Erasing in Your Art Journals?

A guest post by Margaret Peot

If your journal is your palace, your safe haven where you go to hang out and think deep thoughts, play, and experiment, then you should be able to repaint the walls if you want, right?

That said, I have mixed feelings about erasing in a journal. I think a journal for yourself should be filled with lovely marks and ugly marks, and ordinary thoughts and difficult ones, too. Sometimes I write or start sketching something out that I haven’t worked out totally, and then kind if wish I could tear out those pages. And yet, go back to them as I am getting closer to a better thought. I scan ugly images and print them out very light on Rives BFK and correct the drawing.


I honestly am not sure if this is an ugly page or not. I know it is not a lovely drawing, but when I look at it, it still seems to hold the excitement I had about the idea I was having–kind of idea shorthand.



And that little rough drawing was the initial drawing for this woodcut, “Cosmology: Petri Dish,” even though it doesn’t look that much like it in sketchbook form. But if I had decided that this sketchbook page wasn’t so wonderful, and torn it out or collaged over it, I would probably not have made the woodcut…

But then there’s those truly ugly pages that admittedly have no redeeming qualities at all–that unfortunately vivid purple that you can’t get rid of, the very bad drawing that you turn rapidly by, even if you are sitting by yourself and no one is looking but you! What to do with those?

One thing I learned to do while designing textiles years ago is splicing paper. While textile designs are put into repeat with computers these days, it used to be that designs were painted in repeat with gouache on paper. The painting had to be very precise. If you made a mistake, or the color of a flower–repeated more than once– needed to be changed, you could actually cut the offending bit out with an X-acto knife, and fit in an unblemished white piece if paper ready for any changes.

To do this precisely, so that the edge of the part you are cutting out is exactly the same as what you are fitting in–like a perfect puzzle piece.

You will need:

  • Self healing cutting mat (or a dense piece if cardboard, not corrugated)
  • X-acto or other razor type craft knife
  • Tape (blue painters tape, available at most office supply stores works great for this)

In my case, I am splicing an image into my sketchbook, not a piece of white paper. So I slip the cardboard under the page that I am going to cut into, and tape what I am going to splice into this page securely on top, in two or three places. It is important to make sure the paper doesn’t slip while you are cutting. Cut around the image, in this case, a plant anatomy drawing by Nehemiah Grew that I printed from

You must cut firmly enough that you are cutting through all the layers.


The Nehemiah Grew drawing is printed on Rives BFK which is approximately the same weight of paper as the sketchbook paper. It is taped firmly to the sketchbook page below and also to the cutting surface, a piece of dense cardboard.


With an X-acto knife, I cut around the shape, with enough pressure to cut through both the BFK and the sketchbook page below.



Here you can see the piece that is cut out, and the Nehemiah Grew circle set in its place. And the cut out circle that is leftover has a certain mysterious gravitas, too–I will save it.



The sketchbook spread with the Nehemiah Grew piece spliced in, and ready to be drawn in to…

In textile designing, we taped the spliced pieces on the back with scotch tape. Because this is in your sketchbook, and you will be working on the reverse, you can use rice paper and glue to make an interesting surface to work on, or use acid free tape and cover the taped part with a collaged image.


Another plant stem cross section by Nehemiah Grew spliced into another sketchbook page.



I have begun to work into this page, with creatures orbiting a cross section planet.



This potto-creature was from an inkblot. I spliced it into this photograph of winter branches against the snow.

Why not just affix the collaged piece to begin with without the cutting step, you ask? Of course you could! But give this a try. There’s something really neat about the spliced edge-in contrast with a painterly surface. Splicing in an image or an island of serene white in a swirl of color is attractive, and the ensuing cut out pieces left over are evocative too. In addition, some if you already cut things out of your sketchbooks, make windows and holes and doors. But for those of us who have never cut into a sketchbook, this is a fun way to start–the stakes are low and the return is high.

This technique can also be used in any works on paper, too. You can rescue that stack if overworked water colors, perhaps, by splicing in some new bold shapes, etchings, drawings. It is probably best to splice paper that is of similar weights, but as I say that I wonder if you could splice in a lighter weight, almost transparent vellum into an opaque sketchbook page–not sure. Try it and let me know!


This is a page in my sketchbook that I loathed–I hated the birds, mostly.


I spliced out the birds with another photograph of winter branches and berries against the snow that I had printed onto Rives BFK. Getting rid of the hated birds freed me up to add more color to the pages, and made a more interesting sketchbook page–a room in my “palace of ideas” that I will happily revisit.


Alternative Art Journals_150Margaret Peot is a painter, printmaker and writer who has made her living as a freelance artist for more than 20 years in New York City. Margaret lives in New York City. Visit her website at and at Margaret is the author of Alternative Art Journals, and the host of two North Light Instructional DVDs, Alternative Art Journals with Margaret Peot and Alternative Art Cards with Margaret Peot.

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