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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

My big fat black journal

I’ve long been a fan of the kind of beautiful illustrated journal that Kate Johnson and others, like Roz Stendahl, Pam Johnson Brickell, and Danny Gregory, to give a few examples, produce.

Theirs are visually arresting books---almost art objects in themselves. They feature well-designed pages and handsome lettering. Often the books themselves are handmade, the paper of good quality.

While there may be entries of a personal nature, they are not so private that no thought is given to the appearance of the page for possible public sharing, even if the sharing is of a limited nature. In general, text and image are both important. The pages themselves may not be pristine. In Roz’s, Kate’s and Danny’s books, there’s lots of experimentation going on and many quick, quick sketches, but the overall effect seems to be of a well-made, nicely designed artifact. (I say ‘seems,’ because I have only seen these journals on line.)

My own illustrated journals, until recently, were different from these. They were more sketchbook than conventional journal, without a strong textual presence.

In those pages, I’ve practiced drawing because I LOVE it and so that I could become better at it. I’ve taught myself how to use watercolor, and, in more conventional journal-writing fashion, I’ve tried to get down on paper, in images, the important events and people in my life.

From the time I was about 8, though, I’ve written in diaries and journals. My sketchbooks were a thing apart from those written records of my life. For the past 6 years, my concentration on drawing and producing my blog Laurelines put an end to my journal keeping.

A few months ago, I turned to writing in a journal again. In taking up journaling once more, I remembered the lessons I learned years ago from the powerful, transformative book, The New Diary by Tristine Rainer. Rainer advocates journaling as a means to communicate with oneself, to develop creativity, to solve problems, to enrich the inner life.

Emphasis is on freedom of expression, expanding consciousness, finding a state of flow ---and getting all of this down on paper any way you can. Well-designed pages? Good paper? Nice lettering? Well, unless you operate that way instinctively, intuitively, with your eyes closed, without censors or brakes... no.

When I restarted my journaling life, I had not planned to include imagery. Or not planned NOT to.
I just bought a big blank book (big enough to allow me to scrawl across a page) with mediocre paper (something that the sketching me would not have been happy about) and started writing.

And images appeared, there, along with the words!

Not as illustrations, but more the rough lineaments of daydreams or nightmares, the quick capturing of something my eye fell on as I paused in my writing, time outs from hard thinking, notes for paintings and projects, sometimes plain old documentation, too. The images are more fleshed out than doodles, yet only rarely are they anything close to polished art pieces!

The more the images appeared, the more I gave way to their flow. Now, I can hardly wait to see what will happen next!

Why I don’t KNOW what will happen next is because this new journal of mine is about process and not product. It’s about communication with the self, not with others.

And it’s about pulling together the various aspects of myself---myself the artist, myself the writer, myself the mother, wife, friend and all the rest... all in one place, between two covers of a regular old, big, black, blank book.

It’s an illustrated journal, but it doesn’t look like Kate’s, or Roz’s, or Danny’s, or Pat’s. It’s rough-hewn, private, with buckled and splattered pages, loaded with crossed-out words and wiggly arrows. It works for me. I write about it here as a way to show there are many ways to make this thing we call an illustrated journal and to say that maybe something LIKE this may work for you, too.


  1. I find the changes in your process very intriguing! How cool that images are coming into your journal. I also like that you've explained your process—much food for thought in your words.

    As of yet, I have not been successful in combining my written journal and my sketchbook unless it is when I am traveling. I think mainly because one (the written one) is private whereas the others are personal but not private.

  2. Me, too, Laure, on all your points--- I find the changes intriguing, too! And I, like you, had not successfully combined my journal with sketching, except in a shorthand way in my travel sketchbooks. So this new turn of events is great---I suppose that, having drawn so much over the past few years, the drawing me HAD to get in the act in this new journal. I love how this has turned out and I think there's going to even more evolution as the weeks, months, years go by! Btw, my new journal is extremely private, too---the bits I show in my post were carefully chosen because they were among the least disclosing.

