As a writer and an artist myself, I’ve always loved journaling. When I was a kid in the ’80s, I remember spending hours in my room drawing, cutting out pictures from magazines for creative projects, and writing in my journal. As an adult, I still love spending time creating things with my hands. Sometimes I paint or sketch a little. However, sometimes I find myself wanting to express myself creatively but feel stuck. It’s almost like having a specific project goal, like an assignment from a teacher in school, makes getting started easier. So, when I ran across the idea of art journaling, I got excited. Even though there aren’t any rules, there is a purpose, and you can create a personal goal for your work. I find that intriguing as an artist.
Although I am just now discovering this idea, I have curated some themes that might help you (and me!) get started on art journaling. Pick one, try it out and come share your thoughts with me in the comments section or on our social media.
What Is Art Journaling?
Art journaling is a term that encompasses the various artistic ways a person might journal, whether to paint, draw, write, document memories, or simply stay creative. The number one rule of art journaling is… there are no rules! That’s right, even though art journaling is a great way to structure and encourage yourself to engage in artistic time, the journaling itself is a free-flow experience. Art journals can contain as few or as many words as you feel led to include. Incorporate pictures and drawings with words, lyrics, or journal entries, or keep just to sketches and doodles. Between the bindings of your blank journal, the world is your artistic oyster!
Incorporating Mixed Media
Blank pages, pens, pencils, brushes, and markers — these are likely the materials that spring to mind when brainstorming for an art journal, but you’re not limited to these only. Consider including mixed media, such as pressed flowers, hodge-podge mementos (travel or concert tickets, petals from a romantic bouquet, a drawing or note from a child), four-leaf clovers from the yard, or cut-outs from books and magazines that catch your eye. This hearkens a bit to scrapbooking or storyboarding, but the mixed media approach can be as freeing as it is fun.
If you are looking for specific inspiration on how to fill empty journals, here are a few great ideas I’ve come across. Let’s get inspired together!
Flowers, plants, and gardening are great sources for a themed art journal. Whether your journaling nook overlooks an actual garden or a concrete jungle, inspiration is all around for those with a green thumb. You could even doodle your beloved indoor plants within a room scene.
Botanical prints are increasingly popular as home décor. They look so classic and feminine and can adorn any bathroom or kitchen with a splash of brightness. Create your own botanical prints in an art journal by combining sketches or watercolors of flowers and plants with freehand calligraphy of the formal botanical names.
Even seed packets and gardening magazines are great fodder for floral inspiration!
Are you a bookworm? It may seem a little meta to fill a book with, well, books, but literature could make an amazing art journaling theme! Combine doodles of books and bookshelves or even the books you own. If you are more advanced at drawing, sketch out your favorite characters or illustrate brush-script quotes on the page. Vintage books are especially inspiring aesthetically. You could even use the mixed-media approach to incorporate quotes, fonts, or pictures.
Buildings are the new stairs when it comes to a satisfying doodle session. Play with depth and perspective drawing skyscrapers with hundreds of windows. Sketch antiquated row houses — think Charleston, Boston, New Orleans, or even the 18th-century homes of London’s Notting Hill. This style of drawing is great for beginners, as it relies on straight lines. It even looks great in ink pen or dark pencil. If you’re a lover of unique homes and buildings, this could be a great theme to start your art journaling journey.
Do you dream often? Are you one of the lucky few adults who can frequently remember dreams upon waking? If so, you may have considered keeping a dream journal. Why not turn it into an art journal?
For example, you could jot down a note or two about what your dream entailed and then sketch out what’s in your mind’s eye or how it made you feel. This would be a great way to process your thoughts and discover new patterns in your dreams.
A simple-but-beautiful idea is to dedicate an art journal to a loved one. This could take many shapes and forms. It might be sketches, more writing-heavy, or a combination of both, along with other elements. One might dedicate a journaling project to their child, writing down memories of those fleeting young years along with pictures and doodles. Conversely, a journal could center around a love interest, a parent or grandparent, or could even be a way to remember and cope with the loss of a loved one.
Calling all foodies! Food is a work of art, too, right? Though it may not be the most obvious inspiration for an art journal, cooking and recipes may be ideal for the right individual. For instance, you could craftily write out a recipe (particularly something sentimental) and sketch what the dish looks like. You could paste in recipe cards in a loved one’s writing and doodle memories of being in the kitchen! If food lights your fire, enjoy making it your own!
Most of us know that positive affirmations are a great way to start or end the day. Depending on one’s journey with self-esteem, this can be challenging or even feel a bit awkward. Using art to channel these emotions is a great and rewarding tool.
How this might look in a journal is a personal choice — whether it is more visual or include more writing. Take your journey with self-care and loving yourself through artistic expression!
In various Eastern cultures and religions, mandalas have deep meaning. They are also commonly used in a secular way as part of therapy programs, and they are commonly found in coloring books for adults. Why not create your own? The geometric shapes and patterns within mandalas are thought to be relaxing and centering and to represent organization, wholeness, and the infinite nature of the world around us. Even if life feels chaotic, drawing, painting, or coloring mandalas may help to focus your mind. It may even be a great piece of a morning yoga ritual — adding to your mandala journal. Another great thing about mandalas is that they can be perfectly symmetrical with the help of stencils or more fluid with a freehand approach. Do what feels right!
A large portion of creative types love, or aspire to, travel. It may seem like an obvious choice, but traveling is a great source of artistic revelations. A travel-themed art journal could take a few different forms. It could be based around a single extended trip. Are you finally spending that month in Paris? Journal every day you’re there, jotting down anecdotes and sketch your surroundings. If actual travel is not on the agenda, you could document the various places you hope to visit or have visited through the years. This is another opportunity for creating a lovely keepsake with physical items, like tickets, hotel, and restaurant matchbooks, or foreign currency.
You could create an entire journal of great memories with or sketches of the furry members of your family, both past and present. Not only are animals fun to illustrate, but it is an entertaining and creative endeavor to dream up artistic scenes involving your pets! Have fun with it.
Many artists find creating pieces about their mental health issues is a great way to express their feelings. An art journal focused on your mental health could be a great way to share your emotions without words, process complex feelings and find even find relief.
Art can help boost confidence, make us feel more engaged and resilient. In addition to these benefits, studies show engaging in an artistic activity also alleviates anxiety, depression and stress.
So Many Great Ideas for Art Journaling!
Okay, now that you have a few ideas, let’s do this thing!
Grab yourself a sketchbook or journal, some paints, brushes, pretty paper, magazines, pictures, stickers, markers, scissors, glue, stamps and any other art supplies that inspire you to create.
Next, pick a theme and set an intention for your new art journal! And, be sure to tag ECHO Recovery on Instagram when you share photos of your creative pieces.
Owner and CEO at Eminent SEO in Mesa, Arizona. My agency offers an array of website and marketing services to brands across the US. After years of doing addiction treatment marketing, I was asked to become a member of the ECHO Foundation Board in order to use my skills to help spread this very important mission and message. I have researched, studied and written content on mental health, substance use disorders, treatment and recovery tools since 2005. As an artist myself, I enjoy sharing ideas and information on how art can heal. I now advocate to help end the stigma around substance use disorder and look for more ways to share how art can help those who are in recovery, or simply looking for ways art can help with your mental health.