Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Fall 2023 Newsletter

Visual Journaling

I'm back to playing with Visual Journaling (VJ). I've covered this topic before, but I want to revisit it since the process is so calming. With all the bad news we read and watch these days, it's nice to have a place to go that is safe, free of judgement (except maybe our own) and be yourself.

Some history
Obviously, keeping a journal or diary is good for the soul or people would not have done it for centuries. For instance, the earliest diary was found in 2013, more of a logbook, called The Diary of Merer (aka Papyrus Jarf), written 4500 years ago. In Japan, Pillow Books were common among court ladies and Asian travelers. These works consisted of essays, anecdotes, poetry and some art, created around the 1000s. Additionally, most great artists and scientists have maintained visual journals, such as: 

Leonardo da Vinci.

 Charles Darwin

From Sie Shonagon's Pillow Book

Studies have shown that visual journaling can reduce stress and anxiety (I am living proof of that). Some say it even enhances immunity and decreases cortisol levels, while also increasing dopamine and serotonin. I'm not sure about the chemistry involved, but I can say that this mindfulness exercise relaxes me, drains me of my anxiety and helps to increase my sense of wellbeing. So, something is working.

What is visual journaling?
Traditionally, journaling (or keeping a diary) has been the practice of placing words on paper into a notebook. It's a space where you can express your thoughts, worries, ambitions, grief and so on. VJ is the same but enhanced by the use of art. You can add drawings, sketches, hand-lettering, doodles, clips of photos or other images. And that's the beauty! You are NOT restricted by a list of rules or assignments. Your VJ is yours, all yours and can be self-directed or followed by prompts (ideas). 

How do you start?
Of course, your first step is buying a journal. Some of the products out there are just wonderful. The best place to start is perhaps purchasing the Strathmore Visual Journal. I started with a similar product but mine wasn't a good. What did I know; I was just a beginner? This journal offers good workable paper.  It comes in watercolor, Bristol smooth, Bristol vellum or mixed media.  They run about $15 each.

I especially like leather bound books. They usually have handmade paper inside, which means you have to double or triple glue your pages together, but I love how my work looks on these pages.

Then select any and all art supplies you have. I would not recommend oil paint, soft pastel or oil pastels. But everything else is fine: pens, markers, crayons, pencils, acrylic craft paint, watercolor, ink and so much more.

What subject matter?
Everything! If you see something online that gets your goat or hugs your heart, print it out and paste in your book. Then write about it. I find this very helpful when I'm stressing out about something. Remember, it's my space, so I can say whatever. 

Along with the words, draw or sketch to your heart's content. Draw your favorite flower, like I do. I enjoy daisies and sunflowers. Draw fruit, vegetables, outside, inside, clothes, your breakfast. Draw a vegetable you don't like and explain why. I hate brussels sprouts.

Or you can find prompts online. Here are a few I like:
  • Do I call myself an artist, why?
  • Who is my favorite artist, why?
  • Paste down a picture of your father, mother and tell them how much you love them (or  are angry with them or whatever emotional feelings you have).
  • Paste down the flag and talk about how much this country means to you.
  • Find some favorite quotes and write about them. I love Mark Twain's: If you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life. I can write and draw volumes on that subject.
  • Pick a season you like, sketch and write about it. I love to draw and talk about pumpkins in the fall.
Whether I'm glad or sad, I grab my journal to express my feelings. I feel free to express my thoughts here from beginning to end, I often visit my created pages. You can also pick it up, play for awhile and then leave it for a time. It's up to you.   

For example, I hadn't done much journaling for a spell. Then, my brother died. Wow, what a set back. I did the usual writing about our lives together, even wrote the Eulogy for his service and Facebook. And while, these helped, I found going back to VJ has helped more. Actually, I haven't really talked about him much in my current journal, just random thoughts and drawings. 

