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The Molten Mind Space

What is Art Journaling and Some Methods I Use With Encaustic Wax

How do you use your art journal/Sketchbook?

Some pages from my encaustic art journal

Journal V.S. Sketchbook

I love journaling. I always have. From scribbling stories in notebooks, when I was young, to creating scrapbooks, then sketchbooks full of art, to bullet journaling for organisation and working through my problems with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) exercises.

Only, I never called it ‘journaling’ until I got into bullet journaling a few years ago. I wrote in a notebook or kept sketchbooks. What is now more commonly called ‘art journaling,’ I call sketchbooking, or my ‘sketchbook practice.’ As an artist, it’s just a part of what I do.

Initially, I believed ‘art journal’ to be just a more recent, and perhaps more American term for a sketchbook. At least, I never heard any reference to it whilst I was at art school in Scotland, 10 years ago.

According to Wikipedia (under the heading ‘art diary’ also known as ‘art journal’ or ‘visual journal’):

“Many famous artists are known for their art diaries — the sketchbooks of Leonardo da Vinci are probably the best-known example” (

So, I am partly correct. However, other sources seem to indicate that an art journal implies daily pages of finished art which are created to look nice on Instagram. An article in The Mixed Media Club has the definition:

“Art journals generally combine visual journaling and writing, to create finished pages.” (

I have created some pages which are ‘finished’ within other sketchbooks. But when is a page complete? And I have only ever once created an entire book full of such pages for a mixed media project in art school. (Yet, if I recall correctly, this module was called ‘sketchbook practice’)

However, according to artist Kerrie Woodhouse, who explored the difference between art journal, visual journal and sketchbook in a blog, the term ‘art journal’ scared her, as she associated it with the idea that:

“Those with lots of skill from years of practice inevitably seem to transform any page into a work of art” (

However, she then goes on to explain that this form of art can often be the loosest and most experimental, and that, really “anything goes.” (ibid)

So, it seems that it is the immediacy of this process, where you can “splash paint in it like a five-year-old. Scribble furiously with a marker. Stamp, collage or stencil.” (ibid) Which can transform an art journal from a mess of experimentation into something amazing. When we are playing with art materials we are free and totally in the moment.

Wax Artist

As I said, I have kept many sketchbooks throughout the years. Some, more like scrapbooks for design projects and some more artistic, mixed media efforts, often containing finished pages of art. I believe a sketchbook is an artist’s tool to work through creative projects however they need to. If that involves reems of notes and diagrams, that is as valid as a detailed sketch or study in pastel or paint.

I now, primarily, work in encaustic wax. This is painting with hot, molten wax and heated tools such as an iron and hot pen stylus. And I love it.

My encaustic sketchbooks are full of experimental paintings along with notes and plans for future projects and product designs. Sketchbooks are the place for experiments, trials and errors and a place to test out new techniques.

Wax is a wonderful medium to play with. You can get some fantastic effects quickly and simply, with just a little practice. Here are some of the methods I use for encaustic art journaling.

Method One — Wax Scrying

This is a type of intuitive painting, where you look into random shapes created in the wax to define forms. Some people even use this technique to provide spiritual readings for clients. Although I don’t do this, sometimes angelic forms can emerge. This often acts as inspiration for future art.

This is one of my favourite techniques when I am feeling stuck or out of ideas.

Loading the hot iron with several complementary colours of wax, I sweep the whole lightly over the surface of a sealed painting card. The wax sits on the card and can be manipulated further with more light sweeps of the iron. This produces new and interesting shapes as the wax sticks to and lifts off the surface. Because the wax is a 3D medium, forms readily emerge, such as caves and figures. These cards can be worked into to add details by drawing on with the stylus tool or scraping away with a sharp scraper tool.

After I have made a painting, I often see shapes and patterns in the wax left behind on the backing paper. I recently bound my own sketchbook, and when I did so, I included some of these backing papers in it. These are great fun to work into with stylus and scraper.

Method Two — Encaustic Image Transfer

This is a great way to breathe new life into ‘failed’ artworks.

Taking my hot iron and a wax painting I’m not too happy with, I flip it over and place a sheet of greaseproof paper over the back. I then iron it for a few minutes, until the wax has transferred onto the paper. This creates a softer, hazy image which can be worked into further with wax to add detail to the shapes. Or a light wash of watercolour can be applied, which brings out the wax shapes as they resist the water.

transferring an image from the wax card to my sketchbook

Method Three — Crayoning and smudging

I use coloured blocks of wax to paint with, very much like crayons. The edges can be used to apply a layer of rough wax to the paper. If I then slightly heat the underside of the paper with my iron (set up as a miniature hotplate) I can rub the wax with a tissue to smudge the wax and create soft and hazy effects.

Simply smudging hot wax with a tissue is one of my favourite techniques, as it can create soft skies in my paintings which perfectly imitate the Scottish misty light.

Crayoning with wax blocks

Method Four — Detail Blending

The stylus tool is useful for blending smaller areas of detail. Whilst the iron does most of the broad blending on the sealed card, working into surfaces which are not sealed, like paper or canvas, the stylus tool is more useful. The first few strokes with the hot pen may seem rough, but just keep blending and the wax remelts with each touch to form softer blends. Like most art, encaustic detail work is a matter of patience.

Method Five — Removing Wax

Instead of adding, try removing instead. My go to technique is usually to build up details with the hot pen stylus tool. Whilst this can create some good effects, if you are not careful the surface can get clogged with too much wax and the colours can become muddy. Sometimes it helps to strip back some of the wax and when you do some subtle stains of colour are often left behind.

Wax can be scraped away with any shape of instrument, but I have a special tool with different ends which can create marks which are broad or thin. But you can use anything from scissors or a knife, to a pen or palette knife. The trick is to not scrape too deep but just remove the top layer of wax.

wax scraper tool with tapered ends

Method Six — Layering

Building up an encaustic landscape is done by working in layers. Working from the sky to the foreground, building each sweep of wax over the next.

In my sketchbook I also like to layer elements, such as folding flaps and pockets, samples stapled to pictures and colour swatches. Creating a sense of depth is pleasant to look at. Although my sketchbook is primarily practical, I like it to look pretty too.

Which is why I decided to make some ‘art journal’ style finished pages in my book. Does this mean it is now an art journal rather than a sketchbook? I don’t think so. After all, its my book, and I can call it whatever I like.


If you want to know more, you can watch the video I made showing these processes here:


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