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Art Journaling 101: Ideas And Prompts To Get Started

Start an art journaling practice with these ideas and prompts, a foundational spot for beginners. From choosing an art journal to inspirational prompts, connect with your inner artist and start journaling today!

mixed media art journal ideas for beginners

What we’re going to cover:

What is Art Journaling?

Choosing Art Journal Notebooks

Different Kinds of Sketchbook Binding

Art Journaling Paper: What Weight You Should Choose

Art Journal Supplies

Get Started Tips for Beginners

Art Prompts and Ideas for Pages

Finding Inspiration and Staying Motivated

What Is Art Journaling?

Art journaling is the creative process of making art in an art journal, notebook, or sketchbook. What’s inside could be anything from sketches to paintings made from coffee to collages with old magazine pages.

Art journals might be created for self expression, exploration of art materials, daily diaries, sketching ideas for bigger projects, documenting experiences, capturing visual ideas, or testing new creative concepts.

Personally, I love to use my art journal in the following ways:

  • documenting ideas
  • experimenting with unique patterns, combinations of materials, or new art supplies
  • having a daily record of ideas that i can come back to for future work
  • playing
  • starting my days with art: it grounds me and sets the day on a positive course

Art journal pages often involve using various art supplies like watercolor paint, colored pencils, acrylic paints, markers, stamps, or glued collage papers on the pages of a journal.

The results of an art journaling practice could be:

  • a creative outlet for emotions
  • a spot to de-stress
  • a place for creative expression
  • a repository of ideas that turn into new projects

Choosing Art Journal Notebooks

There are so many art journals to choose from. Where does one start?! 

Over the years I’ve tested and played with hundreds of journals. Those with hard covers, soft covers, spiral bound journal, tear-out sheets, altered books, lay-flat art journals, leatherbound books, saddlestitched or stapled binding (like a magazine)…to name a few!

It all boils down to personal preference. If you’re new to art journaling, I’d recommend trying a few to see what you most enjoy. 

That said, I’ll break down some differences and things to look for so you can make an informed choice!

Diamond Pattern Painting Sketchbook Prompt

Sketchbook Binding

There are four kinds we’ll talk about: Coilbound, Casebound, Saddle Stitch, Homemade

Coilbound Sketchbook: I like this style of because the pages lie flat, the pages turn easily, and you can open the pages all the way around the spine. If you think you’ll enjoy working on just one page at a time or if you want to toss this in a bag and space is limited, this could be the way to go. 

Hardcover Casebound Sketchbook: These books have pages that are secured together with stitching; like a hardcover book. Artists prefer these books if they want to work on two pages at once (a double page spread). They also offer the option to label the spines and feel more substantial.

Saddle Stitch: These are bound like brochures or composition notebooks. You’d have a rudimentary version of this if you folded a couple pages in half, then stapled them together at the center. These are great for traveling or tucking into a small bag for on-the-go journaling.

Homemade: There are plenty of ways to DIY an art journal. You could fold and stitch or staple a few pages together (get creative with a variety of papers) or repurpose a vintage book into the best art journal you’ve ever seen.

mixed media art journal ideas [card download]
mixed media art journal ideas [card download]

Art Journaling Paper – What Weight You Should Choose

Look for thick paper that can withstand paint, water, or heavily pigmented pens. Paper weight is designated in pounds. This number refers to how much a ream (usually 500 sheets) weighs. So, if a ream of 500 sheets weighs 150 pounds, one would say that’s 150 pound paper. 

For art journaling, I like paper that’s 90 pounds or more. My current favorite is a book with 120 lb paper and it feels just about perfect. See TinkerLab Art Journal Essentials for my downloadable list of 19 favorite art journal supplies, including this amazing art journal.

Some art journals like the Strathmore Visual Journals self-proclaim that they are “Mixed Media Journals,” which is so helpful and saves the step of looking for how heavy the paper is. But still, try to take a look at the paper weight and see if it comes in at 90 pounds or more. If so, this is likely a good one to try.

