Why Keep a Visual Journal?

I’ve kept a written journal for years. I’ve done morning pages, evening pages, no pages. So why start a visual journal? Because a visual journal helps you keep memories more clearly than just a written journal. And you don’t need to be a visual artist, either.

My journal entries often take up a lot of space describing something well enough so I can remember it. In other words, I write a lot to create a picture in my head. So I thought I’d try going directly to the source, and draw the thing I want to remember. This helps me be more observant. About color. About shadows. About shape. About what was really important–was it a linked memory, an emotion, a new idea?

radish bunchSince it’s my journal, and I don’t intend on exhibiting it or turning it into a movie, how well my drawing resemble the object I’m trying to draw it not as important as capturing a memory.

Sometimes I give myself a time limit. It helps to see what I need to see and not spend a lot of time on too many details. I’m trying to catch an idea, not a plot line.

A visual journal helps you be more aware.
A visual journal allows you to see colors more vividly.
Texture comes alive in a journal, and you can use words to compare what you see now to something else. The radish leaves are slightly fuzzy and gritty with sand. I’d never given it much thought.

Your images help you accept your level of art ability, particularly if you give yourself deadlines to prevent overworking an image. In this case, I also tested some of the reds on the same page, so I could layer some colors and get the radish right. Next time, I’ll write the color underneath, so I can use the journal to test color swatches. Another use–getting colors right.

I was flipping through my journal the other day, and as this page passed, I immediately could taste the radish sandwich I love in spring–crisp red radishes sliced thin and placed on smooth unsalted butter on nine-grain bread. I could taste it again.
Pictures are a shorthand to an experience, and you can make the most of it with a visual journal.

Next: It doesn’t have to be pictures, words can be visual, too.
–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. She keeps journals for many reasons.
Image by Quinn. (c) 2008 All right reserved.

Looking v. Seeing and Time for Art

While waiting for my husband to sell the house and join me in Arizona, I moved into an apartment. I work on borrowed card tables, sit on borrowed folding chairs. Of all the things I don’t have, I miss a lemon zester the most.

It’s lemon season in Arizona, with lots of fat, juicy, fragrant yellow fruit hanging on trees in parks and bus stops, there for the picking.

But this isn’t another lemon dessert post. It’s about the thing I don’t miss: TV. My new acquaintances are shocked when they hear I don’t have a TV.
“What do you DO at night?”
“I’d die without a TV!”
“Don’t you care what happens on [name of program]?”

The writer’s strike is still on, so I gather I’m not missing much. I gave up TV right after I watched, in embarrassment for writers and TV producers alike, Donald Trump honking, “You’re fired!” in the first show of the first season of The Apprentice.

When the TV went dark, I began to develop a whole evening life. Previously, I had always been “exhausted” and “so tired I just want to be passively entertained.” Without a TV, I read books, walk every evening (and have lost 20 pounds doing it, without denying myself chocolate), write these posts, read other people’s posts, and . . .draw. I always thought of myself as a horrible illustrator. It turns out that drawing skill is not magic or secret. It lies in seeing the world around you. Not looking at it, but seeing it. There is a difference.

pear sketchWith the TV off, the apartment is quiet. The same quiet that makes people nervous is actually soothing. I put on some ambient music, grab a pencil and something to draw. I look at it first, noticing the shapes, sketching them in. Then I refine the shape. After that comes the shadows and textures. This takes time. Which is exactly why I didn’t draw before.

You can’t draw a good picture in 30 seconds. Well, I can’t anyway.

My evenings now include some drawing time. I find it has benefits. My blood pressure dropped. I’m calmer. I have more patience. I think more clearly. I laugh more often.

You know that time you always want and don’t have? Your TV sucks it up, along with hours of your busy life.

Spend two nights away from your TV, and you may never turn it on again. If you think you will be shunned by your peers, you can listen to them talk and ask questions. People like being listened to and no one will know your secret.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach who lives in Mesa, AZ. See her work at QuinnCreative.com Pear painting: one of the things she drew while not watching TV. (c) 2008 All rights reserved.

Left Handed, Again

My drawing teacher encourages me to use my left hand, the one I gave up when Sr. Michael Augustine threatened to cut my ear off if I used it to write.

