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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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 https://youtu.be/gVfe1wlwbd0 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:

Link: https://youtu.be/uo0Wsf2kaqc

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: https://youtu.be/H6FFrTRLf84

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.

Link: https://youtu.be/EfliO_D78QE

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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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.

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