Archives for December 2009

Art Journals 3

Journaling with Words and Images

This is the third in a series of interviews with Joan Gregory.

I met Joan in a course I was taking. One day she happened to bring her journal to class which was filled with quotes, drawings, and collage as well as writing and notes. Several of us were interested enough that she agreed to do a short workshop for us before the class started one day. In the workshop we learned how to make a simple book and how to work with special papers and decorative elements. I loved it and asked her to talk to me more about this type of work, Art Journaling.

Once the change to a more visual form happened, and you began laying out journal pages and fitting the writing into the space rather than writing and fitting the images into the space, how did your work develop?

PA170131Initially I would write and then add an image or highlight a passage with color. Then, as I mentioned, I would prepare pages ahead of time so I could just fill in the blanks later with writing, but now I’ll go back and forth between the two approaches. You never want to get to a place where you‘re not writing (and I have been there) because you haven’t got a visually attractive page ready yet. I think it’s important to know that you can always go back to a page at a later date and add ‘stuff’.

Often I’ll formulate the page as I write. It has reached the point where I can visually map out a page, like a puzzle, ahead of time and write in some boxes leaving room in alternate boxes for images or text. For example, if I transcribe a poem and it mentions birds, I would know to look for a bird image. Once you start this kind of thing it takes on a life of its own and any rules you thought you had fly out the window. Your imagination soars. In other words, the layouts develop through trial and error and lots of practice. It’s really a very intuitive process and something anyone with the willingness to spend the time at will get the hang of.

How do you suggest someone start becoming more visual?

Each person will bring their own unique signature to the page. Adopt a magpie point of view; begin collecting whatever catches your eye, images and articles from magazines, cards, wrapping paper, etc., then start. Get a shallow box, lids work well, trays do too, or a file folder and add to it as you find things.

PA170134To get you thinking differently about the white page, try sectioning it off into quadrants changing the size of each ‘box’ for interest’s sake. Write in one, color one or two, draw or add images to the other. Use rubber stamps to add an individual graphic or an allover background pattern. Take several pieces of your favorite papers, rip or cut them and paste them onto the page. Embellish with rub on transfers which are still a favorite of mine and can be found at any shop that carries scrapbooking supplies.

A good graphics book, something like The Non-Designer’s Design Book – Design and Typographic Principles for the Visual Novice by Robin Williams or The Graphic DESIGN Cookbook – Mix + Match Recipes for Faster, Better Layouts by Koren and Meckler are two I like that will give you infinite possibilities for laying out a page, or look in any magazine for a design you like. No need re-inventing the wheel! I keep a binder of magazine layouts for ideas.

For inspiration I keep my favorite colored pens, a tray of alphabet stickers, transfers and quotes nearby so I can include them on the page. I had placed a quote vertically before and liked the look of it, it broke up the horizontal repetitiveness so then that became a design element for future pages.

So it seems part of this is simply getting to the place where you are willing to play and explore?

Absolutely. Enjoy it. I recently listened to Clarissa Pinkola Estes, the wonderful cantedora (storyteller) on a webinar program hosted by Sounds True who sagely said, “Perfection is the enemy of done.” I love that! When you’re a child playing and having an adventure you’re not thinking, “Am I doing this perfectly?” So don’t be critical of your work, just do it and keep going, being mindful that what you’re creating is for you, it’s your personal style. It’s about what you love, what you find beautiful, what you are interested in.

What kinds of things have you learned as you’ve explored?

One of the things I noticed was that by adding papers, tags and other items to a commercial journal the pages of the book became thicker; it expanded and would no longer lay flat. To prevent this from happening I learned to remove some pages ahead of time. As a result of the technical concerns, I began taking an interest in bookbinding and how to make a book from scratch, specifically for art journaling. I have taken several courses and now have more options for the overall design of the journal. I can determine the size of it, what kind of paper(s) to use and how I want to bind it.

