Journaling Superstition #20: Your Text and Your Image Need to “Make Sense” Together

April 13, 2017
9 x 12 inch Kilimanjaro Watercolor paper journal page. Brush pen and watercolor. The turkey was a yard visitor, the quotation was from a movie I was watching that night. Do they mean anything together? No, but I wanted to get the quotation down as I watched the movie. I knew I wanted to laugh and think about it some more. And I have.

Students tell me all the time, “I can’t write in my journal, I don’t have anything profound to say.” Or they worry, “I don’t want to write on my pages because my handwriting is so bad.” Or they fret that, “What I’m thinking about right now and want to write about doesn’t have anything to do with the image on my verso page, and I want to work on consecutive pages. I don’t want to leave blank pages.”

Where did all these ideas come from? Who set up these RULES for these journal keepers to follow?

Somewhere along the line they saw someone’s pages and felt everything was organized and related and logical. They took a class or read a book where someone pushed the virtues of art always illustrating text. Or they simply looked on line into other journals and decided everyone else made it look so simple there must be rules that they haven’t heard or understood yet.

Nope. Here’s the most important thing you can do in your journal—give in to your OWN PREFERENCES. Go with your own flow. Use the pages in any fashion that appeals to you.

If you do develop rules for yourself make them relate to something productive.

In my journals I have a rule that I never tear out pages or cross out “failed” sketches. I have tons of messy pages and illustrated pages where the images don’t look like anything I had in my mind. But I keep those pages because over time, when I do choose to go back into my journals looking for an outline I wrote for a class I want to develop, the sizes to cut paper and board for a particular binding project I want to do, or notes from a meeting I need to follow up on, I get to see those “failures” and see who much I’m improving, realize that the drawing wasn’t that bad and was an essential step in my progress, and sometimes even realize that it points in a direction I need to explore more fully! (Also I need to add I don’t use the word “failure” but instead think in terms of things working or not working, and focus on what works in each sketch.)

That’s the example of a rule that relates to something productive. It keeps my journal and my progress whole so that I can look back on my progress with my healthy editing eye, and discover new directions for myself.

Another “rule” I have for myself is that I like to work chronologically in my journals, page by page. So I do like to work on consecutive pages of course. This practice makes my life easier. As I near the end of a journal I don’t have to go back through the journal and find all the blanks I’ve left. I simply keep working, finish the book, and move on.

Additionally, I like to prepaint journal pages weeks, even months before I get to a page spread. I like to work on them when I flip the page over and find the next page is prepainted.

Having the “rule” to work chronologically ensures that if I’m having a tough day and don’t feel like sketching, I’ll get out the paints anyway (because I don’t like to skip pages). It also ensures that I don’t get precious about textures I’ve painted that “are too beautiful to use.” I never fall into the worry of “I’ll ruin that texture.”

Why is that important? If we look at our textures, or any of our raw materials, as “precious” we open ourselves to scarcity—”If I use this and it doesn’t work, I’ve wasted it, there won’t be another.”

A belief in scarcity stops creativity. It robs us of our momentum.

And scarcity simply isn’t true. Not where creativity is concerned. Creativity is limitless.

If you made one texture, you can easily make another on another day. Chances are it will be even better than the one you used today because you have continued developing your color sense and visual aesthetic.

This is an example of having a “rule” that keeps us going forward.

“Journaling Superstitions” has been one of my most popular post series. If you would like to read more of these “myth-busting” posts simply use the category list at the top of the page to find “Superstitions” or use those keywords in this blog’s search engine.

How Can We Move Away From Rules That Aren’t Healthy?

Think of rules as guidelines. Just because you have approaches that help you work faster, or work in ways that are predictably better, doesn’t mean that each approach is going to be universally good in all situations.

Allow yourself the opportunity to look at each new situation and set rules aside if a new approach is something you’re keyed up to try or it just seems better. You can always return to any methods that have worked consistently for you.

By allowing yourself the freedom to try new things, or to do things differently if not in a totally new way, you are letting your creativity stretch.

Guidelines get you sitting down to work, get you working on days when you have low energy, help you find time to work when your life explodes, but they are just that—guidelines.

Trust in yourself that you can try new ways when they present themselves. The more creative risks you take in  your journal and the more frequently you take those risks, the better off your journaling practice is. You are flexing your creative muscles and making them stronger.

