{U} Upcycling: re-purposing thrash into art

Stamps. Stencils. Ink pads. Die-cuts. Distress paints. Silk glaze. Crackle paint. Dylusion spray inks. Color bloom ink spray. Washi tape. Collage sheets…

The world of supplies is huge and crazy. There are tons of art products in the market, with more introduced almost every day. With so many beautiful supplies to choose from, things can get a bit overwhelming. Not to mention hard on the pocket.

DIY stamp Image courtesy

But, you don’t need a ton of supplies for art journaling. And a lot of supplies can be easily substituted for similar effects. Best of all, you can upcycle a lot of things from around the house in your art journal! Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Don’t have too many stamps? Go back to childhood “supplies” – potatoes! Cut shapes in potatoes for one-time use stamps.
  • Save bubble wrap from your next package – use it as a stamp
  • Finished reading your magazine? Instead of throwing it out on the recycling heap, use it for collage fodder.
  • Bought a book that you absolutely hate? Tear out the pages and use as collage.
  • Don’t throw away used tea-leaves. Boil them again, maybe with half a spoon of fresh tea leaves {experimentation is key here} and use the water to antique your pages.
  • Use the cardboard from cereal boxes to practice new techniques. Or as a substrate for your next painting. Once it’s painted and framed, no one will know it was done on a cereal box.
  • Keep the chopsticks you get with Chinese takeout – use it with paints or ink for mark making.
  • Don’t bother to buy circle stencils – they look really tempting, but a little extra work can give you the same effect. Use jam jar lids, the cardboard tube from a used kitchen towel roll, an old bowl
    Upcycled cardboard notebook Image courtesy

    , or the back of your paintbrush to draw/stamp circles.

  • Use cardboard cereal boxes or cardboard packaging to cut your own stencil designs. If you cut them carefully, you can keep the image to use as a mask.
  • Chipboard elements can be pricey – make your own simple elements with packaging boxes. This gives you complete control over the size and style too!
  • During wedding season, keep all the wedding cards you receive. You can use them as collage elements, or if they are on nice, thick paper, you can use it as a substrate for your painting.

Your turn! Can you think of any other things from around the house that you can incorporate into your art? Let me know in the comments!

{T} Technique Saturday: A few of my favorite videos for your viewing pleasure

Sometimes seeing is the best way to learn. So here are two of my favorite videos that really helped me when I was starting out on my art journal and mixed media journey.

Christy Tomlinson‘s beautiful mixed media canvases really inspired me to start drawing faces in my journal. Just watching her create can spark multiple ideas…that’s the best kind of technique video in my book!

Roben-Marie Smith creates beautiful, layered art journal pages. Watch her process video below for some inspiration.


{S} Step-by-step: How to draw a whimsical face

whimsical_faceBack in 2014, when I first started art journaling, if someone had told me that I would be drawn to portraits, I would have laughed until my stomach hurt! Drawing and me just didn’t go hand-in-hand. And faces? Out of the question! I remember trying my hand at drawing funky flowers – which didn’t even have to look realistic! – and melting into a puddle of tears because I couldn’t even draw simple shapes like teardrops and leaves.

I don’t remember just how I got hooked onto faces, but I do know that it took a whole lot of practice and understanding a few basic measurements and rules to draw a face. If I can draw faces, I believe anyone can!

Here’s a simple step-by-step to draw a whimsical face. This is no way a realistic portrait, I don’t think I could manage that still! But it is a really simple way to get started.

  1. Use a lid of some sort and draw a circle.
  2. Find the mid-point of the circle and draw a vertical line down the centre.
  3. Now, find the mid-point on the vertical line and draw a horizontal line across the circle. This is the eye line.
  4. Find the mid-point between this horizontal line and the bottom of the circle – draw a line across. This is the nose line. The mid-point between the nose and the bottom of the circle is the lip line.
  5. Now that you have your points marked, you can shape the chin if you like.

This is your basic whimsical face template. Now, let’s draw the features.



To get the eyes as symmetrical as possible, work on them simultaneously. Start by drawing a flat oval {think: an egg lying on its side} on the extreme left and extreme right. Make sure it’s on the eye line – refer to the image above. This is your basic eye shape.

To give the eye some more shape, draw a small beaky triangle-ish shape at the corner – this is the tear-duct.

Draw a U-shape in the middle of the eye – this is your eyeball.

A chunky C-shape in the middle of the U-shape makes the iris.



Let’s keep the nose simple – this is a whimsical face after all! Draw a flattish U-shape with 2 little lines at each end to represent nostrils. Easy-peasy!



For the lips, start with a V – extend it down and out. Upturn the lines slightly for a smiling face. Then draw in the upper-lip like so.

