Beyond Art Journaling

Nothing against art journaling. I still love it. But I need a break from it. So many people have piled on so many products, paints, stamps, stencils, embossers, hole-punchers that I got dizzy and had to sit down.

A page of William Blake's Commonplace Journal

A page of William Blake’s Commonplace Journal

I’m back to using my Commonplace Journal. The one that holds all the facts, ideas, quotes that pile up in my days. It’s so comfortable, like a pair of shoes that are soft and still can be worn to a teaching gig. My Commonplace Journal doesn’t demand painted pages, drying time, or planning. It holds whatever shows up. For me, that includes meaning-making.

Two deep loves for journaling (for me) is watching time pass on a big scale and nature. This time of year (fall for the Northern hemisphere) the days begin to get noticeably shorter. For Arizona, it is a huge relief, as the sun simply doesn’t pack the punch to crisp your skin in five minutes. The pool starts to get cool again. By the end of September, you will need hot water when you shower (in summer, the water comes hot out of the cold water tap.

Because my memory is keyed to weather, its hard for me to remember what happens when. It was easier on the East Coast–my memories were tied to cool weather or a coat I had on. Or mud season and black flies. But here, there is a giant blue bowl of sky above us 322 days a year, so I have to keep track of what happened, and when.

Calendar at the beginning of the month, pencil boxes still in place. Not much filled in.

Calendar at the beginning of the month, pencil boxes still in place. Not much filled in.

In the Commonplace Journal, I draw a rough outline for the month on a page that starts the month. I use a pencil to do this. Then I use a pen and box in days in which something is caught. On the first and last days of the month, I notice the length of the day.  In September, the day of the Harvest (full) Moon, the autumnal equinox, and the progress of my plants. Maybe I add sketches, maybe not. Depends on what happens.

At the end of the month, I add color (if I want) and erase the lines on days that I didn’t fill in.

Feb. 2010, complete with what i noticed around the yard.

Feb. 2010, complete with what i noticed around the yard.

Keeping this calendar doesn’t replace writing, I do that, too. But it shows at a glance what happened outside for that month. It’s great for gardeners, nature lovers, and hikers.

You can, of course, track anything. Birthdays, school milestones, heights of your kids, grandkids or how long you walked the dog.

Calendars keep track of items we want to remember but not use up brain power remembering. A simple, hand-drawn calendar is an excellent journal page.

-Quinn McDonald keeps journaling in ways that make meaning, whatever they are.



14 thoughts on “Beyond Art Journaling

  1. (Sorry this is a bit long) You articulated perfectly what I’ve always done and never really put into words. That is “abandoning a fad when it becomes a thing.” I so know exactly what you mean! Often I will love something (color, icon, style) for years and then suddenly that particular thing becomes a fad or in style. For instance, I always wore gemstone jewelry for the energy of particular stones. Then suddenly “power bracelets” came into style and my interest diminished. I think it has something to do with what it means to me is something different (than the fad) and I don’t want the meaning I have compared with some fad. I know that’s not the entire reason but I’ve explored why this is so for me and have never come to a concrete reason, which is usually easy for me. With the art journal the rules, and pushing of products is a turn off. The upside for me, is that once it does get to the point where it is a “thing” I feel liberated. It’s as though I can move past what I’m told I should be making/using and do only what I want without feeling wrong or out of the loop. Obviously, I could have all along. As an aside to this, I’ve noticed the internet is great for learning new techniques etc. but sometimes I can let myself get so caught up in how to do something that I freeze up from just doing so that I don’t do it “wrong’. I’m finding that balance. Your post, as usual, is just what I needed. Thanks!

    • Once something becomes a “thing” it also becomes a “thing with rules” that can diminish the meaning-making. So if I’m teaching and the class is disappointed because I do not do the “thing with rules,” I have to decide whether I want to keep people happy and teach those rules or if I want to risk losing clients. Fads move fast, like thunderstorms. Some I love, some I don’t, and in my own art journal, I can choose how to create the page. Which is the best thing about art journaling.

