax paper isn’t foolproof, but it’s still one of the best and least expensive ways to keep damp pages from sticking to each other.

You’ll have the best luck when you’re working with gel medium. Gesso and glue have a higher “failure” rate with wax paper.

However, in art there are no “failures,” just challenges and opportunities to create new and different art, and to make the most of life’s surprises.

The good news is, wax paper will prevent most damp pages from sticking together.  And, for most of my own journaling, that’s good enough.

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Gesso – What It Is and How to Use It

Gesso can be a useful option for artists journals as well as painting and mixed media art. I use gesso often, because I often create heavily embellished pages in my journals. I need the extra strength that gesso adds to my art journal pages.

If you create heavily embellished pages in your journals, as I do, gesso can provide more support. It can strengthen the paper you’re working on.

However, you don’t have to gesso pages in your artist’s journal. In fact, most artists never use gesso in their journals. I only suggest it if you’re working with paint, heavy embellishments, or mixed media.

What is gesso?

Gesso is a primer. It looks a lot like paint, and it goes between the surface you’re working on (the support) and whatever you’re using for your artwork.

Originally, gesso only came in white. Artists put it on surfaces such as:

  • Canvas
  • Wood
  • Hardboard (such as masonite, MDF or plywood)

On wood and hardboard, the gesso is a two-way barrier. It prevents the board from soaking up the paint too much. However, it also prevents any acids, oils or glues from migrating into your finished painting. (The latter could spoil the colors.)

On canvas, gesso prevents the fabric from soaking up the paint. The colors won’t bleed, and you won’t use as much paint.

That’s a good reason to use gesso on paper if you’re painting in your art journals: You’ll have more control over the color, and you’ll save money on paint. (Generally, gesso is a lot cheaper than paint is.)

Gesso makes the surface a little stiffer. It can also give the surface a little more texture (called “tooth”), so the paint sticks better.

Today, gesso comes in many colors. White is still the most popular, but black and colors are also widely used for art journaling and other art. So, the gesso can be part of your finished artist’s journal page, too.

Pages 31 - 32 from the Decluttering Journal

Gesso is useful for mixed media artwork, too. When I’m using a cigar box as the support for an art shrine, I almost always cover it with gesso… unless the design on the box is going to be part of the finished shrine.

(Also, some wooden cigar boxes look spectacular if they’re simply polished, so the wood shines.)

What’s the difference between gesso and regular paint?

Gesso is usually thinner and creates a slightly rough surface when you apply it.

Long ago, artists made their own gesso. They mixed calcium — like chalk — in a thin base of animal glue.

Yes, it was rather smelly. It also had to be shaken or stirred regularly, because the chalk quickly settled to the bottom of the mixture.

I don’t recommend making your own gesso, but if you want to try it, here are a couple of websites with recipes:

When you see religious paintings and icons painted on wooden supports, gesso is probably underneath the artwork. That gave the wood some “tooth” so the paint stuck to it (and didn’t peel off), but it also kept the paint from sinking into the grain of the wood.

By the mid-20th century, gesso began to change. In 1955, the first water-based acrylic gesso was created by Liquitex, the paint company. That gesso could be used underneath oil paint and underneath acrylic paint.

In recent years, some artists have questioned whether or not acrylic gesso is the right product to use under oil paint.

That’s not an issue for most people working in art journals.

However, if you also work with oil paints and want to buy just one gesso for both, discuss this with someone who’s current on this topic. (Or, look it up online to see what the latest theories are.)

Gesso and artists journals

As many of us began to create art journals, we found new uses for acrylic gesso. For example, it’s ideal for use under collages.

Note: The acrylic/oil issue shouldn’t affect art journalers who use oil pastels and crayons over acrylic gesso.

However, since the oil in oil paints, oil pastels, and similar products can weaken the paper in your journal, it’s a good idea to treat the paper with a coat of gesso, first.

When I journal, I use white gesso most of the time.

However, I’ve also used black gesso as part of the finished work. Here is an example of a page with black gesso on it. It’s from my Decluttering Journal.

