Art journaling is an idea that has fascinated me for years. Even before I started learning to draw, I’d heard about — and seen — artist journals, and oh, how I wished I could do something so creative! The colors… the images… the ideas… page after page of pure creativity spilling out. It was enough to make me drool with envy.
As I began learning to draw, I also started playing around with the idea of visual journaling. It’s a difficult concept for me. As I explained yesterday, I’m more a writer than an artist, and trying to put my thoughts into pictures wasn’t working well for me. Of course, at the start, my art journaling was very feeble. I carried a sketchbook around with me, made notes of things — such as the fact that it was raining — and then attempted to illustrate my thoughts in some way. Raindrops, anybody?
I didn’t have enough drawing skill to make that idea a very practical one. I gave up after a few days.
Even at that, the idea of art journaling left me bewildered. I was approaching it wrong, of course. Instead of expressing any genuine thoughts or feelings, or truly saving memories of important events, I was simply trying to find one simple thing that I could somehow draw. It was awful. It’s not that I saw no point in art journaling; it’s that I saw no point in me doing art journaling. I didn’t have the necessary drawing skill.
Now, you might be shaking your head and saying “No, no, you don’t have to draw as part of an art journal. You can do anything.” True enough, and I’ll get to that in a bit.
As I learned more about drawing and began playing with watercolor — back in 2016 — I tried art journaling again. I bought a special watercolor sketchbook, and I was truly excited at the prospect of filling it with… what? I wasn’t quite sure, but I was excited all the same.
I bought a book about watercolor journaling — Anyone Can Learn Watercolor Journaling. I read it, and in the end, I found myself only more bewildered. Art journaling can be so many things! In browsing around, and in the class I began yesterday at Artful Academy, the emphasis is definitely on mixed media.
Mixed media has overtones of “crafty things that involve scissors and glue.” I don’t do well with either.
Before we go on, yes, I did put together a journal page today, and yes, it has meaning for who I am and where I am, and I’ll get to that later, too. First, let’s back up to my original thought about drawing in an art journal. You don’t need to draw anything. There are other ways to create images. There are stamps, there are stencils, there’s the whole process of collage whereby images are literally cut and pasted. Of course, there’s abstract expression, as well.
The simple truth is this: anything goes in art journaling.
And you know something…? That’s exactly why I have problems with it. It goes back to what I’ve said before about needing certain restraints on creativity in order for my brain to function properly. I need limits. I need guidelines. I need structure and, from time to time, even a set of rules. This is what turns on and activates that creative part of my brain. Structure and rules force me to use my imagination in creative ways. When it’s “anything goes”, well, anything goes, and what I create doesn’t matter. Maybe that’s the point for a lot of artists, but if what I create doesn’t matter, what’s the point in creating it?
My head was soon spinning as I dealt with all the old questions about art journaling again. Why would I want to do it? What’s an art journal supposed to be? How am I supposed to do it? Ah, yes, the ramblings of an unrestrained mind!
I went off in search of answers, and I came across this marvelous definition:
Art Journal: A Definition
An art journal, or artist’s journal, is a book kept by an artist as a visual, and sometimes verbal, record of her thoughts and ideas.
Art journals generally combine visual journaling and writing, to create finished pages. Every imaginable style, media and technique is used by art journalists. When it comes to the types of work represented in artist journals, there really aren’t any rules, and each book is as unique as the artist who created it.
From — What is an Art Journal?
Reading this definition brought art journaling into a much clearer focus for me. I understood exactly why I’ve never been able to do it. “There really aren’t any rules.” There we go. Without rules — or guidelines, at least — I can’t function.
I realized that if I wanted to make an art journal, I had to first put a few rules into place. I had to come up with a plan of action that would work for me. I can’t go floundering about in this sea of “anything goes”. I’ll drown if I do.
So, I sat down this morning and came up with a process.
Because I do “morning pages” almost every day — three pages hand-written in a spiral-bound notebook — I have a well-spring of thoughts and ideas from which I can draw. I can’t convert three pages of cursive into a single visual idea, of course, although it might be fun to try. Seriously, though, instead of trying to cram everything into a page for an art journal, I decided to focus on a single idea. I considered all I’d written this morning, pulled out the most salient points, and distilled it into a single word.
I then took that word and played with it, just as I played with IMAGINATION yesterday. Again the results were somewhat similar in that my final creation bore no resemblance really to anything I’d written down during my word-play exercise time.
Without further ado, here is my art journal page:
Do the words and the images go together? Not really, but it’s all right. It’s how I can apply the anything goes concept.
Conscience is the voice of the soul.
That’s the thought of this page, the message, if you will, and nothing in the cut-out hearts (with images from the Bob Ross calendar my daughter gave me for Christmas) really speaks to the idea of conscience.
The colors I chose — shades of grey with yellow interspersed — were an attempt to express ideas of sadness with moments of hope mixed in.
The washi tape? An afterthought. I have a good supply of it, so why not use it? Oh, I should mention that the theme for August in the Artful Academy class is re-cycle, learning to use or re-use different supplies we have around our studios. So I cut up old calendar pages (I’d thoughtfully been saving them for just such a project as this) and I grabbed that washi tape sitting in the craft area.
I did have lots of ideas in my head. I thought of a large heart with the image of a woman inside, standing up and singing. Nice idea, but my calendar pages were too small for that idea, so I went with smaller hearts, just trying to do the best I could with what I had.
My plan now is to add a few of the conscience-related thoughts from my “morning pages” journal to go “side by side” with this art journal illustration. Those thoughts were about standing up for what we believe, questions about how conscience is taught… or, well, is it taught? Or is it something everyone has?
Between my written words and my attempts at visually creating something to go along, I’ll create an art journal that works for me and serves my purpose. What I’m wanting, you see, is to save a few thoughts, a way to preserve a few of the ideas that represent what my life — and the world around me — is all about.
If you’re interested in art journaling, there are many books and articles available. Most are designed to “spark” creativity. For me, that approach only makes my mind explode with too many ideas and possibilities. I need focus. I need structure. I need rules.
For those who’d like to explore more, here are a few of the resources I came across.
Have fun and please share your thoughts about art journaling!