Something else I started doing fairly early on was choosing a theme for the journal. My second journal began as a Gratitude journal, the third was a Water/Ocean journal, the fourth was titled, “On the Wing” – a journal inspired by birds, insects and angels… and so on. It is yet another way to be creative. It also helps to define what you are going to collect for paper and graphics.

Can you tell us more about how you use ephemera in your journals?

The definition of ephemera is “something short-lived or transitory, especially all types of paper documents, printed and handwritten, produced for a specific purpose and intended for disposal”. Some examples are telephone book pages, wrapping paper, greeting cards, post cards, cancelled postage stamps, advertising, transportation tickets, parking tickets, concert tickets, bills, newspapers, last month’s horoscope, tourist brochures, gift tags, transfers, notices, candy wrappers, food labels, wine labels, and shipping labels.

Any of these bits and pieces can help jump start your writing. Reach into your stash of ephemera, don’t even look at what you are pulling out; paste it in your book and create a story around it. Or document your day using the items you’ve collected while out and about. On a holiday last year, I visited a café called Insomnia. I kept one of the long tubular sugar packages with their name on it and am saving it for a journal entry when I can’t get to sleep.

I once did an entire journal using tea ephemera as inspiration. I had collected a lot of paper tags off of tea bags and tea bag packages and by adding definitions and descriptions of different types of tea, quotes about the drinking of tea, etc. I ended up with a sixty page journal!

There’s no reason to be stuck for ideas.

But, what do you do if you do feel stuck?

If it’s the art angle that you are stuck on and not feeling particularly creative simply choose an image, some patterned paper and a quote and glue them to your page. Now choose two coordinating colored pens and begin writing!

For me it’s not so much being stuck as being distracted. If I don’t commit to journaling first thing in the morning, sitting and writing while I have my first cup of coffee, if I start with email or something else, then the moment’s passed and I may not be able to get back to it that day. Pick a time that will work for you and then commit to it. You must believe that what you want to write is valuable and a worthwhile use of your time.

Try not to have an expectation of producing a whole page every day. Sometimes I’ll just have a date; it’s not that I’ve had nothing to write about, the date still marks what happened. It says, “Oh look, she’s distracted again!”

When it goes beyond distraction and I am really feeling like there’s no movement I’ll explore that. I’ll question why I’m feeling that way and write what comes up. There’s always something lying just beneath the surface. I see it as a great opportunity to use the journal process for one of its strongest benefits – guidance. This type of writing helps discern causes and solutions for these ‘stuck’ feelings.

 “There’s such a pleasure each morning in getting to the desk, then sitting down in front of the old white page and waiting for something. It’s a very exciting life to put yourself in the way of visitation”. – John O’Donohue

Next time: Shaping the work and special journals.

Art Journals 2

Journaling with Words and Images

The second in a series of interviews with Joan Gregory about Art Journaling

PA170136I met Joan in a course I was taking. One day she happened to bring her journal to class which was filled with quotes, drawings, and collage as well as writing and notes. Several of us were interested enough that she agreed to do a short workshop for us before the class started one day. In the workshop we learned how to make a simple book and how to work with special papers and decorative elements. I loved it and asked her to talk to me more about this type of work, Art Journaling.

For many of us, making a commitment to journal is the hardest part. I know I have an assortment of journals that I would write in for awhile and then abandon for long periods of time. How did you move from not journaling to art journaling on a regular basis?

Here’s a quote from my journal that I went back and underlined.

“Journaling is something that you should do every day, whether you just glue, gather stuff or organize material…” taken from Somerset Studio’s 2004 Art Journal Calendar

I added the comment, “And I know I can do that stuff”.  That gave me some direction and permission to work in different ways and the insight that collecting and gathering things was as valuable as the actual assembly or writing. I understood that these were things I was capable of doing that could lead me to where I wanted to go with the art journaling. In fact I had been doing it for years, collecting images and quotes, etc. Even to write one has to be an observer, a collector and gatherer of impressions. A bit of breathing space between entries is often necessary. So I moved forward from writing to art with writing by not loosing heart and giving up too soon, and by contributing to the journal in a different way when I wasn’t actually writing. This kept me moving forward.

