Letting Things Go, Even in the Pursuit of Goals: The Little Journal That Got Away

February 26, 2018
This is a small (about 3 x 4 inch) journal that I made using scraps of the tan-toned paper Nideggen. I used black backcloth and decorative paper that I made. The quarter is added for scale. The drone in the top right corner just happened to be on the kitchen island. This is a lightweight book that is perfect for carrying around everywhere as you run errands. (See my Textures class for information on my decorative paper.)

Note: This post was originally scheduled to run at the end of December 2017. Due to technical issues with the blog I’m just getting to it now.

If you read my blog you’ll know that I keep track of the number of pages that I create each year.

I do this because it is a quick way to assess how productive I’m being.

It’s also a good tool to understand what is changing in my life—less pages means that something is either keeping me from my journal in a good or a bad way. Once I identify that is happening I can actually assess whether the replacement activities are good (e.g., additional paintings completed) or bad (i.e., technical problems with the blog which require too much effort and cut into my creative work).

Simply stated these types of statistics help me understand the health of my drawing practice and the rest of my creative life.

But there are also times when gathering statistics we can tie ourselves up in knots.

I believe we need to be aware of those times when we get a little bit obsessive! At the end of 2016 I posted about my page log and my end of year sprint to complete several on-going journals.

Typically I only have one or two journals going at a time because I like chronological order. I’ll have a studio journal and I’ll have a fanny-pack-carry-with-me-everywhere journal. (I also have a written journal, but I leave this out of the whole equation because it makes writing about this so much easier.)

Other times I will have a Loose Sheets journal (9 x 12 inch sheets done on different papers and stored in archival boxes); a lined Japanese journal which one should write in, but in which I prefer to paint and sketch (and write) because the paper is so darn fun.

You get the idea.

Because of my indexing system (which you can read about here)  if a journal isn’t finished by December 31 at midnight then it doesn’t get counted in the yearly total.

As you can see 2016 was a bit of an interesting end-of-year push.

Perhaps in part because of that, and in part because of family and work issues, it just seemed to me at the end of this year (2017) that there was no point in thinking about having everything finished.

I didn’t need to be tidy.

This isn’t the first time I’ve let “tidy” go. It always surprises and gratifies me when I do, so I’m writing this post today to encourage you to let “tidy” go. You don’t have to have everything sewn up and filed, and categorized and dissected and…by the end of the year.

The end of the year is a construct. Sure it might effect your totals a little to not be able to include certain books or pages based on the system you created to keep track of your output, but the “margin of error” you introduce into the system by letting a few things go is not going to keep the larger patterns from emerging.

Note: If you find you are letting so much go and letting all your system guidelines fall unheeded, then maybe it’s time to chuck your system and find one that works for you. Just saying…

Remember that your creative life isn’t bound by constructs like the beginning and end of a year. Your creative life and growth are on going!

So What Information Did I Gather For 2017?

In 2017 I filled twelve journals which were labeled A17 to L17, as is my labeling practice. (I finish one journal and continue on with the same pagination, so the first page in journal B17 follows the last page of journal A17.)

Those volumes contained a total of 786 pages.

That’s a bit low in both pages and volumes for me. I typically fill journals lettered from N to W.  (More about pages in a moment.)

Am I concerned? Not yet. I know that some of those journals from 2017 are thick commercially bound journals which contain many more pages than I typically have in journals I make for myself.

I like to have journals that have 100 to 160 pages in them because I’m then not carrying a really heavy journal, and I get to change the type of paper I work on frequently during the year by completing a journal changing to a new journal with different paper. 

I’m also not concerned because I also keep something called a Loose Sheets Journal. I write about these a lot on the blog. You can use the category feature at the top right of this blog page to look for Loose Sheets and read more about them. Basically working with loose sheets allows me to change up my pages all the time so I can keep working with a variety of media despite the paper contained in the current bound journal I might be working in.

Remember that any journaling system you use needs to support your creative goals. If a main goal of yours is to support the completion of a journal because you are new to journaling then filling a journal before you move on to another journal is a great guideline to set for yourself. For me a goal of constantly testing and working with a variety of media means I have to build in flexibility to my system—hence Loose Sheets.

So how many loose sheets did I complete in 2017?

It’s difficult to tell exactly because I did something new in 2017. I worked in 9 x 12 inch loose sheets and also worked larger on some sheets. But since I didn’t fill the box of larger sheets none of those can count. (It’s easier to not count them then to remember next year which were counted or not counted. It’s just easier to page them all at one time.)

