I've been working hard on my newest North Light book, which has grown out of my almost lifelong habit of journal keeping; mine is a constant companion, a learning tool, a confidant, a friend. I use it to test materials, to explore a new environment, to deal with anxiety. And oh, yes--to sketch in!
They say to write what you know, so I will try to share with you what I have learned on my own path to regular journaling–“regular” being a relative term, of course! We all have busy lives or dry times, and I’d never presume to insist that daily sketching is mandatory.
Too many people feel pressured or guilty about not being “disciplined” enough to work every day, and that can suck the joy out of keeping this kind of journal. It’s good to develop a discipline, and we DO grow through practice. Such daily work can be helpful, but sometimes it’s just not possible–for whatever reason.
And I don’t know about you, but when that kind of pressure is put on me (from outside or even sometimes from within), I may get stubborn and say “forget it!” I don’t need more pressure, and NONE of us need to be made to feel guilty about it.
What keeping an artist’s journal is, and should be, is a joy, not a chore.
There are many perks. Have you ever noticed that when you look back on one of your drawings, especially one done from life–no matter how crude or hurried that drawing may have been–you’re able to remember clearly just what you were doing? The sights, sounds, scents and more that were taking place as you drew? It’s like a magical time machine, throwing us back to that moment and allowing us to experience it again. When it was a pleasant, relaxing time, that’s a true benefit!
Even when you may have been tense or anxious, your journals can allow you to process the experience, long after the fact, and perhaps see something that was invisible or obscure at the time. We may have been too close, or too emotionally involved. I’ve come to terms with events I didn’t understand when I was caught up in them, simply by revisiting the image in my journal from the perspective of time.
My journals contain nature observations, questions, events, family and friends, strangers on the street, and even recipes, lists, phone numbers, and notes on meetings. I may take note of an address, or even draw a map to places real or imagined.
No longer do I feel the need to have a separate nature journal, a sketchbook, a dream journal, a grocery-list notepad, a day-planner or any number of other resources. My artists’ journal allows me to integrate the many directions in my life, though words and images and taking time to observe.
Whether or not you choose to use yours in that way or to dedicate it to a specific theme–recording the growth of a new baby, a special vacation, a move, a class, your dreams or realizing a dream, whatever–is up to you. It’s YOUR journal, to use in whatever way you choose.
This was adapted from my CD as well as my classes on keeping an artist's journal. If you'd like to read more--or try the process yourself, you can see my new CD here.