Process and Flow
Like many artists who work in journals, I’m often creating in several books all at the same time. There’s something in me that is determined to capture the essence of my time here on earth. Organizing it is a challenge. It’s all worth it though because when I go back through my journals, I can recall things I would have otherwise lost. The pages are my time machine.
If I’m working in a commercial, store-bought journal, I jump around the pages within the book. It’s rare for me to start on page one and work consecutively until it’s filled up. This is why people who page through my work are sometimes stumped that one spread is dated February, the next one October followed by April and September.
If I’m working on an artist book, then I’m more constrained to an overall plan. In this case I plan the entire book and break it down into spreads. I still don’t start with the first spread and stop with the last page. Since I’m the one who’s going to assemble it in the end I still get the luxury of jumping around. Obviously when I go to construct the book I make sure it’s all put back in order. It makes up for the other books I’ve filled with a middle, end and beginning.
Although I own and use some commercial stamps and stencils, the majority of the tools in my artwork are from my own hand-carved and hand-cut designs. This makes the layers of my pages even more of my own making.
Here is a breakdown of some of my journals.
Gratzie Mille is my gratitude journal. This is the newest book in my journal practice. I’d been meaning to start one for years but never got around to it. Finally since May I’ve started most of my days jotting down three things I’m grateful for. This journal is nearly all text with some minimal stamping. I made the book out of left over scratch paper bound with a Zutter Wire system. On the outside, this is one of the most unimpressive books I’ve ever made. On the inside it is a beautiful collection of things I am thankful for. This journal is changing my life. Before I check my email or look at Facebook, I sit down with my coffee, reflect on the day before or the day ahead and make a quick record of what I’m grateful for. It primes my pump. It’s re-wiring my thoughts.
Every day I jot down what we’ve done in a calendar journal. The first two years I did this I used a commercial journal from my favorite German art supply store Boesner. The last two years I’ve made my own calendar journals with pages I ran through a letterpress printer. I love my calendar journals. You only have to commit to a few minutes every day and over time you accumulate a record of your entire year. It’s like magic. This is my favorite journal to sit down with on New Year’s Eve and reflect on everything that’s happened. Anybody could keep this kind of journal. All you need is enough self discipline to fill out the box on your calendar. If you can brush your teeth everyday, you can do this.
The American school system is very different than Germany’s. Having such a huge gap in the summer means that it’s easy to slide backwards with reading and writing. So far I’ve been able to persuade our kid to write a few sentences every day and draw or paint a picture while he’s on break. We also use this journal as a place to smash our movie and ticket stubs. It’s such a nice record of the time we spend together, and having done it for three years now I love seeing the progress he’s made each year. My kid isn’t very arty. He’s sporty. But this is something that even he gets into. I’m not sure I will be able to convince him to keep one when he’s a teenager but I’m hoping this is laying some sort of foundation. I’m a believer that creativity is a learned skill so I’m hoping that journals are something like broccoli. Kids might never like it but at least I made sure mine was exposed to it.
My Go Big or Go Home journal is an 11×14 Canson hardbound sketchbook. It’s the largest journal I’ve ever worked in. I started working in it in November 2015 and I’m still not even close to finishing it. The binding is already broken, the pages are wavy and curled and it’s only getting better as I keep at it. This journal is going to give me a huge sense of accomplishment when I fill it. I started this one around the same time I was hired to help a high school work on a mural. It was clearly time for me to explore my work on a different scale. If you are in a rut or you think that all your work is starting to look the same, you might want to play with scale. I’ve made some teeny, tiny books but I had never gone big. This journal has frustrated me. This journal has challenged me. Every time I finish a spread I learn something and every once in a while there is a sense of freedom working so large. Changing things up has been good for my soul.
