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Writing Text in Columns on Your Journal Page—Part 1

November 18, 2009

Thoughts on how I add text to journal pages.
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Above: a page spread on which I sketched with Pentel Pocket Brush pen and then added a bit of gouache. The text was written in later. I tend to write in columns.

Recently a blog reader wrote in asking me about how I form the text on my pages. I can’t find her initial query, but she wondered if I ruled lines to block off my columns. I answered her in the comments section, but I thought the question was a good one to present in a post, because I can’t imagine that everyone reads every post, let alone every comment on this blog and I had some page spread that had columns of text, so…

In answer to her question: No, I don’t rule lines for columns.

I simply start writing and it tends to be columnar. I put this down to a lot of influences—years of having to write and rewrite class lecture notes where part of the grade was for penmanship not just thorough recording of all pertinent facts; years of designing magazines and textbooks; years of reading columns of text; my own love of straight edges, balanced upon occasion by a graceful curve…

There are exceptions to this habit of mine. Sometime around 2000 I got the idea I wanted to be really tidy (by that I mean more tidy than my normal propensity towards tidiness, which is pretty developed). I made some column templates that I could use with my journals. These were essentially matboard with columns cut of them so I could place them on the page and pencil in a column outline. (I also used some quilter’s plastic.) Since I make a variety of sizes of books I had to make a variety of templates. Anything that takes me away from journaling isn't something I'm going to pursue. I found these templates very unsatisfactory for many reasons, but mostly they were slow to use, and a pain to shuffle around with when I was out and about and wanted to write. I asked myself “why?” and stopped almost immediately. But of course the columns stayed because that is my natural state.

One lasting exception is that sometimes at the back of my journal if I have a “notes” section, I’ll draw in some pencil column lines because these are columns I’m coming back to over time, not executing in one sitting. I think things are tidier that way.

And upon occasion, if I know I’m going to a meeting, I will rule up some journal pages in advance, with columns, simply because I want my notes to take as little space as possible and if I am contained by columns I’ll make that happen.

So on the argument against penciling in columns I have this to say: it is too time consuming to pencil in columns; it requires an additional step of erasing those pencil lines when you are done (and the erasing can damage your paper, maybe smear your ink, whatever, it takes time!); carrying a template around with you everywhere is just a drag—one more thing to lose, and something you probably won’t use because of time constraints, inability to reach it when you need it, etc.

The argument for freehand columns goes like this: it’s something you don’t have to think about and need no tools to do, you just do it. There is no clean up needed afterwards. Who really cares if the column line isn’t exactly straight, or the columns aren’t even?

So if you can’t answer the final question with “I certainly don’t care” then maybe you will want to make a template for yourself, and I say that’s OK.

But when you lose the template, and have to write in a bunch of text, enjoy the ease with which the interaction between you and your journal takes places and just luxuriate in that wonderful physical experience called breathing.

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  1. Reply

    I think people can either see invisible column lines or they can’t. I’m inclined to think that although it might be something we can do better with practice, the basic facility is either unbuilt or not. Some will get better with practice while others will never be able to do it.

    I think it’s a bit like what lies behind the way we choose to write on an ordinary blank piece of paper (irrespective of whether it’s in a journal or not). I can always write in straight lines, leave margins both sides and a decent space between each para because that’s the way I like it to look.

    However others will start at the top left and cover every inch until they get to the bottom right. That’s not wrong – that’s just the way they think text should go on a page.

    I wonder if there is a journalling equivalent of that ‘science’ which can tell who you are by your handwriting?

    • Alex
    • November 18, 2009
    Reply

    Neat post! I enjoyed reading it. Thank you for sharing your methods and your love for journaling.

    • wendy hale davis
    • November 18, 2009
    Reply

    I find that I naturally write in columns. But that’s after years and years of writing. Occasionally I’ll want my columns to be more ‘perfect’ than normal, and I’ll pencil in borders to stay within. Of course, I erase them later.
    little ray: recent journal posts

  2. Reply

    Love this page. I think the text is part of what makes it so wonderful.

    • Elanor
    • November 18, 2009
    Reply

    Hi! I’ve been reading your blog lately, and I’m thinking about hand binding my own journals. I’m really new to bookbinding, so I thought it would be fantastic if you did a series of posts that went through how you make your journals, step by step, if you didn’t mind!

    Thanks a lot for considering it! 🙂

    • Julianna
    • November 18, 2009
    Reply

    I use a bit of the blue masking tape that has lost almost all of the tackiness. Then I put it down for the left hand column as a “ruler” and simply pick it up when I’m done. I keep 2 or 3 pieces of this tape in the back of the book.

