Stacked Journaling Tutorial

Everything you need to know about how to add your own very personal stories to your art using Stacked Journaling is contained here in this primer. Hope you enjoy!

Stacked Journaling, A Primer

In 2010, while searching for my own unique mark-making technique- something that went a bit beyond the mostly impersonal lines, circles and cuneiform designs I often rely on for texture and movement in my paintings and collages- I hit on the idea of stacking handwritten text in opposing layers to create a simple but lovely calligraphic line design.

I originally had very modest aspirations for what I began to call Stacked Journaling- it needed only to yield fine, detailed, intentional lines that could serve as backgrounds, filler textures or other creative “support” roles.

Instead, it grew to be not only the inspiration for all of my work since, but also a highly effective therapeutic tool I took full advantage of during the first months after I took over the care of my elderly father. Pouring my worries, frustrations and fears about my fathers’ illnesses into a series of Stacked Journaling “art letters”, written to him and to other family members and friends, allowed me to work through my grief and say whatever needed to be expressed by my heart while still giving me a measure of privacy.

 “Dear Dad: Sorrow” 5”x7” stretched canvas

Hitting on a design that would wind up starring in the show and playing all the bit parts was very welcome serendipity. Stacked Journaling, while incredibly easy to learn, has become one of the most versatile mark-making techniques I’ve ever used. That it is inherently more personal by being in one’s own handwriting makes it that much more appealing.

Now mind you, I am not a calligrapher and neither do you need to be to use this technique with great effect! In fact, my own handwriting is generally rushed, sloppy and difficult to read. Whether your handwriting is spiky and artistic, flowing and curvaceous, or tiny and precise, there are easy tricks and tips to make it work with Stacked Journaling, so let’s explore them!

Stacked Journaling 101 (The Basics and Some Tips)

What You’ll Need: paper (unlined is best for practice), pencil/pen/marker

What You’ll Do: With easy, comfortable strokes, begin writing. It doesn’t really matter what you write- create silly poetry on the fly, use stream of consciousness journaling, talk about your kids, pets or spouse- just get words onto the page. Run your words together and leave out spaces that might indicate where they begin and end. Avoid capitalizations for the same reason- you’re looking to create seamless lines of text.

At the end of your line of text, turn the paper 90 degrees to either the right or the left, and continue writing on top of your previous line of text. Here is an example of the letter spacing I often use for my second layer of text (turn your head 90 degrees to the left to see it!):

Tips For Creating The Cleanest Line Possible

In order to “stack” my handwriting and not have my final result not look like aimless squiggles and swirls, I follow a few simple guidelines for keeping things neat and clean.

Avoid Punctuation

The fewer dots, stand-alone squiggles, and blotchy marks you produce, the cleaner and tighter the final design will be.

Add Flair To Your Old Hand

Exaggerate your handwriting by adding more swoops, tall spikes, and deep curves. Take advantage of letters that dip below or soar above the others, and add tails and swirls where you can. Allow one letter to overlap and flow into the next. Smooth, gestural writing while keeping your hand, wrist and arm loose will produce a softer, more lyric handwriting.

Play With Scale

The scale (size) of the letters you make is important to the overall look of your finished Stacked Journaling. Large loopy letters of the same general size layered one on top of another will produce a fine, lace-like quality to the text, as in Example A in the photo below.

In Example B, the top layer of lettering is smaller, giving the overall look of a much more full texture, and in Example C, the top layer of text is written in very small hand, giving the overall look a very dense texture. Choosing which scale works for you and your project is a matter of personal taste and need, so experiment!

Shapes And Curves

Stacked Journaling doesn’t just have to be used as a straight line element!

Experiment with using it in curving, loopy designs or as filler for sketched items like leaves, houses, and animals. Change the size of your lettering at will to create whatever shape you need!

That’s all there is to it! Simple, right? But there are so many fun ways to create your own personalized Stacked Journaling for your sketchbooks, scrapbooks, art pieces, or textile surface designs, and I can’t wait to share them with you!


Reconnect With History

Of course, you can use any writing instrument to stack your journaling, from markers, to colored pencils, to the finest quality calligraphy pens, but one of my favorite ways to Journal is with a dip pen and India ink.

What You’ll Need: writing surfaces-  paper, tightly woven, smooth fabric such as silk or cotton muslin, painted surfaces such as collage papers or painted artists’ canvases; dip pen nib holder (; nibs (; India ink (

What You’ll Do: Stack your journaling on nearly every surface you can think of!

India ink is water proof and permanent (once dry) on many surfaces, including paper, fabric, and acrylic paint, but can be removed- remarkably- with a spritz of Windex. India ink comes in an incredible array of bold, bright colors and yields a clean, crisp line when used with nibs. I prefer the round nibs for writing, but if you’re a calligraphic purist, you might want to try the square nibs, too! Both work equally well with Stacked Journaling.

