8 reasons to love junk journals

Janice K. Johnson


Lots of makers like the idea of creating a junk journal (they’re a lot of work), but they don’t know specifically why they want to create one. I’ll cover eight things to love about junk journals that highlight how special these books are.

Maybe you’re familiar with all of them. And maybe, if you haven’t considered all of these points, they’ll give you some ideas or a renewed interest in working on junk journals.

First, let’s quickly cover what exactly is a junk journal.

A Junk Journal is a handmade book of recycled and found materials and ephemera. The pages can be used to write, draw, paint or record memories, thoughts, ideas, and inspiration.

Materials for a junk journal are often found or recycled, so this brings us to the first thing to love about junk journals:

1 — Junk Journals are truly unique pieces of book art

Since there’s such a huge variety in all the elements used to make a junk journal, no two are exactly alike. Many of us have a range of art supplies, papers, personal ephemera, and other materials, and even if we have similar materials, the final product each of us produces is unique.

Speaking of art supplies, here’s the second thing to love about junk journals:

2 — Junk journals typically require lots of materials

This means that you can actively engage in using up your art supplies and ephemera.

You can go through your stash of pattern paper and corresponding color inks. You can distress paper for your pages or tea-dye or coffee-dye paper. Pull out other mixed media items like paints and stencils. You can add embellishments like ribbons, fabric, or beads. Here’s an opportunity to use up what you’ve got.

If you’re using old or found items, it’s the right time to look through your catch-all drawers in your home where you’ve stashed away —whatever you’ve been stashing away— receipts, notes, random pictures, movie ticket stubs, and use them within your junk journals.

The third thing to love about junk journals speaks directly to what you can do with all your found bits:

3 — You can practice upcycling creatively

Think of this as a skill. How do you arrange your materials and found bits in a pleasing way? That’s the challenge that you can choose to take up when you are making a junk journal.

Art journal pages

I’ll note that this is where lots of people can get tripped up and overwhelmed. You can get apprehensive, “Well, I don’t know how to do this. I want it to look beautiful and fabulous, but I’m afraid that if I try, I’m going to hate it, and I’m going to be so disappointed, and I’ll feel like a failure”.

Those are honest fears. I certainly felt them when I was starting out. If you find yourself in this position, you can remind yourself of two things:

  1. What you create is for yourself. You don’t even need to show anyone if you don’t want to, so you don’t need to be self-conscious about what you make.

  2. When you’re done making your first junk journals, it’s possible you’re not going to like what you make (unlikely) but it’s possible. But the knowledge you will have gained from the experience will help so much in making your next one. You’ll know what you could have done differently. Remember that this “creative upcycling” is a skill, so that means you have to work at it.

If you’re a little overwhelmed with all the options and components of creating one, then consider my fourth reason to love junk journals:

4 — You can “dress them up” as much or as little as you’d like

If you like busy, chunky layers you can do that, or you can keep them quite simple. You can think about what you want to highlight. Maybe you want a lot of the attention on the cover, but want to keep the pages plain.

cover with postage stamps
I made this cover with pages from a stamp album

Remember, you can always go back and add more things over time. This is something that I still do. Years later, I still go back and work on certain books.

I want to talk about something here — the concept of time, and our approach to working on projects. We tend to have the expectation of creating art in a very precise way and it goes something like this: You start, you work efficiently just on that project until it’s completed, and then you move on the something else. The emphasis is on the end product. You feel accomplished only when you have produced something completed.

There are 2 things to consider why this is not the ideal way to approach creating.

  1. The journey is just as important (even more so) than the destination.

  2. If you are so focused on completing and moving on, you might be closing yourself off from returning to it, which is something I personally enjoy doing.

Next, the fifth reason to love junk journals is:

5 — You can choose a theme that speaks to you

Themes are good because they help you think about the look and feel of your creation. Some people like to purchase printable kits that include pages and smaller decorative bits. These digital kits are typically inexpensive, ranging from $2 to $4 on Etsy, and you can look for things like a Christmas theme, Beatrix Potter, Jane Austen, a pirate theme, Wonderwoman, or whatever!

Some people don’t care to use printable papers and rather focus on finding their own paper sources. Don’t forget that you can also choose to focus on family themes and do a junk journal with photos and papers from a relative or someone important to you. These are great ways to embellish junk journals.

Next,

6 — You can use it to store paper treasures

First of all, brainstorm with me examples of paper treasures. Postcards and photographs are paper treasures. What else? Currency. Postage stamps. Find a collection of paper treasures and then explore ways you can tuck them into your junk journals. 

Two chunky journals stuffed with vintage papers
What kinds of paper treasures could you imagine seeing in here?

The photo in this spread is very much altered from the tea and rust

The next reason to love junk journals is one of my favorites:

7 — You can turn them into gluebooks

This is my best suggestion for what to do with a gluebook. We tend to get attached to the junk journals we make. This feeling grows when you enjoy adding to the content of the pages.

A vintage 1930s black and white photo of some cars parked in a square in a European city.

The last reason to love junk journals is:

8 — Junk Journaling brings people together

It’s amazing how social media has been a huge contributor to the popularity of junk journals because it is what keeps people connected with one another, even when they’re on opposite coasts or in different countries.

Speaking of online artists, Barbara of 49 Dragonflies is someone who creates lots of videos about junk journaling. I am on her YouTube podcast of most requested junk journal questions, where both of us will answer questions people have about junk journaling. It comes out next month in May.

Meanwhile, if you’d like to see a video on my 8 reasons to love junk journals, you can see it here:





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