An Update on the MCBA Visual Journal Collective: Using Photos in Your Journals

March 26, 2009



Above: a page spread I did in our Altered Book Round Robin (the owner of this book elected to use a Handbook journal and not a printed book). The theme for this book was lost and found and inclusions were welcome, but most of the stuff that I find is pretty large so I thought it best to paint the object (a Lake Superior stone). I was working with dip pen, Ziller Glossy black ink (pretty much obliterated by the paint) and Schmincke gouache. Don’t ask me what was going on with the composition here. The verso page was all lumpy from the previous spread’s rivets and inclusions (I had to glue two pages together to cover the eyelet backs and such). I wasn’t going to use that side, and then I was painting it. Well at least it has an interesting texture and it fits with the idea of lost and found “ideas." Click on the image to see an enlargement.

March 16, members of the MCBA Visual Journal Collective met to once again, explore visual journaling and share our work. We watched a short documentary on Peter Beard, a photographer known for his journals filled with photos, scraps of paper, and animal skins and blood.

After the film we discussed Beard’s work. Part of the discussion dealt with political thoughts about the use of Western models with naked African women, and the messages that may or may not be intended.

Later in the discussion Kathleen raised a very interesting point about scale. She had been struck by the large size of the photos Beard was producing in the documentary for his African staff to illustrate. She normally works in a rather small sized journal. The film got her thinking about what it would be like to work in a very large journal, larger than 11 x 14 inches! (Judging by the size she described with her hands in the air.)

I think this is a point for all visual journal keepers to consider from time to time. Scale changes things. Small scale creates an additional intimacy that builds on the intimacy of the book. Large scale creates an almost in-your-face public statement when it comes to very large books. And there is the added difficulty of portability as size increases.

I like to use a number of different sizes of journals throughout the year because I find the constant change from 8 x 8 to 6 x 9 to 6 x 6 to 6.5 x 8.5 alters the format that my journal page spread presents. That in turn changes how I relate to the page in selection of media and positioning of an image and in cropping. It’s good to switch around and keep yourself moving. On the other hand, having a predictable format may allow you to take risks in other areas of journaling that you would feel uncomfortable taking if you didn’t have that familiar space.

Discussion also centered on the use of photos in a visual journal and some interesting points came up that I wanted to share as suggestions to you:

• Printing out digital photos on the day they are taken and putting them in your journal with notes about the day was a pretty universal activity. It has value in that it keeps track of somethings you may not have time or inclination to sketch.

• Some journal artists like to print out a photograph and place it on a spread and then draw the “rest of the image” continuing from the edge of the photograph out onto the page. The change from photo to pencil, colored pencil, pen and ink, can make an interesting visual statement as well as provide an opportunity to include details that might not have been included in the photo.

• Photos can be printed out and elements can be cut out of the photos for “personal” collage items.

• Personal collage items cut from your own photos can be placed on painted backgrounds as a focus, or simply another layer/texture on your page. As a focus any text would augment the photo. As another layer or texture you might find yourself writing over the photo.

• Photos can be scaled and printed out on paper or fabric (anything that is foldable) to be used in book arts. For instance a photo can be printed out on 8 x 10 inch paper, folded and glued across the gutter to cover most of your page spread (or all of it depending on the size of your book). Other media can then be used on top of this image, including things like stencils, stamped images or text, paints and inks, and collage items to create a multilayered page spread. Fabric which is printed digitally with a photo can be paper backed and used a book cloth to cover a journal.

• Photos can be printed and placed in windows and other constructions in a journal.

There are of course a million ways you can alter a photo once you have a digital file and access to Photoshop, Painter, and other such software. We didn't even begin to discuss those options, but if you have the equipment and software you might consider altering your photos with posterization, inverting the colors, turning them to grayscale, all simple beginnings that can then be paired in interesting ways with the full color image.

Of course, with the addition of photos to our journals there are a thousand ways to attach them. I find that Uhu gluestick (the purple one, because it doesn’t smell offensive to me) will glue down photos quite well, even those done on glossy paper. I glue the back of the photo, flip it over into place. Put a bit of wax paper on top of it, burnish it down, and with the wax paper still in place I close and weight the book until the glue is dry (typically a couple hours). I find that even when I paint on the next page the moisture from the paint doesn’t lift images I’ve stuck down this way.

The Xyron permanent archival adhesive like I used for the Portrait Party book’s layout master is another useful choice. You simply run your image through the machine, pull away the backing sheet and cover sheet and you have a pre-"glued" image (the dry adhesive layer is now attached to the back of your photo).

I suggest that you run your images through BEFORE CROPPING and then do your final trim before you pull the protection and backing off. In this way you won’t have sticky edges. If you crop and trim first (before adding the adhesive) and have sticky edges I’m told rubber cement pickups will pick up that stuff. A kneaded eraser might clean this up for you as well.

The drawback to the Xyron adhesive for me is that if I use it on one page spread and paint on the next spread the moisture from the second spread seeps through the page and causes the Xyron adhesive to lift. There isn’t an easy way to repair this buckling and pulling up. If it happens at the edges you can insert some glue on a scrap of paper, press, and weight. (All of course after the painting on the next page is dried.)

Photo corners are a perennial favorite for sticking photos in anything! There are so many choices now, from colors to clear.

Photo hinges, two sided self-adhesive tabs, ATG Tape and other two-sided tape dispensers—these are all just some of the many products available for inserting your photos into your journal. A trip to a scrapbooking store or camera supply store will yield some excellent finds. I like to go into a Ben Franklin whenever I see one in a small town. Often they have old stock of some quirky product that will work just fine. Oddball stuff can also be found in stationery stores.

Of course it never has to be fancy. My college journals are filled with pages of yellowing tape. Nothing archival there!

If you have a “drawing only” rule about your journal you just might want to examine why you do. Consider whether it’s time to make a few exceptions. Sure I’m an advocate for drawing, but a photo now and then doesn’t mean you’re on the slippery slope!

    • Velma
    • March 26, 2009

    A very rich blog today, Roz. Lots to think about. And experiment.

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