Friday, February 10, 2012

Tutorial - quickly prepping a journal with a sponge and some watercolor

When I first started art journaling (around 2003) I used these really cheap notebooks with blank pages in them that I bought for 1 or 2 euro's at a discount store. To not be so intimidated by an empty page and also to have a little color in the book even if I would just write in it I sort of by accident found a technique for very quickly preparing a journal for use.

The In Between Journal all prepped and ready to go

Today I would like to show you this technique that is so simple I even hesitate to call it a technique at all! In any case this is a really easy and cheap way to fill a blank book with some color and because of that I think it's perfect for beginners who don't want to spend too much money on a new hobby like art journaling, before they even know if it's for them. I have used this technique again recently on my current journal, the In Between Journal, because I needed a journal to work in quickly as I was literally between journals (one finished, the other not yet ready for use).

What you need:
  • a blank book (or just blank pages, if you work on seperate pages)
  • a cheap box of watercolors (I often use children's watercolors for this)
  • a piece of sponge (take an ordinary household sponge and cut off a cube with scissors)
  • a bowl of water
I came across this technique when I quickly wanted to fill a journal with color and figured a sponge would cover a bigger surface than one of my brushes. It wasn't until I put the sponge to paper that I saw it left a wonderful texture. Like this for instance:

For the above just rub the wet sponge over the watercolor of your choice and 'stamp' with it across the page. You can make a checkered pattern like above, but you can also fill a larger piece of the page by 'stamping' an area full of watercolor.

You can create effects by masking off an area. In the next photo I have placed a piece of paper sort of sideways over the page and dabbed the sponge around it.

As you can see this leaves a nice straight edge on the page. You can vary this by putting the paper in different directions or sections of the page or taking different shapes and sizes of paper.

You can also use stencils or templates. For instance I used a cutting template for a paper cutter full of circles and just placed it right on the page.

It's really just a matter of masking or stenciling or just creating your own shapes with a sponge. Couldn't be easier!

In the next one I used a small card to mask of a piece of the page to create these white 'boxes'.

Here's the checkered spread all done.

Another thing you can do is put the sponge on the paper and give it a twist. You then get these circles that always remind me of roses.

In the next one I used a letter stencil. The watercolor and wet sponge will make the stencil less perfect, but that's actually a bonus for me.

Of course you don't have to 'dab' or 'stamp'.  You can also use the sponge by dragging it over the page as an alternative to a brush. In the next one I masked the bottom half of the spread and then moved the sponge away from the mask upward so it painted the color all over the top op the spread.

You can make marks with your sponge as you do with any brush. Here's some quick stripes for instance.

Or how about creating a grid?

The possibilities are endless of course and if you have more time you may want to put several colors on one spread for even more fun effects. The point of this is however that it is fast fast fast. Because you use a sponge (you have to wring it good, it shouldn't be dripping with water) it dries almost instantly and you can move right ahead to the next spread. I did the above journal in one sitting.

It's the most basic base for an art journal I know and I like that it puts something on the page to work on. Remember this is just a little technique to step away from a totally blank page. What you do with it next is up to you!

I hope you enjoyed this little tutorial and if you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask!


  1. Great idea, Caatje. That would also work with paints and inks, too, and be permanent. Cool! xoxo

  2. Wat een leuke ideetjes weer! Ga ik zeker eens proberen! Groetjes Carolien

  3. Great! This will be a great way for me to art journal with my daughter when she's off next week. She always wants to use whatever I'm using, so this will stop her from using all my stuff!!!

  4. Wonderful ideas Caatje.... I have a blank journal sitting here just waiting! I shall try it tomorrow!

  5. Leuk en inspirerend, ik ga eens een spons in 4kantjes knippen :)

  6. oooohw dat ziet er alweer erg leuk uit. Heel inspirerend!

    xx Tessa

  7. Love the checkered look Caatje, super cute :) xx

  8. These are great ideas to get going on a page with minimal stress. Love it!

  9. Love this idea...
    Placing color and design down on your blank journal pages, really help with that "artist block" :]
    Thanks for sharing.

  10. Good ideas! You could even use ink pads.

  11. Great fun! Your designs are so interesting. Do you then draw and paint over these backgrounds with more watercolor, or with more opaque paints?

  12. such a great idea - love the use of sponges! Thanks for taking the time to share this.

  13. I never thought of using a sponge! Thanks for the idea.I don't make art journals, per se, but I do fill in a page here and there with painting, stamping or whatever. I also learned that you can use stamps with watercolors, too.

  14. thank you all for your comments, I'm glad you all liked this tutorial.

    @shirley: I mostly collage and write over this. I will show some finished pages of this journal soon.

  15. Very cool, Caatje...great ideas for getting some color and pattern down on the page so you aren't tackling the "big, bad white page" syndrome!

  16. Superleuk idee. Ik ben net een beetje begonnen met art journalling en was op zoek naar een manier om zowel om verf, papier en schrijven te combineren en dit is echt perfect! Dankjewel.


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