I've been creating art nearly my entire life, but have only been art journaling in a serial fashion for just over a year. Only a year! It feels like a life time already.
A question I see a lot in the Get Messy community, and on my own posts both here and on IG is: what supplies do I need to get started art journaling?
I equally love and hate this question because: 1) I love talking about art supplies with people, but 2) it's a hard question to answer! Creating art is so personal and individual - what I may use and love, another person may detest and may want to make them stop creating forever. That's a bit dramatic, but it could happen!
Regardless, I do believe there are some basic supplies you can use to get a feel for art journaling and for the supplies available. Despite so many people's different styles, techniques, visions, etc etc, there are some supplies that transcend all of that. I've created a short (but comprehensive) list of what I think are the most basic art journaling supplies to get you started.
1. A journal with thick(er) paper. Any journal with paper intended for mixed media works. I have used a variety of journals, but they all have one thing in common: thick pages. This is key if you want to use wet media (aka paint) as thin paper will not hold up to the moisture. My journals have included a sketchbook, an old photo album (hello black page!), an old book with pages glued together, and grocery bags.
2. White gesso. Gesso is a way of life. It is the savior of journal pages. It blesses us with pristine white backgrounds, bleedproof pages and covering up mistakes made. Gesso is different than white acrylic paint because it is an acrylic primer used for canvases, and any other substrate you want to use. This means that gesso is thinner, more opaque and dries with a matte finish. It has these qualities because it creates a better surface for acrylic paint to adhere to on a canvas. In art journaling, it's use is for prepping pages in a similar way, in order for them to accept paint without bleeding through the page (and potentially ruining your previous hard work!) I often use it in place of white acrylic paint, just because it's there.
3. Pan of watercolour paints. These can be the cheapest most basic set you can get at the art store. If you are near a Michael's, the Artist's Loft brand is perfect for starting out. If you've never used watercolours, do not fear them! They are amazing for washes, adding colour, creating soft texture, using for splatters, drips, halos, and so much more.
4. Small selection of craft acrylics in your favourite colours. Choose ones that compliment each other and a bottle of black. Choosing paints can be so intimidating because there are SO many options. Like so many. It's dizzying. I think the best way to get started is to go for the cheap stuff and to get your favourite colours. By getting the $0.99 bottles you have a lot less to lose if you end up buying a colour you later find to hate. These paints also dry very quick and very matte, so they are great for creating quickly, and will not cause your pages to stick together. As for colours, I am against picking a standard "set" of colours - like those sets you get from the store. If you have paint colours you hate or don't feel inspired by, you will never use them or feel compelled to do so. Love blues? Grab some blues. Can't get enough neons? Get some neons. Get your favourite colours, and try to get ones that compliment each other. This means that when you go to use them, they will already look great together on a page. Having a page that looks great after a few brushes of paint will motivate you to keep creating. If you find you love using acrylic (it's my life blood), then it's worth looking into student quality artist paints.
5. Set of sturdy paintbrushes. I would include a large flat wash brush, small flat brush, at least a small and large round, and a small detail brush. You'll need a large flash brush for applying gesso, large amounts of paint, if you're trying to cover a page, etc. Flat and round brushes create different strokes, so having two of each in different sizes is a good variety. One small detail brush, like a 01 round or a spotter are good if you want fine details in your pages.
6. Black waterproof fine markers. I like Micron - sizes 08/05 and 02-01. I also use Faber-Castell Pitt pens, and love them too. You'll use these for all kinds of drawing, mark making, writing, etc. Make sure whichever you choose that you do get waterproof ones. This means you can paint/draw over top without it smearing - an important quality for creating mixed media.
7. Both wet and dry adhesives. My preference for a wet adhesive is matte medium, or just a glue stick if I'm being lazy. Matte medium is also another way of life. What is matte medium? Well, it's actually a transparent paint-like medium that artist's add to acrylic paint to render their finished paint with a matte effect - meaning no shine or gloss when their paint dries. This is what it was created for. However, matte medium is incredibly versatile and can be used as an adhesive as well. It's popular for collaging, especially when using materials like tissue paper, vellum, or any other fine transparent paper. As for a dry adhesive, get a tape runner. They're in the scrapbooking section and look like white out tape. But this stuff is basically dry glue. It is amazing for materials you do not want to warp (like they would from a wet adhesive.) I use these more often than not for literally every page I glue something down on.
8. An old favourite magazine. Make sure it has images/style you love! It can be a lifestyle, fashion, music, art magazine. I love Nylon, Vogue, Flow, Mollie Makes and Dote magazine. The biggest factor is lots of images, great colour and texture. As long as it's a magazine that has content that inspires you and you don't mind cutting up - it's perfect!
9. White card stock. This seems super basic, but white cardstock is the workhorse of art journaling. It can hold up to both acrylic and watercolour paints (with wildly varying results, in the best way), and is a great substrate for creating your own elements. You can print off images on it, create drawings on it, try new techniques on it, basically it's wonderfully versatile. I also use it to protect other pages by putting it behind the page I'm working on so that excess paint doesn't get on to anything I don't want it. I also use it as a paint palette, a sketchbook, a place to clean my brushes (which can make for amazing collage fodder!!) It sounds funny to gush on about card stock, but it really is one of my absolute must have items.
10. Palette knife/old credit card/gift card. For spreading paint on paper in a super thin layer. Sometimes even the best thicker paper can't handle a thick coat of paint. You can use an old credit/gift card for this, I have several, and it works great for spreading out paint!Typically I use this when I'm priming a page with gesso, since it will seal the page and prevent any bleeding. It's also great fun to scrape paint across your page and get some wonderful texture from it.
11. White gel pens. Like a Sakura Gelly Roll, Uniball Signo Broad, Posca Paint Pen, etc. Find whatever white pen writes best for you. The pop of white ink against a darker or brightly coloured background can bring amazing contrast to a page. And sometimes there's something you want to do where a black pen just won't work. I personally use the Sakura Gelly Roll pens, but any white ink pen that works for you is great.
12. An open attitude. You can buy every item on this list, but if you don't have this last item then everything is useless to you. It sounds harsh, but what I mean by it, is that if you come to create with a closed mind, or a closed heart, then you will find it all very discouraging. No one makes a perfect page the first time they try something new. Or the 5th time. Maybe by the 10th time you'll love what you've made. Maybe. And that will keep you wanting to create more. But if you are stopped by poor work, bad pages, ugly results, then you will never get to see all the beautiful and inspiring art pages that you are meant to make. Having an open attitude is essential to art journaling. An understanding that art journaling is a journey, not a destination, and that you are learning along the way will keep you creating. I make SO MANY ugly pages. Ideas that don't pan out. Pages that I should cover. But I still keep creating. I believe you should too.
If you've made it this far, you deserve a cookie! This list is not the holy grail of art journal supplies, but it is all the items that are MY essentials and the items I first used when I started art journaling.
You can find almost all the supplies shown, or close variations here:
Have any questions/comments? Please leave them below! I promise I'll answer them as best I can. Know someone who wants to start art journaling, but isn't sure what to get to start? Share this with them & encourage them to get creating!