Resist This!

Another fun way to play with Stacked Journaling is to use a resist to write it on top of painted papers.

What You’ll Need: Masking fluid with attached nib (; pre-painted or watercolored paper (don’t use this product on fabric, you will never get it out, again! There are appropriate resists for fabric, which you can find here: (

What You’ll Do: 1. Working quickly (this product dries fast!), stack some journaling on top of a lightly colored (or white) background. 2. Allow to dry fully. 3. Paint over the resist with another color to create a strong contrast. 4.Once the paper is fully dry again, gently rub away the resist.

Not Your Mother’s Tin Foil

One of my favorite ways to use Stacked Journaling is with glue and some lovely, shiny copper or gold textile foil.

What You’ll Need: Textile adhesive and foil (; plastic squeeze bottle with narrow tip (, paper, fabric, artist canvas (really, anything works well with this technique!); hot, dry iron; parchment paper or other non-stick ironing sheet.

What You’ll Do: 1. Transfer some of the adhesive into the squeeze bottle and cap it tightly. The tip of the bottle is a perfect size for lettering, so you should now be able to just turn the bottle over and use it as if it was a pencil or pen. 2. As you journal, keep squeezing the bottle with steady pressure to get an even line of glue (practice on scrap paper is always advisable but you should get a sense pretty quickly how fast and how thickly the glue will flow.) 3. When you’re done Journaling with it, allow the glue to fully dry.  4. From the roll or sheet of foil, cut a piece large enough to cover your design. 5. Lay your cut piece face down on your dried glue. THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT---textile foil is a layer of metallic pigment attached to a plastic carrier sheet. It has a shiny side that is the color of the foil you want to adhere to your work, and a dull (often gray/silver) side. The dull side MUST be laid face down on the adhesive, with the shiny, colored side facing UP!

6. Cover the shiny side of the foil with parchment paper or another non-stick ironing sheet. 7. With a hot, dry iron, press the foil onto the glue, holding the iron still and pressing down firmly for a few seconds in each spot, until you feel the foil has adhered to the glue. 8. While still warm, grab one corner of the foil carrier sheet and a corner of your substrate containing the Stacked Journaling in adhesive, and with a firm, quick movement, pull them apart. If some of the glue remains uncovered with foil, you can repeat steps 5-8 as often as needed.

"Dear Dementia: You Haven’t Won, Yet"  16” x 20” framed canvas

Scribble In Paint

Being a diehard painter and mixed-media artist, I always get my most excited when the acrylics come out, and that’s never more true than when I’m creating Stacked Journaling on a large scale. Paint combined with Stacked Journaling is the perfect marriage of medium and technique because the limitless color palette of acrylic paint married with some of the tips and products I’ve shown you here can produce beautiful script of any scale, from small sketchbook pages to fabric yardage for quilting.

What You’ll Need: a painting surface- this can be anything from tissue, to the pages of your sketchbooks, to water color paper, to stretched artist canvases, to cotton and silk yardage; medium to heavy-bodied acrylic paint in multiple colors- anything from thick craft paint to high end textile paints will do but try to purchase it in a tube rather than in a tub; squeeze bottle with narrow openings ( AND/OR squeeze bottles with metal tips (; lightweight fusable fabric stabilizer (optional)

What You’ll Do: 1. If using fabric and you prefer to do so, stabilize it first. I’ve never felt a need for it when using this technique, but I can see advantages to doing so. Follow your instinct and the requirements of your project! 2. Squeeze a small amount of paint from the tube into a squeeze bottle (this is why a tube of paint is easier to work with than a tub!) You will usually need a little more paint than you think you will. You can now use the bottle with or without the metal tips. If using the tips, just screw them gently onto the tip of the bottle. 3. Turn the bottle over and let the paint flow into the tip, or cover the opening of the tip with your finger and shake the bottle firmly downward. You want to remove as much air as possible between the paint and the opening of the bottle. 4. Begin Journaling as if you were writing with a pencil or pen, squeezing steadily to get a consistent line thickness. 5. When finished Journaling, allow to dry completely. 6. If you used textile paints, either on fabric or on paper, they will most likely need to be heat set. Follow the paint manufacturer’s recommendations for doing this!

Monoprinting Variation: For an easy variation of the technique above, try journaling on a piece of plastic (I get rolls of this stuff in the big box hardware stores, but a repurposed plastic bag cut to size will work perfectly, too) or parchment paper. Before the paint has a chance to dry, turn the plastic/parchment over onto your painting surface, and gently burnish it with your hands to transfer the paint from the plastic to your surface. This technique creates what looks almost like a foreign language (maybe even alien!) and adds another layer of mysterious obscurity to your text.

