Fingerpainting the Moon: canvas double journal for a tween or teen

 |  August 27, 2012

Another in the series of blog posts of creating with kids. This time with a tween (almost teen in less than a month, ahhh!) making a journal with a canvas cover. My kids and I are always making things, but most of them are not blog-worthy. We make lots of messes, usually. I thought this was a great project to share because the concept was entirely my niece’s and it’s something that I am sure we will do again with adaptations.

Teaching my niece how to bind her journal

The past two weeks have been fun-filled weeks of my sisters both visiting with their kids. My oldest sister came the first week with her two daughters, ages 12 and 9. The first thing my 9 year old niece said when she stepped into the house was, “Can we go up to your studio??” This is the first thing that every kid says when they come over. I don’t blame them, that’s where I always want to go too.

We spent our mornings seeing the sites and tasting the food that Chicago has to offer. But since my daughter still needs to nap in the afternoon, the afternoons saw us nestled in my studio. Making stuff.

My 12 year old niece, Bella, said she wanted to make a journal- she described her idea of having two journals in one, and how it would fold into each other. She wanted to nestle different types of paper together in her book. I said, “hmmmm, that’s a great idea, what if we try doing it like this…” And we put our heads and hands together to create this awesome journal.



We basically took different types of paper- drawing paper, dictionary pages, music sheets, scraps, handmade paper, etc. and nestled them into 8 different signatures. We divided the signatures in two to make two books of four signatures. I taught her how to use a book cradle to poke our holes and then we sewed the signatures into two separate books.


I have had a huge raw canvas around for years and decided that we should use it for her book. I thought of it just because it would be the fastest and easiest way to join the two books together without having to use adhesives and no drying time. We laid out our two sewn books onto the canvas, playing around with how we would want the journal to fold and open up, and then cut the canvas to accommodate our vision.


Using waxed linen thread we crudely sewed the journals to the canvas, using the stitches of the binding to anchor the books to the canvas. We weren’t concerned with our stitches looking pretty- this is a raw, unfiltered journal! We want messy and real. Well, that’s what we told ourselves.

After her book was made, I then showed her a bunch of mixed media techniques using gel medium, inkjet prints, transfers, collage, inks, paint, copper tape, India ink, thread, needle, etc. etc. And then I let her loose.


She worked in her journal until I forced her to go to bed, way past her bedtime. And the minute she woke up, she returned to her journal. She worked in it until I told her that she absolutely had to stop because we were leaving for the airport and the paint was going to be wet.


I remember being 12/13 years old and feeling like I had so much inside that needed to come out, but afraid to reveal it all. Not knowing how to. Not knowing where. I showed her how you can write something very personal and “hide” it in your journal. Using paint or covering up the words with another image. Above, she sewed the moon image over a very sensitive entry.


I blurred out what she wrote for her privacy, above. I showed her how to add “secret envelopes” to her pages- write your entry and then put it in the envelope, hidden and safe.


And we wrote on top of photographs. And painted as well. We talked about different ways of adding text- writing with different pens, alphabet stamps, using Golden pumice gel to create a surface that can be written on with pencil, etc.


We decided to sew on some buttons and some yarn, so that she can keep the journal closed when not in use. I have a feeling that this journal is going to get pretty stuffed, so it will help the journal in that regard. Plus it looks cools too!


We had so much fun. I am pretty sure I have a fledging art journaler on her way now. When I was in 6th grade my best friend and I had started a journal together where we would write and draw and then exchange it every week. Funny to think that my collaborations in books started when I was 12!

My 9 year old niece was painting a 24×24 inch portrait of Grace’s favorite stuffed animal named Piggy in tempura paint while we worked on our canvas journal. Piggy is now on display in my daughter’s room. She loves her work of art from her cousin. And I love it too and I love how big it is! Most kids tend to work really small and are hesitant to paint so large. Sophia’s eyes lit up when I handed her the canvas. Kids appreciate when we give them quality materials to work with. Of course, it’s not something that can be done all the time. That is wasteful and too expensive. But depending on the child and the occasion, it’s a good thing. I don’t paint on canvases anymore and I’ve had this one in my studio for more than 6 years, so I was ok with giving it to her to use.

Monday 8/13/12

And I had a great time being creative with my family, showing my nieces that if you can think it up, you can create it. It’s all about problem solving. We had some interesting discussions too about letting your expectations go when making art. That there are no mistakes, just slight detours.


  1. by trish on August 28, 2012  10:24 am Reply

    Beautiful Bridgette!

    • by bridgette on August 28, 2012  4:49 pm Reply

      Yes, definitely ALL of us. :) really got me thinking about how much I like to work with kids. Maybe something I will return to in the future. hmmmm

  2. by Judy Shreve on August 28, 2012  12:41 pm Reply

    Such a fabulous project and the perfect book for a teen!

    Also I like listening to podcasts while in my studio and I just found the Art & Soul podcasts on iTunes. -- just heard your interview with Lesley Riley. It was really wonderful and felt like you were in my studio with me :-)

    • by bridgette on August 28, 2012  4:51 pm Reply

      Thanks Judy! It was a lot of fun to do that with her.
      Thank you too for listening to my interview. I appreciate it! Wish we could hang out in real life. :)

    • by Julie on August 28, 2012  9:23 pm Reply

      I love everything about this post, Bridgette!!

    • by bridgette on August 29, 2012  1:02 am Reply

      Thanks Julie! Did you journal too when you were young?

  3. by Carol on August 28, 2012  9:46 pm Reply

    I love this. How lucky your nieces are to have your trust in their art making ability and the encouragement. I love creating with my grandchildren and often learn more from them than I can teach them.

    • by bridgette on August 29, 2012  1:03 am Reply

      Thanks Carol. I totally agree with you- how we can learn from the kids. Actually, painting with my 5 and 2 year old has really influenced my own paintings- I have more scribbles in my surfaces recently.

  4. by rachelle | tinkerlab on August 29, 2012  12:47 am Reply

    I'm so glad I found your blog, Bridgette! The way you introduced your niece to art journalling is so loving and respectful of who she is and what she's interested in. My kids are young like yours, and I love getting this peek into my future. And now I really, really want to see your studio. I'm off to look through your archives for photos. :)

    • by bridgette on August 29, 2012  1:04 am Reply

      thank you so much Rachelle, that means a lot! I love your site and your posts. I'm not sure if I have any recent photos of my studio...I tend to move things around a lot. But I definitely have a section for my kids. As well as a gallery section for their paintings too. :)

    • by Shayla on August 29, 2012  11:02 am Reply

      I loved this article, Bridgette. While I'd thought of doing art picnics (outside, make a mess on a picnic blanket) for my friends kids (they're 3-5), I never thought how much fun it would be for older kids to visit my studio- both for them and me.

    • by bridgette on August 30, 2012  11:32 pm Reply

      Shayla- I hope you invite some older kids in the studio too! So much fun and the conversations that happen while creating are priceless.

  5. by ArtPropelled on August 30, 2012  6:15 am Reply

    I wish I had had an aunt like you when I was that age! I spent hours writing in ordinary notebooks. If I had been introduced to this type of journal with secret envelopes and different papers I would have been over the moon.

    • by bridgette on August 30, 2012  11:31 pm Reply

      I know! Wouldn't it have been nice to have been given guidance on this journaling thing at a young age. But I guess it's also good to make discoveries on one's own. And the interesting thing is that she came up with a lot of ideas too- I just gave her some guidance and showed her the tools.

  6. by Leslie on August 30, 2012  11:50 am Reply

    I love, love, LOVE this. And also wish I'd had an aunt like you. You have given your nieces the tools to create for a lifetime!

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