Big Journal, Small Journal?

AquaBee 80-lb. Co-Mo sketch with watercolor pencil tests

What is the perfect size for a journal? For years, i worked small–4 x 6 was a format that was just right for me. It was the Twitter of page sizes–with a small format, I chose my words carefully. Kept my images tight and small. But mixed media was limited. No envelopes, photographs, even some postage stamps took up too much space. The advantage is portability– always room for a small journal in my bag.

Then I fell under the spell of Moleskine.  What writer wouldn’t be tempted by the journal of Hemingway and Picasso? The paper was heavy enough, but the slightly slick surface of the paper made using watercolor pencil a scrubbing experience.  But the 5 x 8 size still fit in my bag. My bags are big—prescription sunglasses, car and house keys, all those loyalty cards from the stores, a hairbrush, lip balm and a cell phone add up.

Then a friend made me a huge journal, with heavy, thick watercolor paper. It was 16 x 12–filling pages that big takes a lot of gesso!   I came to love the page size–it was room enough to develop a pattern, a color scheme, tell a story. But no, it didn’t fit in my bag.

The next few months were torture. I was conflicted. I wanted a journal with watercolor paper that was absorbent enough to

Three journals: big Moleskine in the back, medium journal open in middle, 6 x 6 Aquabee in front.

hold up to collage but not so thirsty that I couldn’t use markers.  The pages had to be unlined and sewn, not glued, into the book. The journal needed a closure to hold it shut in my purse, but not a magnetic closure. The cover had to be comfortable. It had to be larger than 4 x 6 but smaller than 6 x 8. My choices grew smaller and fewer.

I made journals, I deconstructed journals, I created journals in books. It became more of a chore than a process. In the end, the answer became obvious and easy, and it happened because of Bee papers. I loved the thickness of the Bee sheets–not as fat as watercolor paper, but substantial and crackly. I loved the way watercolor pencils would spread and the color would extends and look like pan watercolors. I loved the 6 x 6 pads that went in my bag. But alas, they were spiral-bound, and kept me to one page at a time. Turns out, I didn’t hate that. It was fine with me. A Co-Mo Sketch book travels with me for sketches, ideas, notes.

The folio-sized Moleskine was also perfect. 8.25 x 11.5 is manageable, great for collage and painting. Heavy watercolor paper is great for everything. But. . .doesn’t fit in my bag. It stays at home for multi-media. I can use the sketchbook to start and the Moleskine to finish. I can tear out the sketchbook pages and collage them into the sketchbook. Time might go by one day at a time, but I can have as many journals as I want.

Quinn McDonald is a journal keeper and collector. She is writing a book about art journaling for people who can’t draw. Raw-Art Journaling: Making Meaning, Making Art will be available in the summer of 2011 from North Light Books.

2 thoughts on “Big Journal, Small Journal?

  1. I find one of the joys in my life is having a pile of journals and deliberately choosing which one I want to use for a particular project. However, I hate the dilemma of which journals to take with me when I’m out of the house. Too often, in frustration, I throw 3 or 4 in the back seat of my car, and then hope one of them works when I’m ready. This isn’t so great, because I lose track of where a journal is way too often. A sign of having too many journals? (but I love them all!)

    • I find it useful to dedicate one journal to ideas/notes/sketches and keep it in my bag. That’s why I love the 6 x 6 spiral Aquabee. If I love the result, I can pull it out an put the page in my big journal. As a recovering perfectionist, too many choices causes my mind to boggle!

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