End of Year Wrap Up: How Journaling Went this Year for Me, and My Hopes for You in 2014December 30, 2013
Left: Sketch of a character actor, not Fred Gwynne. This appears in today’s post because one of the things I would like you to take forward in the new year is a love of your production without constant criticism from your internal critic. I look at this sketch which looks like, but is not Fred Gwynne, and I don’t get perturbed by that. I recognized the problem and realized what I needed to do to fix the accuracy issues, and then I ENJOYED the way the washes went on. That’s what I remember about this sketch, the process of laying the washes down. I can re-savor that dialog whenever I want. I’ve written in the past several weeks about embracing the fun factor and building a dialog with your drawings. This is another example of that process for me. It’s my hope in 2014 that you find ways to do this for yourself. (Faber-Castel Pitt Artist's Calligraphy Pen on Richeson Recycled watercolor paper with light washes of Schmincke gouache.
At the end of every year I like to pause and reflect on my creative life: take a look at what I was able to accomplish, which goals were met, which were missed, how my plans might have changed in the course of the year, and what goals I want to focus on for the coming year.
I believe this analysis can be done at any time of the year and the end of the year is an “artificial break” I don’t recommend people wait for. I think we need to just start in with things. But I do this type of reflection a couple times a year and since starting the blog in 2008 I like to share the end of year reflection with you because it has “stats” (and I do love stats) and I hope, by explaining a bit of my process you can look for a process of your own that works for you.
If you would like to read more about my process of self-evaluation and read more about how my journal page count over the years waxes and wanes you can read:
Let’s End the Year with Reflection, a Dog, and New Goals, from December 2012. This not only turned out to be a killer cycling year for me but a productive journaling year. In that post I also write about change and goals. My philosophy is that its better to “have a little bit of art and creativity every day, that to go through long dry periods without.” Goals help me live that.
You might also enjoy reading Redefining Choices by Defining Expectations and Setting Goals.
I start out discussing art and craft, but what I’m really writing about there is a commitment to creative life through making the hard choices necessary to nurture that creative life. I believe that “if you don’t set your expectations, then all of your choices are simply random. And you are guaranteeing that you won’t get anything but a vague notion of uneasiness out of your pursuits.”
At the beginning of 2010 I wrote a post titled Stats: A Yardstick for Planning and Assessing. That sums up how I feel about the usefulness of stats, such as page counts and paintings finished, in a given year.
In that post I write about some earlier years, pre-blog, and how my page count would go up and down over the years.
There’s a point to all these pieces. So many new journal keepers worry about output in relationship to what other people are doing. Those types of comparisons aren’t useful. You never know what other family, work, health, etc. issues someone else is facing that impacts his or her sketching life. What you do know is what influenced YOU during your past year (or the past 6 months, or the past month, depending on how frequently you do self-evaluations).
Left: A Pentel Pocket Brush Pen sketch on an 8.5 x 11 inch sheet of Fabriano Tiziano. This is another of my Single Sheet sketches for 2013. (I’ll have more to say about that in a few paragraphs.) For me every year involves a little bit of experimentation. Sometimes it’s with book structures, typically it’s with paint, materials, and paper. I hope in 2014 you can push yourself to experiment in an organized and useful fashion to discover new papers and products that increase the fun factor in your visual journaling and allow you to clearly express yourself and manifest your vision.
By writing about how I do evaluations I’ve shown you one possibility. You need to find what works for you, what gives you balance. I hope that when you read about the fluctuations in my own output you will be reassured when you hit blips in your own output. But I also want to point out the need to keep a clear focus on what your goals are or looking at stats is meaningless.
I’ve been keeping visual and written journals for so long now that the “ups and downs” of the process are no surprise to me. In fact you can chart which times of year I’ll be most productive, and discover all sorts of patterns that mean something to me. So if I go for a few days without journaling it isn’t something that I begin to fret about. Instead that event is a marker to myself that I need to look at the rest of my life, to check in and see what’s going on; to see if something else is in need of a tune up.
I want to encourage people to have a relaxed approach to journaling because I want people to journal for the long haul.
Left: Detail of the last pen and ink sketch, showing the lovely way in which this slightly textured paper takes the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen strokes.
If you’ve read my posts from this past week you’ll already know about the physical limitations and family care needs which took up a large part of my life this past year. One of the biggest disappointments of the year for me was that I only bound two books in 2013. The first was right after the new year when I was prepping for a binding and journaling class and clearing my process. The second was in mid-January when I demonstrated that book’s construction with a journaling class. After that events transpired which made it impossible for me to find the time to bind, and then simply made it physically impossible for me to bind.
