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How to Prep an Art Journal Page

Creativity is an important value of Brené's -- as she says, "Creativity embeds knowledge so that it can become practice. We move what we're learning from our head to our hearts through our hands."  And so art journaling is a big part of some of the courses that we offer here at COURAGEworks. If you've never done art journaling before, this can be a bit daunting; so we've asked our friend Karen Walrond, an artist, photographer and avid art journaler, to share tips for how she prepares her art journal page with you.


I have no formal art training of any kind. In fact, the only reason that I tried art journaling at all was because as a journaler, there’s no “obligation” for others to see your work – in fact, that’s the whole purpose of art journaling:  to play, solely for your own personal expression and your own growth. Knowing that no one has to see what you do makes the process of creating an art journal very freeing.

Still, when I finally decided to take the plunge the first time, I was intimidated. I mean, where do I start? What if I mess up?  Why is this blank page staring at me? It wasn't until I really began doing the work that I realized: making the mess is actually the point.  Getting started is often about just getting color onto the page, so that you've given yourself permission to be creative. So, in the off-chance that you've been hesitant to try art journaling in the past because of that daunting blank page,  I thought I’d share how I prep my art journal pages, before actually adding any words or images to them. The entire process doesn’t take much longer than 5 or 10 minutes; and often, I prepare several pages ahead of time so that when I’m ready to journal, they’re ready to go.

So, take a deep breath, and let's get started.

Here’s all you need:

1)    Gesso (I usually use white, but you can use clear as well)

2)    Gouache, in your favorite color (“Gouache” is a fancy word for “water color paint” – except gouache tends to be more vibrant than standard watercolors)

3)    A paintbrush – I prefer flat bristles

4)    A paper towel

5)    Your journal

6)    A cup of water for wetting your brush

And this is how you do it:

1) Take your journal and pour a dime-sized dollop of gesso in the middle of the page you’ll be prepping. Using your flat-bristled paintbrush, spread the gesso so that the page is evenly coated. The gesso will help keep the page from buckling when you add the gouache; also, it will keep markers from bleeding through the page if you decide to use them to journal.

2) Once you’ve added the gesso, rinse your brush in your cup of water and squeeze the excess water out. Then, take your gouache, and squeeze a small amount on your gessoed page (you can wait for the gesso to dry first, but you don’t have to). Using the damp brush, spread the paint so that the page is coated. You might have to dampen your brush to get the gouache to spread evenly – you want a nice, think coat of paint.

3) Once the gouache has been evenly painted, but before it dries, take the paper towel and dab the excess paint off of the page. The paper towel will add texture to the paint, making it look like the background of a painting.

4) Let the page dry. It shouldn’t take more than 5 to 10 minutes.

And that’s it! Once the page is dry, you can start journaling on the page, adding your words, doodles, using whatever pens or marker you choose – it shouldn’t bleed through the page. It can be a wonderful, color-filled foundation for your creativity and your thoughts.

This, however, is only one way to prepare your pages -- there are many, many others. Here are three more for inspiration:

Once you've got a background, let your creativity fly: use crayons, collage, or simply handwrite your thoughts onto your page. Remember, there are no wrong ways to art journal -- and this is entirely for you, there's no need for others to see it.

Journal page by @AOKDeb

photo by @AOKdeb



(Photos above by the talented Deb McC)

Happy journaling! 

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7 comments

  1. Avatar missing Ferrari74 says…
    06/04/2017

    Am loving the art journaling that we are doing in the Daring greatly course! Can't wait to do this!

    Reply 0 Replies
  2. Avatar missing Saun49 says…
    04/18/2017

    Fine Arts was my major in college. I let it go. It never seemed like I could pick up my brush without my critical self observing or wondering who else would call it "bad art"or make a negative comment. I hope art journalling awakens my inner light and helps me to burn the fire i need.

    Reply 0 Replies
  3. Img 6305 Chateaudangers says…
    04/17/2017

    oh! Now that there is art, maybe I will finally do the course! I've been on an art binge since the first course.. so my journaling skills have improved since then.

    Reply 0 Replies
  4. Avatar missing MBowmanMurphy says…
    04/15/2017

    Thank you for this! Never knew to use gesso first...

    Reply 0 Replies
  5. Dscn1010 womangum says…
    04/15/2017

    I can see using this for my poetry. I'm getting goosebumps. :)

    Reply 0 Replies
  6. Avatar missing 19741994mb says…
    04/14/2017

    Cannot wait to do this with my daughter... We are both on a courageous journey ... Daring to be brave and it feels amazing .... Thank you from someone who felt so tiny for such a long time . #Daring Greatly#Rising Strong x

    Reply 0 Replies
  7. Avatar missing SandraSabene says…
    04/13/2017

    The timing for this is so perfect! Thank you

    Reply 0 Replies

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