Keeping More than One Journal at a Time

October 31, 2011

See the complete post for details.


Above: Gouache dog on Stonehenge Kraft brown paper (for problems binding with this paper please read this post). I've been working with cobalt blue (and also here purple magenta and vanadium yellow, with a small bit of nap. red and zinc white; all Schmincke gouache, except for the last two which were M. Graham gouache).

I've written about keeping multiple journals before. Mostly I'm against it. I always advise my beginning journaling students against it. I encourage them to keep a single visual journal to reinforce and cement the habit, before they branch out to other sizes, papers, and media. A little bit of concentrated focus goes a long way to reinforce the habit and make it a lifelong practice within a busy and chaotic life (who doesn't have one of those these days?) 

To read "Two Journals at Once, Oh No!?!" click here. I show background painting and collage in a Fabriano Venezia 9 x 12 inch journal. You might also enjoy "Journal Fever: Enough Already, or Go with the Flow?" which is a post I wrote about a fevered few months at the end of last year when I journaled through a lot of books—escape or necessity?

I also advocate a single visual journal approach because I am a fan of chronological order. I like to see the progression of my thoughts and creative pursuits in one stream, page to page. (Now of course sometimes I'll jump over a prepainted spread and leave it for a painting, putting my meeting notes on the next blah, blank page, but basically my pages are chronological as well, for the same reasons.)

As with any rules, guidelines, or systems of approach I believe we need to be flexible. You'll never see me return to the days when I had 5 or so visual journals going at once—one for everything under the sun from nature to individual projects to who knows what. But sometimes circumstances occur when one visual journal is simply not feasible.

In the past several months I have had an on-going "situation." In the fall of 2010 I taught a multi-session 9-month long journaling class for which we made a larger-than-I-typically-carry-journal (8 x 10 inches). (You can read about my P10 journal here. You can see a video flip through of all the pages of the P10 Journal beginning with this post.) During that class I fell in love (all over again) with larger formats. I didn't want to make a bunch of larger books (because of paper waste issues for large page sizes and such) so I started buying the Fabriano Venezia journal in the 9 x 12 inch size. I treated myself to its large page spread area. But there was no way I could begin to carry a journal of this size around for my daily visual journaling. My shoulders hurt just thinking about it.

The urge to create will find a way to compromise—and get what it wants. Creativity doesn't go for deprevation, it finds plenty, often by recasting our very definition of what "plenty" is. You can either step out of your own way and allow this transformation or stamp your feet and dig in like a two-year-old throwing a tantrum. You decide. 

I started keeping a Fabriano Venezia 9 x 12 inch journal as a studio journal (it never leaves the studio). I continued to carry my smaller journals (typically 8 x 8 inch square or smaller).

Read what I have to say about "Choosing a Journal Size" here.

The immediate result is a disruption of the chronology I love so much. However, I went with the flow and found that the chronological disruption is not great. I tend to work in the studio journal for pages and pages at a time, so there are blocks of chronological pieces. The most important thing is that my need to work larger is being satisfied.

Next there is my indexing issue: what do you do when you are working with two journals and you begin paging from the first page of the first journal of the year?

This was actually easily solved. I simply finish a journal and give it its letter designation ("A" is the first journal of the year—I usually get to S, T, U, or V in any given year). As I finish and label a journal I also page it and index it. Now that might mean that journal B has pages in it that were completed after pages in journal C, but journal B was completely finished before C.

Does that mess up the chronology? Yes, but it still gets me the ability to work large and index my work so I can find it when I need it.

I'm holding on to the key things that matter to me and letting go of the other elements that are not as important. It has been this way at every journaling juncture of my life (and there have been many) where journaling responds in new ways to the forces current in my life. That makes journaling a living, breathing part of my life. And it makes my journal a useful document for me.

But sometimes you have to draw a line. Only you as an artist or journal keeper will know where that line is. For me the line came at the end of September 2011.

On September 28 I finished both my regular journal (which goes everywhere with me) and my studio journal. I got to start new journals of both. I did so immediately, pulling down the sample journal I'd made with Stonehenge Kraft paper. I had loved this paper for painting on and couldn't wait to bind it into books. As you'll read in my post about that experience the paper cracks so horribly when folded with the grain that my lovely 10 x 8 inch journal I had made with it began to come apart almost immediately. (Now only 3 spreads from the end, this never-leave-the-house volume is in a very delicate condition where pages have been lightly turned, but are already threatening to rip out.)

