17 Art Journal Ideas to Get You Excited to Grow as an Artist

art journal ideas

Art Ignition is supported by its audience. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn More.

Do you want to grow as both an artist and a person, but don’t know where to start? I have 17 art journal ideas that will inspire your next collection of fascinating ideas and fond memories.

Art journaling is an act I’ve done on and off. Sometimes I’d start the habit to improve my technique, while other times I’d record day-to-day life. The ideas I’m going to share with you come from experience so you can create without fear or regret.

Check out these creative art journal ideas for students, hobbyists, professionals, and everyone in between.

1. Quick and Simple Daily Life Studies

Quick, simple daily life studies make it easy to turn your art journal into a habit – just casually recording life as you go along. This idea also doesn’t require much brainwork since you just study anything around you.

quick and simple daily life studies

Practicing daily life studies is a tried-and-true way to improve your technical skills in areas such as light, shadow, form, and perspective. Just head into your living room or out on your porch to do quick sketches of a:

  • Chair
  • Tree
  • Sleeping pet
  • Distant house
  • Pile of books

You can then put down little notes about your thoughts or feelings while drawing, such as your fondness of a pet or how you need to finish reading those novels you bought.

When you’re burnt out with mark-making, picking up drawing ideas from outside sources is a reliable way to get your hand moving.

2. A Gratitude Journal to Lift Your Spirits

Practicing gratitude has shown interesting links to more optimistic outlooks and an improved sense of well-being. Unsurprisingly, a gratitude journal is one of the most popular art journal ideas for both professional artists and hobbyists.

a gratitude journal to lift your spirits

This type of art journal not only helps you focus on the positive elements in life, but it can also act as a reference point during rough patches. A few things you could put into a gratitude art journal are:

  • A daily list of five things you’re thankful for, such as a full pantry or warm bed
  • Writing an entry on a positive conversation
  • Drawing a fond sketch of where you live

3. Short Poems to Inspire Stories or Vent Emotions

Poetry is a powerful medium to help you vent your emotions or understand who you are. From songwriting to haiku, your art journal pages could become your literary playground.

short poems to inspire stories

Another great art journal idea involves decorating poems or song lyrics with visuals. A few ideas you can try next time you have a few poems that need decorating are:

  • An ornate border
  • A small illustration of the poem’s topic
  • A cut-out collage of magazine clippings
  • A self-portrait
  • A life study of an object or location that inspired the poem

4. A Collection of Tiny, Everyday Treasures

You can capture everyday life in a myriad of ways, including literally keeping it inside your book. One of the most old-fashioned art journal ideas is keeping tiny treasures in your book to reference, study, or appreciate.

a collection of tiny, everyday treasures

Did you ever like collecting things as a kid, such as pretty rocks or colorful string? This art journaling practice is a wonderful way to get in touch with your inner child and remember that everyday life can be an adventure.

A few popular items for this type of art journal are:

  • Crushed flowers
  • Leaves
  • Stamps
  • Magazine clippings
  • Collages of old paintings or doodles

Jane Chipp Art has a helpful video on how to add crushed flowers or leaves to your art journal so they don’t fall out.

5. A Go-To Book for Preliminary Art

Do you want your art journal to help you improve your artistic techniques or develop your art style? A practical idea is to use it as your go-to book for preliminary art like studies, thumbnails, or rough drafts.

a go-to book for preliminary art

The goal for this kind of art journal is to create a stream-of-consciousness approach – nothing polished or fancy. Scribble out ideas, get your mistakes down early, and gradually narrow down your final piece.

Some artists will glue inspiration like magazine clippings or old photos on each page. Some painters also like to put down abstract mark-making or blocks of color they can reference for a final illustration. You can even use these ideas for digital art by scanning or photographing your work.

Teoh Yi Chie has a fantastic video crafting loose studies and thumbnails.