  3. Thank you for this entry.

    I know that my journals look nothing like the wonderful journals I see online. I wonder where are the practice pages, where are the failed pages? Of course some are so talented that their failed pages still look great. But not mine. My "failures" just look like scratch marks and trial sketches. But after all, this is my journal, for me, and it is where I am now.

    Thanks again.

  4. What an incredibly liberating post, dearest Laura! The process is fascinating...and sounds like exactly what fills that place in your soul that needed filling. I'm not surprised that the sketching you needed to be "heard" by your exploring you...

    And of course I have many pages I don't scan or share. There have been a few that I have in order to show ways to keep things private if you need to. Your page of notes and boxes and arrows looks very familiar!

  5. Laura, I am SO glad that you have found something that is working. I love your comment about process rather than finished product (I actually had a lightbulb moment about this very concept the other day that I have wanted to blog about when I get a chance) I find it so interesting that the drawings have come into the written journal.Although these pages might only be for you they are wonderful and I enjoy seeing the spontaneity of them!

  6. I think what you have described is what most of our journals look like. Your illustrations are beautiful, first of all, they hardly look like a mess! lol! I have every one of the books you mention and treasure them and refer to them all the time. But they often intimidate the "average" journal/sketcher because we don't have the design skills to produce gorgeous pages. Thank you for sharing your process and pages so we all can be encouraged to keep journals.

  7. Laura, I was devouring this wonderful and liberating (thanks Kate) post and thinking, I'll do it today, I'll take out one of those beautiful plain paper journals people keep giving me and start a journal just for me - rough, messy sketches allowed. You can't imagine my delight when I clicked on that bottom page of yours simply because it looked so beautiful and found that I had a mention! Sitting here, smiling stupidly. :)

  8. Laure, I feel your peace as you explore in your big fat black journal. 'Liberating' is such a great word for this (ditto, Kate!) I'm so glad you shared your new journey. I agree it's all about the journey. That's where the fun is.
    Those are the moments that can get lost if you concentrate too hard on the destination. Now they're saved forever. Priceless!

  9. Thanks so much, everyone! Robyn, I was hoping you'd see that! And I hope you start your journal... I think you will find it enriching beyond expectation. This new one feels so different from the many, many I've done before. I hope you'll report back to me and to us ;D. Loretta, thank you and so nice to 'see' you. You and I have been cyber buddies for a long time, haven't we? And yes, my new journal is not different in basic type from most people's, I"m sure.. the images and the new sense of freedom of expression are wonderful surprises, though.

  10. Laura, what you have said is so important to all. It is so easy to get caught up in the product of journaling rather than just allowing the process, whatever form it takes. Being a free-lance writer all my life has in the past dominated my journaling orientation with words, but in this mid-life-and-beyond phase, art has simply kidnapped my brain and heart, and now the words flow much less in my process of expression and the art language is enthralling. I think there are phases in desire, courage, mood, and even biochemistry of the brain that contribute to how we journal at any particular time. When I teach classes in journaling, I am always committed to bringing one of my "early" journals (scratchy pen scrawls and messy doodles, no color) along with the later ones--to give encouragement to beginners and to show how the process can change over time. It also reminds me of how my own journaling has evolved and changed.

  11. Thanks, Maria. I've been thinking about this whole subject of Journal as Product vs journal as process and am mentally composing another post on the topic.
    I'm glad to read these comments. Thank you so much for yours.

  12. Laura, I love this post. I didn't realize you had had a 6 year break from journaling. I love seeing these pages in your commercially made big-fat-black journal. The spontaneity and jostling on the page is exactly what I think journaling is about.

    For me journaling is very much about experimenting (as you mention in your comments about me) but it is also about having the journal for me, just me, to work in as my own book, without the constraints or expectations of others. Part of how I keep my journal for myself is by sharing only those pages that I feel do not endanger the boundaries I've created for my creative space. I enjoy the process of journaling so much and it has brought me so much joy in my life that I couldn't resist sharing the activity with others and that meant teaching.