Don’t worry that you’ll be left without parameters within which to work. Your guidelines and best practices are only a page turn away.

Remember Who Your Audience Is?

There is something else that we can all do to keep our journaling habit healthy—remember who our primary audience is. It’s YOU.

You may believe that you are keeping a journal for your kids, or your grandchildren, or that you’ll be a famous writer or artist one day and everyone will want to read your journals and see how your beautiful mind works.

Let’s be realistic. Your grandchildren (or future grandchildren) might love and adore you, but they’re being raised in a generation of Twitter and Facebook. Everything happens quickly and dissolves. They might be fascinated with your journal  volumes (and I’m thrilled for you if they are), but aren’t they going to be MORE fascinated with your journals if you didn’t “pre-edit” and tailor everything thing your wrote and drew to meet the audience you imagined to perfection? 

Think of the journals you love to read and peek into yourself. You love seeing the scrawled notes of spontaneous realization; you love the unedited descriptions and savorings on the page that tell you how that person spent his or her day. You can sense he is finding his way and developing an understanding of his world. You come away with insights into that journal keeper’s life and art or writing.

I’ve helped at one breakdown of a 60-year-old household (most of the belongs were tossed) and I’ve completed another breakdown of a 66-year-old household by myself (most of the belongs were tossed). It didn’t matter that both families had children and grandchildren. There simply wasn’t space in any descendant’s home for someone else’s clutter. Yes family photos were passed along and a couple letters were kept, but that was it. Scrapbooks and notebooks all went to recycling.

Here’s the thing. That’s not even sad. If the people keeping those notebooks and scrapbooks got joy out of them that’s all that matters. None of us can know what someone else will find joy in. We all have to practice letting go.

But we also have to practice being in the present moment. And one way to do that is to keep a journal which functions as a workbook for creative and personal life. And for that workbook to really work each of us has to be our own primary audience.

You, right now, in the moment—what are you thinking? What are you observing? What do you feel compelled to sketch? That’s what matters.

If at some later point your journals have some secondary audience, if a grandchild decides to take up one of your artistic passions because she saw you so committed in your journals, that’s fantastic. But we cannot count on that. We can only live in the present moment and squeeze everything we can out of it.

To do that we need to keep guidelines that maintain our momentum and feed our creativity.

Everything else, even if it works for someone else, is simply a superstition.

You’re here NOW trying to find a way to work productively and creatively.

By all means listen to advice—you’re reading this blog post right now which is full of advice.

But be wary of someone who can’t explain why she has a “rule” about something. Or worse, explains the rule in a way that makes it obvious it isn’t a rule that came from her own organic practice.

Why does this matter? What you are looking for is a way to relate to your journal as only you can relate to it, so it has the most value it can have in your life.

I’ve been journaling and sketching my entire life. You don’t keep doing something that long without having fun. I have fun because I have observed my process and learned over the years the things I need to do to keep myself working, and the things to avoid because they take me away from my practice. And through all that my friends tell me I’m still fun to be around.

I want you to have the potential for as much fun.

Start today by looking at some of the rules you live by. Start by turning them into guidelines. Continue by examining how each impacts your work. Set aside any that are crimping your style. Embrace those that allow you momentum and breath.

So if you have an illustration on your page and a lot of space you would like to fill don’t worry that your handwriting is bad.

Your handwriting is what it is. If you don’t like it, take a class to change it. You can do that you know. If you don’t do that, stop whining to yourself about it, because frankly I can tell you all you’re doing is boring your creative soul who really doesn’t care what your handwriting looks like. (If your creative soul really does care about your handwriting you need to be taking steps to change your handwriting—you see this is really a do it or shut up situation.)

And if you think your writing doesn’t go with the drawing already on your page (or vice versa) don’t worry, all you’re trying to do is get stuff down on paper so it isn’t clogging your brain. You’re just keeping the flow going.

And if you don’t want to write on the page because you don’t have anything profound to say…?

Take a breath. Be in the moment. Write what you’re thinking down even if you don’t think it’s profound. Let time sort out profundity. You simply need to create.

    • Kim
    • April 13, 2017

    Roz, I think you are psychic. Again you have put into words just what I needed to be reminded of, just when I needed to be reminded of it! Thank you!

