The entirety of my formal art training consists of a Basic Drawing class I took as an elective in college. It was not a happy experience. For, while I discovered that I could, with charcoal and paper, make a reasonably accurate representation of whatever still life I found in front of me, this did not seem to be enough for the instructor. No matter how diligently I worked at measuring scale and shading objects to make them look three-dimensional, I was consistently, emphatically told that what I really needed to do was “Relax!!!”
Now, I don’t know what the average person’s reaction to an order like this is, but as a Type A, perfectionist who had spent her whole life attempting to be responsible and do things right (just like her parents and teachers had urged her), I found it extremely stressful. I had never considered myself an artist before that class, and after, felt resigned that I never would be.
Still, I love color and pattern and texture, so, when a few years ago I stumbled on art journaling, I was immediately keen. Art journaling can be different things for different people, but, in general, it’s some combination of art and writing that is done in a consistent fashion. Often, art journals are places to try new things, record events (verbally and/or pictorially), or even, just get the creative juices flowing. For me, it’s a place to play, learn, log my daily activities, and keep photos and other random ephemera.
It’s been a winding road developing a practice that works for me. The first book I bought (Diana Trout’s Journal Spilling), was a lovely primer and I still have not exhausted its resources, but it told me to open my art journal to any page at random and start there. I followed instructions (I’m still quite dutiful), but not having the pages in temporal order really irked me. Also, I realized that I didn’t want to feel like I had to wait until I had finished a page artistically (a process that could take days), to do some word journaling.
No Excuses Art Journaling by Gina Rossi Armfield felt like a good fit. It pares down the process by making use of a desk calendar, giving one artful tasks that help to record daily happenings and feelings. I followed this plan for a while, but, though I got a lot of great ideas, I found myself becoming boringly repetitive.
A few months ago, I picked up Art Journal, Art journey: Collage and Storytelling for Honoring Your Creative Process by Nichole Rae. Its process is quite different from other books of its type in that one makes entries in a computer file for several days or weeks, before printing them out, embellishing and collaging them with pictures and other artifacts into a book format. I felt energized by many of the projects in this book and even took to doing a version of her “Words I Carry” project in the calendar I was using as my art journal. The result wasn’t super arty, but it satisfied me to some degree, by adding more color and verve to my records.
I don’t know if or how long this strategy will work, but for right now I am enjoying it. I love looking back at my old entries. Even though I am primarily a writer, I find that the illustration, so to speak, reveals so much more about what I was thinking and feeling. And because it’s all just for me, it doesn’t matter what it looks like. If something turns out terrible, I just laugh and say to myself, “Well, that sure didn’t work!” This is the main reason I value my art journaling—because it’s one of the few areas in my life where I can easily have that kind of attitude. I consciously tell myself not to think, just act. It’s a safe place for me to leap without looking and, even, you know . . . relax.
Do you art journal? If so, what’s your style? If you don’t, and would like to, here are some great online resources to get you started:
Julie Fei-Fan Balzer does a weekly Art Journal post on her blog, has a whole section of her site devoted to it, AND she has all kinds of other cool arty stuff on her site. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Just go there and subscribe to her blog already.
France Papillon’s site—a totally different almost subdued look, but with a lot of interesting texture and other design elements. She also offers a weekly video tutorial of her work in her own art journal!
Thanks for reading! 🙂