Journaling as Building Block

I’m working on the journaling process again. I’m focusing on writing and Commonplace Journaling for right now. I got a 5 x 8-inch journal in which I can’t draw (paper is too thin) so I would write more. I’m fond of doing mind maps, and I’m doing a lot of them, too. Why writing instead of art journaling? Right now, I have a lot of ideas to clear, a lot of inner critic arguing to do, and that (for me), is done by journaling.

Yes, I’m still working on my art. The latest piece is also about writing, though!

Book of letters. © Quinn McDonald 2015

Book of letters. © Quinn McDonald 2015

The collage uses an older idea I had, but the letters around the book actually are words that relate to writing. I often sit in front of a blank journal while my mind writes and my hands don’t. That’s what gave me the idea.

To make myself focus and write, I create a list of problems, worries, and ideas at night, right before bed.  (That goes in the journal, too). The next morning, I choose an item from the list and set the timer for three minutes. When the timer rings, I finish the sentence and shut the book. No re-reading. That comes later.

mindmapOn the left is a mind-map from Journaling from the Inside Out by Susan Borkin. I use mind maps to capture pieces of a big idea when I don’t know the connection yet.

The mind-map helps me grab all the pieces of the brain dump. Sorting them comes later. I’ve found that mind maps are still maps, another one of my favorite concepts.

When I’ve got a book filled, I can go back and distill ideas and save them. The books have cardboard covers and have about 50 pages. They aren’t attractive, but they allow me to be messy and not try to design a page. Sometimes, quantity is as important as quality.

It doesn’t matter how you tackle journaling, it always helps. It always heals. As long as you keep writing, your life will begin to make sense.

-Quinn McDonald keeps journals. In many different ways and styles.

 

Difference Between a Visual and Commonplace Journal

There’s been some interest lately for the Commonplace Journal. Yes! Nothing against visual journals, I wrote two books about using visual journals, and I love them both.

But after two books, I want to go back to the Commonplace Journal because it is my idea book. It’s not to show around the table, it’s not a sketchbook, it’s a book that helps me capture who I am today so I can see where I’ve been and how far I’ve come. (Here’s a great post about Commonplace Journals from Kaisa Mäki-Petäjä, sketcher, naturalist and journaler.)

And here’s an example of an ancient one, because the Commonplace Book has a long history–going back to how guild apprentices learned their craft.

Page from a Commonplace Book, from "Belly of the Whale," from the website Fierce and Nerdy.

Page from a Commonplace Book, from “Belly of the Whale,” from the website Fierce and Nerdy: http://bit.ly/1t1OXa8

A Commonplace Journal (or book) is a place for ideas and pieces of stories, quotes, classes I want to develop, and maps. I love maps and making them helps me put things in perspective or just remember where I’ve been–both geographically and emotionally.

A visual journal is more of a sketchbook, with planned pages. You may start with randomly applying layers of color, then going back and creating a page. But a visual journal is planned, often with an image on every page or every spread.

Not so the Commonplace Journal. It’s a way to capture what you may need in the future, and because you don’t know what that is, each book is a compendium of what you come across in your life–quotes, book titles (those you like and those you make up in case you want to write one), song lyrics, overhead conversations.

I’ve written about 10 ideas to use in your commonplace journal, but here are some not-so-private pages from mine. Warning: it’s not gorgeous, not sketches, and not layered. It’s about memory and ideas and development.

At the beginning or end of some months, I put in a calendar page. It helps me see what happened in that month at a glance. Each date is not filled in, and some days take up a lot of space. It varies a lot.

Here’s one from March, several years ago:

march_1

The first one generally mentions the sunrise and sunset times at the beginning of the month, because I am a naturalist, which means a lot of my journal is nature-based. Notice that there are just vague lines separating the days, and not every day is covered.

And here’s one from this past September:

jrnl1

More complete and more defined lines. This is the page in progress. You can see that I penciled in all the lines for the dates, and then inked in those I used. This page isn’t finished yet. I need to erase the lines and maybe add more detail. I can do this because there are other pages in the book that remind me of what I did. Here’s an example:

jrnl2We went to the Phoenix Art Museum and saw an exhibition on Antonio Berni. I didn’t take my journal to the museum, so I just put a quick note of the two exhibits we saw–Japanese pottery and an Antonio Berni exhibit.

