“Art journals” and “artists journals” are (usually) the same thing.
They’re your personal, illustrated journals, and the illustrations are artsy, usually created by hand.
For me, an artist’s journal is an illustrated diary or journal representing the individual.
It’s about the person’s view of life – like a daily diary or any journal you write in.
The journal may have a specific focus, such as a travel journal, or a diet & fitness journal.
It usually includes art… and, for some, the journal is a work of art, itself.
Sample Artist’s Journal Page
Below, you can see a page from one of my early, 2002 artist’s journals. It’s a collage I created when I was coping with an impending divorce. The original is about 6″ x 9″.
Some artists include arts & crafts ideas in their artist’s journals & diaries. Some keep a separate art journal.
When I’m deeply involved in graphic arts, my art journal is separate. It’s where I keep notes about art I’m working on or might want to create later. It includes visual inspiration – photos, articles, etc. – as well as my own scribbled notes, thumbnail sketches, etc.
It’s sort of my pre-art brainstorming, in a journal format.
Sample Art Journaling Pages
At left is a page from one of my 2011 art journals.
The page included photos from a magazine.
On that page, you may see a tiny pencil sketch at the lower center of the page.
That’s my initial thumbnail concept for a later painting.
Those photos & notes inspired the oil sketch shown below. The original is an oil painting on 16″ x 20″ canvas. (It’s a scene related to an Anasazi settlement.) The photo below shows the painting, when it was in-progress.
But… Not Just Paintings
I use an art journal as my on-paper memory of inspiration and original ideas. It’s sort of a visual thumb drive of art ideas, for later use.
If I don’t jot down my ideas in a journal, they’ll vanish from my thoughts in a matter of days, if not hours. I tend to have a steady stream of creative ideas, and one soon replaces another in my consciousness.
For me, it’s part of the creative process.
People often ask me where I get my original art ideas. Well, I’m not sure that they’re entirely “original,” but they are fresh and new, if only to me.
Where the Ideas Come From
Here’s a typical sequence: I start looking at social media & websites to see what other artists are currently working on.
That’s curiosity. I’m not looking for ideas to copy… just “ooh, isn’t that cool!” inspiration.
It might be a color combination that surprises me. Or a way of mixing textures, like gold leaf and sandpaper or bubble wrap.
When an art idea occurs, I note it in my art journal. I try to include everything that inspired me, with detailed comments explaining what and why it sparked an idea.
If all I do is note the website URL or a page in a book… well, a week or two later, I might have no idea why I thought that webpage or artwork was so inspiring. Carpe diem!
For example, I once viewed a website called The Starving Artist’s Way, which included a project using second-hand woolen sweaters that had been washed and dried to shrink them in a “felted” style.
I didn’t think much more about that – not on a conscious level, anyway – but later in the day, after a nap, I woke up thinking about what else I could do with that kind of wool.
Another Art Journaling Page – Felt Ideas
While the thoughts were still fresh in my mind–and evolving–I jotted them down in my art journal. These are my two pages of notes:
In a nutshell, I was thinking about the kinds of wearable art that I could make with felted-style wool.
(Geek note: It’s not actually “felted” wool when you wash & dry woven/knitted/etc. wool to shrink it. It’s called “fulled” wool. Felting is when you use the raw fibers and a tool to tangle and/or compact them.)
This merged with the Mondrian art that I was reminded of when I was playing a weird (really juvenile humor) online game, Kingdom of Loathing.
And, once I started jotting down these ideas, I remembered when I used to make stained glass windows. Those patterns would adapt nicely to this kind of wool treatment, too.
I’m not sure that I’ll ever actually do anything with this idea. I get a bazillion of these ideas, steadily.
What Do You Do With All the Ideas?
If you’re like most artists, you’ll never have enough hours in the day to follow-through with all your creative ideas.
Sometimes, your journal is where you record the creative spark. A week, a month, or ten years later, you may go back to that page and the idea develops new depth.
And then it becomes a finished work of art. Or at least a creative exercise, to stretch your sense of style, materials, or techniques.
No creative impulse or idea is ever wasted. Sooner or later, they all contribute to your art, your life, or both. You may not see this in a direct, connect-the-dots way. But, looking back, you might. (I believe it’s there, whether it’s obvious or not.)
Why I Often Share My Art & Journaling Ideas
Back in 2004, I scanned the pages from my some of my art ideas journals,and put them into a (printed & mailed) art zine.
At the time, a few people thought that was a crazy thing to do. Why would I share something so unique to me and my work…?
(Well, hey, I was one of the first people with a blog, back in an era when it seemed utterly mad to write about your personal life, online. So, sharing my thoughts with the world is a long-time tradition. It feels natural to me. So I still do it.)
For me, that zine documented where my ideas came from. It demonstrated my creative process, from the spark that started it, to the visual ingredients that transformed it, and then the materials & techniques that completed it.
Second – and more importantly – I like sharing ideas so that someone else might be inspired by them and adapt the concepts (or copy it line-for-line, which is fine) to his or her own art.
It’s a myth that lots of artists shamelessly copy each other. We don’t. We just see the same kinds of images in our everyday lives – on TV, online, in new books, in the changing seasons, etc. – and they can spark similar art projects.
So, I hope this article explains why some people call it “art journaling,” and others use the term “artists’ journals.” Sometimes they’re the same thing. Sometimes, they describe slightly different kinds of journals.
You can call your artsy journals either one, or both, or make up your own phrase. It’s your art. It’s your expression.
Creativity matters more than the words!