{J} Let’s talk about journals

As you start to enjoy working on your art journal and experiment with building up layers, the paper you use plays a big role in just how far you can push your materials. To my mind, there are 2 key things you need to look out for when choosing a journal – the binding and the paper.

Let’s talk about binding
There are two types of bound journals on the market – spiral bound journals and stitched journals. Which one you choose comes down to personal preference.

With a spiral bound journal, you work on one page; with a bound journal, you have a two-page spread.

Does it make a huge difference to the creative process? In my opinion, no.

Each system has its pros and cons. For example, the spiral binding can get caked with paint, making it difficult to turn pages. But it can easily expand to accommodate the layers of paint and collage you throw at it. And if you take a little care to wipe down the binding after each session, there will be no cakey paint. A bound journal may not be too happy with deliciously layered pages – the spine could break. But it gives you the opportunity to work on a two-page spread, which is slightly different {at least psychologically} from working on single sheets.

Ultimately, it’s for you to choose what you prefer. The only way you can do that is by experimenting.

Now, on to paper
When it comes to choosing an art journal, the weight and type of the paper is key.

Paper weights are standardized world-over and refer to the thickness of paper. They are listed in grams per square meter (gsm), which is common in India, or in pounds (lb). Here are some of the most common weights of paper found in sketchbooks and drawing pads (approximate measures):

50-60 lb (approx 75-90 gsm): sketching or practice paper — thick enough to work on with pencils, charcoal, or pastels, but usually too thin for ink or most markers, which may bleed through.

70-80 lb (approx 100-130 gsm): drawing paper suitable for finished artwork in most media. Paper any lighter than 70lb will usually be thin enough to see through to drawings or materials underneath.

90-110 lb (approx 180-260 gsm): heavy-weight drawing paper, bristol, multi-media papers. Weight in this range is similar to card stock or light poster board.

Heavier papers, up to 140 lb (approx 300 gsm) or more, are most often used for painting rather than drawing. When found in sketchbooks, they are usually rougher papers intended as watercolor journals or, more commonly, are sold as blocks, which means that you can remove each sheet from the block once you’ve finished painting it.

For an art journal, I would recommend a 100-130 gsm paper. It’s also what I use – always with an initial layer of gesso to further strengthen the page, as I tend to use a lot of layers in my journals. If you plan to primarily stick to dry media – pencils, charcoal, etc. – thinner paper should be fine.

A quick note on watercolour paper
Recently, I’ve started using watercolour paper for my mixed media art journal, and I’m in love with it! I don’t need to prime it with gesso, and it stands up well to really, really well to layering. I use 300 gsm cold pressed watercolour paper by Brustro. It’s economical and great quality paper; I’m very happy with it.

Types of watercolour paper:

Watercolor paper comes in three different finishes: hot press, cold press and rough.

Hot pressed paper has a smooth surface with no “tooth”.

Cold pressed paper has a lightly textured surface.

Rough paper is —rough! It’s got quite a bit of texture, so that is something to be aware of if you choose this paper.

Cold pressed watercolour paper is the most commonly used paper – and also much cheaper than hot pressed paper. Unless you really want the smoothness of the hot press paper for your finished painting, cold press is perfectly fine. It’s also what I use.

Note: Watercolor paper is typically sold by the sheet, or in a block or pad, which means you will have to bind your own book if you want to use this paper for your art journal.

I hope this little paper/journal primer has been helpful for you. Do let me know if you have any questions!

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  1. Okay that was pretty informative! I incidentally like thick gsm papers! I’ll have to check what is available at my stationery. If one uses a thinner paper than gessoing is necessary and vice-versa is it?
    You are amazingly well-informed and detailed in your tutoring lady!
    @KalaRavi16 from

    • Kala check stationary and online as well. They’re all available on Amazon. And yes, on thin paper gesso is mandatory if you are going to use paints/watercolors. If you only want to do sketches, thinner paper is perfect.

  2. Loose paper is a wonderful way to start because you can play without committing to any particular journal. If you adore the idea of working in a journal, there are a lot of great bound journals available. A standard writing journal will have thin paper,which doesn’t hold up to mixed media work or even wet media like watercolor or acrylics – personal experience says so.

  3. I think the cover on a journal is very important. I brought some back from Burma that were made from handmade paper. Inside the paper there are flowers and leaves. So beautiful.

    • Oh just start Reema! Even I thought I wasn’t good at art, but I absolutely love art journaling now. All it takes is some practice & finding a good teacher (ahem!) 😉

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