    But teaching also meant sharing my journal first with students and then with people on line (past students and a larger group of people I hoped to encourage to journal).

    To keep my creative boundaries I typically share those pages which are ones with have less personal matter on them (i.e., more direct observation rather than emotional comments), or are pages I feel I can use to explain something to people and encourage them to journal. And of course are not pages that give out my class instructions or book structure designs. (I actually encourage my students to not share their journals until their habit is established, and to have clear boundaries if they decide to share their journals.)

    So I think on process we are in agreement, because my journals are all about process—where my creative mind is taking me, where my creative tools are taking me, what projects I'm working on, how I get there (with swatches and color notes and thumbnail sketches for paintings and book structures and such), and of course the daily practice of sketching what is around me, both for practice in sketching, but also to be observant about my world.

    I think that journals are most useful when they are about process. When journals become a product in and of themselves I believe they cross over into "artist's books."

    And the "artist book as journal" becomes totally uninteresting to me, because I don't see the process going on there. (The one exception in my life is of course the fake journal which is an indulgence in process, but does end with an artifact that many would label as an artist's book.)

    I hope your post will encourage people to seek out what they are passionate about and explore it with whatever tools and paper they have in hand, getting to know their minds in the process, at the same time developing healthy boundaries about what if anything they will share from their journals.

    I love that your new journal has drawn together all the aspects of your creative self. I'm excited that you shared this wonderful glimpse with us.

  13. Thanks so much, for your lovely, supportive, and informative comment, Roz. I like your emphasis on knowing one's boundaries and on keeping the heart of one's journal a private place. I admire many of the journals as art objects I see here and elsewhere, but that is not what I'm, personally, compelled to make, for whatever reason.

  14. This is a very thought provoking post for me. I too keep a messy journal, full of scribbles and sketches -- 37 volumes of big black hard bound books. Definitly not a polished product. I tend to capture moments in time ... virtually always capturing something in nature. Reading your post reminded me I used to think more in my journal ... capture ideas, inspiration, goals. I think I'd like to go back to including more of that too. Thank you for making me think about just what I want to do in my journal.

  15. I've read this post and the comments a few times now, so full of insights and wisdom. That communication with oneself can get so lost and swallowed up in the vastness and stimulation of the internet, and the temptation to produce pages that others find worth looking at, but is core to the growth and self-knowledge that we crave. I've had an erratic, but ongoing private 'ugly' journal that I now think I must pay more respect to, it has taught me much, and sketchbooks with a few notes scattered around, but I love this progression of yours, and the life your big fat black journal has taken on - your life. So inspiring as always Laura, thank you!

  16. And thank YOU, dear Cathy, for your perceptive and thoughtful contributions to the discussion, as always. I think I hear your 'ugly' journal calling you ;D. I had one, too, a kind of studio notebook in which I wrote mostly ideas about my work, process notes, lamentations, self exhortations, very occasionally sighs of relief. Now I do all that in the big fat black journal, along with everything else that goes in there. I am still keeping a real sketchbook, of course. You are so right. Especially in this time of instant, global communication, enriching as it is in many ways, there's the danger of losing that still, vital center of the self.

  17. Sounds like an epic journey a farewell to the moon maybe, but well I actually still don't know what to do in life, i know what i want but not what to do and that's why i keep myself reading books all the time, with the hope that some day i will find an answer.

  18. Hi Laura, I'm so with you on this! I love what you say here, "The images are more fleshed out than doodles, yet only rarely are they anything close to polished art pieces!" Those kinds of sketches the ones that are rarely close to polished art are the BEST kind. They capture the essence of the thing and the artist at that given moment, they document the relationship between the two in the most authentic way. Process over product has been my mantra for almost a year now and I aspire to gather all the parts of myself into on big fat art journal! Thanks for the lovely post and the encouragement to do just that.


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