Decluttering Journal pages 23 & 24

I used rubberstamp letters (alphabet letters) and an opaque (pigment) white stamp pad. I also added details with a white gel pen. The “tooth” (rough texture) of the black gesso can work well with opaque (pigment) gel pens, such as Sakura Gelly Roll pens.

How to use gesso

Like paint, gesso can get messy if you play with it. I usually spread newspaper on the desk, table, or floor where I’m working, just in case.

Shake the gesso container so it’s well mixed. Whether it’s acrylic gesso or traditional gesso, it’s still likely to separate.

Because gesso is water-based, you can use a regular brush to paint it on. I use a sponge brush for fast coverage.

If I’m working with an art journal, I apply a thin coat of gesso to one side of the page. That’s usually enough.

However, if I’ll be using heavy embellishments and the page needs to be very strong, I’ll use gesso on both sides of the page. Depending on how thick the gesso is, I may apply more than one layer to each side of the page.

Remember that the binding of your journal is also subject to wear & tear. Sometimes, especially when it’s a spiral-bound journal, I’ll paint gesso out to the edges of the page, including around the holes where the wire is.

Also, a journal with heavy embellishments will only hold up to a certain amount of page-turning. (In my classes, I often pass around my journals so people can look through them.) I closely watch the condition of my journals, and “retire” them from classroom use when they start to show signs of stress.

Cheap gesso has more water in it and will take longer to dry. If you’re going to apply gesso to the back of the page, too, be sure to let the paper dry completely before painting that second side. Otherwise, you’ll seal in moisture and weaken the paper.

Does price or quality matter?

No two people are likely to agree on this question.

When I’m using white gesso — which is most of the time — I buy whatever’s cheap. It works fine for my art journaling pages.

I often buy gesso in large tubs — like ice cream containers — to save money. As long as you put the lid back on securely, gesso stores well.

That’s sort of the best of both worlds: By buying in bulk, I get the best price for a higher-quality gesso.

When I want a colored gesso, especially black gesso, I spend considerably more and shop for very good brands.

In addition, I’ve tinted small amounts of cheap white gesso for special projects.

I start with a jar or paper cup that’s partly filled with white gesso. Then, I slowly add coloring until I achieve the color that I want.

For color, I’ve had luck with:

  • Plain (unsweetened) Kool-Aid
  • Dr. Ph. Martin’s concentrated water colors, added drop by drop to white gesso
  • Cheap watercolor paint drizzled into the gesso
  • Adding acrylic paints to the white gesso

Remember: If your Kool-Aid contains a sweetener, that can attract paper-munching insects and rodents.

Getting fancy

You’ll find a variety of gessos, each created for different kinds of art.

In addition to colored gessos, some companies make a “hard gesso” that goes on thick and can be sanded to a smooth finish. Although this product would be too heavy for use on regular journal pages, it could be useful on a heavy journal cover or other rigid support.

Gesso powder will mix into acrylic (and other) gessos to make them heavier, thicker, textured, and so on.

Summary

  • Gesso is the primer. It helps paint stick to any surface, including paper, cloth or board.
  • Gesso prevents paint from soaking into your journal page.
  • Gesso strengthens paper so that you can apply layers of collage and heavier embellishments.

You don’t have to use gesso, ever. It’s just an extra tool for certain kinds of art journaling.

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Art Journaling with Mixed-Media Collage – Tips for Beginners

This is from my 2002 post to the old ArtistsJournals2 list at Yahoo!Groups.

Some of the information (and the terminology) has changed.

For example: In the late 1990s, we’d started calling them “artists journals.”  Then, people began calling them “art journals” and I used the term art/journals.  Now (2021), we’re using terms like “art journaling,” “mixed media art,” and sometimes “scrapbooking.”

Whatever you call them, they’re illustrated diaries or journals, and they’re important.

Here’s my 2002 article, slightly updated. (You may want to compare it with my 2008 article, originally at the Artists Journals site.)

Changing course collage - better and smarter - a different route
Journal page from 25 April 2002

I’ve been doing these quick collages for months now, though not consciously doing them daily.

As I’m writing this, I’m starting each day with a collage, the same as I used to do morning pages.

I allow myself a half an hour for the initial collage process. Then, later in the day, I may go back several times – adding more things – until I’m pleased with it.

