Grief Art Journaling for the Artistically Challenged

Coping with Grief / Coping with Grief : Litsa Williams

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Those of you who follow WYG may have noticed a pretty glaring oversight during the month of June. Father’s Day came and went, and we didn’t do a single new article about it. We reposted old articles on social media, we had some great discussions on Facebook, etc.—but, here on the blog, I just couldn’t quite get myself together to write something new.

For those of you who are WYG superfans, you may have even noticed that just after Father’s Day, the crapiversary of my dad’s death came and went... and I didn’t post about that either. Yeah, an epic fail on my part for the month of June. I wish I had a good excuse, but I don’t. If it makes it any better, I did post about preserving handwriting based on my dad’s amazing handwriting because I was thinking about it around Father’s Day. I know, I know. Not quite the same. But better than nothing, right?  Maybe?

While feeling doubly low—because June always sucks for me AND because I failed to write about it—I decided I needed to get something positive and productive in my life. Think of this as a little grief-blog-failure repentance.  For years (literally), I have thought about doing some grief art journaling. I have stalked art journal blogs, I have purchased art journaling books, etc.—but I have never actually taken the plunge. Perhaps because I am not artsy. Not even a little bit. Perhaps because I can barely commit to putting on shoes regularly, much less journaling regularly. So, in the depths of my failure, I decided the time was now. My art journal was born.

So, here is the plan going forward. I am going to do my darnedest to keep up with this art journal and—to keep me on track—I am going to post some art journal prompts here. I invite anyone and everyone to join me in this art journaling endeavor (because if I can do it anyone can!). I will definitely share my progress and I would love love love if you want to share your progress in the comments here, on Instagram, on Facebook, or wherever.

What Is An Art Journal Anyway?

I hear a few of you screaming: What is an art journal!? Let me take a few steps back. An art journal is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. It's a journal that uses not just writing, but all sort of other artistic mediums: painting, drawing, photography, collage, whatever. You certainly don’t need prompts. You can create your journal and express whatever you want and need at the time. Or, for those who are like me and might need a little more motivation, a prompt can help with giving some direction and inspiration.

Starting Your Art Journal

To create an art journal, there are tons of possibilities. The book that got me started, and gave me hope that you truly don't need to be an artist to have an art journal, was The Art Journal Workshop: Break Through, Explore, and Make it Your Own. The author has a very collage-y style that looked fun and manageable.

So, I started with an old hardback book that was just sitting on my bookshelf. The important thing is to find a book with fairly heavy pages.

a thousand splendid suns: my art journal medium

You then need to remove every 3rd or 4th page from the book. I used an x-acto knife to cut them out... Just be sure to put something behind each page while you cut so you don’t slice through multiple pages! You need to do this because, as you journal through the book, the pages will get thicker. You need to thin the pages out so the journal doesn't get too thick for the spine.

Rather than going this upcycled route, you can also buy a blank art book to build your journal.

Obviously making the book feel your own is crucial, so create a cover you love. I painted my cover, but you could just as easily collage it or do whatever works for you. (In the below photo, you may notice my excessive arts and craft supplies—especially for someone with no artistic ability. On closer inspection, you will see these are craft supplies designed for those with no actual skills; e.g., stamps, stickers, stencils, etc. These are great tools for pretending you have skills!).

art supplies

Once your cover and pages are ready, you want to prep the pages with Gesso (a canvas primer you can get at any craft store). It will prepare the pages so your paint, ink, glue, etc. doesn’t soak through as easily. It will also lightly cover the text on the pages of the book to give you a cleaner canvas. I actually like that the text still shows through a bit, but that's a personal preference. You can do multiple coats of Gesso to get better coverage.


Once that is done you are good to create!

That was the moment, staring at my lovely white canvas, that I panicked briefly because I had no idea what to journal about. Despite my laundry list of prompts and inspiration, none of them were actually speaking to me. The prompts I thought would make a great post for today just weren’t really working. So, I took a deep breath and waited for some inspiration.

What I Did

I have been thinking a lot about fear lately—all types of fear. Fear and regret, fears that keep us from moving forward, fears that are rational, fears that are irrational, etc. I saw this concept in the art journaling book I mentioned above: Journal something then paint on top of it, creating a fresh canvas to create something new. There came my personal inspiration.

