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.
If you went around asking every journal artist what their must have supplies were, you would get a wide variety of responses. You just need to discover what works best for you. The trick is to start off with what you have and know, then slowly build from there. Being comfortable with your supplies is key, so you don’t want to overwhelm yourself with too many new supplies at once.
When you’re ready to try something knew, I would recommend only purchasing one (not a whole set), or a cheaper version. That way, you can experiment with it and decide whether its right for you before spending a bunch of money.
With that said, here is my list of basic supplies you may want to consider for your art journal:
In my other post, we discussed what you should consider when choosing an art journal, but you can use just about any surface if you don’t have an actual journal handy! You can use loose watercolor paper, pages of a magazine, an old book, cardboard, a cereal box… whatever you can find.
Gesso is basically a primer to get your surface ready to add paint. It’s also great to “beef up” thin pages, for muting backgrounds, and for covering up areas you don’t like. It comes in black, white, or clear and is made by many different manufacturers. Some are thinner than others, some with more texture… you just have to test out different brands to see which you like best. Right now, I’m using Liquitex Basics Gesso.
Paint + Other Color Media
There is a huge range of color media to try out… too many to cover them all here. Some examples are
Neocolor water soluable crayons, watercolor pencils, oil pastels, sprays, distress inks,
gouache, and so much more.
My absolute favorite color media is acrylic paints. They’re great for washes, drips, splattering, layering, and other techniques. I used to be dead-set on suggesting the more expensive Golden brand because the consistency and quality just can’t be beat. They’re still my go-to paints when I work on canvases and other art; but for art journaling, I have found other cheaper brands that work great. The three affordable brands I’m currently in love with are: Liquitex Basics, Studio 71, and Hand Made Modern (found at Target). I wouldn’t recommend the cheap craft paints you find in craft stores such as Apple Barrel or Folk Art, as they tend to clump up and dry out quickly, plus the texture is a bit too plastic-y for my taste.
My second favorite would have to be gelatos. They’re horridly expensive, but they do tend to last a long time and the convenience can’t be beat. For my birthday, I bought myself the large gift set and keep them in the living room. They’re great for quick play with no mess! They’re similar to watercolor crayons, but have a wider applicator.
I often use watercolors when I’m out and about for sketching and playing. They’re fun, easy, and pretty portable if you get a compact set or a
waterbrush. You can try out a kids’ set for super cheap to see if you like them before spending more money on a higher quality set. Using watercolor pencils and crayons can be super fun to play with too.
When art journaling, you’ll need to find what types of writing instruments work best with the mediums you choose to use. For instance, some pens and markers don’t write so well over acrylics. Start with experimenting with what you have on hand and are comfortable with such as pens, pencils, crayons, and markers.
Right now, the jetstream pen by uni that I purchased at Target is my favorite black pen (although I’m always trying out different ones). It seems to write over just about anything, even when my Sharpie marker doesn’t! I love charcoal pencils as well, they work well on just about any surface and have a great texture.
One of my favorite higher quality instruments are the
Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Pens which are pretty much like a felt tip marker, but are made with india ink which is waterproof and extremely lightfast. I’ve also heard great things about the Stabilo All pencil, Tombow Brush Markers, and Letraset Pro Markers but I have yet to try these myself.
Stamps + Stencils
Using stamps and stencils is a great way to add texture and interest to your pages. If you don’t have any on hand, you can make your own with things lying around the house! Make your own stencil by cutting a design out of cardstock or an old greeting card. You can also use just about anything with holes as a stencil such as doilies or a non-skid mat.
For a handmade stamp, you can use an X-Acto knife to carve into an eraser, or simply grab some stuff such as lids, bubble wrap, the end of a paintbrush, the bottom of a flipflop, bottle caps, and more to dip into paint and stamp away!
If you’re interested in making hand-carved stamps, check out my e-book and video class, Stamp Carving 101.
Ephemera + Embellishments
The dictionary defines ephemera as “items of collectible memorabilia, typically written or printed ones, that were originally expected to have only short-term usefulness.” These types of things are fun to add into your art journal as embellishments, especially if they come from your own life and experiences. If you keep your eyes open, you can find a large array of ephemera to use in your art journal for free such as old photos, maps, ticket stubs, business cards, notes, receipts, playing cards, clippings from magazines or textbooks, handwritten lists, recycled pieces from other art projects, and more.
You can also add in what my daughter and I like to call “doo-dads”, which is pretty much anything that is small, cute, and has lost its home such as buttons, bits of ribbon or string, tags, rhinestones, fabric flowers, etc. If you have kids at home, and they’re anything like mine, all you have to do is go on a hunt on their bedroom floor! lol Of course, you can also find overwhelming amounts of ephemera packs and embellishments to purchase too!
Mediums + Adhesives
If you’ll be using ephemera in your art journaling, you’ll of course need something to stick it down or attach it. Everyone has their own favorite attaching technique or glue, ranging from staples and tape to glue sticks and Mod Podge. But, I personally like to use an acrylic medium such as
Golden Gel Medium. It’s basically like a high quality Mod Podge that is less likely to buckle or turn yellow. I’ve also heard great things about Americana’s Decou-Page medium.
I had to throw this one in here… I just love tape! Washi tape is just awesome to add pops of color and texture, no more explanation needed. I also love masking tape, its great for reinforcing journal pages along the binding, adding texture, and its great to write on too!
You always have your fingers to use, but sometimes having a specific tool just makes things a little bit easier. Here’s a list of some tools I keep in my “tool box”:
- paint brushes – Buy basic cheap brushes for your glue + gesso because they get trashed quickly, but purchase better brushes for your paints. If they are too cheaply made, they will shed hair onto your work.
- binder clips – Sometimes the pages in your art journal just won’t stay flat, so use a binder clip to hold them down while you work.
- stapler + staples – I just LOVE Tim Holtz’ tiny attacher!
- old key card or credit/gift card – These are fun to use for pushing paint around, scratching off layers, etc.
- spray bottles – Spray water directly onto your wet paint to make it drip, or fill the spray bottle with watered down paint.
- pallet knife – You can use these to mix your paints, stir your mediums, apply paint to your surface area, etc.
- exacto knife
- hair dryer or heat gun – Use a dryer to dry your layers of paint faster!
- waxed paper – You can use waxed paper as a paint palette, to protect your work surface, or to separate pages if they’re sticky.
- brayer – A brayer is a printmaking tool with a handle and a roller. It is fun to use to apply paint, or it can also be used to ensure a good seal when gluing down ephemera.
- sealant – Its always a good idea to seal mediums that are water soluble, or mediums that may rub off onto the facing page when your book is closed. You can use gel medium, but I prefer to use a workable fixative spray. It seals the page, but you can still work on top of it after it dries if you need to.
Of course, this by all means is no complete list. There is no limit to what you can use in your art journal!
If you had to choose only five supplies to use, what would they be? I think mine would have to be acrylics, gelatos, my large black PITT pen, a black charcoal pencil, and a spray bottle. Leave me a comment and let me know yours!
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