    1. Reply

      You made my day, I’m so glad that you found this helpful! I hope you do whatever you need to do on your pages and keep working!

    • Julana
    • April 13, 2017

    Roz, I cannot tell you how gorgeous those prepared pages I made in the Canson Montval watercolor tablet (with Shiva casein Set C) are/were. Sketching over them ruins them. Also, nothing writes on them but brushes or a brush pen. I should just have labeled them “After Rothko,” and left them.
    It has been a surprise, after three years of watercolor. Reading James Gurney, I thought they would be more duller, but can’t imagine acrylics are more vibrant.
    Also, not sure how the paper contributes to the intensity, since I have hardly used paper this heavy before.
    My point is, I hear you, but my teal page is marred by the sketch. My yellow and rose pages are so-so, and the waiting (mixed) purple is still gorgeous. (The boack was bad to start with. I made it with paint left on the palette I didn’t want to waste.) I am still in a state of wonder at these colors–and what to do with them.

    1. Reply

      I’m sorry that you wish you’d left your textures alone. Since you worked with Shiva Casein that might be your issue not being able to write on them. I don’t work in casein.

      Also when we try something new our eyes need to accommodate to the new “look” and find ways to work that actually work in the new circumstances. So there is often an adjustment period as people find ways to work on textures. You might be experiencing that.

      I would still say that to not use them would be sad, and is coming from a place where the internal critic is trying to push you away from trying something new. You’ll need to fight that.

      It may end up that you are not a textures person, and it’s good to learn that too. But if you’re using materials specified for class you’ll be able to write and sketch on your pages without issue—whether you like what you’re sketching on a texture is going to be a matter of adjustment and experimentation.

      Feel free to post your examples in class if you would like to discuss it. But also, remember that we are still building our textures in class so you’ll only have an opportunity to sketch on them and really get “used” to them at the end of class.

      But it’s all something we’ll discuss more in class.

      Right now I just hope that you keep in mind that this post is about a number of things, and one of them is the issue of scarcity. How did you hope to use your textures? Were you going to only sketch on them or also collage? Since you haven’t done all the things you wanted to do you need to hold your internal critic back until you get to try them all. And most important you need to fight the urge that says, “ruins them.” They are raw materials for other things. You can of course create textures that are just textures with no other purpose and if that makes you happy that’s fine too. You might find that a simple bit of journaling on light color paper pasted onto a textured page forces you to think about your aesthetic. Whatever happens, it’s too early to tell. So think hard about what it was that made you want to make textures in the first place.

        • Julana
        • April 14, 2017

        Thank you for your thoughtful response. I think you are right about the feeling of scarcity. Can I create this beautiful color again? The great thing about casein is that it comes in large tubes. You get so much for your money. I planned on sketching, not collage, but there’s an interesting idea….get a few lines of spring (e.e. cummings)/Easter poetry on there.
        I have developed even more of an appreciation for the sketchbook skills of James Gurney–all that detail and depth with casein, on a small page..

        1. Reply

          Julana, since I can’t use casein because of the odor it wouldn’t matter to me if it were free—I’d never be able to use it. Sorry I can’t help you with not being able to work on top of it. You might try paint markers and pens, from Sharpie (some are water based and don’t have odor, or they have solvent based ones) and of course Montana and Molotow markers. You get a lot for your money with Montana and Molotow. James Gurney’s art is wonderful. If you like his blog you should look also at his books on color and on drawing from the imagination!

    • Pat Wafer
    • April 13, 2017

    I used to be very bothered by those really “Failed” sketchbook pages. Now I use them for things like trying out a new marker or paint color or ink or technique, etc. It is endless. Now if I get to a point where I think the page is pretty hopeless I stop and save it for a practice page to use later. I can try something on a failed page that I want to put on a pristine page. Now that the pages feel useful to me and I can be totally free to do whatever I want on them, they have become valuable to me which is something I never expected. Also by the time I am finished playing around on those pages they are usually rather interesting so not really failures anymore! It really does push my creativity, too. I am taking Andrea Joseph’s Lettering class at Sketchbook Skool and she uses those sorts of pages to practice new lettering, fonts, etc. Practicing lettering is a perfect use for failed pages. Now I don’t feel they “ruin” my sketchbook. They make it more interesting. Great post, Roz.

