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How To Create Your Own Art Journal

There is nothing more powerful than YOUR written word!

How To Create Your Own Art Journal by Silver RavenWolf 2012

Decorated journals allow you to relish the creative you!  I’ve made several art journals to meet various needs — I have a Gardening Journal where I keep track of the weather, what I’ve grown, what I buy, harvested, and blended from the fruits of my garden.  My current Garden Journal contains four years of information.  I also have a TimeLine Journal.   I don’t have time to write copious entries about my day; but, with the TimeLine Journal I just write the day, the date, the weather, sometimes the moon phase, and highlights of events from the mundane to the extraordinary.  I’ve recorded when I ordered oil for the furnace, who visits or calls, seminars, trips, what I made for dinner for the family — all sorts of info falls into this type of journal including selected photos.  My TimeLine Journal lasts me about a year and a half.  Then, I have a Design Journal — here are all my passwords for my computer, pictures of my artwork, calculations for the pricing of candles, buttons, crochet projects — wherever my creative mind leads me.  I renew this journal every year.  All these art journals were created using an inexpensive 7.5 inch x 9.75 inch inexpensive Composition Book as the base.

FaceBook friends have indicated they create other types of journals, including a Dream Journal, a Song or Poetry Journal, a Healing Journal, and of course, the ever favorite Magickal Journal!  You might want to make a journal just for your child, or a travel journal that records road trips.  Whatever your interest, a journal that holds notes and information can be an invaluable record and a source of joy and pleasant memories.  The more artistic the greater the pleasure!  The Art Journal can also be a marvelous gift — something totally unique designed for a family member or favorite friend!  I’ve even created several journals with a patriotic theme for magickal soldiers.

Artistic skill is NOT a requirement.  If you can cut and tear paper, squirt a glue bottle, and go wild in your design, you’re good to go — the journal is for you, after all, and it can look anyway you like.

All you need to get started is a composition book and decorative paper!

To get started, all you really need is an inexpensive Composition Book that can be purchased at an office supply store, drug store, grocery, etc. — a good pair of sharp scissors (those designed for cutting small bits of paper are best and worth the money), your choice of glue, a ruler and decorative paper that appeals to you. 

The picture below shows the various supplies I’ve used to create my journals.  You don’t have to purchase everything in the picture — this is just a general idea of what you can use to make your crafty life a little easier, should you choose to do so.  If the photo scares you, cover your eyes and scroll down.

Supplies and embellishments for making an art journal.

Items Pictured:

Metal Ruler — for a handy cutting guide. Sharp Paper Scissors. X-Acto Knife — nice for making long, sharp, clean cuts. Scotch Quick Dry Adhesive Glue — great for large paper panels. E-600 Glue — excellent for adding metal, glass, or heavier embellishments. X-Ron Machine — various sizes — I like these machines because if you use the permanent adhesive you avoid glue drips and rippling paper.  These machines come in various sizes.  If you don’t have one, but do a lot of paper projects, these are definitely a good investment. Paper Punch for eyelets and brads. Hammer for eyelets. Paper tweezers (yes, they do make such a thing).  These are great for moving small bits of paper around, gluing small pieces of paper, and threading ribbon and finger yarn through the eyelets.

Other items include inks, rubber stamps for focal pieces (or you can use your own photos, print pics off the net, or tear out of magazines), ribbon, finger yarn, etc.  Anything goes on an art journal as long as you can keep it pasted there!

How long will it take to construct your art journal?  That depends on you!  Some folks like to fuss with the details, others like to jump right in there and start gluing!  If you use wet glue, like the Scotch brand mentioned, you will need to take breaks to let the paper dry.  When I’m using wet glue, I often make a journal over several days, piecing portions together, weighting them with heavy books until they dry flat.  (If you use the Xron machine, you won’t have to wait).  How long the project takes will depend on the glue medium you use, the amount of time you have to devote to the project, and how many (or few) embellishments you want to add.