I happened to have a piece of Asian-inspired paper that a friend had sent, so that got put on that page along with the ticket.

Another page (not shown) is a detailed report about the Antonio Berni art. Berni is an Argentinian artist who invented two characters who populated his assemblages. Berni was deeply distressed by the social issues of his day–how industrialization changed the opportunities for people to grow and advance, how poverty affected the lives of families, and how politics governed cultural changes.

Berni invented two characters, Juanito Laguna and Ramona Montiel, and created entire stories about them using assemblage. The work was mesmerizing and I have several pages describing the sculptures, assemblages, found objects and colors he used as well as interesting words–he called shantytowns “misery towns.”

I received a huge surprise gift from far away on my birthday. It was handmade, jrnl3which always means so much to me. The person who sent them (who is not mentioned because I didn’t ask for permission) uses some great quotes, which I wrote on the page.

Even the stamps delighted me, so I included those. The back of the page details the gift and what I know about its production.

Ideas for art, classes and articles are all hidden in the pages, waiting to be distilled out.

Then there are maps. Maps are how we connect locations, but they also work for emotional journeys we take.

map_phx-tucson2-2011The first few times I went to Tucson from Phoenix (about 2 hours) everything along the way seemed new. That’s the best time to write down what I saw and thought. Sometimes I just jot down notes and put them in when I have a chance to sketch a map. The maps are not meant to be in scale, just remind me about what caught my interest. This map was detailed weeks after I did the first sketch.

The one above is about a trip I took to Las Cruces, New Mexico.

map2It’s a beautiful drive, and it has inspired several poems. The map helped me remember what I saw and when. This map was done quickly at a rest stop. It was all I needed and I didn’t add more detail.

This is a lot and it’s long, but I think that there is a place in today’s world for Commonplace Books, and I’d like to help people get back to using them and creating them. By hand. From the brain and through the heart.

—Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach and a naturalist who keeps a Commonplace Journal.

 

 

This Little Journal Stayed Home

On my last business trip, I had to hand-carry corrected workbooks. That shrank suitcase space, so I thought, “this time, I’ll leave the journal at home.” I don’t journal every day, so a two-day trip, well, I really wouldn’t need it anyway. The journal stayed in the studio.

Here’s what didn’t make it into my journal the day it happened:

  • The full eclipse, around 3:00 a.m.,  the kind where the moon is red.
  • I ate dinner overlooking an indoor ice rink and noticed that the youngest class fell as often as the older class, but the younger kids laughed when they fell and did deliberate pratfalls, bounding back up again. No fear, no shame, just ready for more fun. Something about being young that acknowledges the purpose of life is learning. By the time you are eight, you feel embarrassed not to know it all.
  • I missed writing down a dream because it evaporated when I woke up without a way to write it down.
Traveling instant art kit: Neocolor II, water brush, pencil, Pitt Pen, eraser. The bare necessities.

Traveling instant art kit: Neocolor II, water brush, pencil, Pitt Pen, eraser. The bare necessities.

Sure, I can write down the two events I remember, but it lacks the immediacy and insight of writing it down as soon as it happens. And the dream is gone.

What to do when there is really no room to take the journal? Here are four ideas:

1. Buy postcards at the airport when I arrive and tuck them into the folder that holds my schedule. There’s always room to take a few postcard stamps. Write down journal entries on the postcards and mail them at the hotel before I leave. Instant journal page!

2. Take photos of things I want to remember and print them out when I get home. Print it out to the size of the journal page, and write on it, or on the back and add it to the journal.

3. Take a few shipping tags to write on. Send them back as postcards (the larger ones) or tuck them into the journal when I get back. Or keep it simple and simply tuck blank index cards into my schedule.

4. Pick something else not to take. A journal is my idea bank, comfort source and being-bored preventer. And it doesn’t have an uncomfortable underwire. A woman’s got to have priorities.

—Quinn McDonald is leaving for Houston, and this time, her journal is coming along.

