Art Journals 4

Journaling with Words and Images

This is the fourth and final interview in a series of interviews with Joan Gregory about Art Journaling. It’s been some time since the last post; thanks for hanging in there!

Once you have a sense of the way you can explore your experience with journal work, are there ways you can shape the process to take yourself in a specific direction?

Yes, there are ways to shape the process. For example, in 2005 I wanted to be in a place of gratitude. Looking back at my journal I could see that there was still a fair bit of whining going on, and I decided to only write about the things I was thankful for. It does have value to do that; it reframes how you look at your day. It’s not that you deny that the bad stuff is happening; it’s just that you are not choosing to write about it in that journal.

One thing to do, whether you are journaling on a scrap of paper or in several books, recording dreams, poetry, or other writing, is always date your entry. A really interesting thing to do is cross-reference the entries after a bit of time has passed. It’s lets you see how all the different pieces are fitting together.

Thinking about dating, makes me think it would be interesting to do that with quotes as well. I’ve collected quotes, but I haven’t noted when I found them. Time can become so fluid; something that happened twenty years ago can feel like it only happened five years ago.

Some things like web pages or magazine articles have dates on them, but for anything else that you collect, that doesn’t have a date, yes date that too. I even like to write the date I’ve gotten a book in the book.  As well, when I buy books, I’ll note the titles in my journal, another way to document what interests me at a particular stage of my life.  Then later, as you go back through your journal(s) you can see, “oh, this is what I like, this is what resonates with me, what has meaning”. These are just more l clues along your path to determine who your true self may be.

Are there books or articles about journaling that you feel have been helpful?

One of the articles I’ve kept is called, “Leaving a Trace”; an excerpt from a book by Alexandra Johnson called Leaving a trace: On Keeping A Journal. It’s examines the answer to the question, “why am I keeping a journal?” This is an interesting question to ask yourself, and to explore in your journal. It will likely lead to other areas to delve into. Is it to leave something for my children and grandchildren? Is a place for me to reflect on my life and experience? Is it just for the pleasure of creating something personal?

There are so many resources on journaling available in different formats. There are ‘how to ’books, memoirs and diaries of well-known writers, articles in various magazines and on the internet. It is really difficult to limit it to a few. However, in addition to those I have already mentioned in previous segments of this interview, I have found these to be inspiring.

Life’s Companion: Journal Writing as a Spiritual Practice by Christina Baldwin

Writing For Your Life: A Guide and Companion to the Inner Worlds by Deena Metzger

Creative Journal Writing: the Art and Heart of Reflection by Stephanie Dowrick

I have already referenced Ira Progoff’s Intensive Journal Workshop.  The next best thing to attending a workshop would be to read the book, At a Journal Workshop: Writing to Access the Power of the Unconscious and Evoke Creative Ability. I have attended one of the courses and highly recommend the experience, especially if you seek guidance from, and connection to, your inner life. It definitely deepens and broadens your journal work. A favourite answer to the question, “Why do you journal” comes from this book: “To interact with your life”.

There is an upcoming Journal Workshop in Edmonton in late July/early August. You can go to their website to read more about the process and to get further details on workshops in your area.

I think we’ve all gone through periods where things can seem flat; where nothing seems to be catching your attention; times when you feel like there is nothing to write or say; times when It all seems dry. What can you do when you come to your journal and there is nothing to put on the page?

Whether you are a poet, a writer or an artist, you have to first be an observer, a wonderer, and a collector; not so much a collector of things as a collector of impressions. Begin to bring a child-like curiosity to the way you explore. If you can meet your journal page everyday with that openness, with not knowing, as if you had never seen a day before, as if you had just arrived, you will bring presence and freshness to the page.

To take it another direction, resurrect the lost art of pretending that we experienced as children. Allow yourself to become a fictional or historical character moving through your day. What would you see if you were say, Alice in Wonderland, or Anais Nin? Use your imagination to view your world from a different perspective and write about it.

You could also imagine yourself twenty years from now. As you look back from the future, who do you see sitting there writing? What is her world like, what are her hopes and fears? This is another way of recognizing who you are in the world.

 Do you find that the Art Journal process opens the journal process up?


Yes, it engages more of your senses and provides a way to use all the ephemera of your life. Throughout the day you encounter news stories, tickets, stamps, ads, magazine pictures and more, and if you are open to these they can find their way into your journal to document your day. So you end up seeing more, and finding more beauty in every day. Each day you encounter endless possibility for story. From the simplest thing, like seeing a fallen leaf on the ground in the fall, to seeing an older woman walking up the street using a walker, we are bombarded by story potential. If you are open to receiving, there’s no limit to what you can write about. If you feel a bit overwhelmed, pick the top three things that stood out for you that day, choose one and reflect on it.

