Think Art Journaling is Easy?

I know you’ve seen posts from veteran art journalists where their worst art journaling is probably my best…but it’s time to take a deep breath and say that miracle mantra “everybody is on the road, only in different places”. Okay, maybe that’s my variation of some famous saying… The point is, we just have to keep going!

What Makes it Seem Hard?

How is it just slopping paint on a page and making something look good is so challenging? For me, it’s because there are basic rules about composition, design, color, values, subjects that are important and won’t be denied their day in the sun.

When I create in a journal I have the intention to make it look great because that’s when it feels satisfying to me. I’ve been playing around with steps in a process that lead to a creation I love. Like a puzzle, there are many pieces that need to come together.

I’ve figured out Step 1 and Step 2 (for me). Step 3 is trying to defeat me, but I’m still standing, still fighting… Here’s my typical process:

Split complementary Palette

Step 1

For art journaling, I find or draw an image that inspires me. To be honest, I’ve ruined so many drawings that I’ve moved to magazine images which give me the opportunity to take less risk, stay out of deep depression, and most times it give me a color palette to start with. Black and white is never a stumbling block as it goes with just about any color.

With the palette almost given to me (from the magazine image), I pick colors I have on hand that might work straight from the tube, or mix up a shade close enough. I’m looking for light, medium and dark values, but I don’t have to pick black, Payne’s gray or umber! I can mix a dark value if I choose complementary colors, like blue and orange.

So, I have my subject/inspiration/focal point, my palette (it’s good to check the color wheel on this one) and paints I have on hand to make that palette. If I’m unsure of mixtures, I just test them out now on a scrap piece of paper (which might even find its way into the composition). My palette is a split complementary of red-orange, yellow and blue from my favorite Online Palette Maker.

The last thing I did was take my darkest, coolest value (blue) as a light wash across the page to integrate both sides. I don’t cover up all the white because I anticipate I’ll need some areas of “calm” later on. We’ll see…

Stage 2: Composition and Design

Step 2

This is all about composition and design. First, I run white gesso over the whole page and dry it. Just a thin coat to strengthen the pages. Then, where to place my subject? I move her around, turn her, fold part of her back, and just use trial and error until I find what I like.

I grab those bags of loose papers, snippets of yarn, cloth, lace and all those things I’ve put in my stash. Everything you see in my composition photo came from leftovers in my stash.

Whenever I’m rummaging through the bags and some little piece falls out right in front of me, I take a second look. I like the idea that it’s special somehow. The sash of her dress is a bright red-orange piece of washi paper that jumped out and said “hey, use me”!

Nothing is glued down at this stage. I’m constantly moving pieces around, adding, substracting; it’s all trial and error until I get a pleasing picture. The only “intention” I have is stay in my color palette and use different textures. While most pieces are paper, the pattern on each is different, and the feel of each paper is different. I also try to vary the “shades” of each color in my palette which adds interest. Everything in this stage is a shape and I have to decide if it stays or goes.

When I get a pleasing composition I take a picture because I want to remember where everything goes. More times than not, when gluing, I’m so into it, I forget to look at the photo! So I just go with whatever it is becoming. That photo is still a document of my process which helps when analyzing where something went wrong in step 3.

Step 3: Integration

Step 3

Full disclosure… this stage is still my toughest nut to crack. It’s still a struggle…if there were a time limit, I’d probably scream. I call this the integration stage and “top layer” design.

If I had the answer, I’d share! I suspect it’s practice, experience, learning anything and everything about design, composition, elements of each, lots of classes to stretch yourself and just showing up. In other words, the art journey. I’ve started a Pinterest board on art journaling integrations – feel free to follow it. One of these integrations was the white outline you see in my Step 3. A thin outline separated her from the background and defined her as the focal point versus some other strong piece in the composition.

Do you have a favorite art journaling integration method? Please post them in the comments below! And happy Journaling!

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4 responses to “Think Art Journaling is Easy?”

  1. Thank you for this interesting article. If you could would you mind to send me a link to the Pinterest on integration, the link at the bottom is actually to the general pinterest.


    1. HI! thanks for letting me know about the link. here is the direct one:

      and thanks for the feedback on the blog. I was able to approve it and it shows up. I have to moderate these because I get 10x as much spam.

      If I missed anything, just let me know using the contact form on my website..



  2. This was a fascinating read, Lynne. I loved that you took us through your process, and you obviously thought it through so you could describe it so clearly. I think this will help me with my process. Thank you!


  3. Very informative. I have a tendency to do step 2 then step 1. Hmmm…. I think I’m going to try your approach for a while and see how it goes. Thanks for sharing!


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