There wasn’t a day in 2013 that I didn’t miss not binding. Normally I’d work with big batches of paper and tear them down into signatures. (You can read one of these posts “Adventures in Bookbinding: Working in the Spaces of Life” that I posted in January 2009, but there are many others on the blog about how much I enjoy making books.)
I didn’t let the lack of binding get me down however because I always keep a few books back from every batch I make and have enough books to work in, and even had a couple offers from friends who were willing to bind something up for me. Also, for the past several years I have been preparing myself for not binding (when my hands give out, which I hope won’t be for a long while yet) and I knew of several commercially bound journals that I could work in quite happily. (My favorite commercially bound journal is the Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media paper Hardbound journal. I’m also rather fond of using a 9 x 12 inch Fabriano Venezia journal for in-studio work.)
The other reason I didn’t go crazy from the lack of binding is that starting at the end of December 2012 I began a year-long project to do a loose-leaf journal. By the end of February 2013 I had one 3-inch tall 9 x 12 inch box filled with sketches (about 175 single sheets). To keep the images organized from my regular journal pages I used a different numbering system, beginning with 1 and running through to the end of the year with 350. I put SS at the front of each page number so I could quickly see on a scan that it was a single sheet should I forget “which journal” it was from in the future. From the end of February to December I filled another such box. But by the time I was putting sketch pages into that second box some of the pages were 9 x 12 inches.
The point of this project was to allow myself greater freedom with paper. I had a number of different papers I wanted to use through out the year but I didn’t want to be tied to one or the other for a month while I filled a journal made only of one type of paper. Some of the papers I wanted to work with were not suitable for binding into books. On any given day I could choose from one of 6 or more pre-cut sheets I had stacked on the shelf.
Left: Shelf showing pre-cut pages in a stack at the left, and a box open at the right, with two more boxes below. (I was able to redistribute all the single sheets in two 9 x 12 inch boxes this year—the boxes are actually larger than that, made to accommodate 9 x 12 inch pieces of paper with a little space to spare.) The paper stack includes a couple hundred sheets of Fabriano Tiziano, Letra, some various watercolor papers including Richeson Recycled Watercolor paper, and even some lightweight graph papers which I love to sketch and paint on. Think about how you journal. Think about the physical nature of your journal. How can you redefine that in 2014 to allow yourself enough options to create throughout the year, despite what might happen with you in work, life, family, etc.?
I didn’t want to stick the loose pieces into my journal, because often that would mean covering more interesting paper with inferior paper. Keeping these pages in boxes was the perfect solution.
I can honestly say that there are some really hideous sketches in the 350 pages, but I didn’t throw away any sketches during the year and I love seeing the progression and the good days and bad days.
The only downside to working with single sheets is that there is no “end of the book” moment when one can stop and index them. Now I’ll have to address that in the coming weeks. I’m quick with such jobs, so it’s really a matter of finding a hour or two to sit down and do it.
I’ll be continuing this process into 2014, but will be starting on January 1 with a new box and a new page count. I’ll be indexing at the end of each month, so it can be quickly done and not loom over me. (Indexes are supposed to aid me in finding things, not take on a life of their own. My main goal is always to make more drawings.)
In many ways this was the ideal year to try this experiment. I’ve made journals using journal cards many times before (typically travel journals or Minnesota State Fair journals). This was the first time I expanded such a journal in calendar time and scope. Since I was injured in June and couldn’t carry my journal with me the project also helped me focus on journaling any way I could while I was improving my strength.
Sometimes during the year, because I wasn’t carrying a journal, I’d carry loose pieces of art paper that fit in a small bag (paperback book sized bag). Sketches I made on such sheets were either glued onto single sheets for inclusion in those boxes, or they were pasted into my in-studio journal. Journal writing wrapped around those inclusions, but I also wrote on many of the single sheets just as if they were regular pages in my journal.
This project also encouraged my desire to move to bigger works. I started with the 8.5 x 11 inch sheets and soon I was taking 9 x 12 inch sheets right off pads and working with them, without additional trimming. By the end of the year I was back doing my piecemeal sketches (that I’d been focusing on during International Fake Journal Month 2013) and my journal “pages” grew to be the size of half sheets of watercolor paper (11 x 15 inches and sometimes larger).
Instead of feeling cramped or constrained by my physical limitations the change in “packaging” and approach allowed me to keep doing what I’ve always done: journal.