Also I ended up taking a lot of pages out of the 9 x 12 inch boxes before the pages were numbered. I framed a bunch of sketches because I found that in 2017 I wanted to change the paintings I had up on my wall. I only did one art show (a group show) last year and it seemed a good thing to me to update my walls and remind myself of what I’d been doing. 

Many of my loose sheets last year had morphed from loose sketches to new ways of painting for me. And to have them on my walls in frames became a reminder of what I wanted to aim for when I picked up a brush.

The loose sheets total for 2017 was 216 pages.

If I add that to my bound pages I get a total of 1002 pages for the year.

This year the total includes my Minnesota State Fair Journal pages but not my IFJM pages (30), which are really an art project outside of the typical stream of journal pages and never included.

While on the low side that total of 1002 pages (which doesn’t include the 22 pages in the incomplete little journal featured today; you were wondering when I would get back to that right?) that total does fall within the normal range of output for me.

But in my system I have to look at why there is a low output. I already mentioned that I participated only in one joint show. I wasn’t spending all my free time creating paintings for shows.

So how was my time spent?

I created two new online classes last year. That means hundreds of hours of filming and editing. Time I could have been drawing. But I’ve been working on those tasks as part of my regular workday and while it certainly lengthened my workday it doesn’t explain the fall off in pages.

One thing anyone taking a quick glance at my life last year can see did effect my productivity was technical difficulties. Since the hacking of my RozWorks site in the summer of 2016 I have traveled a technical journey of frustration and countless expensively fixed issues. I made choices at the end of 2017 to put some of that behind me. I was moderately successful. I continue to have some online blog-related difficulties that need addressing and take too much time away from my real work. I continue to work on fixing that.

Looking back at 2017 I can see that I made the right decision to work to change that. All the numbers bear me out!

That’s one of the great things a little bit of record keeping will do for you. 

Instead of building your goals and plans on vague notions and feelings about how you think something went, you have actual data.

And this little bit of analysis allows you to really embrace all the good that came out of your choices. All those pages that you were able to make; all those creative options you exercised.

Instead of draining your energy this information buoys you up so that you can plan appropriately for the next year and the next five years.

That’s the other reason to look at numbers like this: perspective.

In 2017 I was ill for 8 weeks at the start of the year, and then in the fall I was ill again for another 8 weeks.  (I tend to pick up everything on offer at the eldercare facility!) This tells me that I was working too hard last year and under too much stress that my immune system wasn’t working at its best.

On November 19, 2017 I took a fall and tore all the ligaments in my left ankle and fractured my foot. It was a couple weeks before I was able to sit at the computer again for more than 20 minutes without my foot swelling up in the immobilization boot.

But we do what humans have always done in those situations, we keep on going. And because I have a strong drawing habit, that habit keeps on going as well. It was actually the drawing habit that sustained me during the fall and early winter when I couldn’t get out and about in the world.

The Importance of the Context of Events

When gathering any data it’s important to understand the context of events. Sometimes that context explains the events and sometimes the context simply reminds you of what you can do despite events.

What I try to convey to all my students is to focus on the positive.

So often I have students tell me, “I was ill so I couldn’t go to life drawing and blah, blah, blah.” They are focusing on the negative.

Instead I like to point out to them that DESPITE being ill they did x, y, and z—whatever x, y, and z might be.

We all accomplish something all the time. It can be just getting through the simple occupations of life. It can be as stressful as raising a child or aiding an elder to a dignified death. 

It is going to be something different for everyone. But no one gets through a year without accomplishing something.

Sure you can focus on all the things you didn’t get done. But that doesn’t move your forward.

Focusing on all the things you did accomplish DESPITE being ill or whatever, gets you a different total, a different result, and a new foundation to build upon.

The words we use to express and discuss our activities, life, and goals—those words matter.

Start owning the positives.

Start recognizing the negatives.

Start eliminating the negatives.

You’ll find that there are more positives to build on when you do that. When you change your language to embrace what you have actually accomplished your attitude and energy change. When your attitude and energy change so much more is possible.

The negatives dictating your language choices come out of your internal critic or resistance to having a creative life.

The negative events in your life don’t magically evaporate—I still have to fix those expensive and time eating problems with technology. 

What is different is that I have the energy to deal with them.

Homework—Because One of My Students Recently Pointed Out That I Give Out More Homework Even When A Question Hasn’t Been Asked

Take some time to look at what you accomplished last year in your drawing or art practice. Look at what your goals were at the end of 2016 and what you accomplished at the end of 2017 towards those goals.

