Why I Embrace Messes on My Journal Pages

March 23, 2015


Above: While watching a TV show one night the excellent actress Jean Marsh was dying and sick in bed and it struck me as an interesting angle to work. I had already scribbled some yellow Montana acrylic marker on the page. I had a red watercolor brush pen I wanted to work with so I sketched quickly with it. I didn't like the line quality or result so I went in with the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen to define some areas and detail. I didn't like that either and was upset I was loosing what I wanted to capture. I decided to throw down some gouache quickly and see is I could get any of what I had originally hoped to get. Then I made notes. Continue reading below.  

Messes give me details about where I have been and where I'm trying to go. In images like the one I posted today they show me when my experiments work and when they don't but ALSO what portion of the experiment worked.

That's valuable information to have. Just because something didn't work doesn't mean our time spent on it was wasted. In fact if we don't spend time experimenting we can't see over the top of the hill to the next thing we want to try.

Because of tis I find pages like this one from a lined paper Japanese Journal that I like to work out various ideas (written and visual) in so helpful.

I can pinpoint immediately where things don't work like the angle of the forehead or the length of the nose, given her position, But I can also rule out various approaches that don't work as executed and need to be refined in a different way, or are simply not something that's going to work for me. 

Pages like this one contain so much information that they make me absolutely giddy. I can't wait to get back into the journal and make more of them. This is work. This is FUN. This is where learning and discovery happen. It doesn't matter that there isn't something "pretty" and delightful at the end of the 20 minutes. What matters is the new possibilities you just unearthed and can now pursue.

Look for and identify happy accidents you want to play more with and even create a "style" out of.

Find rich textures and experiment with recreating them in other paintings or drawings where they help you communicate focus.

Make repeated tries in the same image to capture what you see, WITHOUT worrying about "muddying up things." Take notes if you think you are loosing the plot.

Identify the weaknesses you see so that you can work on them and remedy them.

These all add up to strategies for doing the next image quickly, efficiently, and with greater fun.

I encourage you to take time to experiment and embrace the resultant mess on your journal page when (not if) something doesn't quite go as you expected.

Look for where you can go next—whether that means to a book on anatomy, another life-drawing session, or more considered work on a better paper choice.

Mine your messes for insights that will take you somewhere new. Really churn up your page. You'll learn a ton.

    • Julana
    • March 23, 2015

    Hi Roz,
    I wonder where you get the Japanese Journals with the lined yellow paper? Hard to find yellow paper apart from legal tablets here.

  1. Reply

    This post is just what I needed to read today, surrounded by a heck of a mess I have accumulated over a few weeks, completely lost. It´s nice to hear someone else say that this is part of the learning process, not just me trying to cheer myself up. I must try to follow your example and enjoy the messy process more (and thus learn more from it)! Thank you, this is by far the best blog I´m following right now. 😀

    • Julana
    • March 23, 2015

    I have probably said this before, but your comments about this topic in Sketchbook Skool were one of the most helpful, freeing parts of that experience. They shifted the process ahead of the product in priority, for me, and changed the dynamic of sketching.

  2. Reply

    You are right about one when dying could use a montana marker. The transition would be sweeter. One could only be so lucky…

  3. Reply

    These are my regular Japanese Lined paper journals with the gray-ish paper. Look at the center of the right hand page and you can see the page color. If you read the description you will see I put Montana marker over the background—yellow acrylic marker.

    If you want yellow paper I’m not sure where you can get it in journal form.

    Jet Pens however does have a CREAM paper in some of the gridded Japanese notebooks they sell. You’ll have to poke around the site though because I don’t know what the manufacturer’s name is.

  4. Reply

    Viktoria, Yes, enjoy it. Enjoy the mess. I love messes. I have so much fun. I giggle and smirk all the time while I’m working and this is why. And it makes it so much easier to just get right back to work.

  5. Reply

    Julana, I am all about process, it’s the most important thing. If we don’t understand our process and harness it to work for us we’re doomed to put out little product and what we do put out will be of hit or miss quality. Glad I’ve got you on board with process!

    • idyllis
    • March 23, 2015

    Love this post. One of the fun things about non erasable mediums is this, keeping all the mistakes.

    • Julana
    • March 24, 2015

    Oh, thank you. I didn’t realize those markers were translucent. I may stick with the Fabriano stapled journals, then.

  6. Reply

    Julana, the translucency of those markers is totally depending on the pigment. Some are more opaque. And you can layer them for more opacity. I recommend that if you like the type of flat color you see on my journal pages where I use the darker colors that you try one or two markers out and see if they work for what you have in mind.

  7. Reply

    idyllis, I love having bookshelves full of mistakes! They have pointed me toward new fun.

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