Journals: What’s Your Poison?

You might be wondering: What kind of journal do you need for this class?

That, my friend, is entirely up to you! Some people like sewn journals so that the pages stay secure no matter what; others prefer wire-bound journals so that they can easily ditch a page they don’t like. Some people even prefer to work on unbound pages and bind them all together into book form after they’ve amassed a pile. Some people like to alter old books; some people love composition notebooks. Some people even save up their junk mail to create their own books.

So the short answer is that there’s no answer! You should work in whatever journal you feel comfortable using!

Maybe you are new and have no idea what journal you’ll like? In that case, I recommend going for a cheap option. Not because I think you’ll be making low-quality art, because that is not the case at all, but because I find that working in a cheap journal can help you get past the “oh crap I don’t want to mess this up!” feeling pretty quickly! Imagine having a beautiful leather-bound journal that cost a small fortune. The pages are luxe to the touch, the leather smells divine, and you haven’t put pen to paper because you are terrified of ruining it. Now imagine having a journal that you picked up for a couple of bucks at the local five-and-dime. Who cares if you mess up a page? You can always go get another journal later; but you might as well keep working in this one for now. Get what I’m saying?

You can literally use any thing you want, paper-wise, for art journaling, but… depending on what techniques you use, you’ll want to prepare the pages in different ways. Wet stuff will wrinkle light-weight pages like the lined notebook pages in an el cheap-o composition book. Does this mean you can’t use wet stuff? Absolutely not! Gesso will be your friend. Slap a coat of gesso over the page, let it dry, and it will be better prepared to handle lightly wet treatments. Want to really soak the page? Well, you can tape a few pages together to build up a thicker layer before applying the gesso. Another trick that totally works, though might ruin your iron, is to iron the pages flat after you paint them. So… let the pages get wrinkly with paint or whatever wet treatment you apply, then iron the pages flat again. This works best with watercolor paint, but will work with anything as long as you a) use something over the page to prevent it from sticking to the iron & b) work quickly to prevent burning. I use a teflon craft sheet between my iron and my page whenever I do this. It works great. You can also put something heavy, like a giant 1950s dictionary, on the journal to press the pages flat before doing other techniques.

Dry media will work on just about everything, though some markers aren’t going to work over glossy surfaces like magazine pages. Experiment wilding to figure out what does work, or apply a coat of clear gesso to transform that glossy surface that resists everything into a new workable surface.  (You can also sand glossy surfaces to help them hold paint markers or whatever else you are using.)

Still, I do have some preferences. One journal that I really like using is the Canson Mixed Media journal. It has 98 lb paper and the one I’m using is 7 x 10 inches. I think these come in other sizes. My journal cost about $7.50.

I also like the Strathmore Visual Journal with Mixed Media paper. These come in smaller sizes, which is nice if you want to keep it little. I think mine is 5 x 7 inches, but don’t quote me on that.

For my all purpose everyday journal, I make a hardbound journal using Fabriano Hot Press watercolor paper. I love this paper. It holds up to everything I do to it and it has a lovely smooth surface. Bumpy watercolor paper sometimes bugs me for writing purposes, so the smooth surface is a great plus. My preferred working size is 8 x 10, though I’ve been pushing my boundaries in that regard lately! Each journal costs about $20 to make, but usually lasts me for 3 – 6 months.

My newest journal is a moleksine journal with watercolor paper, and I love it. I’ve been making watercolor paintings every night while I’m sitting in the bedroom watching television. At first, I was worried I’d mess up the pages (as I described above!) but then I decided that I didn’t care, I’d just work in it and if I messed up, oh well. It’s a new size for me as well, so it will be interesting to see how it goes.

So what journals do you prefer?


About craftymoira

Weekly Art Date is an online art journal course taught by Moira Richardson of Crafty Moira. Weekly Art Date is hosted on

5 responses to “Journals: What’s Your Poison?”

  1. Creative Sherry says :

    If you saw all the boxes of journals I have, you would wonder if i had enough thoughts in a lifetime to fill them all. I prefer leather-bound, sewn journals (Roma Lussa) but that might be because I started my journaling life as a purely word journaler. I’ve used spirals, moleskines, composition books, altered books, loose pages. I always go back to sewn journals. I travel often and sewn journals, esp leather wrapped ones hold up the best. Smooth paper is preferred because I write with a plain rollerball a lot, but I am not partial to any type. Gesso can firm up most any surface for what I do.

    Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to more insights.

  2. storybeader says :

    I’ve fallen in love with composition notebooks, which I turn into “junque” journals. I put everything into it, try to write to myself every day and gesso a lot of pages for watercolor. I also sell coptic journals for others, so it’s kinda strange, I use the cheapest materials on myself. Like you said, it keeps me going! {:-Deb

  3. Satina says :

    I’m so new to this that I am experimenting all over the place. I agree that using inexpensive materials is essential for me to get past the ‘freeze’ that I experience every time I try to make art. As of today, I have an 8×5 Strathmore Watercolor Journal in which I do mixed media, paint, and collage, a small (5×6?) altered book in which I have done a little of everything and will probably start saving life ephemera in to make a little junk journal, a large altered book (old children’s encyclopedia) that I’m doing a themed art journal in, a composition notebook where I write all my ideas for new techniques and supplies, and a 9×11 sketchbook where I do pen and ink, pencil, Sharpie, and colored pencil (usually watercolor, even though the paper doesn’t take it well) drawings and also work out my ideas for spreads in the journals. And I’m searching for just the right old novel in which to highlight a few words per page and do spreads around that, and also save and do art around awesome quotes.

  4. Carole says :

    I love the Canson Journals the best. I bought a Strathmore but I didn’t find them any better than my Cansons. And, I buy the Canson’s at Michaels only when I have those lovely coupons or when they have marked them down by 30 or 40%. I stock up because I tend to hop around between sizes.

    I always try to prepare lots of pages with interesting backgrounds–using paint or just collaging random bits of interesting junk papers on the pages. No plan or design–just a way to start prepping the pages.

    When I have left over paint from any project, I use the leftover to prep pages — no wasted paint and I always have some interesting pages surfaces to start with. I clean brushes on journal pages also — another way to start creating backgrounds. I also do ‘monoprints’ by laying my journal down on my palette when i have leftover wet paint on it. I’ve gotten some great backgrounds that way.

    Another tip, if you have paint left on a stencil or ink left on a stamp, clean them off by stamping on a blank or prepared journal page. It’s another way to have interesting backgrounds to start with.

  5. teddi says :

    i can uses whatever journal fits my mood. i like watercolor tablets, & i paint the covers. i also have a spiral bound art journal, that i bought at barnes & noble. i’ve altered books. for my writing journal, i’ll use a composition notebook, or spiral lined paper.

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