Artist Spotlight

How Holly Janssen Uses Art Journaling to Find Her Voice

Mom, wife, and middle school teacher, Holly Janssen recently rediscovered her love of creating mixed media art. Art journaling has brought her hours of joy, meditation, and friendship. Get Messy is the best community of unconditional friends she could have ever stumbled upon.


Growing up, I loved to sing, read, draw, dance, and write. I continued to be creative throughout high school. When I went to college to study music, I was a victim of trauma and quit creating. I became a teacher and encouraged my students’ creativity, but abandoned my own. As my own children grew and discovered their own inner artists, I realized how much I longed to create art again. After spending lots of money on posters in my classroom, I decided to make my own and practiced hand lettering. Scrolling through Pinterest for creative fonts, I stumbled onto Get Messy. I couldn’t believe the power of the beautiful lettering, coupled with art; it stirred something in my soul. I joined Get Messy and have discovered how much my art is healing old wounds and allowing me to have regular meditative time that calms me. Through my practice with Get Messy, I have discovered my love of painting animals and have had two shows during local Art Walks in my hometown.

​How do you live a creative life?

I live a creative life by simply observing the world around me. Art has taught me to look at life differently. Finding unusual angles, color combinations, and the like, in my daily life has informed my creative practice. Recreating those artistic encounters in my art journal helps me live a more creative life. I try to make creative marks in my journal each day. If that is not possible, I know that I have stored creative images and essences in my mind to use later.


As an English teacher, I am often encouraged to write with the goal of publishing my work. I really have no interest in simply writing. Although I am good at expressing my thoughts through the written word, art journaling allows me to express myself far more deeply than words often allow. Creating allows me to be quiet and express my deepest thoughts in a safe space. I can close the journal after I have depicted anger, rage, sadness, melancholy, etc., and feel better. Creating calms me, heals me, encourages me, strengthens me, bolsters me…saves me.

Do you put your life into your art journal? Or is it focused on technique?

Often, I find myself approaching my art journal to try a new technique. Always… I find that creating leads me to a meditative place and I find my life pouring onto the pages as well. I’m not sure why this continues to surprise me, but it does.


Although I don’t have rituals for  making, I do feel the need to put supplies away after finishing one piece before moving on to another. I get excited to spread gesso on pages; the promise of creating something new emerge, excites me.

What is/are your biggest barrier(s) to creating?

Time and mess.

How do you get over that hurdle?

I find that I have lulls in my creating and it is usually because I have hoarded the largest pile of mess…also known as “ephemeric treasure.” After taking time to tidy my studio, I find myself ready to go on a creative rampage.


This is my biggest challenge. I am a middle school English teacher. Family, work, life, commitments, responsibilities, and the like, can get in the way of creating. Sometimes I am so exhausted, I just want to curl up in a ball and watch Netflix. However, if I don’t create daily, I get cranky and am no good at doing the things I have to do or patiently and lovingly care for the people in my life. Therefore, I set my alarm so that I get at least 30 minutes of creating before work and before anyone else is awake. Even if I just get to spread gesso on pages, I feel like I am productive and creative. Five minutes of creation can also fulfill the commitment to myself of daily creation. I carry my sketchbook most places I go. When I am waiting at the doctor’s office or while the pasta is boiling, I sketch and write. I keep a pen, watercolor pencils, and a waterbrush in my sketchbook pouch.

What has been your biggest lesson when it comes to creating art?

The biggest lesson I have ever had to learn, not just as an artist but as a human, is to silence my “Itty Bitty Sh*tty Committee.” (You know the one…that committee of voices in your head that tells you your work is not good enough. You are not good enough. You are not enough.) Once I learned to silence them, or at least put them on MUTE for a while, I began to really take risks. After that, I began to post my art. The unconditionally supportive chorus of Get Messians provided encouragement and love. I wish I could pass this lesson on to my own kids and the middle schoolers I teach. Oh, to have learned this lesson at a younger age!

What is your favourite art journal page you’ve ever made? Why is it your favourite?

This is the journal spread that helped me turn a corner as an artist. I created this page while working through Vanessa’s (@dansmoncrane) Totems class. I tried many techniques: photo transfer, sewing, and collaging different elements. I was, at first, very frustrated with where the page was going. The background was quite bland. Taking a risk and combining techniques led me to this page which not only empowered me as an artist, but helped me find my “voice” as a woman.