In the art journal instructions I’m going to show you today, I included two inside pockets, a bookmark, and a wish envelope.  The more you add to your journal, the more time it will take to complete.  Art journals are generally decorated on the front and back.  Deciding to add the inside panels is entirely up to you.  If you are giving the journal as a gift, you may want to include the inside panels.  The example journal took me seven hours to complete.

How I Build My Art Journals

Choose your paper!  What type of theme do you want?  Bright?  Muted?  Holiday?  Seasonal?  Your choice of design is entirely up to you.  The picture below shows store bought papers; but, you can use grocery bags, holiday gift bags, or other paper products.  Light cloth, though trickier to work with, can also be used.

Choose any paper that matches your intended theme.

I always begin by cutting four full panels that will cover the front and back of the composition book and the inside covers front and back.  This gives me a solid base to work on.  You can begin with a plain piece of card stock or go for something fancier.  Rather than measuring and going nuts, I just place the cover of the composition book on the paper like a template and use a pen or pencil to make an outline on the wrong side of the paper.  When using the composition book for a template, keep in mind that you do not want to cover the binding of the book as this will impede the opening and closing of the journal and makes messy edges.

To begin, cut four panels -- two for outside, two for inside of book.

Once I have my outlines drawn on all four pieces of paper, I cut out each panel.  Then, I glue the outside front and back panels in place.  I don’t glue the inside panels right away because I like to use brads that must be punched through the cover.  I later use the inside panels to hide the back side of the brads.

In the picture shown below, I’ve used wet glue on a panel, then carefully wipe the surface with my finger or an old paint brush to push the glue to the edges.  This minimizes the panel from hemorrhaging  copious amounts of glue where you don’t want it.

Cover journal with glue.

When gluing the two outside panels, keep a rag handy to wipe away any globs of glue that do manage to squeeze out between the cover and the panel.  Or, you could be like me and use your finger and then wipe it on your old jeans.

Hey, I never said I was perfect.

Don’t panic if you measured wrong on your panel — you can always carefully trim the edges after the panel is dry if it is too long, and if your panel is too short, you can incorporate this into your design when adding more paper later.

What if there is an edge or two that simply refuses to lie flat?  Use large paper clips, or bull dog clips to reign in those ornery edges!

Use bull dog clips to hold down stubborn edges while panel dries.

If you used wet glue — stop here, and weight your project.  This will keep the composition book from curling and paper from rippling.  I normally let the project set for at least an hour before proceeding.  Sometimes I keep the journal pressed overnight — this just depends on how busy my day or if the humidity is high (which retards drying time).

Weight the project with heavy books or reams of paper.

If you don’t like working with the complete panel idea as a base, you can simply start tearing pieces of paper and affixing them to the front and back covers in any way you like.  The torn edges and layering can give an amazing artistic flair!

Decorating The Covers

After the panels are dry (or close to it) you can begin tearing paper to layer on the front and back, and start selecting elements and additional colors for your theme.  For the journal in the example, I chose rubber stamp elements that invoke ideas of journaling and writing.  I stamped my chosen designs on parchment cardstock, embossed them with clear embossing powder, then cut out each element.

Creating the focus image with rubber stamping and embossing powder.

Spend all the time you want arranging your designs.  If you feel stuck, step away from the project and return several minutes later.  This break often helps to get your creative juices flowing!  Think of adding unusual elements such as metal keys, parts of old earrings, small clay creations, hinges — there is no limit — other than it has to stick to the journal!

I decided that I wanted to distress my stamped elements with tea and orange marmalade inks.  Once I finished working with the main elements, I began to glue them in place.  Finally, I added the brads to the front cover design.

From the finished example later on, you’ll see that I don’t add much to the back of the journal.  That’s because you’re going to carry it all over the place and set it on all sorts of surfaces.  Brads and other raised embellishments can catch on furniture, or scratch porous surfaces.  However, if you want to add raised embellishments to the back of your journal — have at it!