    1. Reply

      Pat, I’m glad that you have a new view on “failed” pages. It is endless what you can do with them. I like to push ahead on failed pages to see what I can do to save them in some way. Then they stand as a record, not only of practice, but of what to do or not do when trying to get out of a hole!

      And I’m so glad that you find them not only useful, but actually interesting when you’re done. I think these types of pages are the most interesting, as they show us what we’ are learning.

      I hope you have great fun in Andrea Joseph’s class. She is so talented. She blends her lettering seamlessly with her artwork, as part of the work, and I know that you will come away with tons of inspiration. Fill up those pages!

      Thanks for stopping to comment Pat!

    • Cathy
    • April 13, 2017

    Thank you Roz, I do get into scarcity with my journals and thinking they must all work out with beautiful drawings. Ha! What a great way to not draw anything! I want to thank you for your blogging and keeping the critic away when I do art.

    1. Reply

      Cathy, If you have some time this weekend check out the other Journaling Superstition posts (Look in categories under Superstition). I think there is a lot of commentary in the series about dealing with the whole issue of scarcity and letting the internal critic stop yourself. Say no to scarcity! Keep sketching.

    • mary
    • April 13, 2017

    Hi Roz, I never thought much about image and text making sense together and after reading this, I still don’t, but you have very cleverly inserted so much more into this post………..and with clarity- something that often seems to be missing these days! Thanks so much-

    1. Reply

      The great thing about knowing what we like to do Mary is that we don’t have to spend time worrying about it. I’m glad you’re just a doer! But thank you for noticing the other stuff I squeezed into the post! I appreciate knowing that you got it. Sketch on.

    • Sandi
    • April 13, 2017

    Thank you for this blog. It’s exactly what I was discussing with a friend today when I told her I’ve been having trouble getting the courage to even sketch for fear of seeing a “failure”. Your blog put me in my place, ha ha and I have no excuses..

    1. Reply

      Well I certainly believe in no excuses when it comes to sketching, so I’m really glad you found this helpful! thanks for letting me know. Get some sketching done this weekend. I have a “Project Friday” posting on Friday that might help you.

    • Barbara
    • April 14, 2017

    As always, thank you for sharing your thoughts and ideas. I can truly say that reading your blog ofer the last years changed my life for the better. That “simple” suggestion of skipping the pencil drawing and going directly to sketching with ink changed my drawing and sketching habits for the better.

    In this article you mentioned “prepainting”. Could you elaborate on how you do a prepainting and then use it? I’m sorry if that sounds like a dumb question, but why would you prepaint a background, especially if you later paint over it with opaque media? What media can you use for prepainting and what can you use over it? Are there some media that you cannot combine?

    In any case: take care, stay healthy and enjoy sketching!

    1. Reply

      Barbara I write a lot about pre-painting my journal pages. I like the fun of it, love sketching and painting on textures, and love the puzzle of getting things to work (or not work). I even teach a class in this technique which started on April 1. (It will be offered again next year.)

      You can find out more about what I like to do and why I like to do this by using key words like “prepainted backgrounds,” and “textures” in my blog’s search engine. There you’ll find many posts on this and many examples of how I use these painted backgrounds.

      Here’s one example to get you started.

      Here are two paintings on textures

      And here is the announcement of the class so you can learn about it and decide if you want to take it next year.

      If you subscribe to the blog you’ll get notices when classes are scheduled.

      Thanks for reading.

        • Barbara
        • April 19, 2017

        Thank you very much for your detailed answer! 🙂

    • Judy Langhoff
    • April 18, 2017

    You really struck a chord with this post. I was living the very “superstitions” you mentioned about journaling….creating all sorts of blocks to my sketching adventures. After reading your blog, I feel like I have a new direction right now…sketch and experiment with abandon, all in the same sketchbook, poor handwriting be damned!😊Thanks, Roz, for getting me back on track.

    1. Reply

      Judy, I love hearing this. You keep doing what you want and need to do in your journal. Experimentation of that sort will keep you going back to your journal for more “work” (which I see as play) and you’ll move steadily towards your goals. Kick off those superstitions that have been reining you in!

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