Why did that capture my interest today?

What’s going on that I would recognize this one thing as significant?

You can use these questions as a starting point.

Have you ever used your journal to help you make a decision? I’ve sometimes done that by fully imagining where different decisions lead.

I could have used that thirty years ago! Yes, you can use your imagination to gain access to guidance. Ira Progoff uses what he termed ‘twilight imagery’ (similar to Jungian active imagination) in the journal process as a vehicle to access a ‘deeper-than-conscious’ level of ourselves when at a crossroad where a decision has to be made. The technique is used to explore the possibilities of both the ‘roads taken and of the roads not taken’; to provide a self-generated inner knowing and affirmation, as well as the resolution and energy to carry that decision out.

What gifts has the process of writing, rereading, and reflecting in your journal brought you?

The surprises are, as you reread, the realization that you already knew something that you feel you are just now learning, or discovering something that you know you wrote that somehow makes you think you found it a book, it’s that profound. The biggest gift is learning about who you are and acknowledging how much wisdom you actually have. We all have these gems of knowledge buried within. The journal mirrors you to yourself enabling you to see aspects of yourself that you weren’t aware of, or that you didn’t give yourself credit for. You begin to trust yourself more.

Some mornings I’ll take time to go back over the same date in the previous four or five journals to see what I wrote there. Often I will find very similar passages to those I am currently writing and think that I haven’t moved an inch in terms of personal growth, but this repetition is common in journaling. Published journals have similar entries edited out, but there is merit in what at first appears superfluous.

I love what Joseph Campbell, best known for his work in the field of comparative mythology, has to say on the topic. “I brought out my book, Myths to Live By, by collecting together a series of lectures that I had given over a period of twenty-four years. My notion about myself was that I had grown up during that time, that my ideas had changed, and, too, that I had progressed. But when I brought these papers together, they were all saying essentially the same thing – over a span of decades. I found out something about the thing that was moving me. I didn’t even have a very clear idea of what it was until I recognized those continuities running through that whole book. Twenty-four years is a pretty good stretch of time; a lot had happened during that period. And there I was babbling on about the same thing. That’s my myth in there.”

He continues by saying, “Another astonishing way to look back is to pick up some diary entries or notes that you kept a long time ago. You’ll be astonished. Things that you were convinced you had realized more recently will be all pinned down there. These are driving themes in your life”.

And in support of journal writing he adds, “But what if you want to gain some idea of what your myth is while you are living it? Well, another way to try to discern your destiny – your myth – would be to follow Jung’s example: observe your dreams, observe your conscious choices, keep a journal, and see which images and stories surface and resurface. Look at stories and symbols and see which ones resonate.” (The above quotes are taken from page 112 of Pathways to Bliss, Mythology and Personal Transformation by Joseph Campbell, Collected Works Series)

Is there a difference between the Joan on the page and Joan the person?

When I communicate with other people I generally filter what I say to accommodate how I feel the other person will receive it. I think most of us do some form of this. In my journal I am as authentic as I can be. It is a place to be real and true to oneself. If you aren’t going to be honest you won’t receive the mirror’s gift back, or what you do receive will be distorted. You might go back and  come to sections that have not been written in your voice, and then begin to explore whose voice it is.

Journal work is a way of removing the layers that have accumulated and gradually exposing one’s true self. It can be a way of getting off the same old track, going deeper than those circular ways of thinking that lead us back to the same spot without more insight. You have to stop and be reflective.

Journal writing takes you along that boundary between the inside and the outside of your life; a very creative place. It allows you to play and to develop some gentleness with yourself. Art journaling also offers some softness to the process and the materials provide another dimension.

Where can someone go to learn about art journal making and to meet others who share art journal interests?

I have mixed feelings about that, based on my own experience. When I started journaling it was all self-discovery; I am self-taught. So, I don’t think you need to go out and buy a book on it, and I didn’t do that until I was some years into it, and wanted to branch out a bit. As with journaling, resources for art journaling are abundant, dare I say, excessive. Only if you truly believe you don’t have a creative bone in your body would I recommend a book. It’s great to start on your own because you will get a sense of your own style.

The book I would recommend is The Decorated Page by Gwen Diehn because it is so full of doable ideas. It’s a great book to use by following her instructions to a T, or to simply take one or two techniques to try. This book is now only available used, but a newer book, also by her, is The Decorated Journal: Creating Beautifully Expressive Journal Pages is available in paperback and hard cover.

