Keeping a journal can be a great way to explore creative ideas and make art a regular part of your routine. You can use an art journal to keep track of inspirations so you don’t forget them, to play around with different techniques or simply to prepare yourself for your next art session.
If you’re feeling demotivated or lacking in inspiration, then a creative art journal prompt can help you to regain your creativity – and it could help you to discover a new medium to explore too.
In this article we’ll talk about what an art journal is, how to start an art journal and sharing some art journal prompts to help you get started.
What is an art journal?
An art journal isn’t like a regular journal. You don’t necessarily need to work on it every day and it doesn’t need to look neat and tidy – this is a space for you to play around with ideas without any judgement.
Art journals are used to explore ideas, collect pictures that inspire you, make notes to record your ideas and much more. You can use it as a diary, to plan your next art project or as a sketch pad when you’re out and about. If you’re a visual person (as most artists are!) then keeping an art journal can help you to stay creative, record your thoughts and try out new techniques.
An art journal can be a simple exploration of ideas or it can be something between a sketchpad and a diary – it’s up to you. For many people, keeping an art journal is about creating time for themselves in their day. It can be a time for reflection or a brief distraction from the worries of the day, providing a chance to lose yourself in your artwork.
If an art journal isn’t right for you, then you might like to create a bullet journal instead. Check out our how to bullet journal guide.
How to start an art journal
To start an art journal, you’ll need to buy one first! An art journal should be a notebook or sketchbook that you want to return to regularly, so it’s worth choosing one that you really like. We’d recommend choosing one with thick paper if you’re planning to paint in your art journal.
Here are some materials that we recommend buying to start your art journal:
- A notebook. We like this Moleskine sketch book (Amazon, £15.59)
- Watercolour paints – check out our best watercolour paints guide
- Acrylic paints – explore our best acrylic paints guide
- Drawing pencils – find the right ones for you with our best drawing pencils guide
- Coloured pencils – take a look at our guide to the best colouring pencils
- Paint pens. These are handy for writing over photos or images. We like this white 0.7mm tip Posca pen (Amazon, £3.99)
- Fineliner pens – these are useful for drawing and annotating your journal. Try this Sakura Pigma Micron set (Amazon, £12.99)
Read on to explore our art journal ideas…
18 journal art ideas to try today
One of the biggest obstacles to starting an art journal is a lack of free time. If you have a busy lifestyle, it can be difficult find a free moment to be creative and the thought of taking on a big project can be off-putting. Starting with a small art journal prompt can be a good way to fit journalling time into your day. Artist Amy Maricle of the Mindful Art Studio recommends creating tiny paintings called “inchies”. As the name suggests, these are very small paintings no bigger than 3 inches by 3 inches (roughly 8cm by 8cm). These little squares can be quickly filled with small drawings or paintings and look great in your journal. It’s definitely one of the easiest art journal ideas! Find our more about the inchie challenge.
Experiment with mark making
Sometimes it can be fun to experiment with mark-making. We love this vibrant page created by Tori Weyers – it shows how a simple art journal prompt can inspire you to create something truly unique. In this case, the prompt was “chevrons”. Try it for yourself and see what you can create!
Paint a self-portrait
Painting a little self- portrait is such a fun art journal idea. This how to paint a self portrait tutorial created by Esther Curtis will show you how to produce your own illustration using gouache paints. It’s a good project to try if you haven’t tried using gouache paints before and will look great in your journal. You can also add one of your favourite quotes to inspire you when you need some motivation! If you’re new to gouache, check out our beginner’s guide to gouache before you begin to pick up lots of great tips and advice.
Go for a nature walk
The natural world is an endless source of inspiration! Go for a walk in nature and make small drawings or paintings of what you can see – it could be a landscape, a shell sketch or a quick drawing of a bird. You may want to bring a few things home with you to work from later, such as a fallen leaf or a pine cone. Looking for natural inspiration? Have a go at our how to paint pebbles tutorial.
Fill the space
Don’t feel confined by the layout of your art journal and try spreading your design across two pages, as Elma de Jong has done here. Take a thick paint brush, some gouache paint and choose a limited selection of colours, then paint a simple design in your journal.
