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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  1. The only journaling I do on a regular basis is blogging, but I’ve kept journals in the past – always just text. I like quotations so I’ve hung on to those with varying levels of dedication. One of my potential items for the next 1001 days is to keep a commonplace book, though I suspect I would be pretty picky (especially since I was just thinking it would be a good use for a handmade 4×6 notebook I was given, with only 12 pages).

    If design counts as journaling, I have a 5×7 lined spiral for crochet and a 5.5×8.25 quad ruled notebook for sewing and embroidery. When the crochet notebook gets full I go through it for anything I haven’t used that seems worth keeping and flag the pages with post-its.

    And, as you know, the mishmash of daily life is now going into a small notebook that will be organized as a bullet journal. It will probably be the place for commonplace book contenders, design and blog post ideas I have away from home, and anything else I want to hang on to.

  2. I remember loving Gabaldon’s books when I read them years ago! :) Klein is great, huh? Oh and Thanks for the sweet mention! I still journal a lot, in many different forms! :)

    :razz:

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