Stampington & Company offers many publications for artists and crafters. Art Journaling is one publication that will interest journal makers.

Another one of their publications, Somerset Press – The Art of Paper and Mixed Media, also contains articles and tips for journaling. Also, if you’re looking to pursue art journaling in a group setting, Teesha Moore, founder of the annual Artfest held in Port Townsend Washington, created Journalfest last October. Her website has information about events.

Creative souls run amok on the Internet, offering blogs, how–to videos, forums and classes. While these magazines and websites are full of wonderful work that can be inspiring in moderation, I would exercise caution. There is such a thing as too much, and that can bring on sensory overload! Instead of fanning the embers of a newfound creative spark they will more likely douse it!  Volumes of ideas can prove overwhelming and intimidating. It can be easy to talk yourself out of starting when you compare yourself to artists who have already been working for years. You too may know the voice that pops up and says, “I’ll never be able to do anything like that.”

What actually happens is the more you do the better you get. The more you do, the more playful you become and the less seriously you’ll take any one piece of work. You discover happy accidents and a sense of fun. Getting yourself going and doing is the main thing. The work shows the way. As you are writing and collecting and cutting and pasting and fooling around with lettering, something else enters your mind, you make a connection, “oh, I could put that with that”, that you wouldn’t have made just by thinking about it. That way you develop from your work and you gain confidence in your own abilities and intuitions without reference to someone else. Referring to someone else’s work is like having training wheels on a bike; you have to take them off in order to know you can ride.

You can’t compare your first work with those who have been art journaling for awhile already. Remember that you are making comparisons to their published work. They went through the learning curve just as you may be doing now, only you don’t see their first attempts, just the end result. You have to be willing to be a beginner.

As this is our final session do you have any parting words?

One of the most intriguing visual depictions of a journal is in the film, The English Patient, based on the novel by Michael Ondaatje.  It is used as a thread tying together much of the story.  The journal is actually a copy of Histories by Herodotus, regarded as the father of history and credited as the first to see many different stories as part of a single whole story. Almasy, the lead character and owner of the book is never without it. His journal entries are written in the margins and empty pages and it is layered with sketches, maps and photographs he has pasted into it. He calls it his ‘commonplace’ book but values it as a prize possession and his ‘historie’ is his companion throughout his life. That pretty much sums up the essence of a great journal.

Joan has provided some PDFs of art journal pages to get you started. She also makes wonderful greeting cards. You can contact her at Izzy Elly Paper Design, Box 8616, Canmore, AB  T1W 2V5, Canada, for information about her cards and her work. Her blog is, “Finding the Questions”

Exploring Values


About three years ago when I started consulting and did a website, I finally got around to declaring my own values: Learning, Kindness, Beauty and Integrity. Before then I’d been immersed in my company’s values. I thought I knew what I meant by integrity, but after awhile I felt what I meant was authenticity, which seemed to include integrity. Then I struggled a bit with understanding “authenticity”. What did it mean when I said I wanted to be authentic?

Authentic: being honest (having integrity), being transparent, not posing or pretending to be something I am not.

I worked on raising my awareness of how authentic my responses were.

As a girl I pretended to be something besides myself a lot: a princess, a pirate, a wagon train scout, star-ship empath, Sheena of the Jungle, a detective, and that’s only a partial list. After trying all the roles on offer from TV, movies and books, when I went to college I switched to imagining myself in a professional role: writer, journalist, teacher, actor, director, shopkeeper, professor. I have an active imagination.

Inside, Outside

Still, it took me a long time to find myself in a career. Once some kind of work was there and money was coming in, I discovered there was often a gap between how my family, my friends and colleagues saw me, and how I felt inside.

I first framed the challenge as being able to be the same person in every role, but that didn’t work because it wasn’t realistic. I wasn’t exactly the same person in each role with only the activity changing. Different activities brought out different aspects, and this seemed appropriate.

When I learned to meditate, authenticity became, just sitting, just breathing, just being aware. This definition created congruence between my feelings and awareness, but didn’t help me much when I wasn’t on my cushion, at least at first.

When I put something on my values list it means I want to cultivate it, understand it better, and I want to see it reflected in my work.

So when I put authenticity on the list it meant that when I talked with you I wanted to be with you, listening to what you were saying at that moment. I wanted to be able to own my feelings and claim them. I wanted to be willing to disclose them, to be more transparent, so you would have the chance to get to know me.

Increasing awareness brings a deeper dive

As I investigated when I was being authentic and when I wasn’t, I realized that even more than being authentic I wanted to cultivate Presence.

