Reading Time: 10 minutes

Creating an art journal is a unique and fun way to use the various art materials you have at hand while making a mixed media piece. All you need is a book (a sketchbook, or even an old book that is destined for a landfill), some paint, some brushes, scrap paper, and your imagination! An art journal is a place to record ideas, thoughts or even work on larger themes you’d like to explore. It really is up to you! In this project, we’ll be using various Chroma paints including Jo Sonja Matte Flow Acrylic, Atelier Free Flow Acrylic, Atelier Artists’ Pigmented Inks, Chroma Drawing Ink, Chromacryl Students’ Acrylics, and Chroma Molten Metals Metallic Acrylics, as well as exploring painting and texture mediums and tips for incorporating some tools such as gelli plates, stamps and stencils, as we take you along the creative process in how to make an art journal.

creating an art journal

Start with a book

If you are new to art journaling, it can be helpful to start with a ready-made book, such as a heavyweight sketchbook that can handle wet media. Or you can save a book from a landfill by using that instead! Either way, you will want to begin by prepping some pages and/or spreads. We suggest working on a spread at a time, or if using a spiral-bound book, removing pages as needed. If you have blank pages, collage some papers down using Atelier Binder Medium. We like to use old book pages, newspapers, menus, etc. Apply Binder Medium to the page using a large brush, and while still wet, apply your paper on top and smooth. Apply another layer of Binder Medium on top to seal the edges. Overlap your papers to add interest. We will say it multiple times in this project – layers add interest!

Atelier Binder Medium collaged paper

Add some color – or not

When dry (and it should dry quickly!), use a white gesso such as Atelier Liquid Gesso or Jo Sonja Gesso and a light application to push back some of the text. You don’t want the text to be so bold; you want the background to just be interesting. The white of the gesso will help your other colors and focal imagery pop.

atelier liquid gesso  on  book page

Alternately, you can apply a wash of transparent color using paint such as Atelier Free Flow. In this example, we diluted Atelier Free Flow Paynes Gray to make a wash, and then added more collaged layers for interest, including some Molten Metals Silver for the moon and the writing.

Cropped Paynes Gray Page

If you don’t want text or other collaged elements to be the first layer, that’s completely ok! Just paint some pages using light washes of 1-3 of your favorite analogous colors. Analogous colors are those next to each other on the color wheel (think red, orange, yellow or blue, violet, red). If you wish, use complementary colors (colors opposite each other on a color wheel) in smaller areas or when you want to make a section pop. On this page, we primarily used Atelier Artists’ Pigmented Inks in the yellow/red/orange family, accented with a complement of green. We used a wet-in-wet approach, where we wet the page first, and then dropped ink directly from the pipettes. Jo Sonja Gold Dust was used for accents, along with stamps with Atelier Ink and collaged text.

Atelier Inks
Jo Sonja Gold Dust, Atelier Inks journal page

Need another idea? Try a Gelli Plate! For some spreads, we wanted to add interest fast, so we used a Gelli Plate and printed onto the paper before adding more elements. We used Atelier Free Flow and Jo Sonja and applied layers of color. We created textures on the plate by removing some paint with rags, netting, foam stamps, and bubble wrap. We applied the paper face down on the plate, and pulled the print. This jumpstarted the page, and soon we were painting, writing and stamping!

creating an art journal

Find a focus

What is it you want to say? It’s ok if you don’t know yet – this is where your creative intuition comes into play. Set a timer, and then spend no more than 10 minutes flipping through some of your favorite magazines or stashed papers (we all have some!) and pull out anything that interests you. There does NOT have to be a theme or direction – let your creative intuition decide. Next, when the timer goes off, pick one large element that you really respond to. Pick out that image in 1 minute or less and make THAT your focal point.

Now what to do with the image? Do you want to collage it as is, or does it need to be altered? Maybe you want to try switching body parts of animals and people or hand coloring images to make them something else. Jo Sonja Matte Flow Acrylics, Atelier Free Flow and Chroma Drawing Inks are great for hand coloring! Of course, if you have markers or other media you like to use, by all means, try them. Just test first, as not all markers or pens work as well as others.

Jo Sonja mixed media collage

Or have a focus

For example, the lead page on this journal is an original painting of a sunflower using Atelier Free Flow, Jo Sonja and Atelier Ink colors, on a painted background of Atelier Free Flow Cobalt Turquoise Light + Jo Sonja Titanium White. Collaged papers were added as a border, and Atelier Inks were used for the letter stamps.

Free Flow Atelier Inks journal page

In this art journal, the theme is “change,” and we focused on an idea of a caterpillar who did not want to change as it goes through its life cycle. We used our stash of old books and vintage illustrations to support this theme.

In the spread, “It did not want to change,” we used Atelier Inks to color pages from an old Latin book and cut them into loose flower shapes. Lots of layers!

