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Friday, June 17, 2011

How do you use your journal?

What do you want out of it?  What do hope it will do for you?  What goes into its pages?

Is there a difference between art journaling and keeping an artist's journal?

For me there is.  I am an artist, and I've kept a journal  for 40 years or so.  It IS my journal, in every sense of the word; a record of the journey of my days.

To me, art journaling is more about making the journal itself a work of art, and if that's what you enjoy, wonderful. Some people even sell their finished journals; I would as soon give away a piece of my soul--it would amount to about the same.  I go back to my old journals frequently...for a variety of reasons.

Just like the variety of reasons I keep one in the first place. They're reminders and learning tools!

Sometimes I just want to PAY ATTENTION to my life, to sketch the moments and days--whatever I see before me.  I don't wait for "inspiration" or for a grand subject...I just sketch.  It's who I am.

Sometimes I use it to reward myself, or take time to kick back, to get away, to create an oasis of calm in an often crazy life.

Joseph was undergoing tests to make sure he didn't have a blood clot developing in his leg.  Not a BIG deal, and he didn't, but it helped me to sketch him, and the technician and all those machines!

Sometimes I use my journal almost as meditation, or to calm myself in a stressful situation by getting outside of it.

As our friend and fellow journaler John Payne noted in this post, journaling helps us keep track of things.  If I don't remember when that medical test was, or what I used to create this or that effect, or when I tried that recipe or went to the Ozarks last, or saw godchild Molly Hammer in that play, or when Finn's birthday party was, my journals can tell me.  If I need to know what years we moved away from our old farm, it's there too, in my 30-year-old journal.  It's a wonderful memory enhancer.

Lapin remarked on one of his reasons for keeping a sketch journal in our recent interview #11--""I like the way sketching every day what I have in front of me keeps me curious and attentive to the most simple details of my life...  "

This is one of my recent writing journals...the pages may have sketches, they may not, but the paper has to take ink well!  I was using my watercolor journal for everything, but I discovered it was a bit frustrating to write on some pages with cold pressed paper...the nib wanted to skip.  When you're processing, musing, thinking on paper, you need to be able to write as easily as possible!

Sometimes I need to process...an event, a feeling, a project.  My journal's the perfect place to do that.  It's safe, it's non-judgmental (if I can silence that Inner Critic or Parent!), it's private, and it's a great sounding board, odd though that may sound.

Someone wrote "how do I know what I think until I see what I've written?"  I can understand this.  I've had some real insights, breakthroughs into my feelings or attitudes...or tendency to procrastinate...once I write things down.

This may be a list, or a chart.  I can graph these things, or just write, free-association, till I'm all written out.  I can do rough sketches that express what I feel--it doesn't have to be beautiful, it doesn't have to be good, it just needs to get down on paper and remind me!

I can choose to share, or not...if it's personal, very likely not.

Somehow sharing something you're working through with someone else may not have the effect you were hoping for.  They may not understand the background, and you can dissipate the energy without action.  (Authors often say they can't talk about a current project, even with other writers, because then they won't WRITE it!)

I've recently found an old journal of mine from the 1980s...and I'm very much enjoying seeing where I was, then.  Some things have changed a lot, some seem to be constants.  But it's such a good tool for growth and contemplation...and sometimes laughter!

One of my observations was  "If you truly want to be alone, you won't have much competition for available space!"  That made me laugh right out loud, 25 years later!

(This particular journal had perhaps two sketches in the whole book...it was still an artist's journal, because--wait for it!--I'm an artist.  I wrote a lot about what I was painting at the time, or what shows I'd entered, but at the time I had a separate sketchbook and just added a drawing if I REALLY felt the need.)

What I find myself doing more and more these days is working with my journal more like I did 20 years ago...as a tool for sorting things out, looking at my life, taking "compass readings," as our dear friend Laura Frankstone talked about in this post. 

The book we mentioned earlier, The New Diary by Tristine Rainer, has been a great help in this, but most of it is just doing it.

I'd shared that I felt overwhelmed by going off in too many directions, so I'm working through what IS important to me, what I need to do, have to do, want to do...and seeing it in black and white I am far more conscious of what I need to do.  And what I don't!  What works, and what doesn't.

Sooooo...how do you use YOUR journal.  What do you want it to do?  What do you give yourself permission to do?  Is it important to you?

Please comment, we fellow journal-keepers want to know!


