Art journals are a great way to document skill progression in art. No matter what medium you love using an art journal can give you a chronological view of your progress, help you build your skill, give you a place to experiment with new ideas, and can also be used as a holder for random inspiration.
My students are frequently asking me about their journals, how should they use them? How do I use mine? What are their purpose? So I’ve compiled some tips based on some of these questions.
Why should we draw every day?
The most important part of sketching is drawing every single day, even if it is only for 5 minutes. Drawing every day helps your mind connect with your hand and every time you do it the connection gets stronger so your hand remembers how to convert your visual idea to paper. The key is to do it regularly
Keep all of your drawings – even the ones you hate!
When you get to the end of your journal look back at the first page and compare it with the last page. Can you see any improvement? How is it different?
I promise you – if you draw every single day, you will be a better artist at the end of the year.
What kind of journal should I get?
The kind of journal you get really depends on what you will be using it for. I often have 2 or 3 journals going at the same time. I use one for sketching, one for painting, and one for random inspiration that I might find laying around.
For my sketching journal I love smooth paper. I use alot of graphite blending techniques and you can get a more realistic looking drawing using a paper blender on smooth paper. 80-120gsm is usually good. My favourite thing for sketching on is plain old photocopy paper, which I make my own journals out of.
For painting you’ll need a thicker paper. Watercolour pads are a good option. This kind of paper doesn’t crinkle and bleed though as much when you are using watercolours.
For my inspiration journal I like to use a spiral bound journal. The paper type/weight doesn’t really matter to me in this journal, as I’m usually sticking in bits of magazines, random little squiggles I’ve drawn on floating bits of paper, and using pen to quickly sketch out an idea I want to try later, but don’t have the time to commit to it at that moment. Using a spiral bound journal means that it will still close properly even when I stick things in. If you stick things into a journal with a glues/stitched spine the spine will usually end up being pulled apart due to the additional thickness you add with your glue-ins.
I always run out of ideas, what should I draw?
If you get stuck for ideas you can always search for 30 day art challenges on the internet. There are hundred out there. Artlis Studios has even done a few themselves.
These challenges are basically a list of inspirational words or phrases that give you a theme you can draw about each day. Even if you don’t like the theme you can come up with creative ways to incorporate the theme into something you do like. I often download these types of challenges when I am feeling creatively blocked.
Here are some other ideas to get you going:
– Give yourself 1 minute to sketch a simple still life. You will find you wont be able to get much detail in, maybe you will just end up with outlines?! – Sketch the same still life again, but this time use 5 minutes to sketch it in. Is there more detail? We re you able to add some shading? – Sketch the same still life one final time, but this time give yourself unlimited time to finish it off with details, shading and highlights.
– Smudge some dirt or cake crumbs on a journal page and see if you can see anything in them to create a picture. Does one of the smudges look like a face? A bird? A teacup?
– Open a story book at random and read the first or last word on the page. Draw a picture that relates to that word.
– Draw a sketch without looking at the page.
– Draw in a colour that describes how you are feeling.
And don’t forget to use Google to the best of your ability! Typing a single word and scrolling through the image results can help you come up with inspiration and ideas!
A FINAL NOTE ON JOURNALS:
Sometimes when I flick back through my journal I notice the graphite has smudged! I’m always carrying my journals around, stuffing them in bags, showing them to students and leaving them in random places (so I have to race back and find them again). If you use any of the heavy B pencils you may find the same thing!
I found that spraying with a charcoal fixative (find one that is acid free to avoid yellowing) helps keep them relatively clean, alternatively you can sticky tape a piece of baking paper or parchment paper over your work so the above page doesn’t rub on it. Sticky tape just down the side or the top so you can lift the parchment easily to see your work whenever you like.