Art Journaling Background Techniques

Sometimes, our art journals begin with a background. Those colors and textures inform everything else we do with the page.

Here are a few videos that may inspire you to try new background colors and techniques.

The first is by Purdy Creative Things. I love the variety she achieves, so quickly and with such simple techniques.

Next, this 8-minute video by Mercurial Milk presents some juicy colors and varied ideas, with useful tips for five different art journaling backgrounds.

The next video is by Maremi’s Small Art, and she shows how to create a textured, magical art background.  This video is nearly 10 minutes long, but worth watching, even if you skip ahead as you understand each step.

The next video is by that same artist. It includes several one-minute background techniques. All of them are simple and use just a few colors and tools.

The video is about 7 1/2 minutes long, if you watch it all the way through. The techniques are repetitive, but each background is unique. I think the variety will inspire you to try some of her ideas, yourself.

And, in Mark Montano‘s video – about 4 1/2 minutes long – he assembles completed artist’s journals pages.

I’m including this video because many of his techniques are fast and easy ways to create vivid, unique journal page background, too.

After watching these, I’m ready to work on my journal. I hope you’re excited about these materials and techniques, too.

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Magpie Journals

Magpie Journals - videos, how-to, free clipartA magpie journal is a wonderful concept. (Magpies are known for collecting all kinds of things, especially shiny objects… but that may be just a legend.)

What are magpie journals, in the art journaling community…?

They’re an assortment of things you’ve collected, organized as (or in) a journal. Or something journal-ish.

  • They may be random or themed.
  • They can be entirely paper, or mixed media, and include random objects.
  • Items can be glued, sewn, clipped, or collaged to your pages. (There are no limits.)
  • Don’t want to attach the item? Can’t attach it? Some items could be in pockets or fold-outs.

The earliest magpie journals I could find were from a 2012 Swap-bot swap.

Magpie Journals, in Videos

Here’s a late 2013 video – about 7 minutes long – of one of those early, Swap-bot magpie journals. You’ll get the idea in the first few minutes. It’s by Diane Baker-Williams.


Next, take a look at this 2-minute video by Wishfulkelly, and it’s described as a smash book / glue book / Magpie journal. It’s a very quiet video, with music playing faintly in the background. It’s fun.


The next video is by Paula Foerder. It’s about 20 minutes long. (Her magpie journal, shown page-by-page, fills about 15 minutes of the video.) Even if you watch just two or three minutes of this, I think you’ll glean some delightful ideas.


Next, Elizabeth Metz (Conifer Crow) creates “magpie bundles,” which are mixed media journals you can leave as-is, or take apart, embellish, and add to. The following is a 6-minute video showing one of her smaller bundles. (This one has already sold.)

I like this video as a starting point, to imagine my own mixed-media magpie journals.


Also, you’ll find lots of inspiration at Theresa Mask’s Magpie Journal Pinterest board.

Free Magpie Clipart

If you’d like to create your own magpie journal, here’s a sheet of printable clipart to get you started. It was created at 300 dpi, which means you could probably enlarge the pictures to double their size (at 150 dpi) and they might look fine.

The original is black & white. If you print it on heavy paper, you could color it with paint, pens, colored pencils, etc.

I’ve tried to place the images far enough apart that you can cut each one out (or tear it out) to use in collage.

Free magpie journal clipart

To download, click on the picture
or use this link:
(You can share that link, too. It’s a PDF at Google Drive.)

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Art Journaling with Magazine Images – Part 1

Art journaling with magazine collages - how-to videos and tutorialsI’ve always been enthusiastic about collages made with images from books and magazines. It’s something anyone can do, with no art training at all.

Since the 1990s, that was one of my missions: To show people – especially women – that they could express themselves in art, no matter what.

Initially, I focused on torn-paper collages, because they were easy and were supposed to look a little “messy.”

Also, some of the words & slogans in magazine advertisements… wow! They can be great lines to include in your artist’s journal.

If you’re art journaling with magazine photos and text here are some videos that may inspire you.

First, a short video of Kelly Kilmer flipping through some of her artist’s journals. She uses lots of magazine images in her work, but also pens, paint and other fine art supplies.

Not seeing that video? It's at where you can find more of Kelly's art journaling videos, too.

In the next video, you’ll see how pitje4life adds magazine images – one over another – in her journal. (This starts part-way through the video, where she’s actually putting the images on the page.)

I don’t recommend using white glue to attach paper, because you risk it bubbling the paper, even after it’s dry. But… I’ll talk about that, later. First, the video:


Instead of white glue, I recommend something like Golden acrylic medium (Soft Gel, Gloss). I apply it gently with a sponge brush. Then I place the paper where I want it to stay. After that, I leave it as it is.

Do not smooth it, or you’ll stretch the damp paper and it will stay bubbled after it dries.

(I learned that technique from collage artist Claudine Hellmuth, when we both taught at Artfest.)

Also – from my experience – I have better luck letting the collage air-dry, instead of applying heat. (Your mileage may vary.)

Or, you could try gluesticks, as Jenn does in the following video. It’s about 10 minutes long, and she shows you exactly how her two-page collage came together. It’s from the “One Magazine Challenge.”

Her YouTube channel is Art Therapy with Jenn. Video link:

And, if you’re wondering where artists find delightful and deliciously quirky images for these kinds of collages, here’s Colleen McCulla‘s seven-minute video explaining her resources.


I hope those videos inspired you to create some magazine collages in your artist’s journals. (I can hardly wait to start a new journal, after seeing these.)

If you have any questions or tips, I hope you’ll leave a comment, below.

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Video: How to make an altered book art journal

This is a lovely demonstration by Art by Silas. It shows how to create a mixed media artist’s journal. It includes torn paper collage – one of my favorite techniques. And it’s a good way for a beginner to get art journaling ideas. (The video is about five and a half minutes long.)

Here’s the video:

If you like this video, be sure to see Silas’ other videos at YouTube.

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Art Journals v. Artist’s Journals

Art journaling or artists journals - the art matters more than the words“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.

Or not.

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″.

Artists journal page, 2004

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

Art journal page showing inspirationAt 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.

Anasazi painting


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:

Ideas for a felted jacket - art journaling

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.

That’s okay.

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!

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