Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Cheap Ways to Art Journal Part 1

(Art Journal page in my Strathmore Mixed-Media Visual Journal)
I've been on a tight budget for years, and realized recently that there's a real lack of attention for how to play in your art journal without breaking the bank.  It can be an expensive hobby, or, at least, it can appear that way.  So, I wanted to share with you the tips and tricks I've discovered for how to maintain an art journal on the cheap.

Before I jump into my list, though, I want to say something I consider very important about art journaling and supplies.  It's this:

"Mediums and brushes aren't as important as the techniques.  Give a true artist some crayons and you can't limit him."  - Author Unknown

If you are new to art journaling, you most likely will be lured in to the product-driven culture of it.  I know I was.  It's very hard to resist.  It's the thought that "Hey, if I just had product _________ (fill in the blank), then I could create something as cool as they did." or "If I get everything on this teacher's supply list, then I'll make art like she does."

It took me years of being frustrated, of looking with longing at Golden paints, of feeling left out, to realize that it's not true.  It's not about having the latest and greatest art supply out there  - it's about what the process of making art does to you, how it can transform you.  Some of the most beautiful art journals I've seen have been made with cheap paper and a ballpoint pen.

For me, there's also a dark side to purchasing expensive supplies.  If it's something I won't be able to easily replace (Gel Medium, I'm looking at you), then I tend not to use it, to "save it" for "something special".  That puts a LOT of pressure on me, to then come up with that something special, to justify the expense of buying it in the first place.  Not something I need when I'm trying to engage my creative side.  I've had Gel Medium dry out on me, waiting for me to deem something worthy enough to actually use it on.  I'm much freer with my inexpensive supplies, because I know if I like it and use it up, I can easily get more.

But, that's also not to say that trying out new supplies isn't a lot of fun, because it is.  Trying out a new medium, testing it out and seeing what it does, is part of the joy of working with mixed-media.  But, if you're on a tight budget, just know that you don't have to be left out of what all the "cool kids" are doing.  You can be creative and enjoy yourself as you commence your art journaling journey, with limited funds.

Also, a little disclaimer:  These are the tips and tricks I've discovered, living in a large-ish city in the US.  I wish I knew more about what to do if you live in a rural area, or outside of the US.  I'm hoping that if you do, maybe some of these ideas will translate over into where you live, but unfortunately, some of them won't.

On with the show!
  1. Paint

    I was overjoyed to find that craft paints are the way to go in my art journal.  Golden and Liquitex paints are great (vibrant, mostly lightfast, clean color-mixing), but since I write over my painted backgrounds, they don't work as well as craft paints do.  Craft paints have more fillers in them than artist grade paints do, and tend to have a matte, chalky finish that is just perfect for me.  Golden and Liquitex paints (especially the heavy-bodied ones) dry to a slick, glossy finish, which means pages sticking together, and having to buy special markers/pens to write over the paint film.

    My two favorite craft paints are Ceramcoat and Martha Stewart Satin paints.  These are the most expensive craft paints, but we're talking pennies here, not dollars.  $1.47 for Delta's Ceramcoat at Hobby Lobby, $1.99 for Martha Stewart paints at Michael's.  I have not had the problems with separation of binders/pigment with these two lines, and they come in such bright, beautiful colors.  Also, with the Martha Stewart paints, because the line is constantly swapping out colors, I've found them in the clearance aisle of Michael's for a penny.
  2. Journal

    This is an area where it's easy to spend a lot of money, looking for the right paper to art journal on.  It's difficult, too, because ask any art journaler "What's your favorite journal?" and everyone will give a different answer.   Daisy Yellow has a wonderful blog post about what papers work best for what mediums you tend to use.  I just want to cover what's cheap and actually works, especially if you layer a lot.

    • Samie Harding's Easy Peasy Journal.  Take a dollar store composition book, some dollar store manila folders and voila!  A homemade art journal that really stands up to abuse.
    • Canson's Mix Media spiral-bound journal at Walmart.  Last I looked, they were $6 for the 9" x 12" one. The only downside to these journals are that the pages are perforated - I've found I needed to tape the spiral side first, to prevent it from tearing out later
    • Target has a brand of kids art supplies called "Kid Made Modern".  They have a tablet of watercolor paper, and what's called their "Heavy Weight Mixed Paper".  I've used both of these tablets to make Easy Peasy Journals, and the paper holds up well.  Not bad for $5.
    • Old books from thrift stores.  I've found that fiction books published in the '50's and '60's have a thicker paper that holds up surprisingly well.  They also are mostly sewn-bound instead of glue-bound, which is important in using an old book as an art journal.  There's some prep work that goes into using old books, and fortunately, there's lots of free resources on how to do this online.
    • A plain composition notebook.  It will warp and get very thick if you use water-based media in it (acrylic paints, watercolors, gesso, mod podge), but this can be a fun thing, to watch the transformation.
    • Teesha Moore's Amazing 16-page Journal.  In the video, she's using Fabriano's Hot Press watercolor paper, but it's easy to substitute Dollar Tree poster board for this.  The Dollar Tree poster board is also matte, not glossy, which makes using it easier than regular poster board.  Also, for both Samie's and Teesha's journals, they use waxed thread to bind the journals.  I've actually used dental floss, and it works great!
    • Strathmore's Visual Journal.  Ok, this is not cheap, but both Hobby Lobby and Michael's sell them, and they either go on sale regularly, or you can use a coupon (check the website for both what's on sale as well as their coupons), either of which will bring it back down into the affordable range.  I only spent $6 on my last one from Michael's.
      (Art Journal cover, made using the Kid Made Modern line of watercolor paper from Target, and an adapted coptic stitch that Samie Harding shows how to do in her Easy-Peasy journal)
  3. Images

    There are so many sources out there of free, copyright-free images to use in your art, I'm going to let Google be your guide.  Flickr and the Library of Congress are great resources.  Thrift store books and magazines, or if your library has sales on old materials, are also great ways to build up a repertoire of images.  This is also an area where junk-mail is your friend.  I also like Dover books, but I have to be really drawn to the set of images to spring for one.  While you're at it, check out Sarah Ovenall's post about how to safely use images in your art journal, without getting in trouble for copyright infringement. 

I'm going to stop here for now - in my next blog post, we'll talk about glue, pens, stencils and spray inks!


Nici said...

AWESOME tips! And I cleaned up on the Martha Stewart satins in Michael's clearance as well! lol!

Kristina W said...

LOL! I know, Nici - a penny?? Heck yeah!! Thanks so much for commenting!

Glenda said...

Thank you for this AMAZING post! I appreciate the [home]work you put into it. I will definitely use your advice & suggestions towards programming ideas at the Arts Alliance [as a non-profit] we don't have a shoe-string budget - we have dental floss one! GREATLY appreciated! Glenda Miles

Kristina W said...

You're so welcome, Glenda! Glad I could help, and thanks for the comment!