Using the Journal in Times of Stress and Healing and Loss: Report on the February 2012 MCBA Visual Journal Collective Meeting

February 28, 2012


Above: Clare Farrell was the first artist speaker at the February 20 meeting. Clare has created a series of flag books as journals—creating strips of dazzling color and pattern that allow her to manage 10 minutes of creative input each day during stressful life events. Artwork ©2010 Clare Farrell.

On Monday, February 20, 2012 about 23 people met to hear artists Clare Farrell and Anita White talk about visual journaling through times of stress while caring for and losing parents. (Both women have recently lost their mothers and now care for their elderly fathers.)

The women shared their uniquely different approaches and inspired the audience.


Above: Another of Clare Farrell's flag journals. In this journal she used her strips (which later became the flags) to draw a variety of objects, scenes, and faces. Artwork ©2011 Clare Farrell.

Clare Farrell, who teaches music in the public schools, found the need to return to visual journaling when her mother's health was failing. To relieve the stress she found herself picking up strips of colored paper from another project and she started to draw and doodle on them, just ten minutes at a time. She was having chemical sensitivity issues at the time so she used only the Faber-Castel Pitt Artist Brush Pens and not paint. They are filled with colored India Ink.

After awhile she saw the pile of strips was growing and decided it would make a flag book. She did no planning, she just constructed.

Soon each month she was taking strips and following a color theme or idea, or a construction experiment (interconnected strips, strips with portraits, strips in black and white patterns, strips with hidden messages. As her own health improved she also began to work with collage and resists, no longer limiting herself to the pens.

In the progression of her flagbooks you can see how rich a series can be. You dig deeper, come up with a new direction, follow whims, and create more. Each piece leads to the next in a self-propelling way.

Clare organizes her strips into large 12 x 12 inch envelopes of clear plastic (the type you find in a scrapbooking store). When the month is over she binds up a book. Her books use her own hand painted papers for cover paper and end sheets over book board. She has used a variety of papers for her projects but she finds that when she gives them a color wash first with acrylic ink the papers tend not to absorb as much ink from her pens.

Above: Another of the more than a dozen flag journals that Clare Farrell brought to share with the group. This journal focused on patterns and color. These books stand on their own, when opened, and present not only a glorious riot of color, but a delightful structure of shape and shadow. Artwork ©2011 Clare Farrell.

This method of journaling has been a refuge and escape from the stress of her mother's illness. The process has provided Clare with a way to return to calm, and to find solitude.

Upon seeing her work Suzanne Hughes remarked, "There is a musical quality to Clare's work." It's true. It makes perfect sense. There is a fabulous lilt. They are filled with wonder and play. It is easy to see how the work brightened her spirits.

Note: Clare doesn't have a website at this time. I will keep you posted when that happens.

AnitaOnepiece3555Left: Anita White holds one of her illustrations of her mother. She documents the moment with illustration and with text. (Anita moves quickly so the artwork is a little blurred but Anita isn't.) Artwork ©2011 Anita White.

Anita White's mother also recently passed away. She and her husband now take care of her elderly father. Anita's approach to visual journaling during this time is more pictorial—family reportage. She captures moments of the everyday (such as a series of drawings about bathing her mother), a family get together and what was said, or a trip to Como Conservatory.

Anita also explores her own worries, anxieties, dreams, and nightmares about the situations she is encountering. She does this with great humor and great honesty. She is creating documents that are an act of remembering. She strives to be in the moment and witness, to draw pain, and to find answers. She sees drawing "as a documentary tool. A tool of compassion. It's a prayer and a way of bringing in something that isn't painful."

Anita shared with us the many words of wisdom her mother and father have given her. She remembered her mom telling her, "Relax your outer life so you can focus on your inner life." The act of drawing helps Anita do just that. She carries her journal and her paints and Pentel Pocket Brush Pen everywhere she goes.

AnitaStoryBoardcloseup3543Left: Story boards made from journal pages relate events of the day spent in the hospital or with her parents. The artist's thoughts, fears, and hopes are explored while she documents what is happening. Artwork ©2011 Anita White.

Whether she is in a waiting room for something related to the health of her parents or other family members Anita has learned that "Nothing is so scary that you can't draw it."

She has captured parts of life that we don't always see or pay attention to—pace maker check ups, parents in doctors waiting rooms, or fitting her mother with Depends.

AnitaComoConser3566Left: A sketch made at Como Conservatory during a family trip. (Gouache and Pentel Pocket Brush Pen.) Artwork © 2011 Anita White.

Anita is one of the artists behind the LOLA art crawl. You can see and purchase her artwork at AnitaWhite.etsy


Both of these artists shared a great gift with us at this meeting—ways to stay focused, to keep calm, to stay present in the world. They showed us what it is like to keep your heart open at a time of life when there is great change and loss. It was an inspiring evening and I am very grateful.

Regardless of your current circumstances I hope that you too will draw inspiration from these two resourceful artists. Find ways to bring back color, hope, play, observation, and humor into your life—through your visual journal.

Note: I would like to thank Wet Paint for providing prizes for our door prize drawing—sample packets of Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media paper and board. I've been writing a great deal about this paper (use the blog search engine to find information and my reviews). The paper is coming soon to their store, so if you have been anxious to try it give them a call to find out when it will be available.

    • LizzieBo
    • February 28, 2012

    Fantastic! When I was taking care of my ailing parents, people kept telling me to journal, but I had no interest in writing all the negative things that were happening. I wish I had thought to draw /paint/ color. Such beauty out of such dire times. The work of art.

    • Diane Wesman
    • February 28, 2012

    Ah, stressful times…yet another time to put down on paper the events that are going on around you. Nice to see the lovely work by these two artists.

    • Caroline
    • February 28, 2012

    Let it out and let it go. That requires courage but the act of creating beauty in times of stress has to be cathartic. Pen and paint to paper has to be much better for us than any amount of tranquillisers, and makes the world a better place. Thank you for reminding us!

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