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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Art Journaling? What for?

I ended 2019 scratching my head wondering what’s this art journal craziness? The main question I had was why do they do it?

Don’t go looking for answers on Youtube. You’ll get bombarded with videos that take 20 minutes to finally get to the point of what they want to say and then they forget what they wanted to say. Or those that never get to the point. I wish Youtube had a noise meter with each video…

I continued hearing this buzz on social media with journal this, journal that images; everyone seemed to have one. Some were actually quite nice, but then I ran into junk journals…why would someone call their art junk?

Purposeful Journaling

I use a journal now and then to try out color palettes, like a recipe book of combinations I liked and those I wanted to forget. At least I had a record! I like my journals “dedicated” to one thought, concept, exploration…a way to categorize and find stuff (you know, like with a purpose). Using a square journal, I test pigment combinations with an inspiration photo on one side and then draw and paint using those colors on the other side.

inspired by one of my fav artists Charles Dwyer


This type of journaling has a defined purpose; learn something. But other people were having fun with no purpose at all. To me it looked like going in circles. What’s wrong with just creating something for no reason at all? I was about to find out.

When in Doubt, Learn

When in doubt about the value of something, dive deeper into it. Now I needed to find a course. Wanderlust 2020 on the Kasia Avery network, is a year long, weekly challenge in art journals. Weekly seemed plenty fast enough for me so I joined.

Two months into the course, it’s amazing! Not that I’m pumping out great art, but that the nasty critic in my head has finally quit screaming at me to produce a pretty and perfect piece of art. Now I can really just PLAY!

Ok, it is not that easy or simple, although it should be. I’m not there yet, but I’ve collected a bunch of attempts. But I’m learning that it’s okay to collect failures. I’m challenged by wonderful teachers with all sorts of new ways to make art and be creative. And isn’t that really the bottom line? We just need to create, no matter what it looks like? Don’t we learn something every time, even if the paper goes in the basket? I do, I learn what I like and what I don’t like. And I take a piece of every lesson to my next piece of “pretty” art.

When One Door Opens

Now here’s the funny thing. When you open one door, yep, another door opens. I hear about a class called The Down Deep with Fonda Clark Haight on the Art is Magic site. Here’s the hook line: “Mining your truths on the creative journey”. Is it calling you? It did me.

In this month long class, we created art in search of our “true” art calling…digging deep down there…in our internal psyches to find authenticity. Scary? It was kind of…at first… but Fonda provides such a wonderful, safe place to share it was never scary. We learned to create animals, creatures, people and stories from what she describes as ugly backgrounds. We shared those stories and it was inviting to do so. I don’t want to give away any more lest I get in trouble, but it was a game changer for me! I was now mining something out of a blank page that I’d never even considered before.

here’s my ugly background and finding something…

…here’s my finished piece “The Third Eye Door”


In the final project for the month there’s a challenge to create a piece connecting with our shadow sides. The course really was perfect for me…just the right instruction just when I needed it. This work was my favorite.

“Embrace the Shadow” by Lynne Furrer

What’s Journaling for? For anything! Make a background and just leave it for something you don’t even know you’re going to do yet. Try new things, new artists, new instructions, explore, test and fail with abandon. Remove intentions, rewrite how you create art. Keep it categorized in separate journal books or just mess it all up into 50, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you show up and do it. This is the way art thrives. Go for it!

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Blue Stabilo Sketch Experiment

“Drawing removes the gates holding back the tide of experimentation”…(yea, I said that).

In these 2 pieces, I sketched out the face loosely with a blue Stabilo pencil. If I hadn’t spent the last 2 years learning to draw a face, she would look more like a 3 year old drawing. That said, I don’t think I could get to this level / confidence of experimentation without having learned to draw first. After sketching, I threw a handful of water at each and watched the pigment try to hold its ground as the water ran its course. The watercolor paper was prepped with white Gesso many months before. That may have helped the water sit on top of the paper vs. immediately soaking in.

In the 1st piece (left), I went back in to define her more after letting the water dry.

The 2nd piece (right) was left alone to dry on its own, without redefining.

Walking the line between abstract and realism…which one calls to you? 

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Painting Outside Perfect

Wow, where did January go? I have been painting almost daily and doing some larger works too and revisiting Encaustics! Watercolor is where I began and I go back to it like seeing an old friend…so January was full of those. I especially love using a Stabilo pencil with water – magic happens!!

While sketching, I pushed myself to draw outside the “perfect” features of a woman’s face. To tell the whole truth, I was actually getting tired of striving for “perfect”. So, I elongated this woman’s nose quite a bit and made her eyes more expressive. Look at that mole! I loved her in the sketch, so decided to make a large, 18×24 canvas of her …mostly so I could go crazy with color! And I did.

