How to Collage in Your Art Journal

This is updated from a 2002 letter to my old – now closed – ArtistsJournals2 list at Yahoo!Groups.

Some of the information (and the terminology) has changed.  We started calling them “artists journals.”  Then, people began calling them just “art journals.”  And then other terms emerged, too.

As of 2012, when I posted this article here, we were calling them “artists journals” again.

By the time you read this, that may have changed… again.

Whatever you call them – art journals or artist’s journals – they’re illustrated diaries or journals, and they’re important.

Here’s My Early Art Journaling Article

Artists journal page, 2004I’ve been doing these quick collages for months now, though not consciously doing them daily.

Now, I’m starting each day with a collage, the same as I used to to morning pages. I allow myself a half an hour for the collage process, and often go back several times throughout the day to add things until I’m pleased with it.

But it all starts with the determination that, whether it’s good art or not, there will be a collage when I’m finished!

Pre-Collage Steps

You can skip this step! (I often do.)

If I’m going to use lots of layers of paper – or heavier elements in my collages – I strengthen the pages with gesso.

I paint with plain white gesso throughout my journal so the pages are strong enough to support collages here & there.

Or, if I’m going to do a lot of painting – with acrylic paints – in my journal, I gesso the pages, first.

I’ll leave a few pages for writing, then two or three pages that are prepared for collage. That forces me to avoid having an all-text journal.

My current journal is fully gesso’d pages, because this one will be entirely art.

I use any gesso that’s cheap, from the fine art supplies section of Michael’s.

Gesso makes the paper stronger, so it doesn’t suck up the glue or paint so much, and it has “tooth” to grab whatever I apply to it in layers. Usually, I buy only the white gesso.

Yes, you can buy it in colors, but if you start with white, you can add color to it (in small batches) with watercolors (including Dr. Ph. Martins), acrylics, even food coloring or unsweetened KoolAid if you like! But I’m happy working with white, usually.

Collage Images – Selection and Storage

I have images stored in folders, kept in a heavy cardboard portfolio, to use when I want to do a collage. I also keep a stack of magazines & newspapers on hand for my collage work.

And I go through and grab whatever images, words, and phrases strike my fancy at that very moment.

If they connect somehow, great. If they’re completely disrelated, that’s okay too. It usually makes sense to me when I put it all together, in the context of my thoughts at the time.

I love layers in my work. For this reason, I’m very big on using colored tissue paper.

Collage Adhesives and Sealers

I use Golden Gel Medium (soft/gloss) for the adhesive, and when the tissue paper is saturated with the gel medium, it remains translucent after it dries.

How to collage art in your journalHowever, the gel medium will make the paper buckle sometimes. I like that, because I’m very process-oriented. I’m not interested in a collage that looks pre-printed. The buckling and extra glops of gel medium work for me.

But not everyone likes the buckled-paper look.

Tip, if you want smoother pages: If the paper buckles or bubbles in spots do not try to smooth it out while the collage is wet… or even damp. In most cases, the paper will flatten (mostly) as it dries, if you leave it alone.

I apply the gel with a sponge brush. I often forget to rinse them, so they’ll be used just once or twice, and I buy them in bulk, every few years.

While the page dries, I’ll place a piece of wax paper over it so I can turn the page and either write or do another collage.

If it’s facing another gel’d page, I’ll keep waxed paper between the pages for a week or two until the gel is fully cured. Otherwise, the gel remains tacky enough to stick to the facing page.

Using Gold Leaf

I also highlight some of my work with different types of leafing… gold, copper, etc.

I adhere it with gel medium, too. Don’t get caught up in trying to use the “perfect” adhesive for each job. Gel medium works well for almost anything. When it won’t hold, I use Household Goop!

Attaching Other Things to Your Collage

For some of my work, I think in terms of other means to attach stuff.

On a “hurting” day, a bandaid may hold an image in place.

And there are grommets, paper clips, straight pins, safety pins, and so on. Think beyond tradition and rules!

I never fret because an item means that the journal won’t close nice & flat. Frankly, by the time I get done with the gel medium on lots of pages, the whole thing is so buckled that it hasn’t a chance of closing nice OR flat, ever again! *grin*

I sew a button to the front cover of the journal, and a piece of string (I like hemp twine) or ribbon attached with a grommet to the back cover, so I can tie the journal closed when I carry it around or shelve it.

Avoid Perfectionism!

These collages are exciting to me, because I never know how they’ll turn out until I start putting the random bits of paper together and realize what the internal message is. It’s sort of like bringing what’s deep inside me, forward.

Mostly, I love collage and I love journaling, and what I learn about myself – and life, in general – in the process.

More? You’ll find additional notes on collage techniques in my Insight Shrines class handouts (in PDF format), and my letter to Erin about art/journaling.

And, from time to time, I’ll display my actual artist’s journal pages here, as I create them.

Author: Aisling

I'm Aisling, and this is one of my websites. You may know me from (since 1999), and LOTS of art events. I also hosted the original ArtistsJournals (AJ and AJ2) groups at Yahoo Groups... and a bunch of other stuff.

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