Everything You Need to Know About Art Journaling (and No, You Don't Need to Be a Great Artist to Do It!)

Everything You Need to Know About Art Journaling (and No, You Don't Need to Be a Great Artist to Do It!)

The therapeutic effects of writing in a journal are well-documented. But did you know that art journaling also has powerful healing abilities? 

You’re probably thinking: “What if I’m not artsy? What if I only know how to draw stick figures?”

Don’t worry! The best part about art journaling is you don’t have to be a professional artist to reap the benefits. Here's everything you need to know.

What is art journaling?

Similar to a written journal, art journaling is another form of self-expression. The only difference is that instead of words, it’s visuals.

“An art journal can serve any of the same purposes as a written journal, except that rather than using only words, art journals have visual elements as well,” says Angela Amias, holistic psychotherapist and cofounder of Alchemy of Love. Art journal pages can take lots of different forms, with very abstract images of color to journals that incorporate writing and representational drawings.”

How to get started with art journaling 

Start by letting your mind wander, and enjoy the creative process.

“Get a blank book and let yourself color, paint, and collage in layers in the pages. Get lost in the images, dream on, and experience the healing powers of play and creativity,” says Christine Scott-Hudson, MA MFT ATR, Registered Art Therapist, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Author of Write With Yourself: Expressive Writing Journal Prompts for Self Care. 

As you cultivate your art journaling practice, create a setting that makes you feel at peace.

"You can even work on your art journal pages while you watch 'Bridgerton' or the 'Real Housewives' of anywhere!  Let yourself relax and just enjoy color, shapes, lines, and creative expression,” Scott-Hudson states.

The beauty of art journaling is that you can make it your own — there is no right or wrong. You can choose to draw about your day, make a collage of places you’d like to go, draw a cartoon about your jerk boss, or put stickers all over and use washi tape to make cool abstract designs, Scott-Hudson explains. The added bonus of using an art journal is nobody can “read” it and the meaning you make is totally up to you.

Step 1: Get Your Materials

Amias recommends beginning with a large bound journal or sketchpad that’s designed for mixed media or watercolor. That way, the paper won’t wrinkle or dissolve when it gets wet.

An ideal beginner’s set of art journaling materials would include a basic set of oil pastels or art crayons for making bold marks on the page, an inexpensive set of gel pens (including white), a set of colored markers, a basic set of watercolor paints, a pencil and a favorite pen, Amias explains. These supplies will let you create a variety of kinds of marks on the page.

“Beginning with basic art supplies helps new art journalers loosen up and remember that creating a perfect image isn’t the point of art journaling,” sys Amias. “I encourage people to begin with messier art supplies like paint and oil pastels because they’re harder to control, which helps keep the focus of the experience of journaling, rather than trying to get the image just right.”

Step 2: Set an Intention

As with the beginning of any practice, thinking about your goals and setting an intention is an essential part of the process.

“My favorite way to get people started with art journaling is to have them first set an intention for what they would like to get out of art journaling,” says Amias. “This can be an intention to just spend some time playing with art supplies or to express a particular feeling, like anger or sadness, or to explore what it feels like to make marks on a page, especially if they haven’t done this since they were kids.” 

Step 3: Make a Bold Mark Across the Page

The next step is to make a bold mark across the page. This helps loosen people up because it takes away the pressure off making something that looks pretty, Amias explains.

To clear your mind and get in the right headspace, take a deep breath.

“I recommend starting with three deep, cleansing breaths,” Jewell Singletary, art journaling instructor and founder of Gratitude Griot LLC, says. “You can draw whatever comes to mind or you can fill your page with colors that match your emotions.”

Singletary recommends drawing whatever comes to mind or you can fill your page with colors that match your emotions. Use any notebook with or without lines, a pencil and your favorite coloring tool. To get started, choose from simple tools such as colored pencils, crayons and markers. You can also get fancier with water color or acrylic paints and collage art. 

Art Journaling Benefits

There are a handful of benefits to art journaling. Here are the ones you should know about.

Improves focus

In today’s tech-driven world, many of us have a short attention span. Art journaling can help boost our concentration.

“Writing, coloring and drawing activates a part of our brain called the RAS,” says Singletary. “This helps to strengthen our focus.”

Helps you express your emotions

Our emotions are stored in our bodies and processed through the right hemisphere of the brain. Because the right brain also thinks in images, the translation of emotion into image can be powerfully effective and often helps people express feelings and experiences they can’t yet put into words, Amias states. Art journaling is also a physical experience of moving your hand across paper, which also helps process feelings. 

Inspires playfulness and fun

Using an art journal is also a way to explore new ideas and bring more playfulness into life. 

“I often encourage clients who are new to art journaling to put on some of their favorite music and play with their art supplies on paper without worrying about what the final product looks like,” says Amias. “Remind yourself that art journaling is a process and it’s not about the end result.”

Ready to get started? Check out this tutorial from Singletary and tap into your inner artist!

Have you tried art journaling? Let us know in the comments. And while you're at it, make sure to subscribe to Silk + Sonder today. 

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