  1. I don't usually write too much in my books, just really small things (date, time, and maybe a sentence or two describing some observations). People always want to flip through them I don't really want to expose too many personal details. I do have a seperate written diary that I keep for posterity with daily events, weather, and news story type stuff. For to do lists, appointments and such, I have a 8.5 x 11 spiral bound week at a glance calendar. I save these for a few years in case I have to refer back to them, but I purge them eventually.

  2. Much to think about here. I'll comment now, but I suspect as I ponder your thoughts, mine will grow and mature along the way.

    These days I'm mostly using my journal for processing and thinking through some things that are weighing on my mind and for slowing me down by sketching when I feel restless. I also often look back through them to remind me of who I am and what I love doing-- things I sometimes lose touch with a little bit when I get very stressed.

  3. Cathy, I love this post!! I think it is one of the best :)! It definitely makes me want to get my journal out again and see just what I would find right now that I need to put in it...art and/or words! I was doing one where I journaled my time with God and drew from a tour book of Italy...it was fun!
    Thanks for all your information for us!!

  4. Well, I've been keeping my journal since I was 16 years old. That's pretty much the half of my life! When I started to journaling, I only wrote on a notebook, but over time I decided to paste and keep in it several ephimera, you know: movie tickets, chocolate's wrap, a beatiful leaf or a flower I picked up when walking... even cards and letters I received from family and friends. So, my journal has been a place to keep my life in it, my thoughts. That quote is absolutely right: I can't say I understand something until I squeeze my brain throught a pen and write all my thoughts about it on my journal.
    Now, I'm finally learning to draw and paint, and this changed the way I see the world around me. Then, I feel the urge to keep what I see in my journal but not only in words, and I'm starting an ilustrated journal, an artist's journal... That's the story!
    Thanks for this post and this blog. It's been a great help for me!

  5. I have been just a straight journaler. You make me think I should branch out...scribble a little...start an actual art journal. ;)

    This was a wonderful post, Kate! :):)

  6. Oh, Cathy, what a wonderful post. It is an area where I am SO CONFUSED. I want to keep all sorts of diaries and journals and sketchbooks.

    I do keep a daily diary, which does some of the *what happened when* work and also contains my gratitude and prayer lists. Although I was convinced to toss them out when I moved five years ago, so there are some things that are lost forever.

    Sometimes I really need to sit and journal about where I am and what I am facing and uncover some answers about what I need to be doing next. Written journaling is perfect for that.

    I do carry a small sketchbook with me in my knitting bag (am more likely to knit during times of stressful waiting, or any waiting.) I like to make a travel sketchbook with ephemera when I go on a trip. With some watercolor. I have a sketchbook I use for our sketch crawls or any other *official* planned sketching outings. Usually including watercolor.

    The trouble is that I am totally confused most of the time about what to take where and there is no continuity in most of them and I dont want to do long whiney sorting out on expensive watercolor paper and dont want to try to do watercolor on lined notebook paper and dont know where to find anything. I have a huge pile of various new blank books and it is often hard to pick one and commit it to which use.

    Each of these notebooks is sort-of working in its own way, but there is not a coherent whole that I can make any sense out of and I really want/need HELP. :-)

  7. I am glad you asked this question. I am so happy to see that there are people like me that keep more than one journal. This time of yeaer my garden journal takes presedence. If one read my garden journal they would probably think it something else because there are sketches, bits and pieces of other parts of my life too. I also keep a written journal. I have a journal that I sketch a lot of nature. A journal that I carry with me that gets whatever is happening now. I usually make a journal to take with me on trips. So, in answer to your question I do lots with my journals. I am so glad to have found your blog. This is such an inspiration and affirmation. Cheers.

  8. I JUST GOT IT (the book)>> yippee, Diana

  9. Thanks for the great post Cathy! :-)

    I use my journals for all sorts of things. I also tend to have different journals (used for different things) all going at the same time. I have particular journals I use for design ideas for webcomics or illustrated stories. I have primarily writing journals that usually have few drawings in them. The ones I put in these are either being used to illustrate a point or help me remember an idea. I have my travel sketchbooks AND I also have lettering and calligraphy journals for lettering practice and trying out new ink colors. *lol* I sound like the most disorganized person from all that! Oh, well. It works for me. I actually envy folks who can get it all done in the same journal. Something about my process requires me to segment my projects into different journals. :-)Sara

  10. What a wonderful group of first responses!! Proves what I've always said, there IS no "right way" to keep an artist's journal, there's just what works for you, at the time. It evolves...I used to keep several different journals, then for the past 12 years or so, it's all been in one place. But...I've needed to work through some stuff, and I really wanted to use paper that loved my pen so it didn't make more work than it needed to be, and there IS that privacy issue, as Carolyn noted. People often want to look through my journals. Usually, that's fine, but some things I need to feel completely free to write whatever I want or need to. You can of course put a flap over private stuff, or paperclip pages you don't want to share together, but it may just be easier to set aside a place to write whatever you need to.