Journal back.

When you feel you are ready to move on to the ribbon closure, trim any edges of the front panel to line up with the composition book.  Its a pain to try to do it after you have the ribbon glued on.

At this point, the covers aren’t completely finished.  I’ll add final touches and glitter a little later.  Right now, let’s move onto the ribbon closure, so that you can tie your journal shut when you like.

The Ribbon Closure

Although I normally use a 1/4 inch wide ribbon (1/2 can be too hard to tie, although you can use it) I didn’t have any in my ribbon stash, so I used 1/8 inch.  The ribbon closure can be as long or short as you like.  I always begin with a long piece of ribbon in case I make any mistakes.  You can cut it shorter, later.  To ensure that the ribbon doesn’t pull out of the journal over time, glue at least three to four inches of the ribbon end to the center of the inside panel as shown in the picture.  Allow to dry.  Do the same on the back inside panel.

As a side note, if I use the wider ribbon, I often punch a decorative brad from the outside cover in through the ribbon glued to the inside over as double security to keep the ribbon in place over time.

You are now ready to glue the inside panels to the inside covers (front and back) of your composition book.  As before, wipe any glue drips, weight, and allow to dry.

Pockets and Bookmarks

Pockets and matching bookmarks are super simple to make!  The bookmark comes in handy to keep track of your last entry, as is an appealing addition to the journal if you are making it as a gift.  If you don’t want to use the bookmark  all the time, keep it in the handy pockets you can make for the front and back inside covers of the book.

Like the bookmark, journal pockets are artistically appealing and useful, particularly if the journal is going to someone else.  “Ouuu, lookie!  It has pockets!”

Yeah.  You’re the Queen (or King).

Pockets can be large or small, the size is up to you.  Do you want them to be large enough to hold a photograph, or perhaps smaller for a 3×5 card?

To make an easy pocket, simply cut a piece of paper to a little larger than the desire size.  Then, fold three of the edges over approximately 1/2 inch.  I use a Bone Folder (the white thing in the picture) or a metal burnishing tool (works well too) to sharpen and smooth out the folded edges.   If the inside corners are too bulky, just make a triangular cut to remove some of the paper.    If you are going to add brads to the edges, put them in place before you glue.  When you are ready, glue the pocket to the inside front or back cover of your book.   Wipe glue drips if there are any, weight, and allow to dry.

In the example pictures you see a pocket on both the front and back inside covers.  The front inside cover also has a brown tag for the owner to write his or her name.  Where the back, shown below, holds only a simple pocket.

Back inside panel with pocket.

The bookmark is just as easy as the pocket.  My only advice is that you use two pieces of cardstock glued together rather than flimsy paper.  In the example picture, I took two decorated pieces of cardstock and cut them to the same size, then glued them together, weighted them and allowed the bookmark to dry.  Once completely dry, I trimmed the edges, punched the hole for the eyelet, added the eyelet and then continued to decorate the bookmark.  Finally, I added glitter followed by stringing the ribbon and finger yarn.

Bookmark supplies.


Finished bookmark and wish envelope.

Finishing Touches

The finishing touches on the sample journal included the addition of the hinges on the front cover, spraying a bit of walnut ink on front and back covers, and adding copper glitter.  I also made a Wish Envelope out of a small brown envelope and bits of decorative paper to tuck in the inside pocket of the journal.  As you use your journal, you can add additional artwork inside — decorate with pens, markers, glitter, pictures — whatever you desire!

Some of the most valuable information we have today comes from the journals of our ancestors.  Their whispered words on faded parchment speak to us of life and love, joy and sadness, and of events that we shall never witness.   There is nothing so powerful as the written word.

Now that your journal is finished — share your life!  Someone in the future may need your words more than you know.  At least…

that’s what they tell me.

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