Our class tonight was to draw a teddy bear. We had learned outline drawing and shading and tonight was texture. Of course, the teddy bear has all three. We worked from both a color picture and a photocopy, so we could more easily see the shading and values.

I use my left hand to do the contour part, and the right to do repetitive strokes for fur. I’ve always said, “I’m not an illustrator,” and tonight I say, “I’ve found the right teacher!”

–Illustration by Quinn McDonald, who is astonished that she managed to get it pretty much right, left-handed and all. She’s also a creativity coach learning many lessons doing this. (c) 2008 All rights reserved.

teddy bear sketch

Left Hand, Right Hand

Most cultures have a negative views of left-handed people. Sure, we pretend that left-handedness is just fine, but our culture is still biased. Both the words “sinister” and “gauche” have their roots in the words for “left” as a direction, away from “right.” Even that word ‘right’ means the correct way.

I was born left-handed, and that was simply unacceptable in my family. My pencil was put in my right hand, and later, disapproval of left-handedness was enforced with shame, yelling and punishment. As a result, I am a left-handed person who writes with the right hand. I brush my teeth and hair left-handed, I eat left-handed, but I write right handed.

right handed knifeLast week I signed up for two classes–drawing and watercolor. My first drawing class was about getting the outline and proportion right. The object I was drawing was a curved knife. I did a shaky drawing of the knife with my right hand. (That’s it on the left, over there).

As I worked to see the knife and get it down, my left hand moved with the right. I noticed it, and just for the fun of it, moved the pencil to my left hand. For one second, I was a little dizzy, and then I re-drew the knife, with far better results. The proportion was better and the lines were smoother and steadier. (The left-handed drawing is below.)

Because the pencil had been a writing instrument, I held it in my right hand. As a drawingleft knife instrument, it felt better in my left. I completed the rest of my class using my left hand. And made, as a mature age, a giant decision–to draw left handed. And to try the same experiment in my watercolor class. Because training and learning are two different things. And I need to learn to be left-handed again.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach who also develops and teaches training programs on communicating with others. Images by Quinn McDonald (c) 2008 All rights reserved.

Art Takes Different Eyes

It seemed like a good idea when I signed up for two art classes this semester. I work at the Mesa Art Center and want to get to know the other instructors. My spouse is 2,500 miles away, and I am setting up a new business–having a built-in art break sounded like a stroke of genius.

watercolor brushesI signed up for watercolor and basic drawing. While I’m an artist, I’m not an illustrator, and wanted to learn some illustration skills for the visual journaling class I teach. There were two different equipments lists, and I ran around two different art supply stores getting what I needed. At least both classes has a drawing board and pencils in common.

That was the last thing they had in common. Drawing is all about seeing the detail and proportion and getting it exactly right. Watercolor is about seeing the heart of the idea and capturing it in the fewest possible lines. My drawing teacher walked past, and showed me how to use a pencil to get the angle between two pieces right. My watercolor instructor walked past, looked at my attempt to get the colors exactly right and said, “So, who’s winning?” Sadly, the answer was “nobody.”images-3.jpeg

Drawing is about watching carefully, seeing exactly so you can get the same thing on paper. Watercolor is about watching carefully, seeing exactly, so you don’t put it on paper, but give the viewer enough hints to get your meaning.

Impossible, I thought. If only things were more like writing, I’d bet better at being an illustrator. But, in fact, drawing is exactly like writing. If you don’t get the dialog down precisely, your story will sound flat and uninteresting.

images-12.jpegIf you spell out every detail you will bore the reader.  Skip an important detail and you will lose the reader. Like a watercolor artist, a good writer will know the bones of the story and get them down. The rest is up to the reader’s imagination. A right balance of imagination and good writing makes a book come alive and echo through the decades as powerful writing.

So I swing back and forth, being exact, being clear, painting, drawing and writing down life to make it come alive for others. And to make some meaning for myself.

–Quinn McDonald is an exhausted art student, writer, and certified creativity coach. She also runs seminars in journal writing, business writing, and presentations. In her spare time, she prays that the mattress for her bed shows up soon, as sleeping on the bed slats does nothing for her sense of perspective. (c) 2008 All rights reserved.

Image: writing sample: cnx.org