The problem was recognizable two pages into that journal. For a moment I thought about using it as a second, in-studio journal. I actually went to my shelf and picked out a new go-everywhere journal and stamped my name and return information on the inside front cover.

Then I stood back and thought about all this.

And I saw MY line.

One journal, two journals, but not three journals. At least not now, not today, not unless the last journal is a travel journal and I'm off to Paris.

I put the new, unused journal back on the storage shelf. It would have to wait. I went to a drawer where I keep scraps of paper and took out several that were 6 x 8 inches and put them in a stiff plastic "envelope" that has a 4-fold opening—the type of thing you get at a card making shop. I wrapped it closed with a stretchy elastic headband (that is several braided colors and quite fun). I put this packet in my backpack and went out into the world. Those scraps of paper are my "journal cards." I use them when I am going out and about and need my visual journal. I work on one side, using the plastic envelope as stiff backing. I bring the sheets home, and glue them into the kraft paper journal. I write additional comments as necessary.

In the meantime I have been working forward with both the kraft paper journal and the in-studio journal. I'll probably finish the kraft paper journal before this post comes up. I'll label the journal, page it, index it. And start a new all-purpose journal that I can carry everywhere.

Boundaries and limits can be a good thing for creativity. They force us to focus. Know what your "healthy" boundaries are and use them to your advantage. If you don't enjoy the paper in your current journal, don't just start three more journals with three more types of paper with which to experiment. Think first about focus. What if you got three other papers, tore them up so they would fit on the pages of the "despised" journal, worked on those papers, but glued them into the "despised" journal and then, because you were moving forward, finished that "despised" journal and then knew which of the three papers you were going to continue with?

The excitement which takes you to the paper store in search of great visual journaling papers can actually intensify if you hang tough and finish a problematic journal. You'll learn what you don't like about a paper, what you really need in a paper, what media you really want to use in your journal, etc. Your momentum will be moving forward instead of pinging from side to side, book to book. You'll also learn what is important to you in your art and your life. You'll know where you draw your boundary lines for your creative productivity. (And if for some of you the line is to have as many simultaneous journals going at a time as possible, knock yourself out—I'm advocating a conscious choice of what works for you as an artist.)

    • Katie McD
    • October 31, 2011

    I love this post — insight into your thoughts and decisions. I remember reading a blog post awhile back about you advocating to push through to the end of a problematic journal, and it really helped me get there! I ended up doing much of what you outlined above, doing pages on alternate loose papers and pasting them into the “problem” journal, and the result was 1) finishing the journal (yippee!), and 2) finding a paper I enjoy working on (now if only that paper was available in bound books, as I don’t have the time to bind my own, at the moment). This verbose comment is just to say, I enjoy your blog, LOVE seeing your journal pages, and enjoy reading about your decision-making and other thought processes.

  1. Reply

    OK, the post was great, Roz. But it took me forever to pull my eyes away from your absolutely gorgeous dog sketch. You always do a great job with the dogs, but the color and form in this is spectacular.

    I’m taking a book arts class this semester, and I imagine that when I’m done I’ll be switching from commercially bound sketchbooks to my own. Though, even then, it’s likely there’s still no such thing as one perfect sketchbook for everything I want to do in them.

  2. Reply

    Hi Roz – lover reading your post (as always) and your thoughts about journals. I am a one journal girl with the exception of a separate sketchbook just for test colours. I have found this really useful as a reference (I used to test colour in my daily journal but found it so hard to go back and find it…don;t have your indexing system! having a dedicated book is working great!)

  3. Reply

    Karen, I don’t know if this note will come to you so late! I was looking for my color sketches I might take to my color theory class and found this post again and saw two unanswered comments. I hope that you have continued to make books after your book arts class and that it is going well for you with your journals. I don’t believe we ever find a perfect sketchbook, but I do believe we can love the ones we are in when we are in them, and learn from them. Hope your year has been filled with lots of art.

  4. Reply

    Liz, just found this overlooked comment and wanted to thank you for your kind comments. I appreciate the one-journal commitment, because it’s where I really want to be, but I’ve made accommodations. There was a time in the 90s when I had a one journal commitment that was spread over 5 journals (a regular journal, a nature journal, etc.) but that was silly for me and I consolidated again. It has been an interest wave of change. It’s June 2012 now when I’ve found your comment, and I seem to be deeply committed to the in-studio journal along with my regular journal. I think it is a size issue. I like having the really large journals at home but can’t stand to carry them. (Though it would be grand to carry a large journal around and about.) I think it’s great that you have a dedicated journal for your color tests. I like thinking of page after page filled with color experiments!

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