The Start of a Journal Exchange—I Pick a Theme

June 8, 2012

See the full post for details and lots of images.


Above: First page spread in my journal exchange journal. This piece is "Bird in the Hand." The full spread is approximately 14.75 x 5.5 inches. (I write about the creation of this piece and the media used below in this post.)

Readers of the blog will remember that at the May 2012 meeting of the MCBA Visual Journal Collective we made a Japanese double pamphlet tester booklet of Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media paper. (You'll see the type of book we made at the first link that discusses the project; at the second link you can read a bit about this great paper.)

Participants were then given the opportunity to join a journal exchange. Only a small number decided to go forward with this exchange, but we will be exchanging journals at the next several meetings—everyone will have the time between meetings to work on a page spread in someone else's journal.

Since this summer is filled with deadlines I decided I'd better get busy in my own book. (In our exchange you have to do a title page, set a theme, and then do the first page spread in your own journal before passing it along.)

I decided that Birds would be a good theme. (Did I hear someone say "duh"?)  

I like to put a little bit more thought into my sketches when I'm doing an exchange. I don't think of these projects as "journaling." I do a little bit of preplanning. I paged through my journal to find what types of sketches I've been doing of birds lately to see if ideas for a composition jumped out at me.

The two budgies from a recent series of pet store sketches immediately suggested possibilities to my mind. I redrew them on the title page of my exchange journal, positioning them next to each other with one looking up where the title would go. I used a Faber-Castell Pitt Artist's Calligraphy pen for sketching because I love that pen on this paper. I used washes of M. Graham watercolor to add some color (I'd just purchased some new colors from them and they were sitting out in the palette).

I still didn't have a title for my journal so I flipped to the first page spread and decided that I would do a prepainted background. I masked off the edges with torn lengths of masking tape so that I would have a "natural" edge. Then I used light washes of acrylics to paint the background. I use acrylics at this point because they will be waterproof and not lift up when I do my additional painting. 

BackgroundMasked5352Left: This image shows the prepainted background of my exchange journal, top right, and the same paints used in my regular journal, bottom left—so I could use up the rest of the paint.

You can see from the painted backgrounds in my exchange journal and my regular journal (I used the left over paint there) that you can get a lot of color variation simply by changing the order in which you use the colors.

When the background dried I flipped back to my title page and it hit me immediately that I needed to call it  Put a Bird on It (with apologies to "Portlandia")

120602PutBirdTitleOnlyLeft: The title page for my exchange journal. I wrote the title with a Pentel Pocket Brush Pen. The page size is about 7.5 x 5.5 inches.

"Portlandia" is one of my favorite TV shows. If you don't know their skit "Put a Bird on It" go to the link. (And yes, my next exchange will probably be "We Can Pickle That.")

I felt that this title/theme would be specific yet open. People can write about birds, sketch birds from life as they wander about looking for something to journal about, or sketch something totally unrelated and work a bird into it!

When I participate in a journal exchange I spend a little bit more time actually thinking about composition and what I want to say. It's not simply a spontaneous entry like I do in my regular journal. (Unless the purpose of the exchange is specifically to exchange regular journaling pages.) The exchange journal becomes the closest thing I do to an "art journal." In part this is because I want to create something lovely or at least interesting in a book that belongs to someone else. So I want to do a little planning. 

To design my first spread in my own book I brainstormed 6 layouts in rapid fire, just thinking about birds. (I'm not showing you any of those because they haven't been scanned and I may use one or more of them in someone else's book—even if their theme isn't about birds—I might be able to get a bird on it!) 

I really loved my first thumbnail sketch. It would allow me to be detailed but not fussy. But the fact that I loved it so much told me I really had to push myself to keep doing thumbnails and unearth other possibilities. I did keep doing them and the sixth and final one is the one I ended up using. The finished painting is at the start of this post.

I have been very interested in hair as substance. In my thumbnail I drew a face with large cones of hair coming off at each side. 

When I went to actually work up the final page design I used a photo of me gasping as the reference to draw a quick Pentel Pocket Brush Pen sketch.  



Left: Here are scans of my sketches for this project. As you can see they are very rough. I knew I would be going for a loose effect in the final image and any details I needed would be added in paint so a refined sketch wasn't necessary. The face image is actually an 80 percent reduction of my original sketch which was done on a small scrap of paper. You can see the edges of that paper in the red rectangle. I drew the sketch, reduced it to fit the journal page, and then on that copy started to extend the hair in the directions I knew I wanted to go to create my final "working" sketch. In the hand sketch below it doesn't matter that I made lots of lines while trying to figure out where the fingers went in this view. I knew which was the "real" line.

Next I took a photo of my hand in the position I wanted, put that photo in Photoshop and added a bird photo I'd taken at the pet store. I didn't worry about melding the two. My concern was to just size the bird to sit on the hand the way I wanted.