10 Commonplace Journal Ideas

Journaling is something that heals. Writing lets you remember and lets you forget. Remember fading memories and forget old hurts by writing them down and letting them go. It’s not always easy to keep a journal, so why do it? Who cares? Who will ever look at all that writing? The answer is simple: this is your life. You are keeping track of it. Your journals are not for your children to admire, your friends to share, and strangers to copy.

A personal favorite: create a calendar page with interesting things you did. For blank days, erase the pencil lines (haven't done that yet). For others, ink them in.

A personal favorite: create a calendar page with interesting things you did. For blank days, erase the pencil lines (haven’t done that yet). Ink borders around others for variety. Notice the lack of “art appeal.” This is an idea book, not an art show to be shared.

The journal you keep is to document your life. To prove you were alive. To write history the way you experienced it. Many of us don’t watch news because we are overwhelmed. Our own lives overwhelm us. Journaling puts you in control. Write about what happened at work, how you reacted, what you really thought. Putting it down helps us look at our reactions, our emotions, at arm’s length.

What else can you put in a journal? I’m a big fan of a Commonplace Journal--a journal that connects closely to what happens to you every day. Here are some ideas of what to put in a journal that will make it interesting to you:

1. Weather. Rain, sunshine, wind changes how we see the world and how we feel about it. A bright crisp day brings on different thoughts than low clouds and rain. Write down the temperature, the kind of day it was, and how you felt.

2. Movies. Glue the ticket stub into your journal and write a few sentences about the content and your level of enjoyment. You can do the same for movies you watch at home. Was it a good plot? Were the characters believable? Did you like a character or hate another one?

3. Food. I’m not talking about a food diary. What did you eat that was

Pieces from a business trip to Dallas. The bag has "Inspiration" printed on it, and I've put fortunes from fortune cookies into it.  Also on the desk: a feather and a butterfly that ended his journey in my pool.

Pieces from a business trip to Dallas. The bag has “Inspiration” printed on it, and I’ve put fortunes from fortune cookies into it. Also on the desk: a feather and a butterfly that ended his journey in my pool.

delicious? Do you remember what you had for breakfast? Is food an enjoyable experiences or just something to get over with? What was your favorite snack today? What would you like to remember to cook more often?

4. Music. What did you listen to that made you feel like dancing or singing? Do you have a favorite singer or performer? If you could create a soundtrack to your life, what five songs would you include? Maybe you don’t listen to music or even like it much. What’s the background noise to your life?

5. What’s the cost? How much did you pay for a tank of gas? How much for milk? Eggs? Liptstick? The price of the small chunks of life rises and falls, but it also creates a sort of set point in your life.  Compare the price to a gallon of milk to a gallon of gas and think about what you get from each. As you get older, you will think things are different than they used to be. Now you’ll be able to check.

6. Titles. Create a whole page of titles you like. Book titles, song titles, the names of restaurants, hair salons, or any other name or title that makes you smile or think. You fill it as you go along. Keeping it all on one page gives you a fascinating look at your sense of humor.

7. Maps and diagrams. Where did you go? What route did you take? Do you always take the same road to work? To the store? What other route could you take, even if it is longer or slower? Is speed the most important part of travel? What does that mean about your sense of time or necessity?

8. Quotes. Not just famous quotes you come across, although that’s handy to write down. What people in your life said that made sense, was funny, was ridiculous. What you said in return. Keeping track of dialogue makes you a better listener, a smarter speaker, and a wiser soul.

9. What catches your eye? Ads, headlines, photos, good designs. Cut them out of magazines, or photograph them and print them out.  I photograph the wallpaper in hotels. I’m amazed at how many of them are interesting abstract designs.

10. Spend time in your journal. Look back over old journals. Has your taste changed? Your ideas? The music you like? Your life is a mosaic and you can decide on the shape and color you want it to take. Watching it change over time is part of growth.

Keeping a journal doesn’t require daily deep soul-searching. It’s a way to keep track of the tiny grit that you turn into the pearls of your life.

Here’s an article on the difference between a visual journal and a commonplace journal.

–Quinn McDonald is a journaler and a creativity coach.

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.

 

 

What to Put on the First Page of Your Travel Journal

It’s summer and vacation time. Travel journals and vacation go together. But what to put on the first page? If you make your journal ahead of time, a printed map of the location is a good beginning. If you are going to share your journal, it helps to orient your friends to where you were.

