No special tutorial this week…just a bit of reading.

I had to write this post due to emails I’m getting from people asking for cheaper substrate alternatives to practice all the art lessons I’ve been giving them.

So tell me if this situation sounds familiar?

You have your paints all lined up on your palette, glimmering and so shiny, a beautiful white canvas primed and ready to go and your reference photo is taped to your easel.

You’re ready to get started, listening to some quiet music and then this happens…you start thinking…

  • what if I mess up
  • what if I paint it wrong
  • I’ve just wasted a canvas
  • this is too big
  • this is too small
  • my paints will dry out
  • this is going to take forever 
  • maybe I should wait a few more days and watch more YouTube videos 

You are SO not alone!

When I decided to go to art school a few years after what I feel was wasting tens of thousands of dollars on computer programming and systems analysis (which btw was outdated before I graduated) I figured it would be a cake walk.  

How hard could it be?  I’ve always been a creative, making jewelry and floral arrangements so the creativity should be ok.  I had two kids (two legged and four legged kinds), but a wonderful partner would be there to take them off my hands so I could get my homework done.  I had the space, had the supplies, so I was ready to go.

Learning in theory wasn’t hard at all.  It was applying what I learned onto (at the time) $5 canvases.  I always froze when having to do my practice work and then homework assignments on canvases.  They weren’t cheap.  I always felt pressure to make perfect art, like the “A” grade would make it all better.  They never taught in school proper drying procedures for oils, especially if you lived in the country.  Do you know what all that dust does to an oil painting or to an impasto styled acrylic painting?

So exactly how does this apply to you?

I’m pretty sure you watch videos, read art books, take art classes to learn and we all know money doesn’t grow on trees, so how can you apply everything you learn and put it into practice without spending a fortune?

I’m going to give you a list of pro’s and con’s to using a canvas vs working in an art journal for learning, practicing and experimenting.

Canvas Pros and Cons


  • you can hang a canvas on a wall
  • makes for a beautiful gift
  • usually is pre-primed
  • good for acrylics, oils and mixed media
  • available back stapled so doesn’t require framing
  • you can buy raw linen and stretcher bars to make your own custom sized canvas


  • bulky to store
  • super challenging to keep a visual record of progress over many paintings
  • expensive to buy for a super smooth finish for detailed work
  • expensive for shipping when ordering online
  • needs to hang on a wall
  • drying space can be a challenge
  • white canvas syndrome
  • overwhelming if working on a pricey canvas
  • working on an economy canvas board will warp
  • may be a challenge to be more expressive on a canvas

Art Journal Pros and Cons


  • can be any size you want
  • the cost of one manufactured art journal can be the same price as an economy 16×20 canvas
  • transportable
  • customization by medium
  • working record of your progres
  • you can be really creative if you want to make one by hand
  • can be as simple as folding paper in half and stapling together
  • doesn’t take up a lot of space
  • you can combine different types of paper/cardstock in one journal and work on whichever page you want
  • progression doesn’t need to be linear
  • easy to add notes
  • you can work on one side and make notes on the other size of a journal spread
  • you can just work on the pages and when dry, then bind them into an expanding journal
  • you can be more expressive in an art journal
  • nobody gets to see what is in your art journal, so it’s totally private


  • usually requires seperate journals for oil painting and drawing
  • drying time for oils can be a challenge unless you have more than one journal
  • can get quite bulky if it’s a hard bound journal
  • pages stick together
  • hard to draw properly when you are working on the side of the journal with just a few pages
  • can be addictive if you make your own and love the process, so be prepared for this new “extra” activity.

Did I miss anything?

Now I’m not knocking using a canvas for practice work, but if you find yourself feeling less creative working on a canvas, try working in an art journal for a while and see if it makes a difference to your creativity and your pocket book.

If I missed anything, share it below in the comments and I’ll update the list.

I'd like to hear from you...

Do you use an art journal for creating your art?  if so, do you use it for practicing and formal art?

If you don’t use an art journal, I’d love to know why (no judging).  Do you have a better way of applying new techniques and experiments? 

Please share in the comments below.