Step One:

Write about (or draw or paint or whatever) your fears, specifically those that you feel are preventing you from moving forward in certain areas of your life. You can do this straight on the Gesso.

Step Two:

Paint over those fears and create a blank canvas to journal (again, write, draw, collage, paint, whatever) the things that inspire you to move forward in spite of your fears.

writing down my fears
painting over my fears
covering my fears
journaling what inspires me

I realize this inspiration that struck me may not work for everyone—but, keep in mind, you don’t need a prompt. So this weekend, if you have been considering starting an art journal (or even if you haven’t, but this got you thinking about it), I challenge you to do it! Get it started in whatever way works for you and, if you do, let us know.

Leave a comment, post a photo on our Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram (@whatsyourgrief). I will be posting my progress and some prompts in the coming months, if for no other reason than to keep myself on track. Future prompts will be a bit more grief-focused, and submissions for journal prompts are welcome! I am not going to commit to a specific schedule (I know myself too well to set myself up for that kind of failure), but I will do my best.

Leave a comment if you are an art journaler. I would love some inspiration from others! Subscribe to keep up with all our grief posts, including future posts and prompts about grief art journaling. 

We wrote a book!

After writing online articles for What’s Your Grief
for over a decade, we finally wrote a tangible,
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After writing online articles for What’s Your Grief for over a decade, we finally wrote a tangible, real-life book!

What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss is for people experiencing any type of loss. This book discusses some of the most common grief experiences and breaks down psychological concepts to help you understand your thoughts and emotions. It also shares useful coping tools, and helps the reader reflect on their unique relationship with grief and loss.

You can find What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss wherever you buy books:

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9 Comments on "Grief Art Journaling for the Artistically Challenged"

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  1. Jo  August 12, 2017 at 2:20 pm Reply

    Yes! I enjoy both art and journaling; therefore, art journaling has become one of my favorite ways to communicate my life to my self. It’s been so very healing in my grief journey(s) and would recommend it to those who want to blend the two, even for the first time. I get quite “basic” with my artwork in my journaling, including a lot of collage items and quotes; however, they are good for my soul and my spirit.
    AND, having prompts have been very, very helpful in “getting started” with journaling something as well as inspiring new creative thoughts and words. Thank you so much for putting this out there and I look forward to receiving your prompts and ideas whenever you can make them happen.

  2. sheila letwiniuk  February 16, 2017 at 2:09 am Reply

    Thankful to be on this journey and a way to go through it

  3. cindy  August 20, 2016 at 3:41 pm Reply

    Four years after I lost my daughter I happened upon Art Journaling as well a new style of painting-one that was a reflection my inner works. I found that I needed to touch, visualize and paint my life. I am intrigued to hear you talk about fear as I just finished a painting of myself facing a saber-toothed tiger in my attempt to navigate fear. I realized, recently that my Art had become a story in itself. I put together an “Art Blog” of my journey which can be viewed on my website . Thank you so much for bringing forth your Art as a vehicle for healing- so very powerful.

  4. Anne Marie  July 9, 2015 at 11:35 am Reply

    let me start out by saying, i love you, your adorable and i love this!! as you know june also isnt the easiest of months for me. “celebrating” the anniversary of your fathers death while (whats seems like) everyone else is celebrating fathers day with their fathers, well it just kinda sucks, know matter how long its been. So this june, not on purpose it just kind of happened at the right time, I started a little weekly painting group with some of my girlfriends from work that helped me get through the month much more smoothly. It has been awesome! we sit outside at this little hidden, cute, artsy coffee shop and we paint. Through this amazing experience though it has become more evident to me then ever that i am in no way a painter. i consider myself creative and artistic but definitely not an artist. Sooo this idea is perfect for me and i will start it asap! Having an art journal that i keep adding to over the weeks will definitely help my pride when i look over at the other girls (who are by the way “artists”) amazing paintings, haha. but really I was just talking to someone about wanting to start journaling again and this is a great way to combine two things and make them into one even better thing! Thx for the tips! xoxoxo
    p.s. i will definitely do the fear thing, that excercize will be very beneficial for me right now!