Map4For my travel journals, I favor 6″ x 6″ square watercolor journals. Even with the wire binding, they make practical sketch, writing, and storage journals.

On the cover, I placed all the suitcase identification, a name tag, and a small sticker that showed my suitcase had been opened by the TSA.  I love the contrast of those stripes as well as the starting and completion airport identifications.

You can, of course, put those on the first page of your travel journal, too. Another good start is the boarding pass (you’ll have to remember to print it out the old-fashioned way) if you are flying.

I write my contact information around the edge of the page.

I write my contact information around the edge of the page.

I start every journal the same way: two crossed and curved arrows and a request that the finder please contact me if I lose the journal. My email address on the page, and I’ve had two lost journals returned to me.

The arrows represent different paths, interests and the constant demand to consider more than one view in my journals.

If you don’t fly, the first page can hold

  • A snapshot of everyone who went on the trip
  • The checklist of what needed to be done before you left
  • Information you found about the vacation location
  • Places you hope to visit or sights you want to see while you are on vacation.
  • And of course, there are always maps.
Map: Phoenix to Las Cruces, August, 2014/

Map: Phoenix to Las Cruces, August, 2014/

I’m a fan of drawing my own map. It’s neither to scale nor accurate in any other way, except that as I drive, I note interesting sights along the way. Once I arrive, I complete the map with the notes I take.

Trip from Denver to Colorado Springs.

Trip from Denver to Colorado Springs.

You can just sketch in a few notes, and add more as you go along, too. The second part of the above map (not shown on the blog) lists places I ate, shopped, and who I met, all detailed with small sketches.

Map3If you aren’t into maps (what?!) you can add photos from flyers, postcards, notices you find in coffee shops or museums you hang out in. This photograph of sandhill cranes reminds me that I want to see their migration again this fall.

For pockets, I use placemats, menus, or other ephemera found in coffee shops or restaurants. The Corner Bakery has cute 2″ x 5″ bags for cutlery that just fit into a small journal. OK, they also have menu items for diabetics. But those cute brown bags! They wind up in the travel journal and hold movie or concert tickets or other memorabilia you pick up.

I also tuck 6″ x 4″ watercolor postcards into the journal before I leave, so I can make and send postcards to friends and to myself. It’s fun to come home, find some postcards you sent and add them to the journal. Enjoy your vacation!

—Quinn McDonald also adds trips to her Commonplace Journal.

 

Making The Commonplace Journaling

We’ve talked a lot about Commonplace Journals, and I thought it might be a good idea to show you mine. The purpose of a Commonplace Journal is to record items you need to remember, everything from the name of a book to an idea for a future art project. It’s not formal, it’s not meant to show to others or as a brag book. It’s your memory, your imagination, and the garden of your muse.

To hold my Commonplace ideas, I bought a hand-made journal from Val Bembenek. She makes wonderful, traditional Japanese-bound journals, about 8-1/2 inches  x 5-1/2 inches, with horizontal orientation. Val ties non traditional buttons on the front as decoration. She also uses paper bags as covers.  (You can buy them from her via email, too.) This one has a wine bag front cover and a bread bag back cover. Perfect combination!

FrontCover

I’m not showing you the front page, which is the same in all my books–the two crossed, curved arrows, and my email address so I can get the book back if I lose it. Because I travel with my Commonplace Journal, it has to fit in my bag. I generally put items in with a glue stick (which I normally hate, but hey, when you are on the road, you have to use what you have).

Page1and2

On the left side is the map to the hotel I was staying in. The hotel was great, with a fridge and microwave, but the complex was, well, complex. Thank goodness for the map. On the right side is information about the kinds of paper we made ad two samples. The page is dated, so I know when I made the papers.

Page3

 

While I was in Tucson taking the class, I stopped by an art store and bought some Neocolor II watercolor crayons by Caran D’Ache. On this page I rubbed the crayons and then showed the color and texture, both wet and dry and wrote the name and number next to it. If I buy some more (I may not be able to resist), I’ll have the number of the ones I already have, and I’ll add the new ones to this page.

PAGE4

When I went to Las Cruces, someone was handing out flyers for Earth Day. This was a good way to get the date right and remind me of the activities I participated in–including a film festival.

