Art Journals, Sketchbooks, and Diaries

I’ve kept a regular paper diary since 1991, and in that time I’ve never really varied in format: handwritten, text only. For years I even used a special ten-color pen, using a different color of ink each day, though these days I use whatever pen is handy. It’s rare for me to paste something into it, with the exception of the occasional random sticker. When I do paste things into journals, it’s a special book, like a journal set aside for a single trip, or my current GST book. When I draw, that goes into sketchbooks, some of which are separated into specific types. For example, I have one book dedicated entirely to faces drawn with #2 pencil. Everything has its place.

I’m torn on the matter, however. Separate books work well when you only want to do one thing at a time, but that often means packing a bunch of stuff when going somewhere, just on the off chance that I might want to do one thing or the other. And I really love the idea of art journals. I like the idea of writing about your day/life amidst the doodles and collage. I like the pages created by Daisy Yellow, Seaweed Kisses, and iHanna. I’ve even gone so far as to sign up for the gorgeous weekly prompts from Journal52 (and have as of yet completed only one of them).

Some people combine their art journals with commonplace books – collections of interesting quotes and information encountered in books and everyday life. These are usually worked into the art in some fashion, rather than organized into a repository of wisdom, but they share the notion of saving these sorts of things in a central location.

I also like artifact journals, like those of my friend KateKintail, where she glues in one item from her day, as a memento, with often no more than a few lines describing the story behind it. Often she doesn’t even cut it up – just pastes in the whole brochure or whatever in a way so you can still unfold it. No Tetris-esque collages necessary, and there’s still plenty of room to write more if that’s what you want to do. It also doesn’t face the limitation that my GST book has: that is, if there isn’t enough to fill a page, it doesn’t make it into the book at all.

A while back, I came across a nifty set of scans from Austin Kleon’s tour sketchbook (hat tip to Notebook Stories for the link). This in particular really struck me:

I’m on the move a lot, so I don’t have a lot of time to sketch while I’m walking around, but I do have time to collage when I’m back in the hotel room, so I’ve started carrying transparent tape, Japanese Washi tape that my wife gave me, and a pair of safety scissors (TSA says under 4 inches is okay).

This probably sounds strange, but it never occurred to me to just carry around the tape and scissors with you and do your journaling on the go. If you look at his pages, they’re a mixture of writing, clippings, and sketches. The only time I’ve ever come close to this sort of beautiful hodgepodge is in my trip journals, and even with those I only did the collage at the very end, after I got back home. My Japan journal is a good example. I also made journals for my trip to Amsterdam in 2010, Disney World in 2012, and this past April’s Eurotrip. At Disney World in particular I did a fair amount of drawing, something I almost never do in my regular diary.

I think my biggest issue is a feeling of required perfection. The only place I ever feel comfortable in freewriting or doodling or jotting down little notes is in whatever beat-up old spiral notebook I have going at the moment. Diaries are for the chronology of my life; sketchbooks are for completed drawings (not even, perhaps ironically, unfinished sketches); gluebooks are for collages of clippings. And yet, I don’t want to glue stuff into the spiral notebooks because they are so ephemeral (and often too fally-aparty). That’s the place for my first drafts, for straightening out my whirling thoughts, for mock-ups and grocery lists and calculating my hours. If there’s anything worth keeping, I copy it out elsewhere.

So now I’m trying something new. I’ve signed up for the first “kourse” of Sketchbook Skool. Aside from their somewhat irritating obsession with the letter K, it looks like a neat concept: lots of well-known art journalers, such as Danny Gregory and Andrea Joseph (from whom I learned about this), are teaching about illustrated journals and drawing more often in general. I hope it’ll help me figure out what works best for me, as well as give me the kick in the pants I need to get out of this creative rut I’ve been stuck in.

Do you keep any kind of journal? How do you organize things?

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Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (unabridged audiobook read by Davina Porter; 32.5 hrs on 28 discs): Claire is vacationing in Scotland with her husband Frank in 1945 when suddenly she is transported 200 years into the past. This is more historical romance than science fiction, and a lot of it is quite unsettling: graphic violence, corporal punishment of children and spouses alike, and lots and lots of sex, much of it very rough. The homosexual characters are all pedophiles, sadists, and/or rapists. I did, however, really enjoy the glimpse of ordinary life in the 1740s, the witch trials, and the comparison of medical practices between the 18th and 20th centuries. I may actually give the second book in the series a try, as the ending of this one implies it may have more to do with actual time travel, changing history, and the like. This book is mostly about Claire’s relationship with Jamie, an intriguing Scotsman whose fate seems intertwined with her own. Which is fine, as far as that goes, but don’t come into this expecting a science fiction tale. That said, if you’re a sucker for 18th century Highlands romance, this is not to be missed.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

