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Art Journaling Without Rules

{reposting this essay from March 2011}

Psyched to bring this post forward for The Buried Treasure project at The Altered Page! Seth Apter is coordinating a massive treasure hunt and I'm taking part.

this is a page from a book i altered a few years ago

{Info on the page above at Black Gesso & Stamps}

We're governed by rules and we impose rules {trivial and not so} on ourselves -- things like no coffee after 2pm or always vacuum on Mondays -- so it's not surprising that we make rules for our art.

A two page spread has to be one journaled as one big page.
Don't tear out pages.
Every page has to have some words or journaling.
The colors I choose have to "go" together.
A page has to be finished in one sitting.
You can't art journal on canvas.
Pages must be worked in order.
My pages have to look like those of {insert cool art journalist's name here}
Don't brag. Don't bitch. Don't be a downer. Don't get too personal.
Don't cut up your journal pages.
You can't work in seven journals at once.

All of the above are certified 100% without a doubt, officially, undeniably wrong. Art journaling has no rules. It is whatever you want it to be. It's not "having" finished pages but "having created" the pages that makes me happy. To put a rule on yourself misses the point. You CAN have a journal dedicated to something specific. You CAN have a journal of one style. You CAN finish a page in one sitting. But you don't have to.

I don't like to follow rules in general, and certainly not in my art.

The joy is in the play.

Please... tell me about your rules. I am curious to learn what constraints we put on our journals. What rules, spoken or un-, do you place on your art journaling or drawing? Do any of the rules speak to you? Do you have rules that you didn't realize you had? Let's chat.

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Reader Comments (33)

I'm new to art journaling but have been reading your blog for over a year now. You're such an inspiration! As far as rules in my art journaling I'm definitely guilty of thinking that the colors must "go together"! I'm trying to get away from this by just letting my muse take hold and not overthinking the process. I would have to say I've also been limiting myself to not journaling in more than one journal (even though I have a new mixed media journal I'm dying to try out!). I seem to think I need to finish one journal before I start another but you've convinced me to get crazy and start journaling in two (or more!) at once! LOL! Thanks again for all your creative inspiration!

03.21.2011 | Unregistered CommenterTina

Because I've been keeping an art journal for a few years now, I've gone beyond the point of following rules. I am okay with whatever happens in my art journals. I am okay with the fact that I have half a dozen journals started but not "finished."

This is a good post. You always inspire me to get out of my comfort zone and try to experiment more.

03.21.2011 | Unregistered CommenterMissKoolAid

I like this prompt... just jump in! :]
Take what is already on your page, and run with it, inspiring!

03.21.2011 | Unregistered CommenterApril Cole

My only rule - just do it. Put whatever I feel like in it. Express whatever I feel like, use whatever I feel like. Just feel it.

Oh, and I like to like it when I'm done.

03.21.2011 | Unregistered CommenterNicole

I adore you:) Another inspirational day......I want SO badly to just let go......I'm trying:) I love the altered book page, also. Did you do a layer of black gesso or acrylic paint?

03.21.2011 | Unregistered CommenterRose Myers

I've been reading about art journaling for a LONG time, but just finally jumped in at the beginning of this year to really try it for myself. I started with a small-ish book in order to be less intimidating (though I'm feeling a little cramped and looking forward to starting a bigger book--so I guess I've imposed the rule of finishing one before starting another). I notice that I often do one page at a time, rather than a spread like I see on so many web sites. It hasn't bothered me to break that "rule." I agree that just DOING IT is the one rule to follow! It feels so great once I get a page underway, and by watching videos I see posted online I'm starting to gather courage to be a little more messy and trust that I can both enjoy the process and make changes to ultimately like the result. I've been reading your blog for a few weeks now, and really enjoying all it has to teach me. Thanks!

03.21.2011 | Unregistered CommenterAndria

I have rules and they are preventing me from working in my art journal at all at the moment. Thank you so much for opening my eyes to this so that perhaps I can get unstuck and start moving. I haven't had much time so I haven't done much journaling lately because "a page has to be finished in one sitting". And I was a bit stuck on a "2-page" spread beause I had written a book quote and my interpretation on the left page and covered the right page with a dirt colored paint and I was trying to think how I could make them flow together. Forget flow. I'm off to draw on the dirt and I won't even concern myself on how it relates to Mary and Martha on the lefthand page. :-)

03.21.2011 | Unregistered CommenterKirstin

It seems the rule I discovered this morning that I follow is to put my iffy stuff, my planning in a separate journal from my nice art journal. I need to integrate the two.

03.21.2011 | Unregistered CommenterTimaree

It's a good thing that I never knew those 'rules' - because I've broken all ten. Plus, I'm a 'repeat offender'.

I do have some rules for my own journals:

1-never throw away any 'failed' art pieces.
2-always use a wirebound book.
3-always laminate 2 sheets of paper together if less than 140lb.
4-always start a page by adhereing tape or adhering scrapbooking paper scrap strips around the borders.
5-always start a white page by writing or printing a resist inside the borders using graphite pencil and/or wax crayon and/ or color pencil and/or acrylic paint stamped on.
6-always create at least 8 layers on each page (this rule harkens back to my days as a music producer when I was composing and arranging songs on 8 tracks with a different instrument on each track).
7-always 'tone' a white page with homemade acrylic glaze as the 1st color layer.
8 - Test, test, test! always test new tools, test new supplies and test new media in my 'lab test /studio inventory journal' before using in my 'good' journals.
9-always make and use my own original supplies and materials as often as possible to avoid using copyright material.
10-never store supplies in their original bulky packaging.

Now I'm going to try and break my own 'rules'! Thanks for the prompt.

Would love for you to visit my blog when you have a moment or 2!

03.21.2011 | Unregistered CommenterMary Lou 'LuLu'

and one more rule:

11- be as messy as possible. Save the 'neat' work for my scrapbooks.

Thanks again for reminding us to give ourselves 'permission'.


03.21.2011 | Unregistered CommenterMary Lou 'LuLu'

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