Use vintage photos and found words to tell a familiar or fictional story in your journal

Hi there wonderful Messians, Clare here to show you how I use some of my favourite supplies in my art journal – vintage papers and photos. Even my handmade journal for the season of story is made from an antique photo album which I filled with hot press watercolour paper.

Once I started noticing antique black and white or sepia photos at our local antique stores I was hooked and I started to look for them everywhere I went.  The characters in the photos, the dresses, the cars, the locations all tell a whole story in one photo.  I think each photo tells me its story because I don’t know who the people are or anything about them, I just go on how they look, their pose, their gaze and what they are being photographed with or who they are with. I have no influencing knowledge so I am free to make up their story.

One of my favourite things about these old photos is that people often wrote lots of details on the back of them, sometimes on the front too!  Almost always the date and location and if you are lucky you will get the name and age of the person in the shot.

Along with old photos, I also love to find postcards and books from days gone by, the older the better!  A postcard with a postal frank mark from the early 1900’s makes my heart sing.  A book with a wonderful cover and journal worthy pages is a great find too – including dictionaries, encyclopedias and National Geographic magazines preferably from pre 1950’s.

Where do we find all of this story making joy?  I find paper treasures at estate sales (go to the basement if there is one!), thrift shops, library sales and antique shops.  Get to know your local antique shop owner and they will more than likely look out for things like old photos for you, my local antique/thrift shop know me as ‘the photograph lady’ and keep any piles of old snapshots for me to look through first.

Right then, let’s get into our journals!


  • selection of antique photos -found or family-or photocopies of said photos if you don’t want to deface the originals
  • pile of pages from old books
  • glue stick
  • pens – fine liners in black and white
  • ink
  • brush
  • anything else you need to make a background

Action Steps

Find a standout photo, image or postcard and work your page around this, imagine or recount a story for your image and include it in your page.

Use found words and phrases from old books to make a poem or piece of prose relevant to your page.


Clare is originally from the north of England and has lived in the mid-west of America since 2003. Her workplace is the local library where she is a part time librarian, which is good because she loves books. Her favourite part of art journaling is the opportunity to create with no pressure and usually no finished idea in mind and the chance to create a sketchbook and fill it up however she wants!


  1. Melody Willoughby

    Great video, Clare. I always love your art.

    • Clare Etheridge

      Thanks Melody! I hope you make something lovely from the tutorial x

  2. Liezl van Schalkwyk

    Loved your ideas Clare! I have not yet thought of drawing on the vintage pics – what a great idea! And I totally love how your page turned out 🙂 Such an inspiring video! Thank you so much <3

    • Clare Etheridge

      Thanks so much, drawing on old pictures feel very naughty, but the effects are worth it!

  3. Julia Bethmann

    Looks so fun, going to try this Clare!

    • Clare Etheridge

      I am so pleased to hear that!

  4. Christina Cloud

    I love this tutorial and I love your spread! What a great idea!

    • Clare Etheridge

      Old photos are full of imagined stories!

  5. TC Larson

    Ooo Clare, this is really a stretch for me but the timing is perfect. There’s something about drawing on those photos that scares me a bit, but I love your beautiful spread and style! Thanks for the nudge into the unfamiliar. P.S. That book you’re using is phenomenal.

    • Clare Etheridge

      Thanks TC! I know what you mean, drawing on photos is like cutting up a book, it just feels so wrong. In fact I still go through my photo collection and won’t draw on some of them!

  6. Charlotte Erichsen

    I love to see you drawing on these photos!

    • Clare Etheridge

      Find some photos and give them some drawing love!

  7. Emily@squiggleandswirl

    I’m always in awe of your estate sale treasures! Great tutorial Clare.

    • Clare Etheridge

      Thanks Em! I do love an estate sale!

  8. Deborah Llewelyn

    Wow that was cool!