  2. YES!!! to your words here. I also keep a Commonplace Book. It is separate from my “places where I use collage/stickers/rubber stamps”. But I do glue in pictures and quotations. I had to stop copying stuff on post-its, so I put them in the CB.

  3. HI Quinn,
    Love this post. There are thousands of us out here who would think that what you did with that calendar page is not only an “art journal” page – it’s a really pretty and inspiring one – clean, sparse, and *meaningful* to the journaler (you). I am an everyday art journaler and have taught it for years, and I have yet to ever make a product-driven, piled-up page, or paint page backgrounds ahead of time that could not possibly be appropriate to what I might have in mind when I get to that page, or put a single thing in any of my journals that is not meaningful and special to me. I caught your other post on this subject and thought it very brave of you. A person can get a lot of backlash for not embracing a fad, but if there is any place where someone should be true to their heart, it is in their art journal.

    • I did get a lot of backlash for that post. And a lot of chilly shoulders about teaching. But if I can’t be authentic in my journal, and in what I teach, it doesn’t make sense. People can make meaning in many ways, and make money in many ways, and it’s wonderful when they overlap. In my case, it’s about originality and change.

  4. Hmmmm……this post really got me thinking. I LOVE hiking (nature in general), and I am interested in the study of Nature Journaling. Like you, I don’t want pages that feature the piling of products. I also do not aspire a chunky excess, or a “pattern” of creating pages that are so busy that I can barely breathe or have to concentrate to breathing. I love balance. In this life where so many people are in a hurry, stressed, hectic traffic, etc….. I [need] peace, silence, meditation, and simplicity. That is what I want my journal to reflect.

    You “always” have the best of thoughts and ideas, and I think that you just answered a question for me.

    (((((Love you always)))))

  5. Yes, to your thoughts, Quinne! I have an unorthodox calendar, a side-kick composition book and a “journal” and I usually drag at least one of them with me whenever I go anywhere. I rarely finish “stuff” in the journal that I call my art journal, but I like it, too. (It doesn’t look like anyone else’s art journal…). Yes, to the two previous comments, too!

  6. I use art Journaling as a way of working out visual ideas. I don’t like feeling ‘forced’ to make a complete piece of art in itself as the trend seems to be. Or create something pretty. Or use trendy inspirational quotes that everyone else does instead of raw emotional outbursts that express how I really feel.

    My favorite journal is the one I use for thoughts, observations, notes, and so on. It’s ‘only’ a cheap composition book i buy from dollar stores that i fill up and keep for future reference, then start another. And I’ll smile, laugh, or cry when i reread it.
    That’s what a journal is to me.

    I understand and I’m glad you’re taking a break. I’m glad you’re doing what matters to you. That’s way more important.

    • Yes! That journal you are talking about is a Commonplace Journal, and they are always my favorite. Messy, with notes and inspirations pasted into them, they are the real heroes of my inner life!

  7. You sound weary Quinn….enjoy that pool and some sunshine. How loverly you document the things in life that are important,it worries me somany young people have no idea of
    Moon cycles,tides ,seed sowing….ok…they can google it but if the world goes into meltdown there will be no electric and Internet….my motto for this week …..keep things simple,we are enjoying some sun again …Indian summer…why do they call it that….and I intend to get a few more days on the beach savouring the glistening water with low light. Milestone of both kids going to big school today…. Change is afoot…softly and slowly. Journalling. Begins again too. Thanks.x

    • Thanks, Jain, I’m not weary, but I generally abandon a fad when it becomes a “thing,” with rules and too much equipment. Just in my head, of course. But I’m moving on, back to simple sketches and writing. I feel comfortable there. “Indian Summer” has many origination stories. One is that the Algonquins on the East Coast celebrated their harvest at the first frost, then, when it warmed again, praised the South Wind for bringing back summer for a few days. Another story says that American settlers loved an early winter because they could leave the stockades unstaffed. But if it warmed again, well, they had to go back and wait out “Indian summer” and another attack.

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