Writing Text in Columns on Your Journal Page—Part 1November 18, 2009
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.