In my day, we had sketchbooks. And they were uphill, both ways…

Random smart ass remark on yesterday’s blog post led to doodling and made me to want to talk about “journal” used as a verb.

The whole “art journaling” thing–my spellchecker doesn’t believe journaling is a real word, and I feel its pain, nouns should stay nouns, goddamnit–seems to have exploded at some point in the last year or so. At least, that’s the point where I found myself in a bookstore, standing in the art section, which usually bleeds into craft on one side and photography on the other, and instead of the usual knitting-and-polymer clay, it was suddenly full of spines with the word “Journal” and “Journaling” and lots of subheaders about creative journeys and getting in touch with your inner artist.*

Never loathe to pick up a new art form–I’ve had a lot of fun with assemblage, after all, which mentions journaling occaisionally–I have flipped through some of these books.

Understanding continues to elude me.

I think it’s somewhere between a sketchbook and a scrapbook and an assemblage art piece. Or something. The books (and they have magazines! There are whole magazines devoted to this! With articles with titles like “Journals That Heal” and “101 Secrets to Beautiful Backgrounds”) tell you to be bold and experiment, and don’t worry, there’s no way to screw up, this is your personal journey, there’s no wrong way to do it!

Then they show you dozens of carefully composed collages, heavy on the cut-out Audubon birds and art papers, laden with inspirational quotes, generally rendered by people with magnificent handwriting.

There may not be a wrong way to do it, but clearly some ways are more right than others.

If I was producing stuff that looked like that, they would not be “journal pages.” They would be “mixed media” and they would be “for sale” and I would be somewhat closer to paying “the rent.”

It is entirely possible that every person who does this is actually producing those, I don’t know, but I suspect sampling bias may be involved. (On the other hand, there are artists who’s sketchbooks are unbelievably elegant tightly packed miracles of drawing. My mother is guilty of this. My sketchbooks have large blank swatches and frequent obscenities, and it becomes obvious after awhile that I don’t really enjoy drawing. (Painting, I like. Drawing is more of a necessary evil.))

So I am skeptical. I am also skeptical of the themes of most of these proffered journal pages…it’s always hopes, dreams, the courage to create, soaring with your own wings, imagination, and Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Seriously, do cicadas never fly down these people’s pants?

I don’t know. I don’t want to slam anybody who gets a real, meaningful thrill out of dream-hope-believe etc. I draw hamsters with bras on their heads, I seriously do not get to judge anybody else’s creative outlet.  But I do find myself gazing at all these visually different but very much similar samples, and wondering if the editor just left out the pages with the incontinent beagle.

At some point, as I wandered the internet, attempting to fathom this mystery–was there something here I could use? I like writing! I like art! I can buy cool paper! This is just an autobiographical comic with an off-screen narrator, right?–Kevin came into the room and asked what I was up to, and I attempted to explain.

“But you have a blog,” he said.

“It’s different. I think.” I stared at the monitor, where some very nice woman rhapsodized about her journaling and how it was so freeing and inspiring and how she grabbed a few minutes a day to paint backgrounds, which, I have gathered, is not like what I do when I paint backgrounds, which is generally just tedious and involves atmospheric perspective.  “It’s…uh…artistic advice. Or growth. Or something.”

He gave me that one look. (Yes, the one some of you are giving the screen right now. Don’t think I can’t feel that!)

“I have no idea,” I admitted.

Never let it be said, however, that ignorance–or profound skepticism–stops me.  If I had an inspirational quote that I was going to stencil on the wall, my forehead, and the pages of my hypothetical journaling journal of journalness, it’d be the one from Twain that goes “All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure.”

I located a watercolor moleskine, and attempted to prepare a background on two of the pages, in accordance with prophecy and Somerset Studio.

It didn’t go well.

I then proceeded to write small amusing blurbs and draw bad cartoons of myself on the backs of the prepared pages, because it turns out having a small portable sketchbook is actually pretty good for writing down such immortal sentiments as “There are never enough opportunities to use Thieves Cant!” and “Why do we even have to have a conversation that begins with “Are those dirty socks on the windowsill?”**

Two days of this later, I decided that I was by god going to do a mixed media piece that reflected one of the sentiments in my journal, goddamnit. I shall not be defeated!  So I picked the one on the very first page, the one that I felt really said something significant and worthwhile and relevant to my life.

6 x 9, mixed media.

Apparently there is no way to do it wrong. So there.

As traumatic as it would undoubtedly be to part with this deeply personal work, torn from the darkest pages of my journaling, I’m willing to make this sacrifice. For…um….personal growth. Or something.

Prints available.

*I am not sure if I have an inner artist. I’ve been making do with the outer one for awhile now. Probably other people do have inner artists, for ease of storage purposes. I sometimes think I may have an inner accountant, since somebody in there worries about money, but that’s not quite the same thing.

**True Story.  An eight-year-old was involved.

  • reply kat ,

    I remember reading once that channelling your creative impulses was like holding a conversation with your inner child. This struck me as quite accurate. Anyone who’s ever tried to make a seven-year-old clean her room knows exactly how most of my discussions with my writing brain go.