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Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson

Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson: In 1900, one of the deadliest hurricanes in American history leveled the city of Galveston, Texas. This story is as much about the weather as it is about the troubled beginnings of the National Weather Bureau and turn-of-the-century American culture in general. The tale is intricately woven and exquisitely detailed, blunt and unflinchingly tragic but never gratuitous. It’s fascinating and maddening and hard to put down. I wish my edition had photographs in it, especially since the text makes so many references to them, but to be honest I was able to picture most of it in my mind without any trouble. This was written before Katrina; I wonder how it would have been different after, with that so fresh in the mind for comparison. Anyone with an interest in severe weather or the time period would get quite a lot out of this one. Lucky for me, I happen to have an interest in both.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

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Tokyo Fiancee by Amelie Nothomb

Tokyo Fiancee by Amelie Nothomb: I have no idea how much of this “highly autobiographical” work is supposed to be true, so I’m going to treat it like a novel. Amelie is a Belgian woman living in Japan in the early 1980s. Rinri, a Japanese man close to her age, comes to her for French lessons, and soon they begin dating. It’s clear from the beginning that while Amelie likes Rinri very much, she harbors no romantic feelings for him. His personality is actually not very well defined; he seems to exist mostly in reaction to her antics. The whole situation is rather awkward and their inevitable split is heartbreaking. I did enjoy Amelie’s somewhat spiritual adventures in mountain climbing, and her experiences with Japanese culture were charmingly familiar, but as a romance I found it largely disappointing. I don’t like finishing a book disliking the main character, but up until that point it was kind of nice.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

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Neptune’s Brood by Charles Stross

Neptune’s Brood by Charles Stross (unabridged audiobook read by Emily Gray; 12 hrs on 10 discs): It’s the far future, and our narrator is Krina, a sort of being we might consider to be somewhere between an android and a clone. It’s several thousand years in the future, and almost nothing is familiar to someone from the 21st century, from the extreme genetic modifications to the spaceship planets to the monetary system. In fact, I felt like there was too much going on here. I like extensive world-building, especially in science fiction, but I had a lot of trouble keeping up. It didn’t help that many of the differences between Krina’s world and our own were explained in lengthy essays on the different speeds of money, financial fraud, semi-autonomous clones, mermaids, and bats, rather than as a natural part of the plot. Had the people been physically familiar with a crazy economic system (I never quite got the hang of slow money); or barely humanoid cyborg clones living on a planet without needing to organize their economy around slower-than-light space travel; or the plot focused mainly on the interactions between clones, their originals, copied soul chips, and the tricky ethics thereof; or the characters had been either bat-humans or insurance pirates but not both; or even just focusing on the underused Church of the Fragile, a cult dedicated to humans without any physical modifications — any of those alone could have been fascinating. All of them stuffed into a single novel got in the way of the story. I had a lot of trouble following what was going on and keeping the characters straight. There is surely a very specific audience who would love this sort of ultra-exotic science fiction, but I prefer my story/concept balance to be tipped just a little bit further toward the former.

A note on the audio: Gray is a splendid reader, but this was a little strange for me because the audiobook I finished just before this was also read by her, but completely different (one of Jasper Fforde’s delightfully silly Thursday Next novels), so it took me a while to get accustomed to the new crop of characters using her voice.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

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Long Quiet Highway by Natalie Goldberg

Long Quiet Highway by Natalie Goldberg: I first discovered Goldberg in a college creative writing class that used Writing Down the Bones as a textbook. I instantly fell in love with her gentle-yet-firm “just write it” philosophy. I read several of her other writing books and her novel, but am only now getting to her autobiographical works. Here, she talks mostly about her life as a Buddhist and her relationship with her teacher while she lived in Minnesota. It’s actually a really interesting glimpse into a life that is so completely foreign to me. I’ve never lived in a hippie neighborhood or taught sixth graders or spent entire days in meditation or even ever visited the parts of New Mexico, Minnesota, and New York where Goldberg lived. This is certainly not an exciting book by any stretch of the imagination, but I really enjoyed joining Goldberg on this quiet journey from childhood through love and loss until finally finding her true home.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

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Childhood Video Games: Part 3

Inspired by KateKintail‘s recent posts about favorite childhood video games (here and here), I decided it was high time I blathered on about mine for a little while.

This is the third and final post. The first was about TI-99 games and the second about PC games. This one is about Nintendo Gameboy games.