  5. Shaye McDermott  July 4, 2015 at 12:55 pm Reply

    The leader is an expressive arts therapist, I just love her & her full time studio. Each week for the journaling class, she gives us a few suggestions on technique and/or thoughts to get us started….and then we just take it from there. She has every art medium I’ve ever thought of…papers, magazines, paint, markers, chalk, and 3-D items to complete our vignettes for sharing at the close. I am most familiar/comfortable with collage, but next week I’m going to try and paint. (I only skimmed your article, these might be mentioned.) A few of the notes I’ve taken are: use a rag to ‘blend’ paint, it makes it easier to see through and dries faster. Use a brush with the glue/mod podge solution to get a more even spread. Also, inks make a nice wash, much more see through than paint. I usually, just glue on pictures & quotes from magazines, etc. She showed us how to paint around the pictures, incorporating a photo into our paintings. Use one picture or one word for effect. (I have a tendency to use layers and layers of collage.) To get in the spirit…one time she just gave us 15 minutes, to do a page quickly, less thinking more gut feeling. Also, take a random piece of written words out of a magazine article, circle the words that catch your eye, black out the rest. This was interesting to me. I think I will look for a book that ‘interests’ me to try this again for MY journal. Also, copy definitions from dictionary (Bible) and use them to collage…can be made bigger and bigger on a copy machine. If someone is hesitant to work in their journal, she suggests doing the project on a separate piece of paper, then if you like it, glue it into your journal. Also, she did an exercise, I found a similar ‘thing’ in an Aetna ad. Fill in the blanks; When I was a kid I wanted to be____. But life kind of got in the way and I grew up and became a _______. (It goes on) Short about 5 spaces. Her questions were list 3 things for-‘What I wanted to do as a child’, ‘3 things that end up on my New Year’s resolutions EVERY year’ ‘3 things that seem important to me today’ and 2 more. On the first night we ‘titled’ our journals from the ‘answers’ to these questions. I am a widow (18 months) and my journal is designing my new life. Thus the title is “ALIFE!” one word. I wake up each morning alive, I want to make it ‘Alife!’ You can private email me if you wish. Your blog has been very inspirational for me. Thank you!

  6. Shaye McDermott  July 1, 2015 at 1:05 pm Reply

    Wow!!! I just signed up a few weeks ago for an Art Journaling class at a local Art Studio. For years I have TRIED REALLY HARD to journal. I buy plain, fancy, inviting journals and write a few pages….then nothing. After the first class, I realized that writing is WORK for me. But doing ‘art’ is PLAY. I am very visual and art journaling is so more inviting for me. I’ve got ideas to use all these books with just a few pages in them. I’ve even been inspired to organize my ‘art room’ so I can leave various projects out and about as I work on them, safe from my kitties. I highly recommend this ‘therapy’ to others going through grief. In just two weeks, I’m doing better, all the dark, sad, annoying emotions are out onto paper and I’m feeling freer. Thanks for your ideas, I’m going to do this…going to thrift store for a ‘nice’ book. The ones we are using in class are the black & white college notebooks, about 7 X 9. Think I’ll look for a ‘coffee table book’. 🙂 Thanks. I’m printing this blog for reference. Note: Since I am going to a class weekly, the leader also gave us little boxes that hold our books, scissors, glue, pens, to keep everything together for portability. Have a great journaling day! 🙂

    • Litsa  July 4, 2015 at 9:10 am Reply

      Ah, that is so cool that you are taking an Art Jouraling class!! That is what I need!! I am so glad to hear it has been effective for you. If there is anything particularly helpful or interesting that you have learned in the class please share! I am just sort of making things up as I go here, so any tips are appreciated. I really need an ‘art room’ because my husband isn’t exactly thrilled about all the space I am taking up on the living room floor 🙂

  7. Beth Marshall  July 1, 2015 at 12:56 pm Reply

    Such a cool, creative and inspiring idea. Thank you, Litsa!

    • Litsa  July 4, 2015 at 9:10 am Reply

      Thanks Beth!

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