Encouraging Young Artists…

IamanArtistOne of my favorite children’s picture books is I Am an Artist by Pat Lowery Collins, In it, the author quietly shows children that they can be an artist by observing the world around them, noticing interesting things about nature. 19th-century educator Charlotte Mason, whose methods are followed by many of today’s home educating families, also stressed the importance of observing nature and the world around you, and recording discoveries and sketches in a journal

You can teach your children to have an eye for art by making it a habit to talk about the things you are seeing.


“How many legs to you think that creature has? What colors do you see in the sunset? Does that painting look warm or cool? Do you see the water sparkling like diamonds? Questions such as these, that encourage children to talk descriptively about what they are seeing, will help them develop an artistic vocabulary and also help them look for details themselves.

When it comes to children’s artwork, it is also important to be very encouraging. Younger children, especially, have difficulty getting what they want to draw from their heads to their hands. When their drawings don’t turn out as they envisioned them, kids will often get upset. Interspersing drawing “lessons” with times of doing their own artwork will gradually build their fine motor skills, but be sure to be encouraging about each drawing, and sympathetic to their struggles. Depending on the child, they may need a little help in getting started with a sketch or straightening out a line or two. In classes with kids, I make a point to ask them if they want me to help fix a drawing on their paper, or show them how on a scrap of paper, and the answers are quite different from one child to another. It’s also a good idea to ask very young children to explain their art to you… It’s much better if they tell you that they drew a cat climbing a tree, than for you to mistake it for the monkey you saw in the zoo last week!


Make it a point to encourage the children in your life
to be the artists that they were created to be!

And go grab a copy of this beautiful book for your library!

Art Journaling… Choosing a Journal

The beginning is the most important part of the work.

Where do we begin with art journaling? Well, probably the most important place is finding a journal to work in! What type of journal is best? There is no right or wrong answer to that question, but each artist needs to evaluate their journaling needs, and you may end up with several different kinds of journals. I have a main journal that I’m constantly working in. It is medium-sized, about 7” x 10”. It’s not too small to limit work, but also not too large, so it’s easy to carry with me wherever I go! I also have tiny little sketch books tucked into my purse and in the vehicles…. just in case. They are often filled with notes and grocery lists as well as sketches, but they’re accessible at all times for impromptu drawings.  Tucked safely in my art studio, I have several “formal” journals, dedicated to finished botanical drawings, folk art and fraktur sketches, and drawings of people.  There are thin little journals that I use to study single subjects. There’s a historic-looking leather journal that the girls gave me (probably another Mother’s Day!) that went with us to historical reenactments. And, there are plenty of smallish sketchbooks tucked in drawers around here that can be shared with little folks who want to doodle. You can never have too many, but below are some ideas to consider when choosing an art journal…

The choices for art journals are many… Handmade books, spiral bound sketchbooks, bound or loose-leaf, lined or unlined pages (or a mix of the two!), quad-ruled, fancy & beautiful, or plain & utilitarian. I’ve tried them all, but my number-one personal requirement is that the journal should open flat so you don’t have to fight with it just to draw. (My leather historical journal does not meet this standard, but I figure life was tough back then, and the “fight” is part of the reenacting experience!) Choose a journal that makes you happy… One that feels good in your hands as you carry it around, one that makes you feel artistic or studious. Choose a journal that you will love for a long time, because it takes a while to fill them up! And, if purchasing a journal for your kids, buy one for yourself as well and join in the fun!

There is some debate about choosing a bound journal verses a loose-leaf journal, especially when choosing a journal for children. I personally love bound journals, but we’ll look at the merits of both options below…

Reasons to use a Bound Journal

  • For the sake of seeing growth in art, a bound journal will keep several years’ worth of sketches, and you and your children will see how much their art has improved. All our work is in one place, and we can look back at it for reference, or to remember a sketching session.
  • We tend to respect bound journals more than loose-leaf journals because they feel more book-like. Each sketch becomes part of a permanent record, and the journal is something to treasure for years to come, to be placed on the bookshelf, or tucked into a trunk-full of memories.
  • Bound journals are more portable. We can grab them and go, without worrying about losing pages or gathering fresh paper. If we also have a little sketching kit at the ready, we’re prepared for any time we might want to sketch.

One negative aspect of bound journals is that they may seem a little intimidating at first. Artist’s block can quickly set in as you contemplate the first drawing on the first page of a brand new beautiful journal! If that frightens you a bit, I’d recommend getting a plainer journal if you think you’d be afraid to mess up a brand new fancy one. Or, open up to a center page to do your first drawing. Also remember… and communicate this to your children.. that “mistakes” in sketching are what we learn from, and there are plenty of mistakes in the journals of professional artists. If you really are upset by a mistake, you can make another drawing on loose paper and glue it on top of the one you can’t stand to see on the pages of your journal. Or, if it’s a true disaster, use a craft knife and carefully cut out the page. (I’ve done that with journals that I began and then decided to use for a different subject, by removing the first few pages and starting over!)