 As I look at the evolution of your journal I see that you began adding stickers, highlighting some text in color, adding pieces of other paper that you’ve printed on, and pictures of collages or work that others have done where you had a response.

I started adding quotes to encourage myself about nine entries into my first journal. Here’s the first

“It is never too late to be what you might have been.”  – George Eliot

I began in earnest to decorate the pages by gluing favorite papers and clippings and found that on some days I was more inclined to be visually creative and not write at all. As it turned out it became part of my process, the way it worked for me. It’s often difficult to find time to do both art and writing in the same sitting so allowing several days for the preparation of arty backgrounds is great fun. Then the journal’s good to go for the times you just want to write.

Can you talk a bit more about the transition from “words with art” to “art with words”?

PA160122Sure, there is a really obvious turning point in my first journal, on the page and in my mind. It occurs on the fourteenth entry. I had been leaving blank spaces so I could go back and add something to the page, and realized that I didn’t enjoy working on blank white pages at all. For a lot of people the blank page is intimidating, it almost questions your ability to place anything significant on it.  So I realized that by adding color or an image it instantly became more inviting and accepting to words.

During a trip to Calgary in 2004 I had picked up a copy of the September/October issue of City Palate, a locally produced free publication dedicated to the Calgary food scene; the cover was a beautiful fall pastel painting with the caption “digging up the harvest” (in hindsight a perfect synchronistic phrase for the journey I was embarking on). I covered my whole journal page with it and wrote over the top of it. I’d never read anything specifically about art journaling, hadn’t even known such a thing existed but right away the application of color made a huge impact. After that page the images and color become dominant, and I begin to write in the spaces provided by the composition. Up until this time I felt that I’d been dabbling, but after that I felt committed. No more shy little pieces of paper or drawings scattered here and there. I committed to the whole page. In the journal I comment, “I want something more adventurous, more spirited, more lively.” And of course, I am not just talking about the journal. For the first time I saw myself as creating the art as opposed to pasting it in.

I can see that in the beginning you are mostly writing, and then it changes, and it almost seems that what you are reflecting on changes as you add more images. Are you working with a process?

PA160124Actually, the process was working me. In the beginning I was really trying to find a form, some kind of venue for expression and that naturally evolves over time and with continued effort. You might refer to the extras that I started including on the pages as ‘visual aids’ for they guide you often into writing about something you may not have planned for that day. These entries become the happy and revealing accidents. For example a photograph of autumn leaves may inspire a memory of a childhood Thanksgiving or the photo of a recently read book jacket recalls something to mind that the author wrote that resonated with you. Even placing a quote in a ready-made box created by your use of attached images can be a jumping off point for your writing. By writing and doing ‘art’ in this manner I committed to the journal process, whether I realized it or not.

Another thing I did that I’ve carried forward is this; I usually read at night, and then anything that strikes me from my reading, I’ll journal about the following morning. I’ll record a sentence or a paragraph and then comment on why that has meaning for me at this time in my life, maybe explain something similar that I’ve experienced recently. Then I’ll surprise even myself because a thought I’ve never had suddenly occurs to me. So I write about that too!

Are you able to become more conscious of patterns that may have been unconscious when you first journal them?

Exactly. These entries start weaving into the fabric of who you are, what matters to you and why, what nurtures you and gives your life substance and meaning. You are mapping your life, giving yourself a means to connect the dots over time and look at the bigger picture of your journey.

Who are you writing to? Does it sometimes feel as though you are writing to a future self, or offering comfort to a past self?