6. A Travel Log to Remember Your Trip

Alongside snapping photos on your cell phone, you can also use an art journal as a travel log. This method is more personal and imperfect than a photo, which can make you even more nostalgic when you flip through your book later.

a travel log to remember your trip

A common art journal idea is to use the journal as a part diary, a part-treasure trove. Your diary entries can talk about things such as:

  • The places you visited and why
  • Interesting conversations you had
  • Neighborhoods, shrines, or restaurants you visited

Likewise, you can use your art journal pages to store little treasures you found along the way. These don’t have to be fancy – anything is a treasure as long as it means something special:

  • A postcard
  • A theater ticket
  • A receipt from a cafe
  • A brochure or poster clipping
  • A coin or paper currency

7. A Dream Tome to Study Your Subconscious

Studying your dreams (including daydreams) is one of the most effective ways of understanding yourself. Your subconscious is brimming with all sorts of ideas, hopes, and fears that can inspire your art or change who you are.

a dream tome to study your subconscious

A popular visual diary idea is writing down quick notes or poems based on dreams you’ve had. If you’ve ever woken up from an interesting dream only to forget it an hour later, these journal ideas are a must-have resource.

However, if you do remember your dreams, you can use your art journaling to explore them further. You can whip up thumbnails based on what you saw or write shortform prose to reflect on later.

8. Go-To Quotes for Daily Inspiration

Sometimes a powerful quote can shake you to your core. A beloved art journal idea is using each page to store your favorite quotes so you can pull them out when you need them most.

go-to quotes for daily inspiration

Your quotes can come from anywhere, so don’t feel like you only have to use what’s popular. For example, you can write down inspiring song lyrics in your journal with some visual decoration. You can also write down quotes from people you’ve met that resonated with you.

Many artists of the past had fascinating quotes that shared their philosophies on life or their craft.

9. Collages and Mixed Media Experimentation

You could make the reasonable argument that experimental art journal ideas are the most common. It’s an argument that makes sense since this approach is a fantastic way to celebrate being creative and bold.

collage and mixed media experimentation

The end goal of these themed journals isn’t to create ‘Instagram-worthy’ results. The point is to grab whatever you find or scribble up whatever comes to mind in a carefree fashion. This casual approach is how you make mistakes, learn from them, and gradually develop your art style.

Since this type of art journal is so broad in scope, you can easily combine an experimental approach with the other entries on this list. You can do a slapdash collage for your travel trip or get experimental with dream poetry by adding photo cut-outs.

10. One New Piece Per Day

If you’ve ever gotten frustrated with your lack of productivity or consistency, this is the art journal idea for you. Committing to one piece per day creates an easy-to-follow framework that helps you build a good habit naturally.

one new piece per day

To keep you from using too much brainpower to figure out what to work on, consider giving your art journal a theme. This could be improving your ability to draw household objects or increasing the number of preliminary paintings you make per week. As long as it’s something specific and not too complicated, you’re well on your way to a full journal.

Even better, this art journal can help you get out of a creative rut down the road. For example, you could pull it out six months after you finished it up and flip through it again for neat digital art ideas you forgot about. No art is ‘wasted’, after all – it’s all fertilizer that can grow something new later.

When you start drawing automatically, you soon push through creative blocks and transform your skill into an automatic habit.

11. A Personal Mental Health Journal

Did you know art therapy is proven to improve cognitive function and quality of life in dementia patients? The close link between art and mental health is a fascinating one and something you can implement today.

a personal mental health journal

Your art journal can be a resource you use to process your emotions through color or vent out pain in a personal space. Creating mood in art not only feels good in the moment, but it can be a useful way to reflect on your life later.

A common approach to a mental health journal is to journal your emotions each day. You can fill it up in the morning, afternoon, and night to keep track of your emotional changes.

12. A Playground for Technique Experimentation

The art journal is a trustworthy resource for slowly, yet surely growing your art style. You can practice with new art materials or try out a new technique without outside pressure.

a play ground for technical experimentation

Instead of fussing over making everything presentable, this art journal idea does best when you fly by the seat of your pants. For example, use mixed media to try your hand at more abstract art styles like monochrome art. You could also use collage elements to give splashy, unpredictable styles like pop art a try.

Do you want to try many different techniques and art styles? Go for it. Your self-expression doesn’t need to be limited to a ‘brand identity’ and does best when you approach each blank page fearlessly.

A brilliant illustrator and animator, RAMDARAM, does periodic sketchbook tours that look like experimental art journals. They combine images from magazines with doodles, different types of art supplies, layering techniques, original characters, and geometric shapes.

