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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Stepping Into the Abstract World

Abstracts are fascinating, aren’t they? They look so simple, but like any good art, they come with a set of rules which are yours to learn and break. After reading Realistic Abstracts, (several times!) I was willing to give it a go. Poppies had just passed the season here, but I had several photographs to work from. Now, I needed a palette.

I’ve been keeping my palettes simple lately, generally 2 complementary colors and then various shades of each color. In search of the perfect palette, I found this lovely seafoam green, red and black palette from colorpalettes.net that seemed perfect.

I also watch an acrylic video by Jodi Ohl and studied the abstract artwork of Jeanie Gebhart, a fellow Denver artist. She has some lovely inspiration in her gallery. With all the above, I covered a 12×12 deep canvas and covered it with black gesso (like frosting!), added some titan buff and then a layer of seafoam green. Loved it!

When I applied the seafoam green in the sky, I accidentally gouged out a V which ended up looking like a bird, so I added 2 more. Happy accidents! I got very attached to these birds and had a hard time letting go of them, but in the end I covered them over. Maybe next time…

V grooves like birds in the sky

Next step, block in the flowers with red. I chose 2 reds, a deep cool red and a warm orange red called napthol red light a heavy body acrylic by Liquitex. This is a gorgeous color and really blends well with the cooler red to make the perfect poppies.

I had in mind a field of poppies in the lower left, peaking just above midpoint and then s-curving down to the lower right. So far, so good…but now comes the hard part.

I’m stumped, what to do next? eek! I had no idea how to go forward. I knew if I painted flowers in detail then I’d be missing the abstract challenge…what to do, what to do…

applying color to infer a field of flowers

Flowers aren’t that hard, some lights, some darks and a little deepest dark middle, right? Not if you want them to look abstract! So how do you make a flower look abstract? I’m learning…but the answer is somewhere in simplify, simplify, simplify. When I figure that out, I’ll be sure to post about it!

But carry on, I did with what I know and has worked for me in watercolors…some lights, some darks and a deepest dark center. Surprise! It actually had some wonderful appeal. The olive green was a good choice to set off the reds, but I like it so much it started going everywhere. Something was not quite right. I thought at first it was the sky, then the s-curve, then the flowers going off the right side, too much green..ugh! To tell the truth, I had no idea, but I wasn’t sold on it. So I put it up for the day and went to bed.

light and darks, trying to get a feel for simplicity

Fresh eyes, fresh morning and fresh composition. I decided it all had to go, including the birds! After all, I was just learning and playing, right? Out comes the black gesso, the titan buff and the seafoam green. I’ll spare you the details, but I had a double flower composition I thought would work…I was wrong. It got covered over as well.

On the third try, I remembered the mantra, simplify, simplify, simplify. So I reduced the field of flowers to 2, and then to 1 with a couple of buds to keep her company. I realized the green in the sky was overpowering, but I knew you needed to repeat colors in different areas of the painting to unify it, so I kept a bit of it.

simplify, simplify mantra compelling action

The rest is just try a stroke, leave it or wipe it off, or partially off, scrape it, water it down, try any technique I’ve learned and if it doesn’t work, try again until I liked it. After a while, I had a lower half that I was thoroughly happy with. A reward to keep me going! 

Really different, isn’t it? But so much simpler and cleaner and more minimalist. I liked where it was going!

While I liked the minimalist appeal of the poppy, I was missing that wonderful napthol red orange. And I knew I couldn’t finish the background until I had it added so I could check my lights and darks for balance. Rather than a brush, I used some palette knives that were successful in the lower part. If you’ve never tried working with palette knives, they really keep you from getting too tight. I highly recommend them when you’re getting stuck.

I worked on that left side sky for the longest time. I thought I wanted black, then green, then a bit of red…over and over until I finally liked it. I know this is trial and error, but it’s also practice. How many times have we heard just practice as much as you can and oh, don’t forget to have fun too!

12×12 deep canvas, mixed media entitled “Poppy on Seafoam”, ready to hang. SOLD!


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Vintage Collage

I’m more than a little infatuated with the wonderful texture of collage…tried a few flowers and went way overboard… In “Ruby Tuesday” (below), I pulled way back with a minimalist attitude toward the collage pieces. I’ve used a gorgeous Vermillion from Van Gogh and Peacock Blue from Holbein. Mixed together, they made a wonderful brown that matched the greeny-brown in the wallpaper on her left sleeve. She definitely has a vintage feel about her. SOLD!

“Ruby Tuesday” by Lynne Furrer Mixed Media SOLD!

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