Three layers of Monoprinted Stacked Journaling in paint on hand-dyed fabric

Just For Fun

~ Layer, layer, layer! Stacked Journaling is- at its heart- a beautiful, often lyrical, fill texture. It loves being heavily layered, particularly in paint, so don’t be shy.

~ Change colors often! No one says that if you begin Journaling with one color, you must finish with it, too, so add layers of colors, one on top of another until you have a complex web of text. If you’re using paint to do this and you don’t want to muddy your colors together too much, I recommend allowing each layer to set up for thirty minutes or so before adding another layer.

~ Maybe you’ve created an appealing or personal Stacked Jouranling design and you’d like to be able to print it off multiple times. Have a Thermofax screen made of it! And you don’t have to own a Thermofax machine yourself, anymore, because artists like Lynn Krawczyk are making it easier than ever for the studio artist to gain access to them!

~Abstract yourself! Need a quick fill texture, but aren’t sure what to write? Try stacking numbers! Give them fancy swirls and swoops just like you do your letters; run them together and on top of each other; turn the page 45 degrees and do it again, and again, until you achieve the density you’re looking for.

~Dye your own fabric? Try Stacked Journaling using thickened dyes, or discharge some Stacked Journaling with a bleach pen, a metal nib and some of your own fabrics!


Marcia Beckett said...

very cool! I love your pages.

Wen said...

umm- '(w)right on'!

quinncreative said...

Palimpsest lives!

Terri Stegmiller said...

Positively cool! Thanks for sharing Judi!

Jan said...

What a generous sharing you have done here. Thanks so much, I will definitely give this a try.

LuAnn Kessi said...

Thank you for taking the time to post this thorough and complete tutorial.
You are the best!
LuAnn in Oregon

jgr said...

Judi, Thank you for this inspiring post! I can't wait to try some of your techniques.

Unknown said...

Thanks for this really detailed tutorial. I love all the different ways that you can use stacked journaling.

Carol Soderlund said...

Wonderful and thorough tutorial!

Sea Air Arts - Deb H said...

Judi, this is fabulous, thank you so much for sharing it with us.

Thelma said...

Thanks so much for sharing this with us!! Can't wait to give it a try.

Kathy said...

I have been hoping and hoping that you would be able to share this technique with us and you have. Thank you so much. I think it's so absolutely cool!

Eva said...

Thank you so much for your generosity. It gave me a few new ideas! Guess I got stuck with what I'm doing, so...

Anonymous said...

I am a hand dyer. I have always wanted a thinner line pen to write with. I have not had much luck before. I will try this product and process

Johanna in Wisconsin

Jeanne Marklin said...

Thorough and inspiring tutorial! Thanks for all the time you put into it, we get inspiration.

Ana said...

Hi again Judi,
I believe I met you in Houston last year at Open Studios. You were demonstrating your technique, and I was very impressed by it and wanted to try it. Of course by the time I got home I didn't remember all the details, so now I am so glad I re-found you and your blog. I know now what I am going to do this weekend! Thanks so much for sharing.
I also love those drop cloths that you've shown! Do you sell them by any chance? I would be interested in the ones on fabric of course, so I can quilt, stitch, etc. Let me know if you have a chance. Once again, congrats! I'll follow your blog from now on. Yeah!!!

Tee said...

WOW, I just found your blog and my head is spinning. I'm an uptight type of artist that is often terrified to try new things. You've got me so encouraged that I might be up all night, lol.

spinningdownunder said...

I've just found your blog, and love your tutorials; they make sense and are straightforward to follow. I'd come across this technique before, but it was never fully explained, and and never made much sense - your method turns it into an art form on its own! Thank you for that! I hope you keep on inspiring people with your unique approach to mixed media for many years to come!

Fibreartist said...

I found your blog through the Sketchbook Challenge blog hop. I love your techniques with stacked journaling.Thanks for the tutorial.I will share your blog address with my friends.

Ronni said...

You use applicator bottles with metal tips quite a bit and I wondered if you would have any advice about using them? I've been trying SJ with my new Gelli Arts plate and acrylic paint, but the bottles just clog over and over again causing either scratchy faint lines or big blobs. Grrrr!

Shoshi said...

This is amazing, Judy... I have just tried it and couldn't believe how easy it is, and how effective the result. This is definitely a technique I am going to use in my art. Thank you for sharing it, and all the different media you are using - so imaginative!

I am very sorry to hear about your dad. We are going through the same thing at the moment with mine, although he is in residential care, with dementia. Previously he was quite brilliant, and we were very close, and it is very sad to see him so diminished. At least he is content, and he lives in the present moment. He is 90. I am in the process of making an album about his life, but so far with legible journaling!


Catarina said...

Thanks for such an extensive tutoral of a neat technique. I will try, will probably be quite cathartic. Happy New Year!

ann @ Whimsyville said...

What a FANTASTIC idea - your work is lovely !