The Power of Keeping an Art Journal


I have kept a sketch book or art journal since I was a freshman in high school. I recently unpacked a box that housed many of them for the past few years. As I flipped through the pages I started to remember where I was at on an emotional level through the different chapters of those journals. Inside them there were moments captured, imprints of crazy adventures, mad crushes, and the deep blues of my teen aged mind. I still keep an art journal today, and though they are filled more slowly than they once were and the intensity of my emotional highs and lows have diminished into calmer waters, I still find the practice deeply rewarding.

An art journal can be kept up for years. You can find yourself putting it down for a while only to pick it back up and dive back in a few months later. You can do it daily for your whole life and create your own library of journals. Some journals may only be half full before they have served their purpose and a new journal needs to be started. There is no correct way it is supposed to be done. It’s a deeply personal endeavor that is flexible for the purpose of the creator.

Within the pages of a journal there is a safety that is rare to find today. It’s a privacy and a freedom to be able to process your experiences this way. People use journals to cope with anger, trauma and depression to name a few things. With the ability to close the book and walk away, journaling grants you a place to put the thoughts and feelings that don’t quite fit in your head. Feelings that get in the way of enjoying family and friends.

Journals can also be a place to build your dreams. You can create the vison of your ideal job, home, or relationship by collecting and collaging images into a 2 page spread. List out your strengths and experiences. Identify what your goals are or create a 5 year plan.  Use the pages to explore your challenges and name the fears that hold you back. You might discover you have the ability to vanquish your fears if you just let your self have the space to work it out. If you get stumped, head over to Pinterest and search “journal prompts” as a warm up. Or search “art journal” and get inspired. The important part is letting your creativity and experimental side take over for a bit.

Occasionally I work with teens whose parents have read their personal journals. They express how deeply betrayed they feel. In journals teens can explore thoughts and fantasies that may not accurately represent what they are feeling most of the time. It is not an uncommon theme to process thoughts of despair or infatuation in the privacy of a journal. Most of the time the parents feel like it is their right or responsibility to go through a child’s journal to see what they are thinking or doing. It is out of a desire to keep their child safe. I recommend that if it has gotten to the point where a parent feels the only way to monitor their child is through reading their journals it would be more beneficial to contact a counselor. This way the child won’t feel betrayed and the parent can insure that their child is getting the help they need. Sometimes a child or teen will leave their journal out and open to a page with some very clearly expressed need for support where a parent will see it. If this happens keep the journal where it is and ask the child to tell you about the entry in a neutral compassionate way. If the parent shows strong worry or anger it can result in the child or teen shutting the parent out. It would also be in the child or teen’s best interest to contact a counselor for additional support.

10 guidelines for art journaling:

  • Find a book that has a hard cover. A spiral sketch pad tends to disintegrate quickly with regular use.
  • Put together an art case using an old pencil case, shoe box or even a Ziploc bag to keep your favorite mark making tools in as well as tape and a glue stick. Keep it in a handy place.
  • Get some duct tape. It can reinforce your binding and it can help you keep darker entries more private. I have whole sections of journal taped up for safe keeping. Art is about expressing yourself, but you might only be expressing yourself to you and that is okay.
  • Collect images. I recommend attaching a pocket in your journal to stash meaningful images. Old photographs, ticket stubs, and post cards can be tucked away for later use. Down below is a quick vedio on how to add a pocket to your journal.
  • Check your inner judgment at the door. They are not allowed space in your head during journal time, it’s just for you.
  • Use your art journal to respond to your experience. You can write, paint, rip, draw, scribble, glue, or collage. It is not about being pretty its about working out your thoughts and feelings.
  • You don’t have to show anyone you don’t want to. If you want to share it, that is okay too. This is your process.
  • Make a mess between the pages, explore with paint or other wet medium… like mud. If you are in a hurry use a hair dryer to dry out the pages. I also recommend placing a piece of wax paper between the pages to prevent sticking down the road.
  • Most of all keep at it. You will forget about it for weeks or even months and come across it again, just pick it up and start there. Or you might get tired of the journal you are working in and want another, maybe you are starting a new phase of your life… get a new journal. There are few things I love more then starting a new art journal.
  • Its nice to date the books or even the entries, I did not always do that and looking back I wish I had.


Give yourself the permission to get expressive and start exploring and processing your world your way. In a time when it seems like everything needs to be shared instantly and our whole lives are on display having a little piece of privacy can be deeply rewarding

If you find that you are overwhelmed by what you journal I recommend seeking out an art therapist or counselor to support you in discovering ways to cope with your strong feelings. You can find support through the Psychology Today website:

If you are in or around York County Pennsylvania and are interested in working with an art therapist email me at for more information.


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