    • Roz
    • November 18, 2009
    Reply

    Katherine, I think you raise a really interesting point. I do believe practice makes things possible, but I also believe that everyone has idiosyncratic approaches in handwriting, brushstroke, and so it makes sense it would apply also to “columns.”

    I’ll tell you people can definitely be profiled by their journal pages. How someone organizes materials, the colors they use, the stuff they choose to show on their page—it all leaves a very clear picture of who that person is!

    • Roz
    • November 18, 2009
    Reply

    Thanks E-J. So are you “columnar” or not?

    • Roz
    • November 18, 2009
    Reply

    Thanks for stopping by Alex!

    • Roz
    • November 18, 2009
    Reply

    Wendy, I wonder if in part your columns relate you years of graphic design? I know my columns do in part relate to what I ended up doing professionally, but I also know that even before I started designing books I would work in columns, and I think that is in part because I loved books so much and there was a part of me that wanted the order I saw in the printed book.

    I just wondered if you could recall which came first in your own life since we have some similar experiences (though I don’t have the calligraphy training which informs your work and makes it so stunning!).

    • Roz
    • November 18, 2009
    Reply

    Thanks Elizabeth.

    • Roz
    • November 18, 2009
    Reply

    Elanor, doing a detailed tutorial of the Roz Method casebound (or even some of my other less quirky bindings) isn’t something I have plans for on my blog at present.

    I have plans for writing a book about the various ways I bind, and preparing that material for a book is the way I want to approach it. (Book and video eventually.)

    I do teach my bookbinding classes, so people who are able to travel have that option.

    I list a number of books in the “Page” section of my blog, near the top of the left-hand column, look for “Essential Bookshelf for Bookbinders.” I recommend books that have detailed instructions on making traditional books of all styles (hard and soft bound) that you can adapt to your journaling needs. All of the books on my list are ones that even beginning bookbinders can have success with.

    It can be difficult to learn bookbinding from text (either book or blog) for many people. For that reason I recommend that you try to augment your binding experience with a class or two from an experienced traditional bookbinder. Then refer to books on the subject that will suddenly make even more sense to you, or in some cases, have no meaning any more to you because you have gone in a different direction.

    Good luck with your binding adventures. It is work, and it does take practice, but it is a very a fun endeavor, especially satisfying if you are a visual artist and fill books of your own making.

    • Roz
    • November 18, 2009
    Reply

    Julianna, that is a fabulous idea! I use special masking tape for my paintings all the time, but never thought about using it as a column guide! I hope readers try this out! Thanks for suggesting it.

    • Christina Trevino.
    • November 18, 2009
    Reply

    OK Roz,I’ll be waiting for your book.
    I hope it will be out soon.

    • Roz
    • November 18, 2009
    Reply

    Christina, don’t hold your breath! I keep writing blog posts instead!

    • E-J
    • November 19, 2009
    Reply

    “Thanks E-J. So are you “columnar” or not?”

    It would appear not. I tend to write around the visuals, filling the spaces, or in strips – sometimes vertical, sometimes horizontal – or within boxes. The column approach really appeals, though. I haven’t come across the template idea before, which I’ll admit to getting quite excited by (nerd alert!!) I would definitely try using that technique if journalling at home.

    • Roz
    • November 19, 2009
    Reply

    E-J, so fun to hear you write around the visuals! Now if you do try templates don’t forget my caveats about them! Have fun experimenting.

    • Laura
    • November 22, 2009
    Reply

    Oh, man, Roz. My handwriting is bad and getting worse with each year of composing on the computer. I SO wish I had your propensity for legibility, tidiness, and plain old good-looking handwriting. But no.
    Maybe I’ll try the blue tack trick. It certainly couldn’t hurt!

    • Roz
    • November 22, 2009
    Reply

    Laura, it’s interesting, I have noticed a tendency lately to write messier. Part of it is due to my changing eyes. I used to be able to write and see crisply down to a microscopic level, now I need glasses to do that. Often I’ll write small in my journals without my glasses on, and just keep the pen moving. And maybe also with age I realize that I won’t go back and read much of it anyway???

    But thank you. I think Julianna’s idea of using the blue tape is a fabulous one.

    For me there is a wonder and fun in seeing how different people write in their journals. I would love to be as messy and free as someone who just scribbles everywhere, but that’s not me. Maybe as we age the edges get worn down and we get messier if we are neat and neater if we are messy?

    I’ll be happy thinking that, even if it’s delusional, today.

    You have a wonderful script that you add to your pages which has the same flow as your lines in your art, I wouldn’t worry about tape.

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