But it all starts with the determination that, whether it’s good art or not, there will be a collage when I’m finished!

Page preparations

Usually, I paint with gesso throughout my journal so the pages are strong enough to support collages here & there.

I’ll leave a few pages for writing, then gesso two or three pages so they’re prepared for collage. That forces me to avoid having an all-text journal.

My current journal is fully gesso’d pages, because this one will be entirely art.

Gesso for art journals

For my art journaling, I use any gesso that’s cheap, from the fine art supplies section of Michael’s.

Gesso makes the paper stronger, so it doesn’t suck up the glue or paint so much, and it has “tooth” to grab whatever I apply to it in layers.

I buy mostly white gesso.

Yes, you can buy it in colors, but if you start with white, you can add color to it (in small batches) with watercolors (including Dr. Ph. Martins), acrylics, even food coloring or unsweetened KoolAid if you like! But I’m happy working with white, usually.

Then, the images

I store a wide range of images in folders, kept in a heavy cardboard portfolio, to use when I want to do a collage.

I also keep a stack of magazines & newspapers on hand for my collage work.

And I go through and 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 when I put it all together, in the context of my thoughts at the time.

I love layers in my work. For this reason, I’m very big on using colored tissue paper.

Adhesives hold it all together

From 2002:

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. Sometimes, I forget to rinse them. Though I’m much better at remembering now – due to environmental concerns – I stock up on inexpensive sponge brushes (10 cents each during Michael’s sales) regularly.

[2021 update: Now, I’m using Yes! paste. I apply it with a sponge brush or a cotton swab, depending on what I’m applying to the page in my art journal. It rarely buckles or puckers. I absolutely love this product!]

While the page dries, I’ll place a piece of waxed paper over it so I can turn the page and either write or do another collage. If it’s facing another damp-and-drying page, I’ll keep waxed paper between the pages for a week or two until the adhesive is fully cured.

Embellishments in your art journal

Don’t limit yourself to paper and the occasional paint or colored accent.

I highlight some of my work with different types of leafing… gold, copper, etc. I adhere it with the same medium or paste.

For some of my work, I think of other ways to attach stuff.

For example, on a “hurting” day, a bandaid may hold an image in place.

And there are grommets, paper clips, straight pins, safety pins, and so on. Think beyond tradition and rules!

I never fret because an item prevents the journal from fully closing, nice and flat.

Frankly, by the time I get done with lots of pages, the whole thing is so layered (and sometimes a bit buckled) that it hasn’t a chance of closing nice OR flat, ever again!

Cover additions are a nice touch

Often, I 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.

But, you may think of other ways to secure your art journal. Think of it as yet more mixed-media art, not just “what’s going to hold this journal closed, in my purse or backpack.”

Do. Don’t plan!

button and string tie on an art journal cover

These collages are exciting to me.

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.

From time to time, I’ll display my new (real) art journaling and mixed media art pages here, as I create them.

For example, you can see some of my 2008 collages at a follow-up article, How to Collage in Your Art Journal.

My best advice is to make your journal your own. Mimic others while you’re learning, if you need to.

But, as soon as you can, start following your “what if…?” whims. Experiment, and then tweak if necessary.

Soon, you’ll find your own style. And – of course – it will evolve over time, as we do as individual.

In many ways, I feel as if art journaling reveals who we really are. And that’s important, as self-expression and as a legacy for the future.

 

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Artists Journals – My Letter to Erin

Below is an article about creating an artists journal.  I wrote it early in 2002.  Before you read it, here’s the backstory:

Back then, I was preparing to leave a difficult marriage.  My then-husband wanted me out of the house, but I insisted on staying until my youngest child finished high school.  It probably wasn’t one of my better ideas, but it seemed like the right thing to do, at the time.

Emotionally (and sometimes, mentally) I was holding on by a thread.  The Harry Potter books were what kept happy outcomes in my mind, and several supportive friends were invaluable to me.  They made sure that I got out and saw people, regularly.  I am so grateful to them.  I’m sure that I was difficult to deal with, at times.

One friend in my circle of friends suggested that we could all get together and create our own version of Hogwarts.  It would be a place to learn things like authentic bookbinding, assemblage and found art techniques, and so on.  Of course, it was a fantasy, but several of us were going through difficult times.  Pretending it might be real, someday… that helped tremendously.