    Dunno if it works the same with art. I am theoretically capable of learning to draw, but then, I am theoretically capable of learning physics too. I suspect I fail at them both for similar reasons (inability to visualize and basic laziness for the, ah, not at all win.)

    • reply James Hays ,

      First, let me say that I adore that doodle of yourself. As an added exercise, try mirroring the right eye in place of the left one and just gradually go for slightly wider and wider eyes until that doodle looks like a complete innocent. Or is wracked in horror, your choice. 🙂

      Second, I’m pretty sure those example collages are there as a way of deflating the egos of everyone who buys those books. This relegates them to the coffee tables of the world, which is their intended destination.

      Third, I have noticed the unsettling tendency to be unhappy with a piece and then come back to it years later and be entranced by it. This suggests that all pieces are perfect, but your current appreciation of them is what is flawed. Or else my personal sense of taste degrades over time. I haven’t quite worked that out yet.

      • reply Jodie ,

        I can’t draw worth beans. While I can be creative when the mood strikes me with other art forms and media, drawing and painting seem to elude me. Having said that, this “art-journaling” thing is a cross between scrapbooking and the “altered book” sect where you desecrate perfectly innocent books by gluing pages together, paint, draw, color in the book… I have a hard time with that concept and could never bring myself to go to the altered book club at the local rubber stamp store where I used to work. I can’t look at a piece of paper and get what I envision in my head onto the paper… I don’t get it either…

        • reply Quilsnap ,

          HAH
          they’ve been making me keep an art journal for FIVE YEARS now and its never good enough. I still love blank books though so I occasionally add to my monstrous stack, but I abstain from filling them in out of spite.

          • reply tracy B ,

            Your awesome and you make me happy 🙂

            • reply SkyWookiee ,

              Hm, as all the art-journal pages I’ve seen were in blogs and not on magazine pages, they were mostly the opposite in theme – feeling down, being dumped, pain, depression and drama. The look, though, was close.

              • reply TangoPig ,

                I occasionally suspect that this is the secondary real reason I read your blog (the primary one being that I like to read aloud conversation between you and Kevin to my partner). It is so validating for someone who is obviously, y’know, creative and stuff to tell me that I’m not necessarily bad and lazy and uncreative because I can’t set aside five minutes a day and give myself permission to be uncommercially and personally involved in the creative forces.

                I can’t believe I just typed that, I’m going to wash my hands.

                • reply PandaGal ,

                  I have to say – I ‘get’ some of this – but not all. But then I have never drawn a penis with wings either. I am trying visual art but am actually a writer by self-description.

                  I love this mixed media piece – since it involves nouns and verbs and the annoyance at them used incorrectly.

                  I think the people have decided to ‘screw the English language’ – since in the modern day of technology – who needs it right?!

                  So nowadays – just like the morality of ‘anything goes’ – so it is with art. Everyone can invent their own artwork and suddenly that makes them an ‘expert’ on the subject. Even if said artwork does not even follow the rules of the language it is described in when it gives its genre description.

                  I love your openness, your honesty, your ‘dare to be different’ approach and your stubbornness. Do what you want to do to make your art world ‘right’. Apparently in today’s climate ‘no way is the wrong way’ – right?!

                  Anyway, you create things that people like – that they pay money for that pays the rent – that makes you an artist.

                  I love your work.

                  I rant a lot also.

                  • reply StarDragger ,

                    So I’ve come here and I’ve read the journal entry (which I found quite interesting), but I’m still scratching my head–I’ve seen journal used as a verb but I’ve never seen creative used as a noun. Could you please point me in the direction of someone misusing that particular adjective?

                    • reply Camille ,

                      I hear lots of people in the marketing industry say “I am a Creative.” or “The Creatives upstairs handle that, not us.”

                      I thought it was weird but they accept it as part of the jargon.

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                                          • reply Aeryn Kelly-Reitmeyer ,

                                            The thing is, a lot of art journallers come from the scrapbooking realm. And journalling *is* a word if you can manage to add two “l”s, your spell check will be just fine. In the scrapbooking section of being an “artist” (and believe me, there’s a HUGE divide as most people do not believe that scrapbooking or cardmaking is in any way an art), there are a lot of rules. Scrapbooking has rigidity, even if it says it doesn’t. Tutorials help make people feel safe about it. Feel that they can do it without being “wrong”. Hence the books on that subject. On the other side is the art journal. This is where a person, (scrapbooker) can become a mixed media artist. There aren’t rules tying her down, there aren’t people looking over her shoulder making her post to a gallery for everyone to see whatever mess she’s made. But still, since this section is very used to being hand held, and being sold product after product after product, it’s very easy to make tutorials for them. But the IDEA is that they get out of their head of “it has to be like this” and just put paint/pen/pencil to paper and do whatever they want. I don’t see why that’s a hard concept for anyone to grasp, really.

                                            *disclaimer: I’m a colourist. I have NO artistic drawing ability. I take markers and I colour images drawn by other people. That’s MY form of artistic expression. It’s all I’ve got. I do not art journal; I cannot “play” with mixed media or *anything else* for that matter. I’m a purposeful person, I always have been, and that makes me unfit for art journalling in the sense that the scrapbook/papercrafting community means it.

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