How to keep an art journal

By: Candace Rose Rardon

“Every moment is enormous and is all we have.” — Natalie Goldberg

Friends, my biggest vision for our community this year is to help us all catch more moments from our lives. I’m not sure about you, but for me it often feels like life is moving so much faster than I can take hold of it — how can we slow down, catch more of our favorite moments, and creatively document them to look back on in the future?As you might’ve already guessed, one of my favorite ways of catching moments and making creative memories is through my sketchbook. That was exactly my motivation for starting the Moment Catchers sketching challenge this year, and I’m thrilled to see the project resonating with so many of you this early on.

Today, I want to share my other favorite way to catch moments — by keeping an art journal.

art journal collage

Art journal before-and-after shot: transforming collected memorabilia from around Montevideo into a collage in my journal.

While a sketch takes me a couple of hours to complete, I’ve found that creating an entry in my art journal can take less than five minutes — and the rewards are just as great. I love feeling like I’m honoring life’s little moments, instead of letting them slip by me.If you’re interested in starting an art journal — or are looking for fresh ideas for your existing journaling ritual — here are three simple ways I catch moments in my own journal:

1. Day-markers

Time needed: 5 minutesWe use bookmarks to mark our place in a book; placemarkers show us where we are on a map; and for me, “day-markers” are how I set one day apart from another — they help me mark my journey through the year, by giving honor to each singular day.First, I use some simple paper element from that day — it might be a note from a friend; boarding pass or ticket stub from an event I went to; or any other piece of paper usually about the size of a postcard or smaller. For example, last June I created a day-marker with two butterfly-shaped business cards from a children’s bookstore in Madrid, in honor of buying a book for my newborn godson in Spain. It was one of those small but significant moments that are the true building blocks of our life’s story.The next steps are simple: I paste the piece of paper in the middle of the page, and then I write the day’s date above it and a short phrase below it, in commemoration of what I want to remember from the day. Finally, I draw a two-line border around the page; for me, it’s a simple visual way to feel like I’m setting that day apart.This process usually takes me no more than five minutes, but it makes me feel like I’ve paused just long enough to honor that day — and to recognize whatever small moment or event it held as one worth remembering.

Art journal examples
Art journal examples
Art journal examples

A couple of day-markers I created while living in Norway last spring, in honor of fellow travelers I met.Honoring my time in Madrid with my godson last year (madrina is “godmother” in Spanish), and my flight to Paris afterwards.A two-day delay to my flight to San Francisco last summer — and eventual departure! — definitely felt worth recording.

2. Memorabilia collages

Time needed: 30 minutesAnother kind of art journal entry I started doing last year was collages, specifically of memorabilia. By memorabilia, I mean all those little pieces of paper we often collect during a trip or even in our hometown — be it business cards, beer labels, ticket stubs, boarding passes, receipts, stickers, paper sugar packets from cafés, handwritten maps or notes, and the list goes on…For me, memorabilia is essentially anything that has meaning or represents a memory — and is thus hard to part with.In the past, these little pieces of paper would float around the edges of my life after a trip — they’d accumulate everywhere, pile up on my desk, get crumpled in the front pocket of my backpack, until I finally forced myself to throw them away. Until, that is, I made my first memorabilia collage last spring, and I haven’t stopped since.Again, the steps involved are simple: I bring all the memorabilia together I want to use for a particular collage, spend about 15 minutes arranging it on a double-page spread in my art journal, and then spend the next 15 minutes pasting the items down with a gluestick. I also keep a pair of scissors nearby, in case I need to do any trimming to make a certain item fit.

I love how collages feel like we’re putting a puzzle together — and on a deeper level, creating collages is a way to put the pieces of our days or journeys together, too.

Travel collage of memorabilia
Travel collage of memorabilia
Travel collage of memorabilia
Travel collage of memorabilia
Travel collage of memorabilia

I loved celebrating Easter with new and old friends on Norway’s Lofoten Islands last year.A week with my dear friend Erin and her family in Madrid called for another collage.Celebrating a summer stay with my family in Virginia……and my parents’ visit to San Francisco afterwards.Recording a few favorite things from my time in Buenos Aires last September.

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3. Creative headers

Time needed: 10 minutesFinally, for those days when we’ve got a few thoughts we want to record, but we still want to embellish the page we’re writing on with a little art — there are creative headers.Before I start writing an entry, I often create a header at the top of the page, but I do so in a few different ways. Like with day-markers, I might use a small piece of paper from that day that holds meaning. For example, in the first sample below, the piece of bright red cardboard on the right is from the packaging of a chocolate cake mix I tried to make in Norway last spring (“tried” being the very operative word in that statement, as you can read about…).I might also do some hand-lettering or make a mini-collage, like I did in the first sample with colorful stickers from a cafe; or in the second sample, where I glued down an image from a tour company’s brochure, along with a quote I’d photocopied from a book.

In a way, creative headers combine the best of both day-markers and collages — they only take a few minutes to create before you start writing, but they’re still a beautiful way of holding onto a day’s favorite moments.

Keeping an art journal
Keeping an art journal
Keeping an art journal

Cafe stickers and cake mixes made for two perfect creative headers in Norway.I love collecting brochures and pamphlets from tour companies as I travel, to kindly “borrow” their images for my journal later.A few more images from a tour company’s brochure, along with some hand-lettering at the top.

I’ve been keeping an art journal on and off since I was about 14 years old, and during the times I have kept one, I feel so much more grounded in each day — grateful that life’s little moments aren’t slipping through my fingers so easily.And yet as soon as life gets busy again, journaling is one of the first things that falls to the wayside for me. It can be hard to justify the time for it when there are work projects to be finished, a sink full of dishes to be cleaned, or laundry waiting to be hung. But as the above ways have shown me, I’ve learned a consistent art journaling ritual is possible, even in life’s busiest seasons.

I hope these simple suggestions might inspire you to keep an art journal in 2017, and that we’ll continue catching creative moments and memories together.