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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Interview # 15--it's Maria Hodkins!

Sorry we made you wait for this one...it's meaty and interesting, and I know it will inspire you!  Interview #15 is with my friend Maria Hodkins, who lives in Colorado and captures its varied beauty in her journal pages.  An astute observer of wildlife...and life itself...I'll let Maria speak for herself!

How did you get started journaling, and how long have you been at it?

I love that the word “journal” evolved from Middle English, meaning “daily,” which came from Old French “jurnal” (for daily record), which originated from the Latin “diurnal,” which meant “during the day, or daily.” And it also parallels the development of the word “journey,” which meant and still means “an act of traveling from one place to another.” I think I have been true to those original concepts, in both my journeys through life and my record-keeping of them.

I've been writing in earnest since I was seven years old, and have been a free-lance professional journalist for over 30 years. I grew up in Chicago, IL, and my first memory of journaling is of when I would climb up the stairs to our unfinished attic, raise up the trap door, and sit down at my small desk that was painted pink, and write—in a world all to myself. I decided early on that I was “going to be a writer,” and never swayed from that conviction. I wrote for my high school newspaper and had my own column, and went on to college and majored in journalism. But art always intrigued me, as well. My mother made sure I got a “classic” education, and so in high school I rode the commuter train every weekend for a while to the Art Institute of Chicago for drawing lessons, never realizing until later in life what an honor and a gift that was. That was really the only formal training I ever had for art, and I believe now that I learned to “see” more than I learned to “draw,” which has helped me discover what each medium will bring out in images.

I have irregularly kept many personal writing journals throughout my life, and dabbled in sketching and watercolor journals for fun. As a professional writer, I developed my own writing business and wrote everything from brochures to books (I’ve even been the ghost writer for 2 published books). I also have always been drawn to nature, and eventually found myself embarking on the adventure of being a naturalist for Colorado State Parks for several years, living in the woods and writing trail guides and interpretive materials, as well as giving programs on moose, bears, and nature journals. I had a wealth of material to sketch every day and sat on the banks of a creek in the early morning with my coffee and journal, sketching wildflowers and aspens. That was when I began to put the writing and sketching in the same journal, because it was handier to just carry around one book, especially when traveling. My journal then became my favorite field companion, a way to process and capture more deeply the places and moments I was experiencing. My entries focused more on natural history, instead of just personal history.

I love the addition of text and details to this icy journal page...

At one point I read Hannah Hinchman's books on keeping illuminated and field journals, and I was so inspired that I signed up for one of her seminars in Yellowstone National Park the very next summer and was exhilarated to find other journalers with mutual passion for the practice. It was such a transformative time for my journaling, when it became an art form into itself. I became an insatiable journalkeeper, and continue to this day to find endless delight in exploring techniques and content. There’s nothing I like better than to go outdoors and walk around, asking myself (as Hannah taught me), “What’s happening here?” It’s a way of looking at the world as events, full of thousands of intriguing things going on at different levels, not as an object or a pretty landscape. I think curiosity and gratitude are the best attributes of a journaler.

Notes, dates, locations add so much to Maria's pages...

Do you use your journals to learn about nature?

Nature has infinite secrets to reveal. I keep track of the movement and stories of the natural world on my pages, rooting my sketches and words in time and place. It's an ecological perspective that gives me insight into how the inner and outer worlds interconnect. Notes on weather, temperature, seasonal changes, when the Sandhill Cranes migrate through, the throaty sounds of the bullfrogs in June, the turning of the aspen leaves in autumn fill my pages. I capture insects in a jar and look at them under a microscope, then paint their incredible iridescent scales or understand the structure and functions of the body of a grasshopper for the first time. In my journal I can be a citizen scientist, unleashing curiosity and fostering discovery. I become an "expert," of sorts, of nature's activities in my own local region through observation and notation. I can begin to predict the date of the first big snow or when the peaches will be ripe for picking, by leafing back through my old journals. Because of the journals of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, we gained so much knowledge of the flora and fauna of unexplored territories--who knows what important data might one day be discovered in someone's ordinary artist's journal? Besides, art and science can be gateways to each other.

I like this quote from Aldo Leopold:
“All the sciences and arts are taught as if they are separate. They are separate only in the classroom. Step out…and they are immediately fused.”

You seem to capture something of the spiritual about your journaling—can you expand on that a little? 

Journaling slows time, allows the imagination to ramble, and expands consciousness. Just sketching a simple flower brings a sense of wonder and deep, soulful appreciation into my daily life. As I really see the flower, I begin to appreciate its beauty, intricacy, and magnificence. I enter a meditative, grateful state, and feel connected to something larger than myself. My hand starts to move from a consciousness beyond my thinking mind, and I am often surprised and amazed at what spills out onto the pages. Journaling is a sensory path to the profound, an artful spiritual practice for my life through all of its seasons.

Are you comfortable working around other people?

Yes, I find that most onlookers are intrigued with the process of journaling, and it often creates an entry into a conversation or a friendly encounter. I even take my journal to meetings and sketch, take notes, and doodle. It makes the time pass quickly and enhances my concentration and focus on the matters at hand. There is now research that shows that children and adults learn better if they doodle or sketch in an educational setting. I encourage all my students to do this while I am teaching classes.