Now the advantages of using a loose-leaf notebook…

Reasons to use a Loose-Leaf Journal

  • Loose-leaf journals, such as three-ring binders, work well for group art classes, because they can also hold class hand-outs and notes, and can be added to easily.
  • Messy artwork, like pastel and charcoal drawings, can be included and contained in sheet protectors. Spray a bit of fixative on the artwork and let it dry well before placing in the protector.
  • Artwork that needs to be on display later can also be kept in sheet protectors. If you child will be entering a drawing in the state fair, or if you’d like to frame it eventually, it’s ready to go!
  • Loose-leaf binders can double as a portfolio, as the “best work” can be included. If you use a “Clear View” binder, you can change the cover art at any time. Again, spray some artist’s fixative on the cover art so it doesn’t smudge inside the cover.
  • Artists with perfectionistic tendencies will experience fewer melt-downs over messed-up journal pages.  (Of course, I don’t personally know anyone that’s had a complete and total melt-down over a drawing-gone-bad… Do you?)
  • Homeschooling students that have been raised with a “notebooking” mentality will feel right at home with a binder! We kept yearly portfolios as part of our school records, and also encouraged our children to “notebook” subjects of interest.

And Who Says You Can’t Have Both?

When working with younger students in a classroom or homeschool situation, my choice is to use both a three-ring binder for assignments, finished masterpieces, and class hand-outs, and to also have a small, flat journal for doodling and on-the-go sketching. That way they can keep their best work neat and organized, but can also learn to be free and creative within their journal. Also, a thinner journal won’t be so intimidating for younger students, and they will be able to experience the joy of a completed art journal.

A Favorite Resource…

Years ago, I found a great resource for journaling at a homeschool conference… Bare Books! (BareBooks.com) Our girls filled up many, many, many, of these blank books with sketches and stories, and they come in many shapes and sizes. My favorite item is their Bare Book Plus Journal. It has more pages than their regular Bare Books, and makes a great size for beginning art journaling students. The Bare Books Plus Journal is a great size to use with this curriculum… If you count out several pages per month, your students will be able to fit an entire year’s worth of art journaling in it, giving them a great reference journal. I’d also recommend getting a journal cover to fit, which will protect the cover art you’ll be inspired to add.  The regular Bare Books are also good for short-term art journaling projects, such as a unit study or camping trip. Just for fun, check out their whole website… they have a lot of really neat stuff!


(This journal met with an unfortunate accident that involved a red candle and a hot mini-van.)

Art Journaling… Introduction

Moving to a new a blog is quite an ordeal… especially when you want to pick and choose which posts you want to pack up and move, and which ones to leave behind. The idea of a “fresh slate” continues to inspire me, though!

At the old blog, the absolute most visited posts are the ones about Art Journaling, so they will be the first to be dusted off and brought on over. If you’d like to see all of them, head over the The Old Blog and click on the Art Journaling category in the sidebar. They’ll be there until I can get them all revamped over here!

And… EVENTUALLY… I’ll be putting these all into a printable ebook that will be available in the shop. I will leave the blog posts up for anyone that wants to view them for free, but I’m polishing each one up and scanning things into one document so you will be able to print them out easily for everyday use! 

So… Here’s the very first, introductory post about Art Journaling, and how our family got started doing it!

Oodles of years ago, the subject of journaling and recording life events kept coming up in my life. I learned about great artists who had kept journals of their sketches, thoughts, and inspirations throughout their lives, and discovered some wonderful examples of journals by naturalists documenting the curiosities they found.  About the same time, I began doing a handwritten and illustrated newsletter at our family’s antique shop, filled with seasonal celebrations, recipes, and decorating ideas from our customers. Then, at a homeschooling conference, I sat in on a workshop about art journaling by Barry Stebbing of How Great Thou Art.  All those random ideas about keeping an art journal meshed together, and I was hooked! That particular conference always falls on Mother’s Day weekend, and my hubby and girls saw how excited I was about getting into art journaling and making it part of our homeschool adventure, so my present that year was Mr. Stebbing’s book on art journaling, a brand new sketchbook and pen for me, and matching sketchbooks for the girls! We were inspired and ready to go, and we made a valiant effort at filling those sketchbooks with things that inspired us. Since then, there has always been a sketchbook (or two or three) in my purse. You never know when you’ll need one!


Somewhere along the way, it dawned on me to combine what we were doing in the store’s seasonal newsletter with the idea of art and nature journaling to make a booklet for homeschoolers. The booklet would provide practical “journal starter” ideas based on a monthly theme, and encourage homeschooling families to dive into their sketchbooks. There were grand plans for having it printed and sold as curriculum, and we recruited help from friends near and far to send in sample drawings. But then, as many things in life often do, the booklet was set aside, filed away, and forgotten. A few years ago, an old friend reminded me of it, and the Art Journaling pages found new life on my blog, where it was beefed up a bit. “Art Journaling Plan B” took several years for me to get all the monthly pages finished and uploaded in a scattered sort of way, and they are there for free if you care to dig around!

Putting everything on the blog really sparked an interest in the Art Journaling pages across the internet… I discovered that several of the pages had been pinned on Pinterest before I even knew what Pinterest was! Requests soon began coming in for the missing months, for more ideas, and for “how to find it all” on my blog. After responding to oodles of emails, I realized that it might be a good idea to put all the pages, posts, and information in one convenient printable document… And so the revising and documenting begins!

If you have budding artists of any age at your home, and would like to e-mail me with artwork that goes along with any of the monthly pages, please send them to Kim@ThistleDewMercantile.com! I’d love to include them on my blog and possibly on a Pinterest. Also, if you have any additional ideas for journaling subjects, we’d love the input! (Please send a statement along with the artwork or submission giving permission to publish the artwork on the website or Pinterest, as well as contact information for your family. First name, last initial, and age only will be posted.) Please keep any submissions “rated G,” and family friendly!

Feeling artsy? Grab a sketchbook!