A Gameboy is not the sort of thing my parents would ever have purchased on their own, but my dad won one in a raffle. It came with Tetris, of course, which we played a bunch. (We were already familiar with Tetris because we’d had it on our PC.) Soon my mother discovered that garage sales were a great way to find new games on the cheap, so we played a somewhat odd assortment:

Super Mario Land

This was our second game, and one we played endlessly. I never beat it, though I got close. I can still sing all the music, which is markedly different from any other Mario game. My husband brought it on our honeymoon and sometime during the plane ride home he finally beat it. Not bad considering you can’t save your game.

Super Mario Land game play video


I always thought this was called Kwirk the Chilled Tomato but evidently it’s just Kwirk. Anyway, it’s a puzzle game where you push blocks around in order to escape a room. I got pretty far but I don’t think this is the sort of game you ever win. I’ve found that endless puzzle games, where you just play until you lose (Tetris, Bejeweled, Arkanoid, Dr. Mario, Bust-a-Move, etc.) seem to be my favorite games. I’m sure that says something about me, but I don’t know what.

Kwirk game play video

Gargoyle’s Quest

This game was hard. I got frustrated pretty quickly because I couldn’t seem to get anywhere without dying thirty times.

Gargoyle’s Quest game play video

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fall of the Foot Clan

Back in the day, I loved all things TMNT, so it’s no surprise we had this game. I think I only made it past the second boss (either Rocksteady or Bebop) but I played it doggedly nonetheless.

TMNT game play video

Final Fantasy Legend II

My husband is a Final Fantasy Fanatic but he refuses to play this game because the English translation is so awful. Which is something I never noticed as a kid. Anyway, I liked the RPG aspect of it, but I always got stuck fighting the boss at the end of the body level – I just couldn’t beat it, and I couldn’t go back and level up either because you can’t “run away” from boss battles. Dang.

Final Fantasy Legend II game play video

I still have a Gameboy. It’s not the original – the screen on that one got so bad you couldn’t see Mario half the time – but a green Gameboy Pocket I purchased sometime in the late ’90s. I don’t play it much anymore, but at this point I doubt we’ll ever get rid of it.

Did you have a Gameboy or other handheld growing up? What did you play?

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First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde

First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde (unabridged audiobook read by Emily Gray; 12.75 hrs on 11 discs): Several years have passed since we last checked in with Thursday Next, and now she is the mother of three children, the eldest a despondent teen. SpecOps was disbanded and she swore off the book world, but still works as both a literary detective and for Jurisfiction in secret. Her latest assignment for the latter is training the latest recruit: herself. That is, herself as portrayed in the novels based on her life. Meanwhile, Pride and Prejudice is on the verge of being turned into a reality show, highly dangerous cheeses are being traded on the black market, and time travel may not actually have been invented after all. In short, it’s the same sort of silliness we’ve come to expect from this series, though for some reason it felt kind of lacking compared to previous installments. I think not enough was resolved, with too many elements tossed in, presumably to be dealt with in future books. I don’t need each book in a series to stand on its own, but several scenes felt like they should have been delayed until the book in which they are actually addressed. Of course, this all means I’ll probably read the next book as soon as possible, just to find out how it all turns out. If it all turns out in the next book, anyway – the Minotaur’s been hanging out, unresolved, for two books and over a decade in story years now, so my hopes for imminent and thorough resolution are not high.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

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Childhood Video Games: Part 2

Inspired by KateKintail‘s recent posts about favorite childhood video games (here and here), I decided it was high time I blathered on about mine for a little while.

This is the second post. The first was about TI-99 games. This one is devoted to PC games. We played these somewhat less frequently (Dad’s IBM was not always available) but just as passionately. These are the ones I remember playing the most often.

Ultima V

Pretty sure I traveled just about everywhere in the Ultima V universe but never got anywhere close to beating it. I got the boats and the horse and the flying carpet, and even managed to get to Lord British’s castle but still no dice. After a while we just started messing around, like killing everyone in a village that happened to have no guards (though often you’d get arrested elsewhere). It was fun to explore but ultimately got frustrating when you couldn’t make any progress. I read a walk-through years later and learned that we’d skipped a crucial step: grinding until you reached some impossibly high experience level we’d never gotten close to.

Ultima V game play video (though the version I played didn’t have music)

Return to Zork

I sucked at the original, text-based Zork. My sister was really into it, drawing maps and all that, but I was constantly getting eaten by a Grue. Return to Zork had graphics and a surprising number of celebrity cameos, and I played it endlessly. I eventually had to buy a walk-through guide to finish it, but I enjoyed it just the same. “Want some rye? Course ya do!”

