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Sunday, January 08, 2012

Defining the "Visual Journal"

Way back in the early 2000s, when my sketchbook interests began, I pictured filling those first ring-bound watercolor books with page after perfect page of drawings done on site. What I produced, at first, was much more halting: a bad little watercolor sketch here, a decent little line drawing there. It turned out to be harder than I thought to create page after perfect age -- and not only because my technical skills were shaky.

The challenge, it turns out, is figuring out what we want our sketchbooks to be. For instance, it might make more sense for me to have page after beautiful page of scenery if I were someone who spent a lot of time traveling. (I don't.) But a book can also be a place where we're simply trying things out, getting down ideas for more elaborate and finished work, or practicing our pictures of dogs or fire hydrants or people.

Figuring all this out has taken more time than I would've thought, but I've narrowed it down:
1) I don't want my nice books to be a place where I'm doodling thumbnails for bigger projects. Though some of my books have that kind of content in them, that's in the past. Now I save that kind of work for loose paper, pads of tracing paper and other ephemeral locations. Blech. Usually I don't want to look at that stuff after I've refined the work into something half-decent.

2)I want the spreads to tend to look rather more designed than not. For example, in the image above, I wasn't sure I had time for me than the little sketch from my "Law & Order" TV break (I take about one a day), but as I added to that page, it wasn't in a completely haphazard way. And the next day, when I was adding my color to the alpaca page, I picked up the violet from the left side to add a sense of unity. So while there's a randomness to what I drew, based on the fact that I was simply looking for things to draw and didn't have a lot of interesting scenery around me, I still made a meager attempt at creating a pleasing page. Part of my mission is having an attractive book, overall.

3)I want the regularity of a diary. In the past, I've let my journal practice slide during busy times. So far this year, every day has an entry, and I want to continue that. School starts up again in a week, and that'll be the test of my commitment.Part of my mission is having a visual record of each day.

4)Some of the drawings will be quick and gestural and redolent of a moment.

5)Some of the drawings will be more complex and more scenic and reflect a sense of space and geography.

6)Some of the drawings will be done simply to have done a drawing on that day.

7)Some of the drawing will be from the imagination, and bolster my inventive work.

8)Some of the drawings will be people done from life, where accuracy and likeness matter to me.

9)Some of the drawings will reflect an interest in my city -- its landscapes and cafescapes and elsewise. No, I'm not a big traveler, but that doesn't mean I don't want to be a reporter and an explorer. Curiosity makes for better pages and books.

10)And what of the writing? I want it to be meaningful, but that tends to be a slippery thing. Haven't gotten it down yet, but I'm working on it.

So this is what I've figured out for my books, for now. The cobbled philosophy reflects a certain restlessness and the fact that I become interested in one thing, then another. This can be a real detriment, so I'm trying to be clear about separating the meaningful work from the distractions.

Find 100 sketchbook artists, though, and you'll find almost that many approaches or philosophies. My friend (Karen Blados takes a very constant and well-designed approach to her visual journals, which rightly reflect the domestic life that occupies her waking hours. Over at Roz Stendahl's blog, you'll see Roz uses her visual journals for capturing lots of birds, dogs and people -- some of which she later turns into finished paintings. (Roz also is a great teacher of such things, so if you don't know her blog, please tune in.)

What's your view? What's your method? What have you figured out about your own visual journal?


Kay said...

I will be honest..I am terrible at keeping an art journal. I start out with a lovely book and then proceed to gradually mess it up..occasional nice drawings with a mishmash of written ideas quotes etc. I have wanted to do a themed or at least a beautiful book of paintings and drawings..but I get sidetracked easily. the unfinished journal sits on a shelf for several years and I am on to another one with great intent!! I like your ideas and should implement more of a plan...the question is..would I keep at it. I have some beautiful journals that I have never used because i know I want them to be totally beautiful inside too and I am not so great at doing that!

Nin Andrews said...

I love your blog and would love any journal because I think, no matter how you try to define it, it has a particular "Karen" flavor and style -- a combination of insights, honesty, introspection, and just plan talent.

It's really inspiring.

I have never been able to keep a journal. Maybe being the youngest in a family of 6 kids, all in 9 years, whatever was private became public. So the mask, the art, the artifice . . .
all that became something to hide behind.

But I always loved to draw. And your drawings have inspired me to at least try to do draw after years and years of not drawing . . .

Dave Terry said...

Karen: I agree in every way with your definition and your objective. Perfectly stated. I have tried to define (in less elegant terms) what I wanted but you've captured it wonderfully.

I too want my journal to be a record of life that is pleasant to review weeks and months later. I took a year off "illustrated journaling" (visual journaling) but am back again with a passion.

Thanks for your thoughtful post.


john.p said...

You've given this a lot of thought, and I like your thought process. For me, it's not about the art. I've noticed many visual artists wanting to create visual art, just in smaller bites. For me, it's about storytelling. The art only enhances the story. If there's no story, there's no need to illustrate it. When I'm old and in a rocking chair I want my journals to look through and remember what the heck I did.