You’ll see more of these piecemeal sketches and some of the paintings that have evolved through the year in posts during 2014.
They helped me look at new goals and directions for myself. They helped me look at materials I used, and materials that I wanted to use. It has been a lot of fun and with so much serious business in the rest of my life it is absolutely no surprise to me that that is the direction my journal went in 2013.
In 2013 I created 951 journal pages (bound in books labeled A through N) and 350 Single Sheet journal pages—a total of 1301 journal pages for 2013. That’s a “normal” total in a year when I didn’t focus on producing paintings for exhibition.
My journal also turned increasingly private. My journal is always private because I write it for myself, but this year I dealt with more thoughts and activities I don't want to share at present with others. This is a bit of a difficulty when you teach—because you might not want to show your most current work to students. (And I’ve found that taping pages together for privacy doesn’t work, someone always peels them apart because my journals are left on a table for students to look at during breaks.)
Since the journal is first and foremost for me to sketch and write about the things that matter or are interesting to me it was bracing to see over the course of the year, how sometimes I fought writing about things because I didn’t want those thoughts on view. But I also found that in that struggle between private and public there were days when I became emotionally constipated because I didn’t decide early enough during the day to write about the private stuff, and was left off including some things because I was too tired to really examine them fully.
Being aware of your process will help you seem these trends immediately and take swift action to protect what you need to protect. I realized how going forward there will be many more private pages than public ones. I’m glad for that. It seems a full circle to me. I have other work and projects I need to do that don’t need to be on view to students and other people interested in visual journaling. I’m always healthier when I have clear boundaries on that.
If you are just starting to journal you might have similar issues, they might evaporate for months, then you might fret that they return. Don’t fret, throughout my life such twists and turns have occurred. Do what works for you.
While talking with members of the MCBA Visual Journal Collective about how the Not-So-Blank-Page-Journal Project went for me, I mentioned that that particular journal was filled with non-archival materials: acidic newsprint, dye-based gel pens, and a lot of odder stuff. I explained that because my focus was away from creating fine art to show and sell in galleries I wasn’t concerned about what I was using when making my larger works and I was finding this very freeing. (In the past it’s been important to me to use archival materials in paintings I sell so that the purchaser can have an expectation the piece will last.)
All of the above factors have influenced where I’m going with my goals in 2014. I will be doing more large piecemeal paintings without care for archival materials, focusing only on textures and play within my sketches.
I’ve also decided that I will be teaching online classes in 2014. I will have more to say about this in the coming few months. I have already started creating classes of several lengths and types. I look forward to including video, written information, and live chats in the classes. I'll miss the in-person contact and the ability to see immediately when a student needs help, but I think it will be a useful time for me to put my focus on this type of class.
It makes sense to me as my arm and shoulder continue to act up that I focus on reaching students in different ways than showing up lugging a whole journaling/bookbinding studio. Online classes will allow me to do that. I still plan, when my arm and shoulder recover, to continue teaching in person in the future, but 2014 will be more of an online focus. We’ll see how it goes.
Many of you have asked for classes on line. If you are interested in taking online classes with me, even if you have asked me about them in the past, now is the time to drop me a line at my email address and ask to be on a mailing list. (If you asked before I’m sorry I never kept your address because mailing lists weren’t something I wanted to manage.) I will announce classes on this blog as they become available.
Journaling has been a beneficial activity throughout my life. I appreciate every day that I get to communicate its benefits and my practice to this wider audience because of this blog. I appreciate the time you take out of your day to spend at Roz Wound Up. I love hearing from you about how your journals are growing or the questions you have. I look forward to hearing from you in the new year.
I also hope through these final posts of 2013 you will find ideas and suggestions that you can use and check against your own intuition and knowledge so that you can decide how best to go forward in your creative life.
There isn’t one way to do anything (anyone who has ever worked in Adobe Photoshop can tell you that), let alone one way to journal. Find your way to journal. Examine your creative process and see it for what it really is. There are always ways to improve. Discover how you can manifest yourself in the world. There are many ways to do that as well. I am pretty much sold on journaling having a positive impact in all areas of my life, that’s why I write to you about it.
I hope you'll take some time on December 31 or January 1 to think about your process, and to set some goals for your creative life. (Do it again in a couple months, and again, and again, as needed.) Don't compare yourself to someone else, compare yourself to yourself and see where you can go.
I hope you all have a fantastically productive and creative 2014.