It came with a set of keys for a lock my brother had no problem picking. As I recall, it was pink and emblazoned with flowers. Or maybe it was Care Bears? What I do remember clearly about my childhood diary was the simple language and the simple sentences that when re-read seemed to describe a simple life. “Today was fun.” “I went to the park.” “My brother is a jerk.”

I became so tired of my boring prose that I typically abandoned contributing all together, resulting in less than 10 per cent of the pages scribbled on. Down the road, I’d start over, often with a new diary, enter “My brother is a jerk” and again quit with only a few pages completed.

Flash forward to today and I successfully put pen to paper. This time around I focus less on the written word and more on creativity by including photos, drawings and ephemera. And instead of calling it a diary, it’s an art journal. Though the name is different, the basic premise is the same—to document feelings and experiences.

And I’m far from alone. Not only do art schools offer art journaling classes and bookstores stock a large selection of books on the subject, teachers in training at the University of Victoria are taught about the benefits of including art journaling in their classroom activities. It’s an easy way to encourage creativity in the written and visual arts along with highlighting the importance of observation skills and expressing feelings.

It’s easy and relatively inexpensive to get started. Buy a few items to get started and build on your supplies as you learn what you and your kids like to use. Some supplies you may already have in your craft kit.

Supply List
• Journal or sketch pad: There are many different sizes and styles to choose from. I suggest journals with thick paper to withstand felt tip markers, paint or the weight of glue and ephemera. Coil bound journals sit flat so they are easy to work with, and I prefer unlined pages.

• A variety of pens: Pens come in all shapes, sizes and colours—wide tip, fine tip, brush tip, calligraphy, felt, ball point, glitter, metallic, blue, black, red and every other colour imaginable. Experiment with pens you already own and figure out what you prefer—for young children, Crayola will probably do. My favourite art store pens are Staedtler pigment liners and Sakura Pigma Micron; both brands come in multiple thicknesses and colours. Sharpie also makes good-quality pens in many colours and sizes.

• Pencils: regular HB pencils will work just fine, but if you find sketches starting to form a big part of your kids’ journals, try pencils specifically for sketching, or graphite pencils.

• Scissors: a small pair of craft or household scissors will do.

• Adhesives: another one to play with and determine what you like. Glue sticks are great and less messy than white glue but I also like double-sided adhesive squares, especially when travelling or not journaling at home.

• Envelopes: small to medium envelopes that can be adhered to journal pages. These make great pockets for treasures or extra bits and pieces that won’t fit on the page.

• Watercolours: watercolours can be intimidating—not to mention expensive—so start with a small ready-to-go pallet of about eight colours or even watercolour pencils. Watercolour pencils resemble regular coloured pencils, but if a wet brush is applied over your drawing, the effect goes from pencil to watercolour paint.

• Paint brushes: you’ll need these if you choose to use watercolours. They can also be used to brush on white glue.

• Rubber stamps: rubber stamp letters are perfect for art journaling, but other stamps can be used as well. Don’t forget an ink pad; black is a great starting choice.

Tips and Tricks
1. Anything goes. Focus more on being creative than the perfect sentence structure. If your child is a natural writer, there may be more words on the page than images. If an artist is brewing, the opposite might ring true. The joy of an art journal is they get to explore and create whatever they want.

2. Encourage the use of ephemera. Ephemera is defined as anything that is meant to exist for a short period of time—tickets, receipts, pamphlets, cookie fortunes, food labels, etc. Looking back, it is those “supposed-to-be” short-lived items that provide me with the best opportunity to reflect on my experiences.

3. Other bits and pieces that can be incorporated are postage stamps from mail received, maps, business cards and greeting cards. Most items are free.

4. In the digital world we rarely print photos. Encourage your kids to use photos to help them tell their story and express how they felt about an experience. If they are creating a journal while travelling, have them leave some random pages blank so they may add their photos at a later date.

5. Change-up the style of hand-lettering. Use a mixture of printing and writing. Try all lower case, all capitals, calligraphy or add curly-cues, dots or slants to the letters. Forget straight lines—make the words uneven or write in a circle.

6. If adding to the journal on a daily basis seems daunting, make it a weekend journal or a themed journal—movies, books, travel or nature.

7. Have fun!

Recommended Reading
The Decorated Journal, Creating Beautifully Expressive Journal Pages. Gwen Diehn

1000 Artist Journal Pages. Dawn DeVries Sokol

• Art journaling by Somerset Studio magazine


Tina Kelly is the Visitor Experience Director at the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre. She loves the creative process and how art journaling allows her to reminisce about what she saw and how she felt while traveling.