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.

Link: https://youtu.be/_SGztluUtFg

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.

Link: https://youtu.be/Hzy6x87zIDA

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.

Link: https://youtu.be/RCfSp1LanFM

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.

Link: https://youtu.be/Ha931rXhY-E

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: http://bit.ly/magpiepix
(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 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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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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Wax Paper and Artists Journals

Two pages from an artist's journalI love wax paper. It’s always among my basic journaling supplies.

I use it any time I need to protect pages that include glue, water media, or anything sticky.

When I travel, I pre-cut sheets of wax paper, and tuck them into the back of my journal.  (Usually, I use a rubber band or a binder clip to hold them at the back of my journal, and remove them – one at a time – to use them.)

Why Wax Paper?

Wax paper can be a vital tool if you’re keeping an art journal. Wax paper can separate damp art journal pages – after they’ve been painted or collaged – so they don’t stick together.

I carry wax paper with me when I travel, so I can work on several journal pages in a row, and not wait for pages to dry completely.

Photo of waxed paper.Wax paper has many great features:

  • Wax paper is inexpensive.
  • It’s slightly porous (so the pages dry underneath). In other words, the air can get through.
  • It’s super-easy to use.
  • Wax paper is environmentally friendly.
  • You can often use the same sheet two or three times before throwing it away.

You’ll find wax paper at the grocery store, in the aisle with foil and plastic (cling) wrap. In the States, the leading brand is Reynolds’ Cut-Rite wax paper. That’s it in the photo, above. The package is about the same size as a roll of foil or plastic (cling) wrap.

Sometimes it’s half-hidden on the bottom shelf. In other areas, wax paper is a popular product for use with microwave ovens, so you’ll find wax paper more prominently displayed.

Regular wax paper is generally not recyclable. The wax surface (often made with petroleum products) is considered a “mixed” paper product.  I have not yet tried any of the recyclable wax papers (like “If You Care” brand wax paper) with my artists journals.

How to cut wax paper for art journalingWhen I’m separating journal pages with wax paper, I try to let each page dry so it’s only damp, not wet. (Sometimes I have no choice.  If the page is really sticky and I can’t wait for it to dry at all, I have to hope for the best.)

Then, I place the journal so the pages are as flat as possible.

After that, I cut or tear the wax paper so each piece is slightly larger than the journal page it will protect. An extra half-inch on each side is usually enough.

The key to success is not to allow much weight or pressure on damp pages. In other words, the wax paper should practically float on the damp page. Don’t press it onto the page.

Wax Paper and Gesso

Generally, I gesso five or six pages at a time. I’ve successfully gesso’d up to eight pages at a time.

However, I’m usually working with spiral-bound sketchbooks. They’re generally my favorite journals.

If I was working with a regular, bound journal, I’d watch carefully to see how much the binding “pulls” the pages back together. I might have to work with just two pages at a time.

(Big binder clips can come in handy if the binding on the journal is really tight. Clip the dry pages together – in separate bunches, if necessary – and that should take some of the pressure off binding, keeping the damp pages apart.)

Remember, wax paper is not 100% reliable when you want to keep wet pages apart.  If your journal page is the most perfect thing you’ve ever created, and you’d be devastated if it was damaged… well, stop journaling until that page has dried completely.

From my experience, wax paper sticks about 10 – 15% of the time. Sometimes, that’s a disaster. More often, it’s an opportunity to add more art & embellishments.

I may collage over those pages later, since the surface of the page is already a bit distressed.

Or, I may leave them “as-is” to reflect the creative process.

It all depends upon how they look when the page is dry, and I take a fresh look at it.

Wax Paper in Different Climates

I’ve used wax paper when I’ve gesso’d in airplanes (very dry air) and – at the other extreme – in sultry, humid Houston.

I have slightly better success with wax paper when the air is dry and the pages dry more quickly.

If you try wax paper and don’t have much success with it, try gently crushing the wax paper – before you use it – so it holds the pages slightly apart.

Note: It’s important to gently crush the wax paper; if you fold it enough that the wax falls off at the crease, that  may stick to wet paint, gel medium, or gesso.

Wax Paper and Wet Paint

When I want to separate wet, painted journal pages, I’m far more careful with the pages.Wax paper and artists journals

Then, I will separate two pages at the most: The one that I’ve just painted, and the one that I’m currently working on.

I learned that the hard way, when I tried to rush… and several pages stuck together.

So, because wax paper isn’t 100% non-stick, don’t want to risk damage. Separate two pages at a time, at the very most.

Also remember: Less weight or pressure on the wax paper means less risk of sticking.

And, the drier the pages, the better.

Paint is designed to be sticky and adhere to paper.  If it’s so wet that the moisture actually penetrates the wax paper, the results may be disappointing.

Weigh your options carefully. 

Is your freshly painted journal page is the best thing you’ve ever created?

Maybe it’s more important to preserve that, as-is, than rush into the next journal page.

(If you’re in a class and this happens, have a second or third journal with you.  Then, you can keep working while the first journal page dries, and not waste valuable class time.)

Wax Paper and Gel Medium or Collages

Wax paper is best for separating pages with small amounts of wet gel medium or glue on them. However, most gel medium won’t stick to wax paper.

In storage, I also use wax paper to protect every page of my collaged art journals. Then, even during sultry summer heat, the gel medium doesn’t re-soften and stick to the page opposite it.

Think of it this way: We use an iron to “melt” gel medium for image transfers. Likewise, gel medium can become sticky if you store your journals in a hot attic, garage, or other really warm area.

Art journaling - one sheet, two pagesUnlike gel medium, glue can be hit-or-miss with wax paper. It can vary with how wet the glue is, and if the glue contains alcohol or any kind of solvent.  (Alcohol and solvents will dissolve the wax on the wax paper, so it’s useless.)

You can test this ahead of time. Put a blob of the glue on a piece of paper, and place a piece of wax paper on top of it. Press gently, enough so contact occurs.

Then, wait a minute or two and see if the wax paper sticks to the glue. If it does, wax paper won’t protect your journal pages where that glue is wet and exposed.

Wax Paper Alternatives? Maybe.

You may be safe with sheets of foil as separators. I’ve had limited success, and only when I place the shiny side of the foil against the wet surface.

Heavy duty foil would probably be your best choice, especially if you’re planning to use it over & over again.

Or, consider thin sheets of teflon-coated plastic, sold in kitchen supply shops; they were invented to safeguard very sticky cookies, meringues, and so on.

Plastic wrap (cling film) rarely works for this purpose. It tends to stick to paint, gel medium and glue.

Worse, some glues will completely melt the plastic. (I’m not kidding.)

If you have to choose between plastic wrap and nothing between the damp pages, opt for nothing.  Really.

Some plastic wraps – especially the more expensive kinds – are practically guaranteed to stick to your damp pages, prevent them from drying, and never peel off.

Summary

Wax paper is a valuable tool when you’re working with damp pages in your art journal or illustrated diary.

Wax paper isn’t foolproof, but it’s still one of the best and least expensive ways to keep damp pages from sticking to each other.

You’ll have the best luck when you’re working with gel medium. Gesso and glue have a higher “failure” rate with wax paper.

However, in art there are no “failures,” just challenges and opportunities to create new and different art, and to make the most of life’s surprises.

The good news is, wax paper will prevent most damp pages from sticking together.  And, for most of my own journaling, that’s good enough.

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