On Journals

On Journals

I go through a LOT of journals. I think I’ve only gone through and filled two journals out of the ten I have in my bottom drawer (where my journals go to hide; letting people online read them is different than, say, the people in my life). Of all, only the first wasn’t blank – it was a lined Moleskine originally used for writing and poetry (the end of the teenage years) that slowly but surely began to be filled with magazine clippings and movie stubs. And then watercolors and drawings.

So when I finished that one, I decided to go to plain paper. Who wants to follow the lines, anyway?

I have hand-made journals, spiral notebooks, bound sketchbooks. Some contain five entries, others, twenty. I think there’s one on my desk that doesn’t have any – I just felt like making a journal, and when I finished, didn’t feel like working in it.

For me, a journal has to fit me, or who I perceive myself as, when I’m working in it. It’s the same with whatever bag/purse I’m carrying (I am a HORRIBLE bag whore, with a collection well over 50 and nearing 100). This works off the same principle as clothes influencing your mood – wear nice, sharp, well-fitting clothes, and you’ll feel more confidant.

My journals change with my moods and styles. When I grew sick of vintage images, I changed journals as I didn’t want to page back to see what I was leaving behind. Yes, it is important to remember and review past work, but changing journals does nothing to prohibit that. I can pull them off a shelf. Or, as I’ve begun snapping photos of all my entries, scroll through the folders in iPhoto.

A new journal is like a new beginning. New techniques and compositions beg for a new, more-fitting container. When I began using chalk pastels, I needed rougher, textured paper for them to spread better on. With acrylics, I needed to shelve the watercolor paper. Things change. Ebb and flow.

New, left-handed Kira art is different than oil pastels and layers Kira; despite just finishing a new journal a few weeks ago, I needed something different. This one, though, wasn’t chosen for the paper. It was chosen for the binding, for the number of pages, but mostly, the cover. And it was cheap.

But lined.

I did a stint in an altered children’s chapter book. The cover was adorable, the illustrations magical. But I couldn’t stand the fact that I’d have to gesso every page I wanted to work on; it took away from the spontaneity I was experiencing at the time. So it lasted a week, I think, before I shelved it and started using the pages as collage fodder.

Now, I prime every page, even those in blank journals. I can’t stand the stark white page and prefer to work on beige-tinted pages, something I picked up from Sabrina Ward Harrison’s spilled colors and collaged papers. Random, childish pencil marks look better to me on something less…bright and blank. I even started throwing in pinks and blues, giving subtle pastel hues to my pages. Of course, this came from using oil pastels, as mine don’t dissolve on regular paper very well.

But times change, you see? So now I have a cute lined journal I adore, a return to my roots, so to say, with about four spreads primed and ready (I would have done more, but a. my first batch revealed how thin the paper is and came out of the book, and b. my shoulder was an inferno after that and the next batch, and c. I am officially out of gesso). 

Here are the key things I look for when choosing a journal:

+ Sewn Binding. This means the book lies flat. If you look at the top of the spine, you can see the folded signatures. If the book is glue bound, like paperbacks, you just see the glue and no folds. These books annoy me to no end; they don’t lie flat unless you crack the spine, and the page on the left of your spread will have a big hump.

+ Sturdy Cover. Not a huge fan of floppy covers. I’m usually working on my lap, so I need a hard surface.

+ Size. I discovered what size I like through tons and tons of experimentation. I started with a 5” x 7” journal, but always did two page spreads. I went to 8.5” x 11” but it’s too big to really carry everywhere. I’m a bit under, now, about 10” x 7” or something (I haven’t measured). No little ones for me anymore!

When looking for a journal, think about what you’ll use in it, what you like, but mostly, when you pick it up off the shelf, close your eyes, hug it closely to your chest, and pay attention to how it feels, how it connects to your heart. THAT’S the real way to find your journal.

vintage handmade journal

Speaking of journals, here’s the one I made. It’s up for the taking, as the pages are too narrow for me. Coptic bound by hand with a vintage book cover (the inscription inside said it was a Christmas present from 1892). The paper’s perfect…nothing leaks through it, it’s smooth and thick and wonderful. Up on Etsy.