Above: plein air watercolor and gouache landscape ©2008 Diane Wesman, created in a 4 x 3 inch (approx.) journal made with Strathmore Aquarius II 80 lb. watercolor paper. Sketch made with a black Uniball pen.
As a bookbinder one of the saddest things to see is a series of blank books on someone's shelf. The books' mass represents acquisitiveness, lost opportunities, stalled creativity, postponed engagement in the world and a hundred other sad things. It's frustrating to see. It's one of the reasons I started teaching journaling. I was very sneaky about it—I would have everyone make a book using paper I knew was perfect for the process I was teaching. Then, perfectly timed, when the books were completed we would USE THEM. No one went home without working in their book.
Yes there were actually screams from some people that the book was for Aunt Jo or some other relative. But I insisted. The class descriptions always announced we'd be working on journaling techniques; it must have appealed to people when they signed up, only now they were having second thoughts, and their internal critic was speaking up. Tough love—I pushed them through that last complaining wedge of resistance. And people went home happy. They were skilled enough to make another book for Aunt Jo and they had already dipped their toe, indeed splashed about, in the journaling stream.
When I sell books they go out with a little sticker that says: This book was handmade by Roz Stendahl. Use it; she'll make more.
Few things make me happier than to see what an artist has done in one of my books. I love when people come up to me and wave a book in my face. (I actually encourage past students to do this with new books they have made so that I can see that, yes, they are still making books. We all want to know that our work is having some sort of impact don't we? Mine leaves a paper trail.)
A great joy for me is to see what landscape artist Diane Wesman does in journals I've made. She gamely tries different papers and formats, but she is quite taken with small books. She pedals about the lake she lives on just north of St. Paul on her bicycle. She holds the book open on her handlebars so that it will dry before she gets to her next destination. Thinking about her toiling away in this fashion makes me indescribably happy. I'm not kidding myself that it's anything like a cure for cancer, but let's face it, I wasn't going to be the one to come up with that anyway. It is great to know that because of the blank book there is now a covered page, more art and beauty in the world.
Diane recently posted some landscape sketches made this spring in a book with Folio as the paper. Folio is a printmaking paper that I find takes watercolor and gouache work very well. It is a versatile sheet for mixed media. Jerry's Artarama and Talas both sell it. To see these spring sketches and read about her experiments with watercolors to find the variety of grays present in nature now, click here.
Not everyone is as skilled as Diane. You might wonder about how I feel when people fill books with less polished work. I think I would have to say I'm even more happy. Those folks are getting going on their artist journey and something I made gets to be part of that. That's a huge thrill. Remember I don't believe there are any bad pages!
So, if, for whatever reason, you find yourself facing a shelf full of blank journals that you have bought, or perhaps made yourself, take one down and start working in it. It's sort of like clapping for Tinkerbell. Somewhere a bookbinder will sit up a little straigher in his chair, trim the endsheets a little crisper, sew the signatures a little tighter, and take a healthy deep breath.
If you were the bookbinder, you'll find these things happening to you, all without the aid of a yoga class (though that's a good idea too; especially if you are going to bind your own books because it's hard work).
An object made for use must be used or it is hollow and empty, and not a little sad. You can start any time. It is the greatest compliment you can give the maker of that book. Sure, it was great you bought the book in the first place—that's a huge and gracious step towards supporting artists and craftsmen.
But you bought the book for yourself, for some inclination or twinge that played upon your consciousness. Pay yourself a compliment and use one of those books today. And again tomorrow. And again and again, until that shelf is filled with used books, worn at the corners, pages buckled from wet media—loved. Then make a book for yourself and enjoy the process all over again.