You are writing to your soul; having a soul conversation. It does sometimes feel as if there are lost pieces of yourself that you recover, that you can see your past actions in a new and more gentle light. Also, you are writing down your aspirations, your hopes and dreams, as well as your doubts and fears. Sometimes you don’t know what you want until you write it down, or more likely, what you don’t want. You are writing your way into your life. The entries become like a snapshot of a particular time. When you go back to your journals, it helps you to see who you’ve become. It becomes another way of acknowledging yourself and honoring your ‘work’.

An interesting exercise would be to pretend you are a stranger finding a journal (yours) and reading about your life. What do you notice most about this person? What questions would you like to ask her/him? Or pretend you are that future self and looking back from the vantage point of years of well-earned wisdom. What kind of conversation might you have with your younger self?

When you journal, you journal alone, even though there may be someone else in the room. Your interaction is with your experience, and with the materials you’ve gathered. What happens when you talk to someone, as we’re doing now, about this private experience?

PA170127It’s the concept of the third person. When two people talk, there’s a third presence that’s added to the conversation, and an awareness that’s different. There are possibilities that open up in dialogue, whether you are dialoging with your own experience on the page, or in dialogue with another about journaling. An interesting sidebar here is that the administrative headquarters for Ira Progoff’s materials on the Intensive Journal Process is called Dialogue House.

Journaling is the excavation of yourself and your experience. It’s a bit of a paradox because as you put down different layers of experience you also have the chance of exploring what’s underneath them. The journal can be a place to explore and experiment, and as I look back I can see that’s what I have been doing.

In terms of privacy it is important to begin journaling with the understanding that it is always your choice to share what you’ve written or not. After all, these are your words, your thoughts, your experience. If you find yourself writing with a view to sharing what you write in your journal, then the authenticity of the writing you are doing for your soul may be compromised; how you write changes with the audience, just as how you speak changes with the audience.

This doesn’t mean you’ll never choose to let others see your journals. Usually after a certain period of time has lapsed, and you have grown you’ll become less attached to what you wrote three or six or so years ago.

If you can approach your journal without expectation, without demanding you produce the Book of Kells or worrying about the profundity of your thoughts, it will go better. The benefits come from a longer process. It’s about keeping going and being open to the unexpected. This unexpected quality is one of the true gifts of journaling. You find yourself writing something you never thought you knew. Again, you are uncovering new information, new sources for yourself. It’s as if something comes toward you as you are writing, is drawn to you by your writing. When you are in transition, writing down what you want to move toward can help set the stage for developments in the future. It can also inspire synchronistic support.

You mentioned that because we were going to have this conversation you looked back over your early journals. What’s that been like?

PA170135It’s been very encouraging. I go back to those journals and see the underlying need to find purpose and make sense of things in my world; I also see the uncertainty and doubts. Some of the questions and the concerns are similar to what I currently write about and I have moments where I wonder if anything has changed at all over the years. Yet it has. I am standing in a different place now.  I see that person as someone who was just beginning to make a conscious choice to acknowledge an inner life as being instrumental in having an effective outer life. She was someone who didn’t yet grasp the power of keeping a journal as a form of guidance but was aware enough to want to commit to documenting her unfolding life. All lives unfold but unless you have an exceptional memory and can relive past feelings accurately, it’s difficult to pinpoint growth unless it is written somewhere. It’s like reading a letter you wrote from long ago and a memory you thought you’d lost is found. But you needed the letter to trigger the memory. Journal writing is such a trigger. They are the letters you write to yourself.

I can also see that I’ve become more compassionate toward myself and less attached to “the struggle” knowing that things change and life is moving you forward despite your best efforts to stay ‘stuck’. Those ‘stuck’ places I thought I was in were simply stepping stones and as beneficial as the so called unstuck places. I could liken it to the collecting of papers and images, they may not be producing something tangible as in a finished art piece, but as I said earlier, they are just as valuable. I’ve learned to place more worth on the “being” of who I am rather than only on the “doing”.

Next time: Art with Words