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  • Writer's pictureSamantha McMullen

So you want to art journal?

Updated: Jul 6, 2021

If you are anything like me, you see photos like this on Instagram and Pinterest, depicting stunning art journal entries with careful calligraphy, detailed paintings and drawings it would be insulting to call "just a sketch," and you laugh out loud. That is not what my art journal looks like, I promise you that.

If we take this bait and start comparing ourselves to others, we are likely to experience a multitude of negative thoughts; "I am not good enough," "I am not talented," "I shouldn't even bother," and activate all or nothing thinking. We may want to just give up, and throw our art journal in a drawer, and then feel the need to go buy some aesthetic art journal and fancy art supplies because, maybe, that would make us "good enough." I have been there, I have done that.

I was the person who never finished an art journal, always so excited about a new "better one," because that one drawing that I didn't like had of course "ruined everything."

RIP unfinished art journals.

I wasn't till graduate school that I managed to break this pattern. My relationship with art journals changed forever more the day I made my own. Gathering the materials gave me a sense of control, I was able to make it the exact thickness I wanted, with the right weight

of paper for me, create a personalized cover and sturdy spine. I loved it. I loved the process of making it, and I loved it's imperfections when finished. I loved it all.

That is when I learned about "containment," that magical word I heard often in my training as an Art Therapist.

Containment: the action of keeping something under control or within limits.

My art journaling now had a space to live that felt safe. It was safe because I made it, and as anyone who has been in the passenger seat of a car with a poor driver at the wheel, we know control makes us feel good, it makes us feel safe.

I have made 10+ art journals since then and each one is different, and serves a purpose. I have made leather bound art journals with a closing mechanism for privacy, faux fur in rainbow colors for an art journal that felt soothing in my hands, velvet smothered art journals, and most recently, fabric covered art journals from artists I admire through

The entries inside are no more "Instagram worthy," then before, however now I never feel the need to rip out or toss them away, after all I worked so hard on the journal itself! Instead scribbles, poems and sketches all safely cohabit together.

In Art Therapy, Art Therapists like myself focus more on the process of making art, then the product. This is counter to our capitalist culture and messages we receive on social media and yet such a powerful practice.

To make art just to make art, communicates to us that we are worthy just as we are. Learn more about how Art Therapy can help heal from trauma here.

Here are a few tutorials that offer different DIY options to make your own art journal.

Or stay tuned for my Art Journal Tutorial that will take you through how I make my journals, and sign up for my mailing list to receive art journal prompts and other blog posts in this series, "Art with an Art Therapist."

Happy Journaling!

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