Mixed Media Journaling artwork

Mixed Media Journaling: Homework Week 1: What a Mess!


Written by Koosje Koene

This week, along with many other students, I started the Mixed Media Journaling course. I am really excited about this because it’s a completely different art form than what I am used to making. The videos in class are so inspiring, and I love seeing the colorful, juicy, textural pages our first instructor, Mary Beth Shaw, makes.

This morning I sat down to start my homework for Mary Beth’s week.

Let’s start with a few things I learned this week while doing my homework that aren’t creative insights per sé:

  • I need to start collecting things. I always throw everything out. I hate clutter, but trash could actual become treasure.
  • This needs planning. I am so used to just having my sketchbook and a bunch of pens with me, grabbing any drawing opportunity I have. It’s quite an adjustment; for mixed media art, I need to dedicate time in my studio, where all my art supplies are.
  • I need more space. Just putting all the art supplies on the table that I might be using, takes half of the space of the table. Then, once starting to take out scrap papers to create parts, things stack up very quickly and stuff gets snowed under. I need a system! Or maybe I just need to let go and embrace the messiness.
  • Tissue paper rips very easily when you use a glue stick.
  • The process is messy. Not just on the table, but on your fingers, at some point you’ll most likely have smudges on your face -even before you have actually really started a page.
  • Standing up gives you a better view on your page than sitting down and you can reach further into your pile of parts too.
  • Gold ink!
  • Baby wipes!

Doing the Homework

I thought I had come well prepared: I collected ALL art materials that seemed suitable: paints, inks, markers, brushes, crayons, tissue paper, bubble wrap, sheets of colored paper, tracing paper, stamps and stamp pads and so much more.

But even having all these weapons of creation within reach, I felt I missed out on the vintage parts. The yellowed pages of sheet music Mary Beth uses in her demo for example. So pretty! I didn’t bring any old magazines to the studio either (and to be honest – once I’ve read them, I throw them out, so I definitely need to get rid of that old habit).

Luckily, it took only a few seconds to get over that. Seeing Mary Beth at work, and hearing her story, I felt inspired and very encouraged. I had SO MUCH FUN making parts. Lots of mark making just by using my finger tips, bubble wrap, paint and acrylic ink. For some reason blue and gold became the theme colors today. Partly because I was very happy to finally have a good purpose to use the gold acrylic ink that I picked up at SketchKon a year (!) ago.

black paint brush

While making those parts, I realized how much you learn from doing it. The dots I made with my finger tip are so different from the dots I made with these little spongy things on a stick that I got at the craft store last week.
The paint and ink respond different to the surfaces of paper. If you spray water on the material when it’s still wet, you can create great effects. Tracing paper curls when you use wet medium on top. Kitchen towel isn’t just great to wipe off excess paint and clean your hands, you can also use its surface to create texture in wet paint. Bubble wrap creates great patterns if you use it like a stamp. You can go over the top with gold very quickly but you know what… it’s so very shiny, so I don’t care, I want to!

As I was playing with patterns, lines, dots and textures, I was trying to make mental notes of these small learnings.

Once I made some parts, I didn’t want to stop. I just wanted to dive in and combine some of these parts on a page.


The whole thing became a collage project more than anything else. I like collage. Without really thinking, I combined pieces on the page, started painting on top, glueing more layers and adding more texture. What a mess.

Mixed Media Journaling messy tools

I made an enormous mess on my desk. While I really like order and cleanliness. Can you imagine how much I was out of my comfort zone, going through this messy pile of parts, trying to find that one little blue piece of paper while everything else but the piece I was looking for, stuck to my fingers as they had glue on them??

Below, you can see a timelapse video of my process, which I really enjoyed in spite of the messiness. Matching pieces, trying to bring them together but actually just making a mess. Questions popped up. How do you know when to stop? What should you cover and what should you keep? What if you cover something that you actually liked? What if you go overboard with the gold ink? Should I be writing something meaningful? Is it a bad thing I have nothing meaningful to say for this piece?

And you know, all these questions will probably be normal for every page I work on. With practice, I may get some answers. But because art journaling is such an organic way of working, just following whatever feels right, many of the questions (or their answers) aren’t important. As Natalie Kalbach told Danny when they chatted in Washington Square Park: “mixed media journaling is anything you want it to be”.

To be frank, I don’t know exactly what I want it to be. I don’t even know what I’m doing. I think it can become part of my art practice, and a beautiful way to express myself. For now, I am just exploring and learning by doing. It’s all about playing to me. I am working out in the gym that is my journal. I’ll get stronger as I train my creative muscles.

And it’s fine to not know what I am doing. To be stepping out of my comfort zone for this. Even though I love seeing other people’s mixed media art, I consider myself a drawing artist. I never do this. But now I am doing this.

If I keep doing my homework in class, I will start feeling a lot more confident with each layer of paint, paper, glue, gesso or whatever it is fits in. The freedom and creativity will rub off on my drawing practice, I am sure of that too.

Even though this is not about the result, it’s about the process, here’s today’s page. I have much to learn.

Mixed Media Journaling artwork

Onwards we go!

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