Make a collage
Play is a great way to rediscover your creativity and collage can be a lot of fun. Gather together some old magazines, wrapping paper and different kinds of paper and have fun cutting out shapes and sticking them in! Lots of artists turn to collage as a way of exploring shapes and ideas, such as the French artist Henri Matisse. Matisse began creating collages when he was too ill to paint and he is still greatly admired for his use of composition and colour in his work. Have a go and see for yourself – you might find that it inspires you to create a new work of art! If you’d like to have a go at the collage design below, take a look at our still life art guide.
Combine paint and ink
Mixing up watercolour paints and fineliner drawings can help you to produce beautiful illustrations. Artist, painter and illustrator Carolyn Gavin often combines paints and inks in her journal. Try painting your own floral scene and add details with a black fineliner pen for stunning results!
Create a colour palette
Choose a picture or object with a combination of colours that you like and try to recreate them by mixing paints together. Paint the palette into your journal alongside the original photo. Then try using your new palette to create a small painting in your art journal. You can return to your palette at a later date if you want to use it for a painting or illustration.
Draw onto a coloured background
Bored of looking at a white page? Changing the colour of the paper you’re working on can give you a fresh start! Try sticking some black paper into your journal and start drawing with a white fineliner, such as a 0.7mm tip Posca pen (Amazon, £3.99). Looking for more doodling inspiration? Check out Art Haven’s easy doodles to draw guide.
Try writing morning pages
It’s hard to be creative if your mind is cluttered up with errands that need to be done, worries, frustrations or distracting thoughts. Writing morning pages can be a great way to clear your mind at the beginning of a creative session. Morning pages is an art journal idea championed by Julia Cameron, who is an artist and author of The Artist’s Way. To do this exercise, you just need to sit down at the start of an art session and write down everything that’s in your mind. This can be ideas, thoughts, complaints or just things you need to pick up at the shops later. Write quickly and continuously without pausing or reflecting on what you’re writing – the ideas is to get everything down without self-editing your words. You can set a timer for this or simply stop when you’ve run out of things to say! You’ll be calm and ready to be creative.
Make dried flower art
Create little miniature pictures using dried flowers and stick them into your journal. This is a great way to decorate a page and you can have lots of fun playing around with leaves and blossoms to get the arrangement just right before you stick it down Learn how to press flowers and try this technique for yourself.
Try speed drawing
Sometimes speeding up can help you to relax and free up your drawing style. Speed drawing is exactly what it sound like: drawing with a time limit. Set up a timer on your phone (or keep an eye on the clock) and challenge yourself to sketch something quickly. Try starting with five minutes, then reduce it to two minutes, a minute or as little as 30 seconds!
Try doing a single line drawing or abstract doodle. Keep your pen on the page without lifting it up and end the drawing back where you started. If you choose to draw a random shape, try filling the design in with lines as we’ve done here.
Illustrate a quote
Feeling in need of inspiration? Why not illustrate one of your favourite quotes? Artist Caroline Gavin has used her journal to illustrate a quote by the writer Ralph Waldo Emerson – and the results are stunning. Simply paint your quote onto the page and add your choice of embellishments, or paint a picture to illustrate the quote. This is one of our favourite art journal ideas because it’s one you can reuse whenever you feel in a creative rut.
Add your favourite song lyrics
Songs often hold deep meanings for us and may spark memories or a time and place or a feeling. Try writing a verse taken from a favourite song and doodle all around the edges. Learn how to make a lyrics art journal with Artful Haven.
Record your travels
If you’re travelling or planning a trip somewhere, it can provide lots of opportunities for creative journalling. Becki Clark has put together some inventive travel journal ideas that could be easily incorporated into your art journal.
Paint a watercolour galaxy
Fill a page of your journal with stars by adding a stunning watercolour galaxy! It’s a simple watercolour project that can be used as a backdrop or by itself. It’s created by layering up watercolour paint and the stars are added using white gouache paint once the first layers have dried out. Use some masking tape to create a crisp border. If you’re looking for more watercolour projects to try, take a look at our watercolour painting ideas article.
Doodling can be a great way to let your mind wander and access your creative side. Try to relax and draw whatever takes your fancy! You could draw patterns, flowers or geometric shapes. Try drawing an outline and filling it with shapes or challenge yourself to fill a whole page with patterns.
Want to get into digital art? Check out our best drawing tablet for beginners guide.