This article is part of my FREE e-course Art Journaling 101 – which has been designed to gently introduce beginners to the basics of art journaling so you can find your way with more ease and less fear. If you’re curious about art journaling or overwhelmed with how to begin, sign up for the full free course HERE.
With so many choices, its easy for one to get overwhelmed when trying to choose what type of book to use for their new art journal. You obviously want to choose something that you’ll be inspired by, but there are many other things to think about besides looks. Such as:
Type of Paper – Think about what types of mediums you’ll be using in your art journal. If you know you want to play with watercolors a lot, perhaps you should choose a book with watercolor paper. If you’re going to be using mostly dry media like colored pencils, crayons, pens, and markers then thinner paper will work just fine. If you’ll be using a variety of mediums like acrylic, watercolor, markers, and more, then you may want to go with a mixed media paper, watercolor paper, or something thick like cardstock to be able to withstand all of the water and layers.
But that’s not to say that you can’t use whatever you have laying around, or that gorgeous notebook you found just because it doesn’t have the right paper.
There are ways around that. Which brings us to the second thing to consider…
Time vs Money – When it comes down to it, you have to decide which is more important to you, saving money or saving time.
Usually, blank journals with thicker pages are more expensive; but you’ll be able to dive right in with your journaling with little to no prep. Your other alternative would be to use a cheaper book and “beef up” the pages to be able to handle your creative play.
If the pages are too thin for your mediums, you’ll need to “glue” two or more pages together with gel medium or a glue stick in order to make them thick enough to support your layering and paint. Then, if you don’t like your pages getting wrinkly, you might want to put a coat of gesso on each page to prepare it to accept your paints. This prep work can get very time consuming, but can be worth it if you’re tight on cash or can’t find the perfect journal.
Stability – There’s nothing worse than putting all of your heart, time, and energy into an art journal only to find it falling to pieces when you’re finished. If you’re considering a blank book not specifically made for art, or perhaps an old book to recycle, you’ll want to look carefully at the spine.
Some books are held together with glue, which will only lead to disaster after continued handling, and after applying wet mediums and additional weight with layers. You want to make sure the book is bound by stitching (or use a spiral notebook).
To check if your book was bound by stitching, try finding the center page. Each “signature” or section of pages will be stitched to the spine, so you’ll be able to see the stitching when you open up a signature. You may find it difficult to find the center of a signature in some larger hard cover books; in that case, try looking closely at the pages where they meet the spine. If they’re stitched together, you’ll notice that the paper has been folded in half to create two pages.
Size – If you’re just starting out, a smaller journal may be less intimidating. But larger journals provide more space for journaling and play. If you’re unsure, a good size to start with is around 6×9″. It’s just big enough to paint, doodle, and journal; but small enough as to not scare you off!
Here are some popular choices to consider:
Moleskine (or similar bound journal) – Moleskines seem to be the #1 choice for most sketch book artists and many art journalers. Their quality is supurb and they come in many different paper types (not to mention, they look so awesome when all filled up!). If you plan to use wet mediums in a moleskine I would recommend going with the sketch book or watercolor book; their other varieties have pages that are much too thin.
Pros: durable, rigid cover, elastic closure
Cons: the paper is a bit thin for wet mediums so they should be gessoed first, not much room for thick embellishments, somewhat pricey
Spiral Bound Journals – There are a wide variety of spiral bound notebooks which are great for art journaling. You can find ones with any type of paper you need such as the all-media book I have pictured here. Artist Robin-Marie Smith shares how she disassembles her Canson journal to work on the pages separately in this video HERE.
Pros: pages always lay flat, you can remove the pages to work in them seperately then bound them back together again, comes in a wide variety of paper types
Cons: wire can get caught on things, pages tear out more easily, can’t really do a two page spread
Handmade Journals – Handmade journals are always a great choice because you can be rest assured that the binding has been stitched for a sturdy book, and they’re usually made with sturdy paper. They are also the most attractive books to use (in my opinion) since they are handmade by artists. You can usually find handmade books in specialty shops or online. Or, learn how to make your own to customize it to your needs!
Pros: strong stitched binding, comes in a wide variety of styles, usually comes with thick paper (but be sure to always check!)
Cons: can be hard to find locally, can sometimes be pricey due to the time it takes to make by hand and costs of materials, can be time consuming to make your own
Composition Notebooks – Composition books can be found just about anywhere (especially at the start of the school season!) and are super cheap. The only problem is that the pages are pretty thin, so you need to do a lot of prep work if you want to paint in it. But I have found these lined notebooks to be my most favorite tool for art journaling! The prep work turned out to be quite enjoyable for me. Plus, I find them to be less intimidating than other journals, and allows me to get loose and not care about what the final result looks like.
Pros: super cheap and can be found in almost any store, stitched binding
Cons: pages are super thin, needs lots of prep work
Old Hardcover Books – You can pick up old hard cover books for cheap at a thrift shop or rummage sale. They are great to use for art journaling because they are usually durable and they provide interesting pages to begin with. There is a ton of info online on how to use a hardcover book for journaling, but I have found this article and this video to be pretty helpful.
Pros: can be found super cheap, durable (as long as its a stitched binding), eco-friendly since you’re not purchasing a new item
Cons: lots of prep work, you must remove many pages on order to make room for the thickness of your art
What’s your favorite art journal? I’d love to hear your thoughts. :)