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.

Instead, gather essential supplies first and build as you learn. (If you were a beginning photographer, all you’d really need to start is a decent camera).

Admittedly, the supplies shown in the picture above is a pretty threadbare collection. It's the equivalent of a low end point and shoot camera if we were learning photography. Yes, you could art journal with just paint, scissors and glue—but realistically, you'd be missing out on a lot of art journaling fun. In my opinion, you need a few—but just a few—more supplies to get started.

The list below is what I consider to be the essentials every art journaler should have on hand. 

It's the list of  "must have" supplies for beginners and it's also a list for anyone who art journals outside the home, say for an art class, an art retreat, or creative playdate. All you really need aside from any specialty items the instructor puts on a supplies list, are these essentials.

There are so many fun art supplies on the market, and over time, you may just find you have an entire art studio full of them. You can find a full list of art journal supplies here if you're curious. But like I said, when you're just starting out with art journaling OR if you are traveling anywhere to create  all you need are these essentials. You'll find some recommendations on the brands I prefer below this list.

Here's my well-used collection of all the essential supplies.

Here's my well-used collection of all the essential supplies.

Essential Supplies List for art journaling

Essential tools:

  • An Art Journal
  • Apron or paint shirt (if using wet media)
  • Scissors
  • Paper towels
  • Wax paper
  • Baby wipes
  • Paint palette
  • Water cup
  • Paintbrushes

Essential Media:

A medium (singular for plural word, media)  is simply any material used to make art.

  • White Gesso
  • Matte Medium
  • Glue Stick
  • At least one color media (inexpensive brands to start)

+ Select colors of acrylic paint (hint: with primary red, blue and yellow and  black and white, you can theoretically mix all colors and practically mix almost any color you'd want.)

+ Selection of watercolors

+ Crayons (small pack)

+ Selection of markers

+ Pastels

  • Waterproof black pen(s)
  • One white pen
  • Sketching pencil plus eraser and sharpener or mechanical pencil with eraser

Essential others:

*A small selection of stencils AND/OR stamps/one stamp pad

Papers and images (which you will collect over time)

A little about brands or kinds

 For many of these essential supplies, you can often choose between several different manufacturers, each offering a slightly different product. Here are a few products I recommend:

Art Journal: Check out What Kind of Journal Should You Use? to review your options. 

 Paintbrushes: There are a million types of brushes out there (okay, maybe not a million—but a lot). All with different qualities and purposes. To start (and to travel with) I recommend to my students that they purchase a beginning set that lies in the mid-price range. That is, not the cheapest because those are poor quality, but not the most expensive because we don't need that quality (yet). You will learn about what different brushes do someday, but choose at least five brushes:

  • one tiny pointed brush
  • one pointed brush larger in diameter than the tiny one
  • one small flat brush (1/4"-1/2" wide)
  • one larger flat brush (1"-2" wide)
  • one angled flat brush (about 1/2" wide)

Also, choose brushes for acrylic paint (or mixed) and test the bristles by lightly bending them back—they should have good bounce back to shape (that is, not floppy).

 Waterbrush: A waterbrush is a paintbrush whose stem can be filled with water. It's very convenient for traveling and just doing watercolor (If you're traveling, you can leave the acrylic paints (and the paint pallette/water can) at home. Look for the traveling Koi watercolor set, which includes both watercolors and a waterbrush. Waterbrushes are also available separately from other manufacturers.

Arting media fills stores with choices, but to start I recommend:

Gesso: We use Gesso (je so) to prime our pages so the paper won't absorb wet media and it also blends and layers as paint. I like Liquitex or Golden Gesso.

Matte Medium: an acrylic paint additive and also works wonderfully as glue. I enjoy Liquitex or Golden Matte Medium. It is worth paying more for these brands of both Gesso and Matte Medium because we tend to use them often in our art journals and their quality (both in use and when dried) matter.  I recommend that you don't opt for the lesser priced Mod Podge. It smells (and could especially be an issue when arting with others who might be sensitive) and when dried, art journal pages stick together more. 

Paint: I don't recommend purchasing expensive paint, at least at first. Really, for art journal pages craft paint is fine. It's inexpensive and you can find a ton of colors. With that said, craft paint tends to be much chalkier than higher end, better quality brands. The Liquitex Basics line is a good compromise. They still aren't THAT expensive (especially on sale).  Once you develop as an artist and also if you start working outside of your art journal too, well, then it's time to invest in Golden fluid acrylic paints...but that's down the road.

Other color: As for other color mediums, I like the Koi traveling watercolor set as I said, Crayola Crayons, Prisma colored pencils, Tombow markers (which activate with water) and I highly recommend the Portfolio water-soluble oil pastels, which are affordable too.

Black pens and white pens: We tend to use both of these a lot in our art journals and they're important. I always have the following pens with me: Sakura black Micron pens in point sizes .01, .03, .08 and the black Faber-Castell Fine point pen. Both are waterproof which is important when working with wet media.   As for white pens, I can't find a better white pen then the Uni-ball Signo white pen, although t is not waterproof.

Essential Others: I can't recommend anything specific in this category,but I can offer some advice. Stencils, stamps and papers are loads of fun to work with and there is no end to what you could collect. You can also make and find stencils, stamps and papers everywhere (including the recycling bin). My advice is to start with just a few purchased stencils and stamps (and stamp pads) that you like—and slowly add to your collection over time.  When you travel, choose only a few of your favorites to bring, if at all. When on the road, sometimes it's just best to rely on a few other basic supplies and your creativity.

As for images and papers for collage, begin with what you find interesting in old magazines as well as in your recycling bin. Photos are always great and you can also purchase papers, Transparent papers are especially good for layering. Think tissue paper and even dried (and emptied) tea bags and coffee filters...if you love collage, this collection will grow and grow.