13. Simple, Seasonal Celebrations

Do you like to go on a scenic nature walk or celebrate seasonal holidays? The natural world can be a soothing source of inspiration for art journaling.

Some artists enjoy self-expression by staying in touch with their surroundings, such as painting the shifting leaves of autumn or writing poems about how much they love summer. You could write a journal entry depicting the same location in different seasons or practice mark-making based on leaves you saw.

seasonal celebrations

This type of art journal combines well with the travel journal, especially if you’re on the go regularly. When life feels like it’s about to run off with you, this art journal idea will help you remember the little moments easily.

14. Celebrating a Niche Interest

Art journaling sometimes goes down a well-worn path of studies or daily poems. Other times it can be one of the few places you can celebrate a very specific interest or hobby you rarely see.

Do you have a specific aesthetic that brings you joy, such as cottagecore or vaporwave? How about a childhood hobby, such as collecting stamps or vintage car magazines? Whatever your interest, let your art journaling hobby celebrate it with writing and drawings.

celebrating a niche interest

If you have a ton of interests and don’t know where to start, below are a few quick ideas:

  • A specific type of fashion
  • A rare animal or mythical creature
  • A less-common style of poetry
  • An obscure videogame from the 90’s
  • A specific activity, such as trainspotting or jazzercise

15. Cosmic Exploration for Spiritual or Artistic Inspiration

The cosmos is a fascinating source of both artistic and spiritual inspiration for all kinds of artists. Whether you enjoy the scientific aspect of astronomy or the cultural nuances of astrology, look upward for your art journal inspiration.

cosmic exploration for artistic inspiration

Your art journaling could have you creating pages based on your horoscope. For example, if you’re a Gemini and got a compelling horoscope reading, you could illustrate a few pages based on what you think may happen.

You can also do simple studies of the night sky to free yourself from day-to-day stress. The repetition of stars, planets, and galaxies for a painting project has a way of getting you into achieving a therapeutic flow state.

16. Self-Portraits to Understand Yourself Better

While some artists prefer to draw fantasy subject matter, other artists enjoy grounded self-portraits. There’s something fascinating about seeing yourself translated through marker, pen, or paint.

self-portraits to understand yourself better

Portraits are one of the oldest staples of art, dating all the way back to cave paintings where ancient humans drew themselves hunting. With each new portrait, you can write down positive affirmations to help you get through the day or just let your mind wander.

The benefits of portraits as an art journaling activity include:

  • Feeling more comfortable in your own skin
  • Viewing yourself as an artistic muse
  • Noticing things about yourself you didn’t realize before

17. Mindfulness Records to Stay Grounded

If you struggle with anxious thoughts or depressive episodes, art journaling (also known as neurographic) is a helpful mindfulness exercise. Mindfulness is a growing field of research based on meditation that helps issues such as anxiety, trauma, and even chronic pain.

mindfulness records to stay grounded

Your art journaling can involve writing down poems, sentences, or thoughts on your five senses. For example, a haiku about the beautiful view out of your window or a song dedicated to how good a bowl of soup tastes.

The Difference Between an Art Journal and a Sketchbook

An art journal mixes words and visuals in a daily or weekly format. Sketchbooks are usually visual-focused, but can still include words.


What Should I Draw in an Art Journal?

There’s no ‘should’ in a personal journey like an art journal. Your art journals should be based on what you want and/or need, such as improving your technique or reducing anxious thoughts.

what should I draw in an art journal?

How Do You Decorate an Art Journal?

I recommend decorating your art journal with something that gets you excited to create. This could look like a beautiful painting of a forest or an illustration of your favorite original character.

Alisa Burke has a wonderful step-by-step video painting an art journal cover.

An Art Journal is Your Window Into a More Creative and Fulfilling World

Your art journal ideas are a window into a world that’s more exciting, emotionally fulfilling, or creatively challenging. Whichever idea you choose, just make sure it combines elements that are important to you as an artist and a person.

an art journal is your window into a more creative and fulfilling world

While art journaling is personal, you don’t have to take your journey alone. Check out Evolve Artist for access to insightful painting tutorials and a passionate art community.

Like our Content?
Share It With Other Artists

Article Written By