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A quick guide to using colour in your handmade journal: pens, pencils & paints

Do you want to use your journal for painting or colouring? Will the paper take it ok? Well, it does depend on the paper type; but generally, if you’re buying a quality handmade notebook, it should take some form of paints. I’ve chosen a few things here for adding colour, including coloured pencils and felt tip pens – just to cover different options!

As mentioned in the pencils/pens write up (which you can find here) the paper in my journals is 140gsm cartridge paper; it will take paints and inks, but some better than others. Ideally for watercolour, you need proper watercolour paper; however, if you’re just starting out or experimenting, the sturdy paper in my journals is fine for testing things out.

Coloured pencils are readily available and easy to use. You can create more in the way of shading and texture with coloured pencils, simply by pressing harder for a darker tone. You should be able to work quickly and easily with pencils, starting light and building up colour where needed.

Felt/fibre-tip pens are nice and bold and bright, creating clean defined lines. While you can’t shade with them as you can with pencils, you can create a graduated effect by overlapping colours slightly with swift, light strokes. Issues? Leave the pen on the paper too long and it’ll bleed through. You can easily write or draw with pens too, making them more versatile. 

You can create simple watercolours quite easily. Start with the lighter colours and build up to the darker washes. Blend/merge colours using wet on wet paint; for more defined areas, you’ll need to wait for the previous layer to dry. The paper may buckle slightly, but will warp if you get it too wet. You can place a scrap piece of paper or card under the page you’re working on.

As with watercolours, you can get heavier paper to use with acrylics, but the paper I use is great for a mixed media art journal. Acrylic paints are easy to just pick up and use. They’re quick drying and, once dry, you can easily paint over the previous layer. You can thin them with water. 

Here you can see the other side of the paper from the mushroom drawings – it shows how much you can see the colours on the other side, and how much the paper warps. If you’re using watercolour or acrylics, I’d suggest not using paints on the other side of the page, but pencils should be ok to use.

Head to my Etsy shop for handmade blank
journals and notebooks.

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Choosing the right pencils & pens for your journaling journey

Should you use pen or pencil for journaling? What’s best to use in your notebook? Whether you want to use your blank pages for writing or drawing, it’s nice to know how your pens and pencils will work with the paper. Let’s take a look, shall we?

The paper used in my journals is 140gsm cartridge paper (it’s been made using upcycled takeaway cups!). This paper is quite sturdy and will take different mediums; pens and pencils, and also some paints (more on that another time). Here, I’ll be looking at some of the different pencils and pens you might be using for writing or drawing in your journal – you’ll be able to see what each of them look like on paper.

Ever wondered what the letters and numbers on pencils mean? Generally, HB is your bog-standard pencil: H = hard, B = blackness. You can get various grades of H & B pencils. With H pencils, the higher the number the harder the pencil, creating a harder, lighter line. When it comes to B, the higher the number the softer the pencil, creating a softer, darker line.
While you normally associate pens with writing, you can use them for drawing too. There are loads of different types of pens; I’ve chosen 3 I think fit best with using in journals.

So, what difference does this all make when it comes to drawing and writing? Here are some simple doodles to give you an idea:

Use H to create hard, clean lines. The fact that they produce lighter, more precise lines makes them good for writing and technical drawings.

B pencils can be used for sketching and adding texture. Because they’re soft, they can be more expressive; it also makes them easier to rub out!

Biros (or ballpoint pens) are best for writing – great for everyday journaling. But you can doodle with them too!

Fineliners are perfect for journaling; you can use them for writing, drawing or doing your layouts.

Dip pens are just that – pens that you dip… into a pot of ink! They’re often used for calligraphy, but you can use them for sketches, too. Using the different angles of the nib means you can create various line widths and strengths. They can take a while to get used to, but are very satisfying to use once you’ve got the hang of it.

What else would you want to know about the paper quality of a journal or notebook? How about how much it shows through to the other side? As you can see, with the paper I use in my handmade journals, you can hardly see the pencil, while the dip pen and fineliner show through the most.

Head to my Etsy shop for handmade blank

journals and notebooks.