Atelier Ink collaged pages

Note how the background is painted in analogous colors (Molten Metals Regale Blue and Plum), with a border of Jo Sonja Lustrous Gold. This gold color, with its yellow/orange undertone, acts as a complement to the purples and blues, making the page pop.

art journal with Jo Sonja Molten metals Free Flow

Try a transfer

What is an image transfer? Image transfers are simply a process of getting ink absorbed into an acrylic film. Because of all the variables involved (such as image type, surface and medium) transfers are not always clean. As one artist described it, “Transferred images are not stickers.” Instead, being open to the process gives one freedom to explore and manipulate the beauty of the transferred image.

Most printed or toner-based images can transfer. Newspaper, magazine and computer laser (not ink jet) prints work well. Some things like newspaper, laser print and old catalogs on uncoated paper will transfer directly without the need of a photocopy, but some images such as photographs and coated magazine pages will need to be photocopied.

image transfer

Many mediums can be used to transfer an image, but we recommend Atelier Binder Medium or Jo Sonja All Purpose Sealer.

  1. Apply your chosen medium directly to the surface using a brush or palette knife. You do not want the medium to be too thin or too thick, about 1/16-1/8” is good. Brushing horizontally and then vertically helps smooth brushstrokes.
  2. Cut out the image you want to transfer. Remember to make a mirror image of any text you want to read correctly. Many times, in art journals, the text is just for background interest, and it will be ok if it transfers backward.
  3. Apply the image face down into the wet medium and smooth it out so you don’t have wrinkles. Turn a corner up, so you have a tag that you can use later to remove the image.
  4. Let the medium dry 5-10 minutes. You may need to wait overnight, about 8-24 hours, for heavier mediums like Atelier Heavy Gel or Atelier Molding Paste. Using a hairdryer to promote fast drying does not produce good results. Only time does.
  5. Pull away your image, then wet the paper backing with a cloth or use the Atelier Fine Mist Water Sprayer or Jo Sonja Fine Mist Water Sprayer. When the paper backing is wet, very carefully begin to rub the paper away with your fingers in a circular motion. Apply more water as needed to remove the paper backing. As the water dries, there will be a white haze where some of the paper is left behind. Let the transfer dry, and repeat the process until you don’t feel any more paper.

Note: How long you wait before removing the image, and the image itself, are all factors in the success of the transfer.

For this page, we used newspaper classified ads, transferred them with Atelier Binder Medium, and then lightly applied Jo Sonja Unbleached Titanium to help push the text back even further. Unless you look closely, you wouldn’t even know that the text is backward.

Atelier Binder Medium Jo Sonja image transfer

Texture time

One of the great things about art journals is that you can explore techniques like adding texture! A good medium to try is Jo Sonja Texture Paste which can be applied with a brush or knife. After painting the cover with Atelier Free Flow Pyrrole Red, we used Jo Sonja Texture Paste, applied with a painting knife through stencils. Once dry, you can paint the stenciled area the color of your choice. Because Jo Sonja Texture Paste is a neutral white, you can mix color into it prior to use if you want.

Jo Sonja texture paste

Texture doesn’t need to be heavy. We used Jo Sonja Opal Dust along with textured brush strokes to add a subtle sparkle to this page, in which the Wind speaks.

Jo Sonja Opal Dust art journal page

The wispy brushstrokes, along with the shimmer that shows as you turn the page, add another textural layer to the journal.

Jo Sonja Opal Dust

Stamps for success

Stamps are a quick way to add interest and yet another layer to your journals. Atelier Ink, Jo Sonja Matte Flow Acrylic and Atelier Free Flow – actually, all of our Chroma acrylic brands – work well with stamps. Pro tip: Although you can apply the paint to your stamp with a sponge or flat brush, a small brayer will supply the evenest coverage. In this journal, a mesh stamp was used throughout the book as a symbol of being trapped, and using it throughout multiple spreads helped to add consistency. We also used different lettering stamps, primarily with Atelier Inks, along with hand lettering, to help tell the story of the bug. In your journal, use the same stamp or family of stamps across multiple spreads to build visual continuity.

Atamps art journal atelier ink jo sonja

Resolve and reflect

As you are creating your art journal, be sure to leave space to record your ideas, plans, wishes, regrets, and/or dreams. According to artist/teacher Lynda Barry, images are thoughts, memories, the location of an experience, real or imagined. Images are attracted to words, and words are attracted to images. Using Atelier Inks in a dip or brush pen, or your favorite markers or pencils, take the time to write your thoughts and images. If you cannot think of what to write about, consider writing about one good thing that happened that day, or make a bullet list and do a brain dump of all that is in your mind! Then, after a few days, review what you wrote and the images you created.

writing with atelier ink

In the final spread of our art journal on change, we used Chromacryl Neon Pink and a doily on the gelli plate. It made an amazing print, so much so that we made another “ghost print” (using the leftover paint on the plate to pull a lighter print) and painted the border Jo Sonja Lustrous Gold, leaving lots of room for our thoughts.

Chromacryl Jo Sonja art journal print
art journal spread jo sonja lustrous gold

We hope that these tips inspire you to create an art journal, a safe place to grow, experiment, play and spark new ideas for more art.

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creating an art journal