I talked about Moleskines in my backstory. This is the brand of commercial journal I started with ten years ago. They are my lab notebooks. I fill at least one up every year. These are the perfect size to throw in your purse or bring to meetings. They can look black and sleek and professional, or you can art up the covers. The pages don’t look that thick, but they stand up to some serious abuse. Like I said before, these journals are my scary, creative casseroles. Whenever I’m stumped I can look back through them at my lists and ideas. My memory is shot but I never worry about forgetting my brainstorms. It’s all in there somewhere. And this means that I always have a place to nestle the weird ephemera that I don’t have the heart to throw out.
Travel journals are probably one of my most favorite ways to commemorate an adventure. As far as I’m concerned there is no better experience than going someplace new. I try to make an artist book every time we go on a trip.
My poor husband knows that I’m practically willing to miss a flight if I haven’t prepped my journal for the trip. More than once I’ve been up until the wee hours of the morning scrambling to get my art bag and pages in order.
We have gone on trips where I did not journal. On one hand it is freeing. I am not forcing myself to stay up and document our day before the next one begins. On the other hand I am always disappointed when I get home and I have nothing to show for it. I know over time all the little details of the trip will be lost to me because I have nothing to help me retrieve the experience.
Another type of journal I work in are improvement journals. These are books I set aside to master a specific goal. Inky and Stinky has content made only with ink. Better Letters was a journal to specifically practice my penmanship.
I do not want to be the same artist a year from now. I do not want to be the same artist five or ten years from now. I want to continuously improve my craft.
Everybody who is journaling is doing it for their own reasons. Journaling is worth it for the health benefits alone. But there’s something in me that is really burning to become a better artisan. These are the journals where I push myself.
One of the coolest things in the journaling community is that there is a huge online world of people, classes, and challenges. You can make all kinds of friends, learn new techniques, and get prompts for inspiration, while never leaving the comfort of your own home.
Years ago one of the ways I conditioned myself into a daily art practice is that I started on small cards. One of my first mixed media journals is just a big photo album with 365 little cards mounted inside.
This is why I love Index-Card-A-Day hosted by Tammy Garcia of Daisy Yellow. It brings me back to the simplest rule of making art. Just do a little bit every day. Her challenge is the perfect starting place for somebody who wants to make art on paper but might be overwhelmed or intimidated with the idea of filling up a whole book.
My other friend Roz Stendahl, hosts an event every year called IFJM for International Fake Journal Month. Appropriately it begins on April Fool’s Day. Participants start a “fake” journal and begin working. It’s one of the most freeing exercises imaginable. One person is journaling as a divorcee living in France. One person is journaling as a spy. The first time I joined in I decided I was someone who would only work in front of the TV using gouache.
This gave me the perfect opportunity to put to use a beautiful gouache set that I had never even opened as well as experiment working in front of the TV. (My normal creative time is in the quiet mornings at my studio table). I used the IFJM challenge as an excuse to test different media as well as push the boundaries of my working habits. Like Roz says, “Life’s so short, why only live once?”
The last type of journals I’ve created are samplers. Sampler journals are a mishmash of work that usually makes sense in a larger context. A couple of the samplers I’ve made were with the intention of becoming samples for my classes or workshops.
Traditionally, a sampler was created with stitches to demonstrate a level of the artisan’s skill. It normally had a bunch of different patterns or flourishes, an alphabet, and maybe some sayings. It was a way women could show off what they could do with a needle. Imagine the ladies sitting around the quilting bee admiring one another’s embroidery.
One of my journals was an exemplar consisting of single sheets. An exemplar is just a fancy name for a project based on the letters of the alphabet. Also known as an abcedarian, that sucker took me three years to complete. New Year’s Eve would roll around and I’d choose words for every letter of the alphabet and then spend the year reflecting and working on them. It’s a beautiful project that captures a time in my life when I had a new baby and was working on becoming a fluent German speaker. The third year into the project, I included the extra six characters of the German alphabet, celebrating the umlaut. There is a beauty in being able to take it out of order. It’s strangely reflective of my life at that time.
This is one of my weird journals. Since it was constructed with single sheets it lives in a gift box secured by elastic bands.
Samplers are a great way to get into a project and not have to worry about running out of steam or getting plagued with blank page syndrome.