Art journal backgrounds - quick fix!

My first art journal pages in 2014-15, in fact, my entire journal was very neat and pretty with flowers, and shells, and autumn leaves. I created my own stamps, making sure that the composition on the page was just right. I wanted perfection, or at least as perfect as the page could be, given my abilities at the time!

A whole new world of journaling opened up when I learned that other mediums, but especially acrylics, could be applied to paper.

My journals became rather imperfect, messy things with experiments that are not always pretty and I am fine with that.

The art journal is freeing

First, let me admit that by nature, I am a practical person. I use journals more often than I use a canvas for many of my paintings.

And before I continue, you should know that I have no sponsors and so the supplies that I mention in this blog post and the opinions are my own, unfettered by any contractual obligations! (just saying!)

My most favourite journal of all is the Strathmore Mixed Media Visual Journal. The paper holds up to watercolour as well as acrylics without any buckling or shredding. As storage is an issue in my art room, I will often opt for paper or a journal for my art work.

An art journal may contain any combination of colour, collage, repeated patterns, and perhaps some words. The words themselves can be part of the background.

In many ways, the art journal becomes a place for reflection, for playfulness, for wild abandon even. It can be a way to explore feelings using different marks, colour combinations, and images that are freeing and expressive.

Mostly, the art journal is where playing happens and anything goes.

But it can also be a very therapeutic process. In this way it resembles the writing journal: the day’s frustrations, anger, confusions are left in the journal. Words can be covered with colours, and the gestures, and lines, and colour can be so helpful in getting rid of those awful feelings.

The layers of gesso or paint or collage transform those words into something new that has a very healing effect. For this post, I am working in a Moleskine sketchbook. The pages are thinner than the watercolour type sketchbooks so I am treating them with gesso and acrylic.

You can also use any old discarded book as I did in this post, or this one.

Six easy journal backgrounds to get started

The blank page or canvas is the artist’s worst enemy.

Backgrounds for my portrait work are most definitely my Achilles’ heel.

However, I have a few tried and true favourites that are my “go to” backgrounds. They work as well in journals as they do on canvas. Of course, just adding colour, any colour to the page always brightens the sketch or painting, and it need not be any more complicated than that.

Neocolor II background in journal


Neocolor II background.

Neocolor II crayons by Caran D’Ache are well worth their price. Their colours are lightfast and they can be used in so many different ways.

Here I have simply scribbled the pages with three different colours that appealed to me in the small set that I own.

Next, I applied gesso with a bit of water and painted over the scribbles.

The Neocolors blend beautifully. I could have repeated this process many times because the Neocolors can be used wet or dry. I could have scraped into top layers to reveal bottom layers. Their beautiful pigmentation allows for many combinations of techniques on the same page.

I stopped after the first layer had blended sufficiently. See the brush strokes? I like that effect for a background and used a stiff brush to achieve this look.

The pages are not perfect. I lost some of the colour at the bottom of the two pages because the pages stuck together as I continued to add paint to pages in the journal. No worries. The white areas will disappear once I add to the pages. Or not…

Collage papers

 Use old books, magazines, or free images and patterns available online. Glue them down on paper. Use gesso mixed with a soft colour (Naples Yellow) to partially cover the collage. This is one of my very favourite techniques.

Collage background in journal


Pan Pastels and stencil

Use three colours and smudge them together using a makeup sponge. Choose a stencil and use a semi transparent colour to stencil in the pattern over the smudged pastels. I used Liquitex Transparent White but you could use other paints that are semi-transparent. Or you might want the stencil to cover the background. That is fine too!


pan pastels and stencils background


Scraping with a credit card

Begin with a basecoat of gesso mixed with a colour of your choice. I used Cadmium Orange Hue. Let the paint dry.   Dribble another colour over the basecoat and use a credit card to scrape away some of the top coat to reveal the basecoat underneath.

Credit card scraping background in journal


Dripping paint

Begin with a basecoat of gesso mixed with a colour. I used Quinacridone Rose Light. Then drip FW White Acrylic Ink from the top of the page. Move the book up and sideways allowing the paint to travel. Add another colour of drips. I used FW Fluorescent Acrylic Ink. Paper towel one side. The paper towel in itself can leave a lovely imprint that is wonderful as a background. Or continue with the process until you like the effect. Or, add a stamp as I did on the right hand side.

dripping paint background for journal


Spraying and Misting

Misters are new supplies I ordered from the States very recently. They come in shimmery or regular colours. I sprayed different colours over the page experimenting with the pressure I needed on the nozzle to achieve different effects. I hadn’t applied gesso first so I added a layer of clear gesso over the colours once they had dried.


acrylic misters for journal background


Almost anything works as a background in a journal.  After all, a journal is a personal place to have fun and to experiment, no holds barred.  Remember, perfection is not the goal!

adding face to background in journal

On the left is the finished page using the collaged background journal pages.  You can still see the images and the writing showing through.

What are some of your favourite backgrounds for journals?

Please share this post or comment in the box below.  Happy journaling!

2 Responses

  • Great reminder Louise about how we need to embrace our journals and anything goes. As a fairly new artist, I’m still stuck in the mode of seeking perfection so will try some of your backgrounds and collages and let loose in my journal!.

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