Return to Zork game play video

Battle Chess

We loved Battle Chess, and it was the first thing I thought of when Harry Potter played Wizard’s Chess. Mostly we tried to play in such a way to see all the different ways various pieces killed each other. I loved how the rooks turned into rock monsters, and how the king and queen smooched before he stabbed her in the back with a dagger.

Battle Chess game play video


You have a certain number of lemmings (little purple dudes with green hair) you have to get to safety, and a certain number of each kind of special one (like one that makes stairs and one that blocks the lemmings from passing and stuff like that), and sometimes a time limit. Oh man, I played this game like a fiend. I got pretty good at it, if I recall correctly, but it’s still a little traumatizing to see the little guys plummet to their death, splashing(!!) on the ground.

Lemmings game play video

King’s Quest IV: The Perils of Rosella

This was the only KQ game (at the time) with a female main character, and my friend and I played the hell out of it. She was a lot better at it than I was, getting way farther, so I liked to watch her play so I could see all the lands I’d never managed to get to. We loved the fairy tale/fantasy theme of it, and having a fairy with butterfly wings didn’t hurt any. Looking back, the graphics were actually pretty good and interestingly designed.

King’s Quest IV game play video

Other Sierra Games

I’ve lumped these all together because I didn’t get far in any of them and graphically they were all pretty much interchangeable: King’s Quest III (dammit, Manannan!), Space Quest I (I never even got off the ship), Police Quest I and II, and Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards (which probably would have been more titillating at a higher resolution – mostly it was just silly). I liked playing them but not often because I always got stuck in the same place – not because I couldn’t figure out the puzzle, but because I didn’t know how to find the next puzzle to solve, so I ended up just wandering around until running into someone telling me I’d lost/died/whatever because I hadn’t done something I didn’t know how to do.

Game play videos for King’s Quest III, Space Quest I, and Police Quest I

Apogee Games

At some point I discovered the joys of shareware. On one disk we had two games: Secret Agent: The Hunt for Red Rock Rover, and Cosmo’s Cosmic Adventure. Secret Agent was a fun side-scroller puzzle game, where you had various obstacles to overcome and enemies with predictable and repetitive patterns of movement. Cosmo was more Mario-like, jumping on enemies and setting bombs and stuff like that. I played it so obsessively that I actually beat it several times. Come to think of it, it may be the only video game I’ve ever beaten in my entire life. Huh.

Cosmo game play video
Secret Agent game play video

Castle of the Winds

I take that back. I beat Castle of the Winds. This Windows 3.1 shareware game was so addictive that my sister and I ultimately convinced our parents to purchase the second part. It’s pretty simplistic: you’re a little icon running around villages and dungeons made of other icons and you kill things by walking into them. There are traps and monsters and treasures. This was my first encounter with the Enchanted Pack of Holding, though I know now that Bag of Holding is an old D&D term. I think the best part was when we were able to combine this game with an icon creator program, meaning our hero could look however we wanted. We did a few, but the one that sticks in my memory most was the Floating Radioactive Banana of Doom. (Long story; don’t ask.)

Castle of the Winds game play video

Tetris and Faces…Tris

You all know Tetris and the only thing interesting about the version we played was the change in backgrounds each level. Faces…Tris was something else entirely. You had pieces of face (chin/mouth, nose, eyes, hair) and you tried to match them up. It was crazy-hard but we enjoyed all the weird faces we could make by mixing up the people.

Faces…Tris game play video

There were others, of course, that I can’t recall now. A generic horse-racing game we’d get all riled up over, Dig-Dug (which I only played a couple of times), some weird fly game where the fly moved way faster than your cursor so it took more luck than skill to swat it…and surely many others. Mostly I recall the grind of the disk drive being a warning that something awful was loading on the next screen and you’d probably have to back out as fast as possible or else die immediately.

What PC games did you love back in the day?

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Lexicon by Max Barry

Lexicon by Max Barry: Words are powerful. Wil is kidnapped in an airport bathroom for surviving something he can’t remember a year before in the remote Australian town of Broken Hill. He and his kidnappers are then pursued by murderous people who seem to be acting through some will not their own. Meanwhile, a young woman named Emily is taken in to a secret school where she learns the power of certain syllables to control people. There’s a lot of suspense, a lot of uncertainty as to who can be trusted. I really enjoyed it, even if “deadly words” premise felt a little unbelievable. I’ve already read Jennifer Government; now I think I’ll have to pick up some of Barry’s other works.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

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