{W} Wabi-sabi: Adapting the Japanese philosophy into your art

wabi-sabi-philosophyWabi-sabi is a Japanese philosophy, like Kintsugi, that embraces imperfection. Wabi-sabi, which is the art of finding beauty in imperfection and revering authenticity above all, emerged as a reaction to the 15th century aesthetic of rich ornamentation and lavish opulence. It is characterized by asymmetry, roughness or irregularity, simplicity, austerity, modesty, and appreciation of the ingenuous integrity of natural objects and processes. The concept is derived from the Buddhist teaching of the three marks of existence – impermanence, suffering and emptiness.

The words wabi and sabi do not translate easily. Wabi originally referred to the loneliness of living in nature, remote from society; sabi meant “chill”, “lean” or “withered”. Around the 14th century these meanings began to change, taking on more positive connotations. Wabi now connotes rustic simplicity, freshness or quietness, and can be applied to both natural and human-made objects, or understated elegance. It can also refer to quirks and anomalies arising from the process of construction, which add uniqueness and elegance to the object. Sabi is beauty or serenity that comes with age, when the life of the object and its impermanence are evidenced in its patina and wear, or in any visible repairs. – from Wikipedia

So how can you adapt this philosophy in your art journal practice?

Give up “perfectionitis”

There will be times on your art journey when your ideas are bigger than your skill level – it’s sad but true. Instead of beating yourself up for not knowing how to do something, take the opportunity to learn and hone your skills further. And as you try and learn, give yourself some grace. If you don’t love something you’ve created, rip it out of your journal and use it as collage {I’ve never done this, though, no matter how frustrated I am with a page}. Or simply turn the page and start afresh.

Embrace “dirt”

That page on which you threw a hissy fit? Gesso over it. Bits of it will peek through from under the gesso, but create over it anyway. In this manner, you embrace your imperfections, and build over your mistakes. You will also get colors and effects and layers that are impossible to replicate when you work this way.

Highlight mistakes


These circles were just blobs of texture that had no relevance to the page. So, I added a lot of white around the area, drew in petal shapes, and doodled all around it to make it look like it was planned. Between you and me – it totally wasn’t! This is a macro from a much larger spread.

Made a boo-boo on the page? See if there is a way to make it look deliberate. Or to draw attention to it somehow. Or work around it to turn it into a focal image if you can. Or just stick something else over it and see if that works! This is also a great way to work with layers!

These are just a few ideas on embracing wabi-sabi philosophy in your art journal practice.

Do you have any other ideas to add? I’d love to hear in the comments!

Posted in Art Journaling and tagged , , , , .


    • Yes, like any philosophy, it’s multi-layered and very deep. This barely scratches the surface of the philosophy – and it can be adapted to almost any area of art and life.

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  2. Really such a simple concept isn’t it? It is like the wave of positivity to ride over everything negative.
    I think I do follow this practice though unconsciously, to fix my clumsy boo-boos especially when I am in a hurry!
    @KalaRavi16 from

  3. Your posts are always in the right time for me. 🙂 I bought a journal, and decided to make it n art/writing journal. I also have acrylics, and I planned on starting today. I have the perfectionist problem, and was starting to feel the resistance. Because I want my journal to be pretty, but I lack in the art skills department. So, now I’ll try to focus on having fun and chant the wabi-sabi mantra. Might pair this with wine and friend 🙂

    • Sounds great! The most important thing is to have fun on the journey. You’ll make mistakes and pages that you don’t like, but most things can be fixed and practice makes you better. But you have to start! 🙂

  4. These are some really good ideas. I’ve only started art journaling in the past two years and am always looking for different things to do. I’ve gessoed over a page I didn’t like and I’ve torn pages out, but I’m learning to use the mistakes and turn them into something nice. 🙂

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