Choosing a journal is the beginning of one’s art journaling journey and picking the right journal can be daunting. Before purchasing a journal take a few moments to think about the media you would like to work with. Do you want to paint? Watercolors or Acrylics? Do you want to collage? Draw with markers? Illustrate your words with pens? Cut, glue, staple, and sew? All of the above? Once you have an idea of what media you would like to work with, you will be better able to choose a journal that will provide the best working surface for that medium. If you are unsure about what you’d like to work with or you want to try a bit of everything, go with a journal that can stand up to heavier media. Below is a list of a few different journal types and what media they work with best to help you choose one that’s right for you.
When choosing a journal, you should take into consideration the type of binding. Art journaling can often add quite a lot of volume to the pages which prevents the journal from closing flat and can strain or break the spine of journal with a sewn binding. To alleviate this problem blank pages should be removed from the back of your journal. Spiral bound journals offer easy expansion and removal of blank pages at any time and are a great choice for art journaling. However, some artists prefer to work in two page spreads and find the break of the spiral binding distracting. Journals with a sewn binding offer more continuity between pages and spreads, but it takes a bit more work to remove blank pages from them.
Another thing to keep in mind is how long you’d like your journal to last. If you want your journal to stand the test of time and preserve your work then you should chose a journal of archival quality with acid free paper. Many journals and sketchbooks will have a label if they are acid free, but a useful tool to have is an acid testing pen. They allow you to evaluate whether paper is acidic or not by drawing a small line on the paper and seeing what color it turns. You can find them on Amazon or Dick Blick Art Supplies.
Journals For Bits Of Everything & Heavy Media
Journals and sketchbooks with heavier paper, such as 90-140lb watercolor paper, are great for many different media types. They will give you a great surface for lighter work such as watercolor and drawing as well as providing support for very wet media, collage, sewing, painting, and more. Any sketchbook journal with heavyweight paper will work, so pick one that speaks to you. Here are a few recommended journals:
• Strathmore Visual Journals - Mixed Media, Watercolor 90lb, or Watercolor 140lb - These spiral bound journals aren’t the best looking journals, but they allow for easy expansion and removal of extra pages as well as having a variety of paper choices.
• Canson XL Mix Media Journals - A sewn binding journal with a medium weight paper. They also come in a spiral binding version.
• Strathmore Hardbound Watercolor Journal - A sewn binding journal with 140lb weight water color paper that will lay flat when opened, allowing for large two page spreads.
• Moleskine Folio Books - Watercolor Album - A sewn binding journal with heavyweight watercolor paper. They are in landscape orientation (bound on the short side) and so are a bit oddly sized compared to other journals, but are nice all the same.
• Moleskine Watercolor Notebooks - A somewhat smaller and less expensive version of the Folio Book Watercolor Album.
Journals For Light Media & Illustration
Most journals found in book shops have lighter weight paper that will hold up to dry media that does not add much volume to the paper such as pencil, pen, and marker. Some will hold up to some light collage and watercolor work. Most lighter weight paper will buckle, especially if it is unsized, if exposed to water and wet media. If you are bothered by buckling, choose a journal medium or heavy weight paper. If you plan to work mainly with dry media, you can pick up practically any acid free journal that catches your eye and get started. If you find that you do want to try some heavier media, you can facilitate this by gluing two or three light weight pages together. Here are a few recommended journals:
• Moleskine - This is one of the most widely known note book brands and they have a huge variety of papers and sizes from their classic notebooks and sketchbooks to the more flexible volant. Their soft and flexible covered journals allow for expansion without removal of paper. I have used a few volants in my journaling and find that if paper buckling doesn’t bother you you can use watercolors, glue, and other wet media fairly successfully. I have also done some acrylic work in them, but I wouldn’t recommend doing very heavy layers.
• Holbein Multimedia Books - A spiral bound, medium weight paper journal that will accept dry media and some watercolor work.
Handmade Journals & Altered Books
If you are adventurous, you might consider making your own journal or altering one you buy. Doing this allows you to create the perfect journal for you, tailored to your exact needs. You can add as many different types and weights of paper as you like, choose the size, and decorate the cover with whatever you want. There are many tutorials online on creating and altering books and journals that can guide you through this process.
Where To Buy
• If you can, I highly recommend looking for local specialty shops or small businesses that sell art supplies, books, gifts, and papers before going to a larger chain. Second hand shops may also have some journals that can spark your creativity with doodles by previous owners or be salvaged and altered.
• If you want a handmade journal and aren’t up to the task of creating your own, want to support other artists, or just an amazing, high quality, work of art to journal in, check out Artfire and Etsy. They are both great resources for finding journals made by fellow artisans.
• Dick Blick - DB can supply almost anything you could want for art journaling including journals, paints, tools, and papers. You can shop online or in Philadelphia or Allentown.
• Barnes & Noble - B&N has a wide variety of journals with all sorts of papers and covers. If you’re looking for a local place where you can select a journal quickly, but still have many different types to chose from this is a good place to start.
• Amazon - What can you say about Amazon? You can find most things there, however you don’t get to hold and feel that journal before you buy it, which can be a major disadvantage when purchasing a journal for the first time.