Thursday, August 11, 2011

Bad blogger!

Bad blogger...that's me, letting almost a full week pass in between posts. When I began, I had intentions of posting very regularly, if not daily. But something has come up that I completely didn't expect.

And I blame that something on this book by Cathy Johnson:  Artist's Journal Workshop. Let me just say, I did not seek out this book. I was looking for something entirely different, and it found me. I stumbled across it at Borders, it was 20% off since they're going out of business, and it came home with me. This was roughly 3 weeks ago, and I had no idea what I'd be getting into with this book.

See, this book is about art journals, but not the sort of journal I normally keep. Not the mixed-media, collaged to the hilt, layered to the extreme sort of journal. This book is more about sketchbooks- drawing, light washes of watercolors, perhaps some gouache. Absolutely NOT the sort of journal I've ever kept, simply because drawing was something I just didn't do. In fact, if you had told me about this book, even if you'd strongly recommended it, I wouldn't have been interested. It was something I had to find for myself. And when I did, I was so incredibly inspired.

Something about this way of journal keeping reminded me of my happiest journaling years, which would be roughly from 1995-1998. During that time I was in college, and I used the big black Canson sketchbooks as my journals. I filled 2 of them a year, and those handful of journals are some of the most meaningful in my collection. There is such an innocence about them in the way that I threw in everything without fears, without censoring, without holding back. Sure, a lot of these books are filled with angst over whether I should marry my fiance at the time (I didn't!) or quit the part-time job that made me miserable (I did!) or change my major yet again (5 times in my college career! lol). There's a lot of silly drama and rehashing of whatever I was obsessed with at the time. But there's such raw energy there. So much honestly that I blush now when I re-read some parts, over 15 years later.

They weren't really what I'd call art journals, though I did do some collages, mostly of things I wanted to buy but couldn't afford, or places I wanted to travel to someday. But I did tape the stuff of life in there- poems I loved and typed out, packaging from products I loved, nametags from various events I attended, movie tickets, business cards from restaurants and coffee shops, and so on. I did all kinds of silly doodles, and I played with Crayola markers from time to time. I let myself be as goofy and lame as I wanted to be. These are the journals that I look back through and WHAM! It's like being transported back in time. But even better, these are the journals that really were for ME and me alone. I wasn't thinking about making them look "good" or sound wise. They were my safe place, where I went to celebrate, to complain, to whine, to worry, to daydream, to obsess.

I think what's so different about the way I journal now vs. the way I journaled then, is that back then my journal was my constant companion. Where I went, that journal went with me, and nothing was too ordinary to be written about or taped in. I didn't have tons of stuff the way I do now. I didn't have acrylic paints, collage images, gesso, rubber stamps, inks, an assortment of glues, tapes of all kinds and sizes. I had a few pens I loved. I had some markers.  I had a roll of Scotch tape. That was it! And I made magic from just that!

I'm always looking for ways to make my journal more "me" and less commercial. Less pre-packaged ephemera, and more stuff from real life. Less purchased product, and more stuff manipulated by me. And so this book really blew me away. It made me want to try drawing again, something I've tried before and given up on quickly. It made me want to severely limit my supplies for a little while, and see what I could do with just them. And it made me want to make my journal my daily companion again, something I pulled out and played in wherever and whenever, instead of something I left at home and worked on primarily at the art table. I wanted to make my journal less precious. Less of a showcase of completed "art pages" and more of a repository of messy, ordinary life.

So when I finished up that last journal, I started a new one. In fact, I'm almost halfway through the new journal already! I've done some SERIOUSLY ugly drawings in it. I've done some weird portraits of people I love. I've drawn the Buddha at least a dozen times. I've worked on the page itself, without a single painted background in the book. I've fallen back in love with pens I couldn't use before because they wouldn't work over acrylic paint. I've played with watercolors and gouache. I've used my journal for some of the most ordinary things- testing new supplies, making shopping lists, jotting down a book recommendation. I've simplified my materials so I that I can journal in bed, in the living room, even in a long line at the grocery store. And that journal has been all over with me in the last 3 weeks. I've journaled at the pool during my son's swimming lessons, in a doctor's waiting room, at the yoga studio waiting for kirtan to begin, and in my car. I'm honestly having the time of my life.

If any of this resonates with you, I highly recommend that you pick up Cathy Johnson's book. I am so incredibly inspired, and maybe you will be, too! She also started a blog based on the book, and many of the contributors to the book post to the blog as well. You can find it here.

If you've read this far, thanks for listening. ;)


  1. It's nice to read this. As i've started my journal recently, I've had this nagging voice inside telling me "yes, but it's not a proper journal. Proper journals are covered in gesso and acrylic. Proper journals use pre-made card pictures. Proper journals..." you get the picture. I still can't quite get myself to journal spontaneously, out and about, in the moment, but I think that's just my nature...I need to reflect, select and sum up rather than put in everything, maybe I'm missing the best bits, but like you say I think that's something I need to figure out for myself at some point further down the line! Good on you for getting it all in there without the fuss and fanfare!

  2. Isn't it funny how we make all these rules for what our journals should be, when really they should be the place for ultimate freedom? I mean, it's a darned book, and if we hate what we do we can buy another one! lol

  3. arika what joy & rediscovery! :) i would love to see some pages of your new journal, that resembles your college journal. of course if they are too private or personal, just keep those treasures for yourself. what i find when i read my old journals, is how some parts of me have hardly changed at all.

  4. Teddi, I have that SAME thought all the time. So much has changed- job, husband, kid, countless moves- and I am essentially the same person I was when I was 20. Sometimes I'll reread something and realize I even use the same phrases and way of speaking, even!