One day, my wonderful friend Erin asked me to explain how I worked on the journals that I kept during that time.  The journals were where I expressed my hopes, fears, aspirations, and anxieties, usually through my art, but sometimes with accompanying text.

I replied to Erin, and then I posted my (slightly edited) explanation as an article.  Here it is.

My friend Erin asked me how I work on art/journals.

Generally, I have a couple of them going. One is my angry one, that no one will ever see. It’s unattractive, but keeps me from venting too inappropriately sometimes. Pain and rage are scribbled on its pages.

5" x 8" journal entitled "Hogwarts Journal."Then I’ll have the one at hand. Right now, with maybe ten more pages left in it, it’s my “Hogwarts Journal.” (That’s it in the photo, at left.)  It’s a journal that started as a place to jot notes & sketches for the university I’d love to create someday, either on my own or with my friends.

I started this journal because my partners-in-crime for this project are as busy as I am.  I see one member of the group infrequently, but for longer periods of time. I figured that I could just hand him this journal when our paths cross, and it’d save me hours of explaining my ideas (and probably forgetting half of them) .

But though I thought I was finished with this journal weeks ago, it was always at my elbow, convenient for adding more art & ideas, often unrelated to Hogwarts.

Now it’s nearly full, with about 1/2 Hogwarts ideas, and 1/2 totally different art & ideas.

I also have an event-related journal in progress (I’m writing this in Feb 2002, immediately after Celebrate Art!) And another one that seemed like a good idea before the event, but I didn’t like the stilted not-really-art that I produced trying to deal with pre-event stress, so it went into the trash yesterday.

(No, I don’t usually throw out art, but honestly, this was truly awful stuff, beyond redemption!)

Generally, I start with standard sketchbooks. You know, the ring-binder kind that they sell at Michael’s, and other art supply shops. I like the 5″x8″ size. (For the following illustrations, I’m using my Hogwarts journal.)

First, I gesso & paint and then collage the cover. (Gesso keeps the paint from seeping into the paper.) I use whatever gesso is cheap & available in bulk.

Recently, I added a hemp/string & button closure to this journal, because the pages are too irregular for it to stay closed. I lace the string through two mini-grommets I’ve mounted in the back cover, and I wrap the hemp/string around the antique button loosely sewn on the front. (It’s secured with a smaller antique button on the inside of the front cover.)But, next in the process, I start the title page, which will evolve as the journal does. This one isn’t finished yet.

Along the way, I’ll alternately write and make art in the journal. (I like the phrase “make art” because it sounds like “make love,” and it’s an equally passionate expression.) I deliberately gesso ahead a few pages when I’m doing art, to make certain I keep punctuating my journal with art.

Below is an early page from this journal. This collage started with line taken from a magazine: “You’re not alone.”

A page from my journal, reminding myself that no one is truly alone.

This entry was from the time when I deliberately dropped my boundaries and started accepting hugs from people again.  And I discovered that some friends give fabulous hugs, while other people in my life… well, my own journaling on that page says it:

“I need someone to hold. Someone who won’t pull back at the first sign of release, and withdraw behind the mask as if the whole thing was a little distasteful. Someone who looks me in the eyes and smiles beyond his lips, with a knowledge of the ages and a sense of comfort like returning home to a place I never really left.”

The tissue paper–like most of my images–was applied with Golden Gel Medium (soft, gloss). This leaves the tissue transparent enough to read the text through, while giving it the sense of layers that I value in my art.

Generally, my elements are antique paper (from flea markets), magazine images & text (W magazine and Nat’l Geographic), art & text that I create on the computer, and acrylic paint, glitter, and sometimes gold leaf. Surface embellishments include found feathers & other items, antique buttons, freshwater pearls, and… whatever else finds its way into my art supplies!

And yes, the pages do buckle and bubble beneath the gesso, paint, gel medium, and layers. That’s why I use a string-and-button closure. And no, I don’t mind that it’s such an irregular and funky design. I’m very process oriented, and if the pages buckle and warp… so be it.

So anyway, that’s today’s art blurb. I hope it helps!

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