Why Don’t You Carry a Journal?

March 8, 2012

See the post for details.

120302SarahsLeft: A page from the 8 x 8 inch (approx.) handmade journal I made containing Saunders Waterford 90 lb. High White Hot Press watercolor paper. Staedtler Pigment Liner. (Page tab at the gutter, left, is from cutting out a blank page before I started working in the book—this makes room for collage material while still maintaining a tight spine.)

A couple weeks ago I was part of a conversation with a couple artists. They were talking about things they saw when they were out and about: things that caught their attention; things that they wished they could capture because their attention had been caught.

"Why don't you carry a journal?" I asked, since carrying a journal, which is what I do, seemed the obvious remedy—and the obvious remedy is, well, usually that.

There was much hemming and hawing, and "Well it's better for my memory if I try to remember," types of comments. But there was no definitive answer as to why, when both artists carry such commodious bags, they both couldn't carry small sketchbooks, if not journals.

Here's the thing, even when the subject is right in front of me, if I'm working quickly I can't always get exactly what I see. I have to fiddle around with it and take a couple goes at it (see the woman with the bun—variations running along the page top).

The wonderful thing about making little "note sketches" like this, however, is that while all of them are crap, I can remember, by looking at them what it was that attracted my attention to the woman in the first place. And I can set up to do a painting capturing that should I decide I want to do that. I have these sketches to jog my memory.

When the first subject (with the up-do) disappeared to go about her work I fiddled with sketching the pen holder (fake roses on the pens) for a bit. Then a woman came in and stood at the desk for a couple minutes and I was able to sketch her. And she was someone I really wanted to remember because there was something wonderful about her cap of hair and the odd little curl on the right, emerging out of her quilted down jacket hood; and there was something wonderfully puffy, substantial and yet ethereal about that same jacket. 

Because I'd already warmed up on the other woman and the rose, I was ble to finish a sketch which totally captures this woman, her hair, her jacket, the neat little puckers on the jacket, and the bulkiness of the hood—all the things that caught my attention.

It doesn't hurt my memory one bit to have picked up my pen on this day and sketched for 10 minutes (which is the time I had for all of them). In fact I believe (and no one can convince me otherwise) that BECAUSE I spent the time looking, really looking, and trying to capture what I saw on the journal page I saw more clearly and put the items more firmly in my memory.

If the world about you always presents you with visuals that make you stop on a dime and wish you could capture them, isn't it time you stopped hemming and hawing, and instead started carrying a visual journal?

That's a rhetorical question.

    • lisa
    • March 8, 2012

    I’m positively phobic about being ‘caught short’ without a sketch/notebook and at least a pencil/pen ;o) I just know that will be the one day that I regret forever!

  1. Reply

    I’m with you Lisa. On the few occasions I’ve gone without my journal I’ve needed it and had to borrow paper and pen!

  2. Reply

    Carolyn, try to think up a response for people when they ask to flip through your journal, that fits your personality (i.e., I’m assuming you’re not as rude and blatantly in your face as I am) and yet sets a boundary so you can keep going. It’s a same to not do this because you’re worried about other people’s judgements.

    You might say for instance,
    “I’m sorry I’m working on this drawing now and need to finish.”
    (so you can’t give up the book)

    “I’m sorry, these are just private little doodles that only matter to me.”
    (so you have minimized it and told them it isn’t worth looking at.)

    “I’m sorry, I have personal notes on my pages I can’t share.”
    (so you’ve told them that it would be too revealing if you showed them and they’d be rude to insist.)

    You get the idea.

    Practice saying this on your own in the comfort of your own home until you can get the “tone” right. Then venture forth.

    If they keep asking, just REPEAT THE EXACT SAME THING, and the keep working on what you’re working. They’ll get the idea.

    If they keep talking and finally insist on being heard because you’re ignoring them, look up startled and say, “I’m sorry, did you say something to me? I was concentrating so hard I didn’t hear you.” Then don’t wait to hear them just go back to working.

    They’ll get the idea.

    Start today!

    • Margo
    • March 8, 2012

    Roz I so agree with everything you said about the journal that goes with you. I misplaced my purse journal today, but when we were out and about I had the sketchbook that stays in the car and I grabbed it. I was nervous before the first time I took my sketchbook out in public, I was concerned as Lisa was that people would want to flip through it. I got over that several years ago and must say no one has ever asked to flip through my journal. More than one waitress has looked over my shoulder to see who I was sketching and their responses were always favorable. At this point I frankly don’t care what the responses of others might be, I do it for me, and am very glad I do.

  3. Reply

    Thank you Roz. These are good responses!

  4. Reply

    I call mine a sketchbook – but yes, I like to have one with me all the time.

    Very good points about having the response ready, A friend pointed out that if you were reading a book then noone would expect to come and take a look and ask all about it or watch over your shoulder.

    It no longer bothers me – polite people I’ll chat to – rude ones and I’ll just pointedly close the book!

  5. Reply

    Vivien, I’m glad your sketchbook is always with you. While your friend is right that people don’t expect to bother you when you are reading, reading is something that society considers “private” and “everyone” in it does it.

    Drawing is a bit different and you will meet people who believe you are their entertainment! So be prepared with a couple pleasant phrases to move them along on their way. Happy sketching!

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