If you’re not going with an art journal, but simply paper, again, use 90 pound or higher paper or use watercolor paper which is even thicker than most art journaling sketchbooks.

art journal collage
less is more: a child-adult art collaboration

Art Journal Supplies

If you’re just getting started I’d recommend downloading TinkerLab Essential Art Journal Supplies for my top recommendations. 

Art journal supplies tinkerlab

You’ll want to have a variety of dry media and wet media to play with. Dry media would be chalk pastels, oil pastels, crayons, pencils, and markers. Wet media would be watercolor paint, printmaking ink, or acrylic paint.

Here are some general guidelines…

Dry Media

Markers: Washable markers like the ones kids use at school or fancier brush pens. These are fun to draw with and when you add water to the marks they blend and bleed. Permanent markers are excellent for when you don’t want the marks to bleed after water hits them.

Paint Pens: Fun for making doodles or marks on top of collage paper or layers of paint.

Pastels: Chalk pastels are rough and dusty, nice for blending and adding texture into bottom layers. Oil pastels are great for making bold lines and filling areas with bright color.

Collage Papers: Photographs, magazine cutouts, ticket stubs, envelope liners, old art, notebook paper, wrapping paper. I could go on! If you come across something interesting, save it in a collage box. 

Stickers & Tapes: Washi tape and stickers are fun little elements to add some whimsy to a page. 

Wet Media

Watercolor Paint: This is a staple for just about every artist. Some people like these in tubes and others in trays. Both are fabulous. My preference is the tray because they’re easy to store. Make sure you also get a variety of brushes like round, flat, and filbert. Get them in a few sizes for details and covering larger areas.

Acrylic Paint: This is a plastic-based paint that dries extremely fast. It’s thick and good for covering other elements on a page. Get a variety of colors. I always invest in a larger bottle (or extra bottle) of white because I love mixing it into other colors and it always seems to be the first color to run out.

Stencils (use with paint): Great for adding texture. You can make your own, or start a small collection with a few designs that speak to you.

Gelli Plate (use with paint or printing ink): It’s a bit of a splurge, but a really fun printmaking tool for experiments and playful art making. If you get one, also pick up a brayer. 

Circles and Watercolor Paint | A Simple Sketchbook Prompt | TinkerLab
simple sketchbook prompt to kick off the day

Getting Started: Tips For Beginners

There are so many ways to start an art journal page! 

The blank page can be the most difficult thing for people to overcome. 

To get past this, I want you to think of your art journal page as a series of layers. If you think of it this way, most or all of the bottom layer will get covered by what follows, so anything you put on the page is less precious. With that in mind, start by scribbling some marks, write some words, or glue a few pieces of collage paper on the page to take away the fear of the blank page. 

Once that’s done, look at the page and see where you’re at. 

Do the marks or papers you added offer any clues for what you could do next? If so, follow that thread and keep going by adding more layers.

art journaling page layers

Check out these TinkerLab posts for details:

An Easy Art Journal Idea with Markers and Water

Art Journal Inspiration from Daily Life

Art Journaling with a Magazine Background

Layered Art Journal with Pencil and Acrylic

Art Prompts And Ideas For Pages

Another useful tool for getting past the blank page or dealing with artist block is using Art Prompts

For example:

1. Draw a Mandala or radial design

2. Write ten things you’re grateful for, then doodle symbols to represent those things

3. Paint triangles in cool colors

4. Fill the page with leaf shapes. Paint around them

5. Draw what you see through a window

See TinkerLab 12 Months of Art Challenges for lists of prompts for each day of the year.

12 months of art challenges
12 months of art challenges

Art Prompt Cards are another way tackle artist’s block. Download our free Art Prompt Cards mini set for open-ended ideas to spark creativity. 

For example: 

1. Explore the edges of the page

2. Make Light Marks

3. Add dots of various sizes

Finding Inspiration And Staying Motivated

Once you start making art on a consistent basis you’ll find that it gets so much easier to stay committed to the process. Not only that, but ideas will start coming more naturally. 

There are so many places to find inspiration such as:

1. Notice nature and look for patterns on walks

2. Art museums

3. Public art

4. Textures and patterns in urban areas

5. Patterns on textiles, wrapping paper, and other household objects

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