✨ Free class for creatives ✨

In How to Start Art Journaling, we’ll walk you through the art of art journaling, including how to start doing (🙌) and make your very first art journal page (even if you’ve never even opened an art journal before).

Have you ever actively disliked a page you’ve made? What did you do with it?

Have I ever actively disliked a page? You bet! I typically glue the pages together or paint over it. However, sometimes I use it as a “humility” page to remind me I always need to keep creating and practicing art.


When I don’t know what to make, I dive into the archives of Get Messy’s tutorials. Endless ideas and techniques are found in past seasons. I will also look through magazines to find images that speak to me and start there. Sometimes all it takes is spreading paint on a page and pushing negative thoughts aside. I work really hard not to censor or edit my creativity. Allowing flow into your practice often leads to new ideas.

Have you ever been through artist block? What did you do to overcome it?

I am not sure I believe in artist block. I preach to my middle school English students all the time that there is no such thing as “writer’s block.” John (author/vloggist/amazing human) Green’s dad once told him, “There is no such thing as artist’s block. Coal miners don’t get coal miner’s block.’ You just have to keep at it. Write, paint, make a mess, do the work.

That being said, last year I did have a very dark period where I did not want to create. When I did create, my pages were very black. I reached out on the Rituals forum and asked for support and guidance. Boy, did Get Messy ever come through! I received affirmation, and love from all over the world. What a great community this is. When “blocked” or just down, reach out. So many of us have been there too.

What’s the best art advice you’ve ever received?

Before my first art show, I got swept up in a maelstrom of self-doubt. Would anyone want to see my work? Is it good enough? Am I good enough? Who am I to be calling myself, “Artist?” Once again, the Get Messy community came through. Misty (@misty.granade) sent me a copy of her Imposter Zine. Knowing that other artists, who seem to have endless confidence and ideas, also doubt themselves made me feel so much better. Silencing those inner-critics, that “Itty Bitty Sh*tty Committee, and creating despite doubting ourselves, is the best advice I ever received. That, and wear sunscreen.


Take whatever materials you have and just begin. There is no need to go out and buy lots of expensive materials. Watch a few tutorials, take a deep breath, and just begin. Don’t be afraid to post what you make; this community is incredibly supportive. The more you share, the more risks you’ll begin to take.


Get Messy Hangouts!  Take long walks and spend time in the sun.  Talking to students and children. Museums. Sketching. Pet a dog. Take a bath. Allow yourself to be amazed by color. Look at objects in terms of shape, color, energy. Turn up the music and dance. Sing. Read. Drink wine. Watch the clouds. Remember to look at the stars. Enjoy sunrises and sunsets.

There are so many things that can fill the “inspiration well” if you allow yourself to be open and observe the world around you.


Michelangelo said, “I am still learning.” Are we ever experts? If we consider ourselves to be an expert, have we closed our minds to learning? I think so. I am continually learning how much I really need to learn.


Gesso, watercolor, acrylic paint, magazines, white Stabilo pens, black Micron pens, Uhu glue sticks, and matte gel. This is a hard question. As I keep learning new techniques, I discover there are so many must have supplies… or supplies I really want to try.


I believe the best way we can get our art to “look like you,” is to use our own handwriting in our work. My grandmother made volumes and volumes of notebooks in her lifetime. I feel so close to her when I read her words and can actually touch her handwriting. When I began art journaling, I was looking to improve my writing and hand lettering. Upon reflection of my grandmother’s handwriting, I think we leave a huge gift to our children when we take the time to write in our own authentic handwriting. I hope the journals I leave behind will allow my children to feel close to me when they can read… and touch… my handwriting and art.

What does community do for your creating?

This community compels me to keep creating. This community nurtures my soul by continuing to encourage creation. This community inspires me to take risks. This community loves unconditionally. This community is everything.

Who would you like to celebrate in the Get Messy community?

I want to celebrate all the new Messians out there who might me afraid to begin. Just do it! All of them, and Lindsay Soulsby too. (@lindsalita)

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Holly Janssen

Mom, wife, and middle school teacher, Holly Janssen recently rediscovered her love of creating mixed media art. Art journaling has brought her hours of joy, meditation, and friendship. Get Messy is the best community of unconditional friends she could have ever stumbled upon.

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