You teach classes and workshops in different types of journaling. Do you recommend taking workshops (I’m assuming yes), and why?

Workshops are wonderful arenas to explore new and different techniques and be inspired to continue the creativity of journaling. And, the cross-pollination between journalers is enormous. You could never learn about all of the possibilities from books, because each journaler's interpretations are so beautifully unique. I wouldn’t hesitate to take a workshop from another proficient journaling instructor—because I always deepen my skills and increase my own repertoire of techniques.

I love to teach visual journaling, and am honored to have the opportunity to open up a whole new world for those who have never sketched before, and are reticent about trying it. I regard the whole world as “field,” therefore, I teach field sketching in my classes, a less formal approach. For me it is a way of learning about something, of getting to know it through my drawing instrument. That takes away the fears about producing “art” on every page.

Maria loves paint!  Here are three of her palettes...
As Larry McQueen, an ornithological artist says, “A thing of beauty is a worthy goal, but it should not be held with such high regard that it interferes with the real purpose of a field sketch; that is something the artist uses to enhance his/her understanding of the subject and increase the facility of visual note-taking.”

My journals contain a lot of writing, in the form of field notes, reflections, musings, and poetry as well as sketches. The most oft-asked question I receive when people look at my journals is, “Do you start with writing first, or with sketching?” I always answer, “It depends.” It depends on my mood, the subject at hand (Is it moving? Do I need to capture it quickly?), or whether the notes of what I’m seeing or thinking need to get out onto the page first. I love the purity of the blank page—a brand new start, with unlimited possibilities. With that approach, I give myself permission to take risks, to experiment with different media, to try new page designs. I don’t have to adhere to a certain style or technique; I can express whatever comes out in the moment. I always tell my students (and myself) to remember that this isn’t meant for art to hang on the wall, but rather for a record of your one precious life in words and images.

You make your own journals—tell us why?

Once I learned more in-depth techniques of combining writing, sketching, pen and ink, watercolor, collage...and more...in the journal, I wanted the physical features of the journal to enhance the content. And the aesthetics of the journal itself became important to me--the cover design, the tint and feel of the paper, the elegance of the visible stitches on the binding. I wanted to want to journal when I looked at the cover, so I desired it to be an object of beauty in itself. I also wanted the pages to open flat for ease of journaling, to be able to do a double-page sketch without a big spiral binding breaking the continuity through the center, to use papers that were as elegant as they were practical and worked equally well with different media, and to use different sizes and shapes of journals for different purposes. Nowhere could I find commercially-produced journals that met all of my desires, so I decided to learn to bind my own books. Then I could design the size, shape, cover, and paper to fulfill my purposes. I found a bookbinder who tutored me in the basic process of making a journal, then through trial and error and another workshop in bookbinding, I finally perfected my skills. Now I make all of my own journals, do custom journals for others, and have a skill with which I can make lovely gifts for family and friends for any occasion. And, I'm almost as addicted to bookbinding as I am to journaling! Whenever I am on the last pages of a journal, I make sure I have a new one waiting in the wings, with a gorgeous cover and delicious, rich paper just waiting to be filled. I don't know how I would get along now without a good journal at my fingertips.

Looks like a wonderful place to work, doesn't it?  Here you can see some of Maria's several palettes...she's in love with color!
 What direction would you like to go in the future with your journaling?

Mostly, I would just like more time to journal. I see many ordinary things each day that would become amazing and extraordinary if I had the time to study and sketch them. I begin to feel restless and ungrounded if too many days fly by without a good journal session. Journaling connects me with the land, the place I live, and how I’m living my life. I want to continue to study and practice each art and design technique in depth to improve my skills—there would never be enough time to perfect it all, but I’d like to keep trying! I would like to be one of those lifetime journalkeepers, like you, Kate, who have volumes upon volumes sitting on their shelves at the end of my life. My children have already expressed (somewhat timidly) that they want to inherit my journals when I’m gone, and I’m flattered and touched to think that those could be my legacy to them. Really, that would be enough for this journalkeeper.


Thank you, Maria!  A fascinating interview...fun to learn more about you! 

All, don't miss Maria's website at http://www.windword.net/ for classes in journaling of many types, writing, bookbinding and more!
Browse her Flickr sets at http://www.flickr.com/photos/windwordwriter/ --they're inspiring!


  1. Fabulous interview, full of insight and inspiration!

    Maria, you are so blessed that your children see the value of your journals. Mine aren't quite there yet, but then my journaling is still a developing thing.

  2. Maria, it is good to touch base with your thoughts again. I enjoyed our class this summer and am using your teachings on my current UK travel journal. Thanks for the inspiration!

  3. Great interview, thanks for introducing me to Maria, now I'm off to see her website and soak up the inspiration.

  4. What an amazing interview. I love the fact that Maria makes her own journals. Hand made journals are an art in themselves. I understand the feel of becoming disconnected when too many days go by without journaling or sketching. It fills a need that the left brain cannot fill.

  5. Great interview, Maria and Kate! Maria, you so eloquently express your love visual journaling and how it keeps you connected to the world around you.
    Your words and sketches are inspired!


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