  11. This post allowed me to really consider why and how I keep my journals. I realize now that my art journals are mainly a form of communication with those I love. I post them on my blog .... 4 years ago, I moved from Oregon back to Marin County CA.... my blog is a way of keeping in touch with people that matter. Now my blog readers also include my new art friends that live all over the world and many people I have met on the internet. This wonderful bonus has happened by taking on line art classes from you, Kate, and a couple of other great teachers.

    On the front of each watercolor journal, I include an invitation that gives people permission to read the text that is included. Before I did that, people hesitated to read the text. I want them to feel comfortable to enjoy all the page. Therefore, I create pages with this in mind and I edit what I say, especially considering that the page will be posted on my blog, too.

    I do keep a personal, spiritual journal that includes a daily gratitude list... this is just for me and after a few years, they get tossed. I would not want any one else to read these personal thoughts and musings. With my most recent move, I let go of about 15 journals. It was tough but I am a big believer in keeping it simple and not having too much "stuff". My art journals are different, they are sources of joy and pleasure as I re- experience my life by re- reading the pages.

  12. I'm currently keeping 3 different journals. One is an "art journal" for when I just want to make a pretty page or have a quote or idea that I want to remind myself of. It's big, with nice heavy multi-media paper.

    One is a sketch journal where I sketch and make notes about whatever I'm sketching.

    One is a small daily personal journal. I just write about daily stuff there and I add little collage items, doodles, whatever. I haven't shown that one on my blog. It's more personal. I recently started this one because I stopped writing daily notes in my "art journal."

    I also have a hand bound book that I do mostly collage in so I guess that is 4!

    I used to try to do it all in one book but it frustrated me. I prefer to have one book for one purpose, another for a another purpose. It's more cohesive that way and I enjoy looking through them more. It also makes it easier to find something specific.

  13. I got rid of a few journals years ago...I was going through a rough time, and though it was good for me to vent, I really, REALLY didn't want anyone else to see that stuff. Felt like whining!

    Having found my old farm journal and the journal I kept when my first husband was out of work at a time when half the country seemed to be in the same boat, though, I'm almost sorry I got rid of those. Rereading the old stuff has been an eye-opener! Things I'd remembered as very painful and negative were in fact pretty positive. We handled a lot, and a lot better than I'd remembered.

    I DO love your idea of keeping it simple, Elizabeth, and if you can let go, it's a good thing. I think I'd save my journals before almost anything else besides Joseph and the cats!

    Melissa, my old friend Hannah Hinchman got me started putting everything in one journal, in the late '80s; it's nice to see thing sequentially. But...I'm really liking having a place to explore in complete privacy, again!

  14. I have been writing journals for years and am now exploring art as well. For me my journals are a way to go back over my day and record my experiences and thoughts. On my daughter's 11th birthday I read the entry that I wrote on the day she was born out loud to her. She was amazed, and I was thrilled all over again. I was a different person back then. I have learned so much since that day, but I still like the woman I was, the woman who was so worried that she might drop her new baby.

    So for me it is a record of what I see, what I do, what I think, what scares me, how I cope.

  15. I personally am intrigued by both the Art of Journaling and the Artist’s Journal. In ways I’ve been keeping a journal without giving much thought using The Langton Spirals.

    In years past I would paint larger full compositions for gifts and for framing and they became stressful for me. Somewhere I lost the enjoyment because I feared failure or not meeting others' expectations who would look at my work. After time I found I was painting smaller and smaller leaning towards 4 x 6” to 5 x 7” paintings and storing them into Itoya portfolios along with notes on the back of the paintings.

    My love happens to be illustrating or what I call cameos – little jewels. I found painting several of these cameos on a page was fun and less stressful than full compositions. That’s where the spiral watercolor books came into play. Then I discovered journaling through Flickr and fell in love with what I saw. My search begun to learn more about that and incorporate my findings into my own day to day art work.

