An art journal is simply a private and safe place to be creative. Often a book (but not always), it can be of any size or dimension. It doesn't have to be a place to create "art" (though it may), and you definitely don't need to be an artist to work in an art journal (although you most certainly can be)...

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You may not like my answer to this question, but I think you'll find I'm right.

For your first art journal—and for every one you fill after that—the journal itself must be any blank book OR printed book that you like.

It really is up to you.

Well, okay. I can see your dilemma.  You may not know what you like yet, and you have many options. There are all the different art journals you can buy—or make. In addition to art journals on the market, you can purchase a handmade journal, you could alter an old book—or you could even create and bind your own book.

With all these choices, how do you decide what is the right art journal for you?

With experience, you'll come to know your preferences. But for your first art journal, I recommend you choose based on these three qualities:

1. Size

An art journal can be very small, quite large, or somewhere in between. (Its pages can be square or rectangle). It is a matter of preference, but for a first art journal I recommend something in the medium range. Pages that are 5x8" are still a bit small (although it's fine to start there, too). Something in the 8"x10" or 9"x12" range make an ideal size for a first art journal, I think.

2. Binding

Generally, you have two options: spiral coil or book-bound (glued or sewn). People have different preferences on this, so consider this:

With a book bound with coils, you can easily open your book to any two-page spread and both pages will lie down flat on the table. Also, if you like to create separate pages on each side of the coil (what we call the gutter), the coil does separate those two pages. (Although, if you ignore the coil and treat the two pages across the spread as one, that can work just fine.) Also, a coiled book that gets thicker with artwork has some room to expand.

A glued/sewn binding means the two pages in a spread easily one art journal page. The gutter is less visible. Some book-bound journals don't like flat when open when you're working on a spread that is closer to the front or the back (because one side will rest on more pages beneath it than the other).

I do like having less gutter to work over, so I generally choose a glued/sewn binding when I can—but really, it does come down to personal preference. For your first art journal, choose one kind of binding and then for your second art journal (oh yes, you will have a second art journal, you'll see), get a book with the other kind of binding. After that, you'll know for sure. In the meantime, both books will be wonderful!

3. Paper

Paper is the most important element of an art journal. What you ultimately want in your art journal pages is heavier weight that can withstand wet media. There are ways to make any art journal page heavier and water-resistant, but for your first art journal, I recommend getting an art journal manufactured for mixed media. Then you can be assured it can withstand all the juicy goodness you're going to put into it!

And that's it.  It's usually easier to purchase your first art journal and you'll find plenty of blank books made for mixed media art journals at almost any art supply store. Just think about those three qualities when you choose your first art journal.  Eventually, if you're like me you may end up keeping several different kinds of art journals for different purposes, each a  different size, bindings and paper weight. But for your first art journal?

And for all the others in your future...

Choose what you like.


Although there are other reasons to art journal—as you'll see below—the main reason to art journal is to be creative without worrying about anything else. We're called to create all kinds of things in our lives with specific outcomes in mind. We create homes and families, work products, services, and if we're lucky, we are called to create artful things, whether as hobby or business. And when we do, we shoot for goals. We want to create happy and beautiful homes, healthy families, products or services that please others—art and craft that others enjoy, approve, buy.

But when we create in our art journals, we can create without agenda. We can just let go and be with our creative selves. And I'm here to tell you that all that letting go changes you over time. And if you domake art to share with others—or want to—your art journal can take your art to the next level. Here in your art journal, you practice, capture ideas and sketch out approaches, and it can be amazing what else you create from there.

But at its core, art journaling is time to create for ourselves and by ourselves, and we each come to our open books day after day for our own good reasons. Here are a few of the best:

1.     To be creative every day

That's it. We want to connect to that creative energy inside (each of us), we want to do it often, and an art journal is where we can.

2.     To practice skills

We all get better with practice and an art journal is a perfect safe place to develop not just our arting skills—but life skills! For instance, the skill of play or self acceptance or self-care...


3.     To learn how to “art”

Many of us put away our crayons and paint brushes years ago without ever really learning how to color, paint and draw (let alone collage and sew and assemble and...) It's tough be a beginner, but our art journal is yet again a perfect safe place to learn techniques, skills, mediums, and eventually develop our own arting style.

4.     To heal

Art journaling is a practice that allows us to process and release—and heal. 


5.     To look inward

It turns out that art journaling involves more than skills and ideas—in fact, as far as I'm concerned it's mostly about heart. There's real joy in creating art journal pages—but of course, we have other emotions in our lives, too. And sometimes there aren't words.  In our art journals, we don't need words. We can let our hearts speak to us in its native, visual language. 

6.     To grow creative confidence

After some time in our art journals, we learn and grow. We gain skills, greater understanding, more knowledge about arting and ourselves. And with learning and growth comes creative confidence.


7.      To express

Sometimes, we just need to express ourselves! And sometimes, we don't want to express ourselves in front of other people. And sometimes, we want to use more than words.  So we art journal.


8.     To be in the moment

You can't be anywhere else in your mind or heart when you're art journaling. You are there, with that page—and this is a practice of living in the moment. And it's powerful.


9.     To capture and record experiences in time

Another reason to keep an art journal! Whether travel journals, sketchbooks or daily art journals, we can art journal to capture our lives.

10.   To experiment

When you know no one will see it—you can try anything! Doesn't work? Oh well, paint over it! In the meantime you learned something. 


11.   To explore some of those stuck places on the page that we seem to also face in life

For instance, that avoidance thing… that perfectionism thing…that give-up-too-soon thing…or whatever your “thing” in life tends to be…chances are you'll encounter it in your art journal pages. And what better place to see it for what it really is...art journaling sometimes gives you a kind of inner x-ray vision.

12.   To develop one’s own process and style

As your art journaling practice continues you become acquainted with your preferences and your quirks, you learn and grow, and over time...you will find your own process and your own style. You will see yourself for the artist you are.

Do any of these reasons resonate with you? Why do you art journal?


Art Journaling is a hobby that can include as many or as few supplies as you want.  If you find yourself with just paper and a ballpoint pen—you can art journal. In fact, with a little imagination you could rock that art journal.

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If you are just starting out with art journaling, don’t over-purchase supplies. Don't be like that new photography student who buys an expensive camera, 20 different lens, tripods, lights, backdrops and everything else related to cameras…and then starts on lesson one: how to focus.

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Let me tell you a secret: Art journaling doesn’t have to be art. And you don’t have to “be” an artist (although you can be). An art journal is simply a private and safe place for anyone—anyone—to be creative.

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