Artist Spotlight

How discovering art journaling helped TC Larson work through her grief

TC is in her early 40s and lives in St. Paul, Minnesota. Her favorite part of art journaling is following a feeling or idea and seeing where it leads on a page. The worst part of art journaling for TC is getting to a point when she’s frustrated because things aren’t coming together. Her favorite dinosaur is the Stegosaurus.


I came to paints later in my creative journey. I always thought of myself as a musician or a writer. Most accurately I was a writer with music in my background. That was working for me just fine. However, a few years ago my father, who I was very close to, got sick. I discovered that my words, the things I had always turned to help me discover what I thought, the words I had always turned to since I began journaling as a child, those words stuck in my throat. They just wouldn’t come out. I couldn’t write about anything else and I couldn’t write about my dad being sick.

I wish I could say everything turned around but it didn’t. He got worse, things got worse, and less than two years after he was diagnosed with cancer he passed away.


The one and only good thing that I found could help channel my feelings, thoughts, and heartache of this time was art journaling. I will forever credit my online writing group at the time for introducing me to this different form of creative expression, something that let me say with paints what I couldn’t with words (Georgia O’Keefe said that and it’s so true). There were times when I would be in tears as I painted, or I’d toss out the brushes and need to feel the paper under my hands as I spread the paint in angry circles. It was a safe place for me to feel all the conflicted messy feelings I had, and more than a few times I was surprised by what was portrayed when I got done – things I didn’t even know I had in me.

Art journaling provided me with an outlet for all the things I couldn’t articulate but had to turn over in my mind and heart for a long time before I could release them. Now that I’m a bit further away from losing my dad, the practice of art journaling has become a part of my rhythm. I get real grumpy if it’s been too long since I played with paints. I use it for fun, for processing situations, and even for making room to connect with God in my own cranky way.


Truly, you pretty much can’t mess up. It’s a guaranteed win. Even if something doesn’t end up looking the way you intended, you probably learned something while doing that page, even if that’s something you want to avoid doing again.

There’s no wrong way to art journal. Listen to what grabs you, what excites you, and follow that bunny trail. If you want to try something, try it. If you want to smoosh something unusual onto your page, smoosh away. Want to repurpose a book page or use a whole book as your journal? Yes, do it. Really, the only thing is to not claim something as your own if you didn’t make it. Otherwise, give yourself freedom to experiment and develop your own style which may or may not look like anything you’ve seen before.


This is something that is always at the beginning of my art journaling. I rarely go into a project having a clear idea of the outcome – I’m big into process that way. That’s not to say I go into things with nothing rattling around in my head; there’s lots of that going on. I’m frequently reminded of the Mary Oliver’s poem Wild Geese and the line that startled me so much the first time I read it: You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. For me this means using colors that grab me in that moment, regardless of having a plan for where I’ll go after that. I also love adding layers of tissue paper or thin napkins (or if I have lots of time for it to dry I’m currently loving fiber paste) to add texture. I love texture. Sometimes using the pattern of a cool napkin is a good jumping-off point. I try to not save pretty things for a future project. If I love it, I push myself to use it rather than storing [read: hoarding] it up for a special project.


I adore water soluble oil pastels. I think they’re also called wax water soluble pastels or watercolor crayons. If I can get the Caran D’Ache NeoColor IIs that’s a huge treat but I also got an inexpensive set by Reeves and those work surprisingly well. I love the versatility of these, the vibrant colors, and how portable they are – it’s easy to take them along on a road trip, or while waiting for my kids’ music lessons to get done. Because they look similar to crayons, to me they’re reminiscent of childhood, which helps instill a sense of looseness and curiosity (that magical question: let’s see what happens if I do this…) into my art journal process. You can activate them with water, matte medium, gesso or white acrylic paint, and that just makes them even more versatile.

Another supply I use almost every time I art journal is a palette knife. I tend to be hard on brushes (ie. forget to put them in water) and with a palette knife you just wipe it on your apron or a baby wipe and you’re set. It works great to make lines with the edge, apply a thin layer of paint all over – I often apply my first layer of gesso with a palette knife – or (my most favorite) gently skim paint over the top of a flat or textured area so the underneath show through as well. I recently learned this has a name: scumbling. So now I’m pretty insufferable since I know what I was doing has a name, is a legitimate fancy-pants technique, and it’s a fantastic one to say. Scumbling. Scumble scumble.


Something I’ve found myself drawn to lately is filling a page with lots of layers and colors. I just scribble down shapes and doodles, glue down bits of papers, tissue or napkins I like, smear colors all haphazardly over around the page. Then I take a moment and see what pops out at me. Sometimes there are favorite sections I want to preserve, sometimes a shape emerges that looks like a …something and I follow that to see where it will go. It’s fun to paint a shape around a patterned portion so some of the wildness shows but it’s tempered with some solid colors. The thing is to wait until the very end to do any journaling you intend to show on the page. It’s super therapeutic to include journaling underneath some of the layers, but you have to know it probably won’t show up by the end…and sometimes that’s exactly what you want!

Head over to TC’s blog to see a process example of this technique.


This is a hard one to answer because there are so many talented amazing artists out there! You gotta love Instagram. I’ve been influenced heavily by the books and online classes of Dina Wakely, Jane Devenport, Juliette Crane and Mindy Lacefield. I really like Amira Rahim and Sharon Harkness-Dobler (Yellow Rose Art). Stargardner / Right Brain Planner is a woman with rich pages and funky colors I never tire of. Mandy Steward and her secret messages are just way too much fun. Amanda at The Phoenix Soul – amazing! Flora Bowley has such dreamy paintings, along with Connie Solera at Dirty Footprints Studio. A’Driane Nieves is an amazing artist/activist and she’ll challenge the heck out of you in all the best ways. Julie Fei-Fan Balzer. Okay, I know I’m forgetting someone but I have to stop somewhere.

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TC Larson

TC is in her early 40s and lives in St. Paul, Minnesota. Her favorite part of art journaling is following a feeling or idea and seeing where it leads on a page. The worst part of art journaling for TC is getting to a point when she’s frustrated because things aren’t coming together. Her favorite dinosaur is the Stegosaurus.

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