    I primarily paint for therapy. It fills a void within and gives me a chance to escape life’s ups and downs for a little while. Painting helps me focus on something positive as long as I’m not fearful of failure. That’s where the journal books have taken precedence over frame-able paintings. I can make mistakes and mentally that’s OK. Gives me a chance to play and not worry about what others think. And those that I paint for is me first and then my family. With three sons, I want to have a recording of my passion they can sit and view for years to come. And I love sharing with others what I’ve done and how I’ve achieved the results should they be interested in learning.

    My journals are basic illustrations with notes on what I did and occasionally why I chose to paint a particular subject that day. Sometimes I share what’s going on inside me emotionally. These journal/sketch books are very personal and something I treasure. I’d be lost if anything happened to my books.

    Subject matter can be anything and everything depending on what strikes my fancy at any given time; but, most often it's nature without man made objects. Most often my work is without people except occasionally a single individual I might include.

    My ultimate goal at this point in time is to carry this on but I’d love to become a little more creative with my page design of paintings, sketching, and wording.

    My dream might be to one day create tutorial ebooks I can share with other people to especially include my sons hoping at least one of them might be intrigued to tap into their creative ability I know they have.

    Thank you for this post thread you've created.

  16. Wow -- such interesting thoughts!

    I was burned badly as a teen keeping a private written journal (my mom found it, read it, and reacted very badly) so I've never wished to do so again.

    I use my current journal for whatever I may wish to write down --- song lyrics, quotes, Bible verses that I want to remember, notes from church or my own time with the Lord, etc.

    But mainly they are where I explore drawing or painting. I love to illustrate whatever catches my eye or helps me remember a special day. I long to be an artist, yet have no desire to paint frameable works that just sit around because no one buys them. Doing art in my sketchbooks is what fits me. I have family members who don't "get" it and wonder why I am wasting my time. I'm trying to get past that and just do it because I enjoy it.

    What I write on these pages might not always make sense to others, but I don't mind sharing whatever is there. If I happen to write something that helps someone else, I feel blessed. If not -- well, it was there for me anyway.

  17. I slice my apple a little differently than you do. I'll probably never keep an art journal, i.e. every page beautifully laid out. I have kept 'an artist's journal' for nearly 40 years. It is personal, but not private, and has about 50% words and 50% sketches and little watercolors. Mostly its a record of our experiences in nature, but new grandchildren, important visits and such slip in. I feel comfortable letting friends and family look at it.
    If I need a private talk with myself, I call that a diary ... words just for me. I seldom bother to do it ... guess I mull those things over in my head.
    And if the house was burning down, my journals are as important as the old family photos.

  18. What an interesting post and such wonderful responses it as inspired! As someone who is new to visual journaling I envy those of you who have years of journals on their shelves. What a resource to have as you get older. I have only one year (but three journals) behind me but imagine what my journal shelf will look like in ten years.....

  19. Isn't it wonderful how your journal is truly YOUR journal, no right or wrong way to keep it, nothing that "should" go into it, or can't? Whatever YOU want.

    Diane, you're creating a treasure there.

    And Elva, I had to giggle about "every page beautifully laid out"! Some of our artists do that, and with gorgeous results, but I sure don't! Some pages have no art at all, some are like the one with the cat, above, with a sketch as an afterthought, some are totally chaotic. Depends on what I want at the time...

    But yes, I would DEFINITELY try to save my journals...

    Susan, I love your goal..."to carry this on."

    Marya, recording how you cope is a wonderful tool and a great use of your journal. We all have challenges, even if it's only finding time to journal!

    Miss Vicky, you know how I love your eclectic, beautiful pages...they look lovely in the book, and they're meaningful--to you and to others!

  20. I read this post yesterday and like Melissa (2nd commenter), knew I would need to ponder it a while. Love the comments and the passion shared by all!

    I am at a crossroads with my journaling keeping. As an admitted journal 'ho who has a hard time committing to one journal for any length of time, I have several journals on the go at any given time. Mostly based on paper and format. I do have one strictly for writing, but sketches creep in there as well. The privacy issues trip me up from making my journal personal but not private.

    However, I find that I REALLY like the linear time format rather than scattered, random pages in several books. I'm glad to hear you say this evolves as I'm needing some evolution with regard to this. Hope it's soon!

  21. This post really got me thinking, so I've replied on my own blog because there was more that I wanted to say than I felt I should cram in here.
    Thanks for the motivation to try to express the whys and hows of journalling. If you want to check it out it's


  22. After a half hour of pondering and typing, I hit a wrong key while previewing and lost the whole thing.

    A couple of thoughts I still want to share:

    Vicky Williamson, I had to smile when I read your "I long to be an artist." Just minutes before discovering this topic, I'd been drooling over your work and wishing that some day I could be half the artist you are.

