How to start art journalling: 7 styles for beginners

Near the end of high school, I started journalling obsessively. It began as a dream journal where I noted down dreams I had. I usually don’t remember much of my dreams so the journalling turned into a regular journal.

Every day, I brought my journal (a hardcover notebook) around and scribbled away like Harriet The Spy. Instead of writing about characters, I wrote mostly complaints about my life and observations. The usual emo kid stuff that I don’t have the heart to read today.

But after graduating high school, I stopped journalling. Blogging came and made it easier to type out my thoughts. I do miss some of the mad scribbling that made my hand cramp. I still wrote here and there. Instead of writing in one journal, I had a mish mash of entries from different days entered in different notebooks.

These past months, I started journalling again. I found the right tools: my collection of colorful fountain pens, a nice notebook and lots of first-world grown up problems to write about. (Cue Future-Me cringing at the entries.)

I had been using a soft-cover notebook from Thai company Zequenz.  The pages don’t really hold fountain pen inks well but it was a comfortable size and the faux-leather cover is very inviting.

Zequenz notebook that has been my companion for the past months.
Zequenz notebook that has been my companion for the past months.

But I was running out of pages so I had to find a new book to replace it. I bought a large Moleskine softcover in Ocean Blue, hoping a bigger size would work as well for journalling.

#segue Buying cheap Moleskine journals in Singapore

Where to buy cheap Moleskine in Singapore

If you’re in Singapore, buying Moleskine notebooks from is a lot cheaper than getting them in stores. (S$19 on Bookdepository and S$37 in stores.) It takes me about four months to finish the regular-sized notebook at work.

When the large softcover Ocean Blue notebook came, I was disappointed. It was too big! (I should have checked in stores before getting it.) It didn’t feel quite right for journalling (imagine the blank space I’ll have to fill in!) I tried calligraphy but the paper was too thin and ink transferred to the back.

So I left the book in a corner, hoping it will be useful one day.

I brought my own book for art journalling and wrapped it in washi tape like a mummy.
The Ocean Blue journal after being wrapped in washi tape.

Art Journaling workshop for adults

Then I saw a workshop for Art Journalling as part of the Arts House Open House. Perfect! Now I can figure out what to do with the book.

The workshop was by Curious College‘s Donna (who has an AMAZING Instagram account). Instead of teaching us how we could create as gorgeous journals as hers, it was more of an Introduction to Styles in Art Journalling.

Before the start of the workshop, we were given a really small and thin notebook to work on. Thank goodness I brought my own notebook to experiment because there was a lot more space so it was more fun.

Donna prepared a handout with a few questions to guide us in our art journalling–why we want to do this–and gave a quick talk on the different styles of art journalling.

I like her advice on how to keep journalling even when you don’t feel like it: Prepare pages in advance so when it’s time to journal, you won’t feel intimidated by the blank page.

Different styles in art journalling

How to art Journal
Different art journalling styles at a glance

At the workshop, Donna prepared many different tools for art journalling. We went around from table to table to try them out and see which we like best. Here’s my ranking based on the levels of difficulty:


1. Washi tape

Difficulty level: 1 out of 5 | Fun level: 5 out of 5 | Expensive level: 2 out of 5

These colourful Japanese tapes can be used in many ways: decorating the insides or the edges of the pages. Someone even cut out the tiny print and pasted them one by one.

I used the chance to tape the cover of my notebook because I found the sea of blue too intimidating. Now it’s more approachable.

Washi tape for art journalling
Bucket of washi tape

2. Stamps

Difficulty level: 1 out of 5 | Fun level: 1 out of 5 | Expensive level: 4 out of 5

Stamps are nice but you’ll need quite a large collection to have variety. Keeping the stamps clean is quite a chore too, especially if you’re using different colored ink pads. I probably won’t be dabbling in this.

3. Collage

Difficulty level: 1 out of 5 | Fun level: 1-4 out of 5 | Expensive level: 1-4 out of 5

There were only a few magazines around at the collaging table. In the end, I assembled a passive aggressive note to no one.

collage art journalling

Medium difficulty

4. Writing

Difficulty level: 3 out of 5 | Fun level: 4 out of 5 |  Expensive level: 1 out of 5

My most familiar journalling style! There were prompts for writing. And you don’t really need to write everything horizontalling. You can experiment writing in different directions to break the monotony.

how to keep an art journal


3. Paint

Fun level: 0 out of 5 | Difficulty level: 4 out of 5 | Expensive level: 0 out of 5

I’m not good at painting. But I did discover a wonderful paint tool–spray ink–which gives your pages a neat splash of paint look. Turns out you can even make spray ink at home.

4. Brush lettering and calligraphy

Fun level: 2 out of 5 | Difficulty level: 5 out of 5 | Expensive level: 2 out of 5

Even though I’ve taken calligraphy class, trying to write calligraphy freestyle isn’t easy at all. I won’t use this for daily art journalling but I would practice more so I can write cool letters and invites.

6. Sketching

Fun level: 1 out of 5 | Difficulty level: 5 out of 5 | Expensive level: 1 out of 5

I can doodle bubble heads but my sketching skill is close to zero. Didn’t quite enjoy this although I love looking at what other people have done.

Child sketching in Art Journalling
Highly inspired by the improv warm up game–I am a tree.

I’ll be experimenting with the prepped pages of my journals in the next few weeks and figure out which styles I prefer. Or if I should get a new notebook and continue with just writing.

Do you do art journalling? What style do you recommend?

7 styles of art journalling for beginners, based on difficulty level.

More about Liau Yun Qing

Yun Qing is a writer, improviser and curious person. She loves finding little adventures in life. In 2013, she went on a 130-day round-the-world trip. She wrote a book to help those who also want to go on a career break.

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