DemoPageThe ticket for the film festival is on the left, and a bit about the interesting documentaries about life along the backbone of travel (the Camino Real) in early New Mexico. On the right are the parking lot tickets for the days I was demonstrating at The Women’s Expo in Phoenix. I created marbled papers for Arizona Art Supply (and I’ll be doing local demos in June and July and teaching there in July, August and September!) More about that later this week.

You can see that this is a notebook is the real sense of the world. There is nothing beautiful about it, but it is practical and useful.

newpaperPageOne of my big rants is young girls dressed up to be sexy. I found a great quote in the paper from a mother who addresses her daughter’s threat that she will just change to the clothes she wants to wear after she arrives at school. That’s on the left, with some marbled paper. On the right is a quick collage I put together with some phrases about the underwear women wear as outerwear and the stiletto with the phrase “it pays” as part of the image. It was satisfying to make the collage, although the composition is not excellent design.  The pages can be cut up to use in another collage. Great way to store pre-made design elements.

KettleSTitchHave you ever tried to remember where you saw that article you need now? You can remember the side of the page it was on, but not the book or magazine. I’ve lost hours thumbing through my iPad, books and magazine stash, looking for that phrase, reference, or stitch. I’m working on a book of handmade papers, but it’s number four on my to-do list. I’ll need that kettle stitch to hold the signatures together. So I drew out the part of the stitch I forget, then added the page number and name of the book so I can find it when I need it.

BackcoverThe back cover of the book. I have many pages to write on before it’s done, but when it’s filled, it will be a useful reference book as well as reminder of when I did what.

If you are keeping a Commonplace Journal, leave a link in the comments, so we can visit others as well!

-Quinn McDonald is enjoying Memorial Day weekend in art projects. But she’s getting back to work on Monday. She’s a ghost writer for several blogs, and they are due this week.

The Commonplace Journal

The instant Kaisa from Valkoinenponi mentioned it, I recognized the Commonplace Journal.  For me, it was a book I had seen before, with the words vade_mecumVade Mecum printed on the cover, that my father used. It was a small notebook, and he took notes in it. About the weather, numbers and measurements he needed to remember, quotes on prices and on wisdom. Vade Mecum means “Come with Me” in Latin, and the book went most places with my father, the original life-long learner.

In the early days of printing, Vade Mecum became a name for books that published information–general or specific–in a variety of topics. They contained medical information, wieghts and measurements, and recipes for healing, cooking, even alchemy.

Vade Mecum had another name, starting in the 15th century: Commonplace books and Zibaldone. These notebooks were a combination of a scrapbook and a note-taking device. Students who were studying by apprenticeship would sketch or write information for their professional learning into the books. As the students became masters, they would allow the next generation to learn from these books. In the 1600s, most college students learned from the professors through keeping a Commonplace Book. Oxford University and Harvard taught via Commonplace Book well into the 20th century.

commonplace bookWhen I was in college, I created a Commonplace timeline in my room. Every time I learned something in one field, I’d mark it on the timeline–when it happened, who did the work. I’d add notes from other fields. By the middle of the year, I could tell you that while Bach was studying music, Peter the Great was building St. Petersburg (later Leningrad) and that 9,000 people died in England in a huge windstorm with gusts that reached 120 mph. The timeline wrapped around the room. The arts, music, science, literature–all trailed around the room, helping me understand the relationship between politics, culture, and science.

2362053970_2f96a14ea3I still keep a Commonplace Book. It holds quotes, book titles, ideas. I wish it looked more like Count Laszlo’s private diary in The English Patient (the 1996 movie made of Michael Ondaatje’s book). You can see a glimpse of it at the 4:00 mark in the trailer. But it is, well, commonplace. It is also the reason that I can’t keep an art journal without words as the origination source. I understand books without words, just colors or images when others do them, but for me, words create the book. And the image.

I love the idea of important pieces of learning and experience caught in one book. Paging through it, I can remember so much of where I was and what I was learning.  You can start your own, but if you already have one, please leave a comment about what you keep in it.

-Quinn McDonald is a romantic at heart. But don’t tell anyone; it’s hard to be a level-headed creativity coach if people think you are a wild romantic.