Documenting your Creative Process with an Art Journal

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There is nothing more frustrating to have created a wonderful mixed media painting or when you have mixed paints to create new, wonderful colors, and then not being about to repeat the process or outcome because you can’t remember what you did in the first place. That’s where an Art Journal or visual diary can make all the difference. By jotting down a few key steps and materials you used in your artwork, in creative journal, you will have a reference when you are looking for ideas or wanting to replicate a certain technique.

Have an art journal at hand to note down colours and materials used

Tips for using your Art Journal

Here Michelle shows you her art journal and the kind of things she documents.

Here is the final mixed media painting Ocean that Michelle was creating while documenting the process steps and the acrylic paints used.

tip in swap spread with "Ocean" as the theme

When you compare the initial sketch at the top of the page in the art journal, shown above, with the finished piece, you can see the sketch is only a rough outline of how the final piece turns out. That’s fine. The art journal is to simply document any thoughts and ideas that you have at the start. then you can show the layers, as you have added them. Note that paints or mediums you have used.

When selecting a book to use as an art journal, consider the different types of mediums you are most likely to use and choose one with paper that matches. Here I’ve used a visual journal, which is great for sketching and adding little samples of paints and adhesives. Some inks and too much paint will run through the pages, so keep the paints fairly dry.

I tend to use both sides of the pages but will always start an important piece of work on a new page. That way I have a nice clean sheet, without any lumps of bumps underneath the paper. Then I can use the backs of pages for straight sketched or to develop and document ideas for future projects.

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  1. This is a really good idea. I do the same thing. In the same journal, I also keep quotes to use and swatches of watercolor pencil color (wet and dry, with the pencil name and number), a list of watercolor pencils I have (so I don’t buy the same color over and over), and dates of blogs I used certain illustrations with. Then I discovered that this kind of journal has a name–Commonplace Journal, and a really old and long history to go with it! Who knew?

  2. Lorene says:

    I use art journals to write down my ideas before I start creating but never thought about using them to write down the steps I took in order to replicate them later. Great tip- thank you!

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