Presence means being able to bring all of myself to the present moment and being able to respond as needed.

That’s why this year I changed one of my four core values from integrity to presence. Presence, as it develops, has a definite energy field. You can’t have presence without authenticity; sometimes you can be authentic without presence. Presence is what I am exploring now.

Increasing my awareness of presence has drawn the value of community back into my list as a new appreciation of inter-dependency has grown.

Join the conversation: How would you define integrity, authenticity, presence, and community? What happens when you explore how your values play out in your life? Any tips for exploring values?


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

Art Journals

Journaling with Words and Images

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

Handmade Journals

Handmade Journals

I met Joan in a course I was taking. One day she happened to bring her journal, 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.

What’s the difference between the dear diary-style we learned as kids, which was all words, and art journaling?

An early page with colour and image

An early page with colour and image

You could look at it as art with writing or writing with art. Some people are more word oriented and start off writing and then add art, and others start off with painting, photographs or art and then add words.  Another way of describing the different types of journaling methods could be writing- focused or art-focused. The old adage of a picture is worth a thousand words holds true because the images, drawings or collage that you add to your journal also say something about who you are. In fact the images you choose link you to your intuitive and unconscious self maybe more so than the words you write. The art- focused journal relies on the images to tell the story, but there are no hard and fast rules. It’s good to start without an idea one way or the other. Just begin with whatever focus you are comfortable with and let the process take you. The fewer guidelines you have the more likely you’ll be to enjoy journaling and continue with it.

What if you don’t consider yourself an artist?

You don’t need to be a trained artist to be creative, just like you don’t need to have a Masters in English Literature to keep a journal. Besides, we are all creative beings. Like Rumi says, “Inside you there’s an artist you don’t know about”. What’s needed, as in all endeavors you have an interest in, is not how you do it, whether it be writing or art, but that you do it. Also, I use the word ‘art’ very loosely. If you can use scissors and glue and crayons you can create an art journal! Shelve the inner critic.

How did you get started?

Like any young girl I started with a diary at about eight or nine years old, but even before diaries I think we wrote in autograph books. When I was about twelve and going through adolescent angst I started writing poetry, but the actual journal work that I do now didn’t begin until 2001 after buying Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way. I started doing morning pages, as she suggests in the book, and did the stream of consciousness kind of writing for several years. I found that I did a lot of complaining, not that there’s anything wrong with that, obviously I felt the need to express myself in that manner and much has been written about why that style of writing is helpful, but the bottom line is that it got me writing daily (for the most part).

I graduated from individual pages to the ‘book’ format in August 2004 when I made a conscious decision to keep a journal. The intention for the book came from The Purpose of Your Life, An Experiential Guide by Carol Adrienne where she suggests that you jot down anything that you overhear, think about, read or see that catches your attention more than usual that day; things that excite, delight, or encourage you or a brief description of someone you admire and why. My goal was to write in the morning and again at the end of the day for a month. Manageable, I thought, but soon enough realized I had been a tad overzealous and guilt became my companion as days would go by with no entries. So I relaxed the criteria. This was the first creative thing I had committed to in a long time. The best news was that I persevered.

How did you choose your first journal?
PA160125CoverWhen you start it’s important to pick something for your journal that’s pleasing to you. Your words are a gift to yourself and you want to wrap them in something special. What drew me to my first journal were the black and cream graphics, the quality of the paper, and the cover, which encouragingly says, “Notebook – Most advanced quality Gives best writing features”. It reminded me of the scribblers that were handed out at the beginning of each new subject in elementary school. They too were cream and they had a maple leaf on the cover, the times table was on the back. The pages were smooth, they smelled of fresh ink. It was a real sensory experience and there was anticipation and excitement about what I would be learning. This time though the subject would be me. I wanted to treat my writing seriously; I wanted to treat my thoughts with respect.

I have kept a journal in books of assorted sizes and shapes since that time. I still struggle with creativity, but I can look back and see how I’ve progressed and grown, both in my writing and how I choose to embellish the pages. The art journal has become an integral part of my journey through this life and a necessary vehicle for self expression.

I’d like to end this segment with a quote from Virginia Woolf, who in her lifetime filled approximately thirty-two notebooks.

“What sort of diary should I like mine to be? Something loose knit and yet not slovenly, so elastic that it will embrace any thing, solemn, slight or beautiful that comes into my mind. I should like it to resemble some deep old desk, or capacious hold-all, in which one flings a mass of odds and ends without looking. I should like to come back, after a year or two, and find that the collection had sorted itself…into a mould, transparent enough to reflect the light of our life.”

Next time: From words with art to art with words.