If you read the post I linked earlier “Roz’s 2016 End Of Year Wrap Up” you will find links to other posts on doing self-evaluations and self-assessments. You can also go to the category list and look up those terms for all posts so labeled. 

Read through some of them and jot down some notes on how you want to start thinking about your goals; what you want those goals to be; and how you can start to rearrange your life so that you can meet some of those goals.

I’ll have some more on my self-evaluation for 2017 in a future post.

In the meantime start planning your future on a foundation that is solid and represents your strengths. Own your strengths.

Remember an extra 22 pages does not define you.

How you handle your life defines you.

Life is never tidy.

One More Statistic To Put Things In Perspective:

I couldn’t end without doing a little more math. 

In the first 8.5 years of this blog I wrote over 2,150 posts. (Thank you loyal readers for wading through what was sometimes a lengthy daily read!) The numbers end up with 260.5 blog posts a year. (Keeping in mind that for about the first two years of the blog I was posting daily.) 

Since January 2017 I’ve written 125 posts which is half of my typical yearly post output average.

Since I don’t give up my drawing practice for anything, the real impact that costly and time consuming technical issues have had can be seen in my blog post output!

And when you look at how a drop in posting relates to a drop in readership, which relates to a drop in class enrollment, you can begin to see the real cost of technical issues.

Oh, yeah, and not writing on my blog makes me really crabby!

It’s good to keep focused on what you can change.



    • Julana
    • February 26, 2018

    Roz, you should write an illustrated book. Or three….
    I love books structured around the calendar. You could focus on a different enthusiasm in every monthly chapter. “Drawing through the seasons of life”, or something…..
    You are so good at wading through the technical details and finding emotional connections…..harnessing the power of language.

    1. Reply

      Thanks Julana.

    • Paul
    • February 26, 2018

    Impressive statistics Roz, now I have homework for you (although I have a sneaking suspicion you have already done the math). How has the ratio of drawings/paintings from life vs. from photos or screens changed for you over time? I noticed you have been on Sktchy a lot last year😀.

    1. Reply

      Paul, I already did this math in the forum for Drawing Practice. Simply stated I taught myself to draw looking at life, and when that wasn’t working, looking at 19th century etchings. So it continued through college. Early work was often dictated by the client and the need to work from photos, which I counteracted by going to life-drawing co-op. Then I stopped taking illustration commissions that required photo reference (draw this product, draw this dead person) for 20 years and drew only from life. And this continues today. I’ve always used all sorts of tools in drawing and drawing from photos is one of those, to be used as needed (e.g., when you are sick at home for two months and can’t drive yourself to the zoo).

      I draw something every day from life and the majority of what I draw is from life—it’s how I process the world.

      The work you see me do on Sktchy and from TV (because I do love to watch TV so why not draw at the same time?) is less than 25 percent of what I draw. It may seem more to you because you only see what I choose to share on the blog, and those choices are simply made because of what I want to write about on any given day.

      Everyone has to find a balance that works for him or her. When I don’t get to draw mostly from life I find I get very grumpy and my eye gets confused, so I get back to a balance that works.

      If you aren’t watching your output you won’t be alert to when you need a balance adjustment.

  1. Reply

    I got an email thsi morning about your post! yay! its working! I notice a huge difference in my practice when i focus on what i achieved rather than what i did t get to. thank you for the tip

    1. Reply

      So good to hear about the notifications reaching you and that you are focusing on your achievements! Have a great 2018.

    • kathleen
    • February 26, 2018

    Ack, the tech difficulties suck so much 🙁 I realized I wasn’t getting email from you anymore and started looking around to see what had happened. Will try to sign up again and see if that helps. Thanks for all the hard work you do! I cannot possibly convey how much fun and information I have gleaned here over the years! xoxox, kathleen

    • Frank Bettendorf
    • February 26, 2018

    Outstanding post with much to think about! I like that you remind us what is important to keep a balance in our life. Please keep this in your permanent files so I can read it again. Thanks for your honesty!
    Frank B

    • Ken Johnson
    • February 26, 2018

    Thanks for your kind and wise thoughts, Roz. What I realized long ago is that I don’t have the same level of physical production as you, but I do not stress about it: I get done what I am capable of doing, and breathe easier with that knowledge. That said, I am in awe of your life accomplishments, not just in art production.
    Also, I like the way you just snuck in the drone, like we all have them just sitting around.

    1. Reply

      You not stressing Ken is one part of your charm! It’s why I like to sit with you on sketch outs. Your friendship, as you know helps me breathe easier!

      Doesn’t everyone have a drone?

      Go get busy with your color pens!

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