Just a small little C-shape below that indicates the bottom lip.



The hairline starts slightly above the head. Pick a slightly off-center point and draw an upside-down J shape on either side of the face.

Two curved lines make the parting.

Pencil in eyebrows – this can simply be a straight line if you wish, or shape it following the contour of the eye.

Put in a little neck, and there you have it – a super simple whimsical face!

Put this to practice: Try drawing a face in your art journal. Practice until you’re happy with it. Then play with the placement and size of the features to make this “yours”.

{R} Rule of thirds: A brief introduction to composition

Rule of three: An odd number of hearts makes for a more effective spread than if there were 2 or 4.
Rule of three: An odd number of hearts makes for a more effective spread than if there were 2 or 4.

Composition – or how various elements are placed in a work of art – is key to the success of all visual arts. Being a photography enthusiast, I have an innate understanding of some of these rules {such as the rule of thirds}, but when it comes to art, I’ve had to be a little more deliberate about composition. More often than not, however, art journal spreads are not planned – we often wing it! And that’s when we stumble upon problems of achieving balance and white space, depth and an overall pleasing composition.

This is why I believe it is important to know the elements of composition – so that you can intuitively {and even deliberately} create pages that are pleasing to you without going completely off the bend.

Going in-depth in to composition rules is beyond the scope of this post – it is a vast subject with subtle variations depending on which visual art you wish to pursue. What I would really like to share with you today are a few simple tips that can help you create more pleasing pages without over-thinking the elements of design.

The rule of three – an odd number of marks or doodles, even color, works a lot better than an even number. This stems from the “rule of odds”, which states that the simplest way to make a composition more dynamic is to use odd numbers rather than an even number. This ensures that the viewer cannot pair them up or group them easily, which can make for a boring image. While this is typically used for the main focal image or subject, in art journals this rule is mostly used for supporting elements.

White space around the focal images - the two circles at the top left of the page - makes this spread less chaotic and moves the viewer's eye through the piece.
White space around the focal images – the two circles at the top left of the page – makes this spread less chaotic and moves the viewer’s eye through the piece. {Click image to enlarge}

Go off-center – try not to place your focal images in the center of your composition – putting it off-center creates more interest. This stems from the “rule of thirds”, which is a basic rule that’s very popular among photographers. Simply divide your page into thirds both horizontally and vertically, and place your focal images either one third across or one third up or down the picture. This ensures that the viewer’s eye is drawn across the page rather than looking just at the focal image and ignoring the rest of the image.

Create space – white space, or areas of relative calm in a richly layered spread – can make it easier to take in the page. A lack of white space can make your page look chaotic and the viewer may not know where to focus. White space doesn’t necessarily have to be white – as you can see from the image to the right. Having a few areas of calm helps the eye travel over the page and take in all of the elements, layers and rich detail that could have become very chaotic if there was no place for your eye to rest.

Once you understand these rules, they can be effectively broken too!

Put this lesson to work: White space can be a tricky one – too much and it feels incomplete, too little and it feels chaotic. To really practice this, try combining it with layers and go abstract. First, create a richly layered background. As you layer, think of your main elements – it could be simple shapes like circles or squares, or a big stamped image – and incorporate them onto your page. Then create some white space so that the viewer’s eye travels across the page and comes to rest on the focal image.

{Q} Quill and ink: incorporating the written word in your art journal

Let’s switch our focus from art to writing today. We’ve covered a fair bit on the art aspect of art journals. But the other part of an art journal, is the journal, by which I mean writing.

There are many ways in which you can incorporate the written word in your spreads to give them even more meaning. You can start with a layer of writing – pen down your thoughts, confusion, doubt, gratitude – anything on the page and then cover it with paints and mediums. That’s certainly one way to go about it – and it is something that I do very often.

creative_lettering_art_journalBut today, I’d like to share a few ideas on how you can add words so they are a part of your composition.

One way in which you can add words to your spreads is to type them out on your computer, print them out, and glue them down. Look for some interesting fonts on free font websites like dafont.com. I personally love old typewriter fonts – it adds an instant charm to your words I think!

Another is to incorporate some creative lettering on your spreads. Try calligraphy, whimsical lettering or chunky letters.

You can also stamp a quote onto your page. Invest in a set of clear alphabet stamps, an archival ink pad, and a clear stamping block if you’d like to follow this route.

You can also cut out individual letters from newspapers or magazines to create a ransom-style quote or word on your page.

Don’t like your handwriting? I can recommend two books – both of which I have and use regularly – to help you practice lettering:

Put this lesson to practice: Time to practice your lettering techniques! Create an art journal page that has a quote as the focal element.

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