I started “Annabelle” with ephemera papers, adding marks and color. I sketched her on the canvas and played with some color leaving her to dry while I went out to eat.

We chose a Chinese restaurant which was auspicious. I received a wonderful fortune and couldn’t resist adding that to her background the next day. The fortune says “We can not change the wind, but we can adjust the sails”. Since I had originally adjusted her from a “perfect” face, I felt the sentiment belonged to this portrait.

As a last bit of excitement, I added a transparent red oil paint over her background and complexion. What a wonderful way to make her skin look like antique porcelain. The transparent oils really add a deep, saturated color and also added a vintage feel overall. If applied very, very thinly over acrylic, it works! I will use this technique again. SOLD!

Annabelle – SOLD!

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Daily (Almost) Painting

Having just come off the Inktober challenge in October,  I found myself pretty uninspired to create anything. EEEK! I was in the proverbial artist’s block. I’d read it took some artists 5 years to get out of their own way…that was way too long for me. What to do? I tried several large portraits, tried some watercolors…all flopping and I just felt like I had forgotten how to paint!

My husband suggested I try some small florals since I had done these in watercolor (ACEO) and they were wonderfully fun and successful, but after hundreds of them, I got bored making them and needed a new challenge. And I was trying to use new mediums, like acrylics and oil. In watercolor, you work from light to dark. Acrylics you work from dark to light…

It got me thinking about Daily Painters, ones who’ve been at it for years; (not days) painting daily. Artists like Lisa Daria and Carol Marine.

I like the looseness of Lisa’s style which led me to another artist, Stanley Bielen, who makes a simple little flower in a vase look astounding. Too simple for some, but looked just perfect for me. And who doesn’t love the colors of Dreama Tolle Perry and the nostalgic teacups from Elena Katsyura? These artists have all spent years perfecting a simple little vase of flowers or teacups into something mystical and magical to view. I felt I’d accomplished that in watercolor, now it was time for a new challenge….with acrylics.

Here are some my first attempts to get back into smaller florals in acrylics. These were done in the last week or so…at least the ones that survived! The best thing about acrylics, which I can’t do with watercolor, is just wipe it off, or cover over it…and go again. I’ve painted these small artworks before, in oil, watercolor and acrylic, but not really on a regular “daily painting” basis. I have high hopes the daily (almost) painting will work for me a bit like a challenge does…to keep me in the studio, exploring and discovering if nothing else.

All of these are still too tight for where I want to be, but I’m trying to remember that I’m exploring and every time I do, there is something to learn. And it may end up that this is just as loose as I’ll ever be…and if so, that’s okay too. These words sound trite, but they ring so true.


So, this is the “official” start of my daily (almost) painting journey. I don’t know where it will go, but I’m on the road. Maybe it’s just for a short time until I stop and try something else. Maybe it will become my fall back position…and how I get re-inspired when blocked.

Or maybe it’s just a get on/get off journey, but it’s now part of my history and evolution as an artist. I know how hard challenges are to “stick with” and at this point, I’m not committed to making this an EVERYDAY practice for years and years. One baby step at a time…which makes Daily (Almost) Painting feel just right.

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Ever Wondered What a 30 Day Challenge is Like?

These challenges can be intimidating! It’s sounds like a lot of work, and to be honest, it can be (more on that below). I was not looking for busywork, but with the challenge of Wendy Ann’s Mindful Drawing Month, I felt it was something I needed to do.

30 Days Seems Like a Long Time

On Day 1, listening to Wendy Ann’s free guided meditation, I easily fell into a rhythm moving the pencil on paper. No goal, no “thinking”, just feeling the breath, the glide of pen on paper and arm’s movement. Of course, my critic was with me the whole time…”this is ridiculous, no one will ever like it”, but no one has to like it. It’s just play!

The Inner Critic

On Day 29 I was terribly frustrated. I had followed my new process: meditate, draw, paint and I just hated what came out. I added black ink and watched it mix with water (always so mesmerizing) but no amount of ink and water proved fruitful. I pitched that and started 3 others…threw then all in the trash can and then just sat for a while. I’d had lost the breathing meditation….and my critic was back…eek.

Finishing Mindful Drawing Month

There’s good that comes from a “stick-with-it” challenge. You discover things about your art’s expression that you never even guessed at. There is frustration, but without a frustrating day, I never would have ended up with something I really love.

I discovered a new process of drawing with pencil, adding water and color that I just fell in love with. I can use that process to abstract and even more abstractedness. Experimenting is fun!

What I never expected from this challenge was an answer to why people love to draw. Now I know why people sit for hours and hours with their pencils and notebooks. I know why people doodle. I know what a pencil feels like as an extension of my arm in a quiet moment. I am happy to be one of them.

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