    Like Rachel, I've been trying too many sketchbooks and journals -- different sizes, papers, bindings -- hoping to find the one that would magically work (for everything), or magically make me into an artist just like someone else who uses it. The one that would speak loudly, tell me it was the journal. Gradually, I'm discovering what works by noticing which ones I use most - a tiny pocketable end-bound one with pages I can't see through unless I accidentally use a Sharpie or too much scribbling or water, and a 7x10 spiral bound with mixed media paper that's great for trying out colors at home, among other things. I won't toss the others; I'll come back and try again to see if I can find out what they're really good for.

    One discovery: if my pages have color, or graphic elements, I'm actually apt to go back and reread them. I can use them - unlike my old writing journals I almost never read. (Those are too dense, hard to read, no way to find my way to the useful bits. They sit on my shelf, and I'm reluctant to throw them out, but I don't know how to take advantage of them.)

    Also I want to say a big thank you to the talented (yes, you are, even if you're just starting or are about to start) and supportive group of people I've found, from all over the world, via internet intersections (Roz Stendahl, Every Day in May, Flickr, Kate Johnson, Everyday Matters and on, and on). I love seeing your work, hearing your thoughts, noting your similar fears sometimes, whether you've been doing art all your lives or are brand new like me. I love the sharing that goes on, and the constant learning, and the kudos, even for "baby steps." I salute you!

  23. I know exactly what you mean, Laure...I love the linear progression too! Somehow when this recent awareness that I needed to work out some stuff popped up, I wanted a place where I could just write. My lovely watercolor paper in my journals didn't always cooperate! (And we do tend to pass around our books when we're with other journal keepers.) It feels funny to have a private book, but...till I get through this stage, guess that's how it will be. It's working all right, it just seems odd, after all these years of integrating everything into one book!

    Ruca, LOVED your journal and thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  24. Being a writer, I have kept journals for 40 something years but those have been just words. In the past couple years I have moved into adding paint, sketches and lists and less words. This is a much more difficult process for me because I tend to want to write it all down. I may need to give myself two pages per day instead of one so I have plenty of room to write!Great post.

  25. I've only been Journaling for 2 years now, and it started as a Food Journal to help me get my health back in order. I'd list everything I'd eaten in a day with their calories, and to make it interesting, I started drawing and painting in it to keep it fun and entertaining. I use it for more than just a Food Journal, but I make daily notes about what's important to me, and food makes for a fun, colorful subject to illustrate! I love looking back at what I've done with my books, and my doctor even loves it!...and, yes, I've lost 60 lbs, and gotten my diabetes under control.

  26. Thank you for commenting! This is a fascinating thread and I'm glad you revived it, Akiko! And wow, congratulations on controlling your diabetes, losing weight, AND sticking with your journal.

  27. I do keep a few journals and distinguish between art journalling and keeping an art journal. I, too, have kept a journal for 40 years (and taught that kind of writing at UCLA and in other schools) and sometimes they contained writing and sketches, sometimes just writing. Mostly it depended on what I was going through. Journaling about a bad marriage in my 30's (not Mitchell!) meant almost no art in my journal (I was painting large canvases at the time.) Journaling about my young career as an architect in my 20's = many drawings, and even then I kept two journals, because I didn't want my personal journal to be taken to a lecture and left behind and read! Now I distinguish between a type of art/sketching/journal that is all about drawing and experimenting versus my personal journaling, often so I can share the journal art. I've crated books for Mitchell which will never be shared with the public. I share some but not all of my personal journals, even if there is a great sketch in them. Hell, I have a whole personal "book" I am writing now that may never be able to be shared. I am taking photos before I write on the pages in order to share the images. I can't imagine selling my journals, any of them. They are my heart, my place to experiment, and often so very personal.

    1. I can't imagine selling mine either, Kate! They're the moments of my life, captured on the page. and yes, some do need to be personal, I think.

  28. I just received and starting reading your book, Artists Journal Workshop. It has inspired me to write a little more although I did do some. I like Lapin's response about making the ordinary interesting and I believe it works.
    I've recently been coming more recently disabled and I have gradually been narrowing my focus. It really helps.

    1. I am more disabled than I used to be Holly, and I find that journal keeping helped me through the process of acceptance and exploration.


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