I actually added two different birds to the photo, each on their own layer in Photoshop. By erasing (quickly with the eraser tool) the background of each bird layer I could see through to my hand. I then turned the bird layers on and off to decide which I liked better. I did a quick Pentel Pocket Brush Pen sketch of the "Bird in the Hand," which is actually what the piece is called.

I put the sketches on my light table and taped the pages over them one at a time. It helped that we are working in little Japanese double pamphlets because they are flexible and I could fold the other parts of the book out of the way.

With the book on the light table I used a Pentel Aquash Pen with light black ink to make the final sketch on the paper of the book. I omitted lines that were confusing and refined lines I didn't like from the original sketches. I widened my face to give it a more heartshaped aspect and more anchor for all that hair.

Since I knew I was going to paint opaquely with gouache I wasn't concerned about having a "perfect" sketch. Also I wanted the final piece to be loose and NOT "photorealistic." I used the Aquash because the light black ink lines would be easier to "hide" with gouache than the black ink of the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen. (I use that a lot for my gouache sketches and do hide the ink successfully, but I just thought the Aquash was the tool to use.)

Once the ink lines were down I started painting with Schmincke gouache. The first thing I did was jump right into that hair, which in hindsight might not have been the best thing to do. I loved the hair but hadn't thought out a color plan (I just knew I wasn't going to use realistic colors). For awhile the face was actually a different color. I wish I had that on video! (Oh and while I used myself as a model I don't have red hair or green eyes. My ears are pointed though, but my nose is bigger!)

Now the book is all set and ready to pass on to the next artist in the exchange at the June meeting. 

I've scanned it (as you can tell from this post) so I have a record of my work. I recommend you do this whenever you take part in an exchange. Sometimes books get lost; other times someone else's paint seeps through a page, or the stitching holes and onto your work; and typically it will be a long time before you get the book back in the best of situations.

While I'm not a big fan of exchanges (I was in too many exchanges where my book was lost in transit so I have little to show for them and never got much of anyone else's work), I like to see what other people are doing, and was curious how others would respond to this paper. Since everyone is local for this exchange we don't have to worry about mailing.

You might want to set up an exchange with some friends (who live nearby so you don't have possible losses in the mail).

In our exchange each participant was to write the theme and any guidelines inside the front cover. (As you can imagine, with my allergies I have a list of must not use items—no fixatives, no natural materials, etc. I have even banned glitter and other flakable materials because I just have too much stuff the glitter can get into).

I also didn't want the book bulging open because of dimensional collage so I requested that collaged items be flat. Other people in the exchange might not care about any of that, or care about different issues. I'll find out when I get their books. (I can work in a book that has fixative on it—quickly—but I can't live with one!)

One other thing I asked was that no one cut windows into the pages or cut portions of the pages out. I did this so that there would be the maximum number of pages for the participants. 

You might have another idea about cutting windows out of your book. Years ago I participated in an exchange where there was only one book. The artist made a hardbound book that had a triangle cut in exactly the same place on all the pages. The artists then had to respond to those windows with their art. It was a beautiful book, and the work in it when I had it was wonderful.

Sadly the book disappeared from the "radar." Efforts were made to find who had it last (there was a mailing list but it hadn't been followed in order). If you happen to be one of the old "mail art" bunch and happen to see that "Triangle" book in your collection please send it back to Tom. I know he would love to see it. 

In your exchange you might also want to ask participants to make a note about their method and materials at the back of the book on a designated page. In past MCBA Visual Journal Collective exchanges we've done that. For this exchange we have limited pages in the book. Of course we also all will see each other each month so we can ask each other if we are curious.

While I didn't set this post up to be a Project Friday Post an exchange would make a great Project Friday!

By now, having read this far you might think an exchange is just what you need. If so invite your friends, set your own guidelines and system for keeping track of the travel, and dive right in. Suzanne Hughes participates in one of the Moly_Xchanges and has had a great time with it. You might want to read about her experiences and give that a try.

I'll post more about the our current journal exchange when it wraps up. I hope to include a video of my book when it is filled along with links to other people's books if they are posting them. We'll see what happens. Keep your fingers crossed.

  1. Reply

    I can’t imagine anyone wanting to give this spread back, Roz. It’s delightful.

  2. Reply

    It is so generous to share your process as it shows your strong results do not spring from ” the head of Zeus” but are rather the cherry on the cake of your efforts.

    If you are interested in a ” Pickle That” exchange in a small book I would love to send you something rendered in brine.
    PORTANDIA makes me fall out!

  3. Reply

    Ellen let’s chat again after labor day about the pickle that series! I’d love to do something but I’m buried in a hill of deadlines! I’m glad you enjoyed this process piece. What I love about projects like this is the way things fall together. I decide to draw birds, I have bird sketches I can use for reference material, my mind busies itself with painting a background and BINGO a title and other ideas present themselves. I find that more fun than finishing a piece.

  4. Reply

    Roz: for sure.Just thinking about it makes me giggle.

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