No perfection necessary
I love to draw sunflowers. I don't need a reference. I just go for it. I enjoy their brilliant, sensual petals and the texture of the central florets. I put NO pressure on myself to create a "perfect" drawing/painting. As you can see from the picture below, I just let it all go. I  could have chosen  a more detailed study on sunflowers here, but I didn't want to. Here is where I let my art and my story flow as they are.

Pictures, scrapbooking...sort of
As I've said, you can also add pictures and other scrapbook type of stuff to your journal. I often use Washi tape that comes in all sort of designs, sizes and colors. But be careful with this fun product. You can find yourself using it with your cards, notes and even shopping lists.

Here is a sample of the type of washi tape you can buy.

Notice the different widths and designs. I love this product and can't get enough of it. While they aren't very expensive (that's the problem), there is a financial limit to everything, isn't there? So as I said, be careful. Before you know it, you will have hundreds of these Washi tapes

As for pictures, I usually pick up some very cool sayings or pictures from my Facebook page. I guess I'm lucky. I don't get a lot of worrisome topics on my page. Instead I'm flooded with positive axioms, which I promptly save and print out for later. I have a whole stash of these uplifting sayings, which I review before I start my page for the day. Here are two pages that were started with something I got on Facebook.

Adding photos and Washi tape and a whole slew of stuff can make your page pretty busy, but a lot of folks like that. Here's a page I did about women who try to stay young way past their prime. It contains photos of a contemporary woman and a painting called The Ugly Duchess by Quentin Massys--another woman who was desperately trying to look younger.

A place to be sloppy
I think what I like most about VJ is being sloppy. There are so many things in life where we have to be exact from following a recipe (although there are the courageous ones who don't) to using good grammar for a simple email message.

But in my journal I can throw everything into the wind. My words don't necessarily have to be perfect, my handwriting is just good enough to read, my choice of colors is solely up to me and so on. I LOVE it. And that's probably why VJ is such a solace, peaceful and happy place for me. There are no judgements or cares, but a place to be whatever I want, including sloppy.

A place to workout some issues
Way back years ago, I helped cancer patients create their own visual journals. Being a cancer survivor myself, I used VJ a lot!! And so I wanted to pass it on to others. What I personally did and eventually witnessed through other patients is that the journal helps to dig deep into some places you'd rather forget. 

Sometimes though you may not be ready to grapple with your subject. For example, back to my brother's death, I printed out his picture, prepared it with a nice cutout border and then just couldn't put any paste on the back to include him in my book. It seemed so final, so difficult. So I didn't and I still haven't done so yet. That's okay.

I have found that political cartoons have helped me with issues I can't control. I may be right or wrong with my opinions, but I let it hang loose in my book. That's because I can. I was looking at a page from a old book I worked on during COVID. It now seems so far away but not really. It's good to see the feelings today though. Helps me to be sooooo glad that is over.

Doing it daily
We have all heard about daily painting. I've tried it with fondness. I enjoy facing a challenge everyday. But after awhile I lost interest, perhaps I ran out of subject matter or just went back to my favorite thing to do and that is drawing. Whatever the case, I do find if I can set aside an hour or maybe two a day and work on my VJ, I am happy. The possibilities seem endless.

So that's what I've been doing for the past couple of weeks. I may not finish a page in the time I've set aside. I can always go back to it the next day. But again, unlike a painting or even a drawing project, there are no rules. I can do whatever I want, when and where. 

My final example is the tree I recently drew and then painted in metallic acrylic. It's not done yet and I haven't even figured out if I want to say anything. It was fun to draw and play. Perhaps I'll keep it that way or maybe I'll find a poem or a saying on Facebook that will be perfect to add. Until then, it will stay in my book, waiting for my final touch, like a fairy with a magical wand.

Art Express Workshops
Fall 2023
        • Three-hour online workshops
        • Scheduled for Saturdays 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
        • Professional teaching and demonstrations
        • Workshop handouts in PDF form
        • Limited to 12 students
        • $75 per workshop
        • Topics include: drawing trees, watercolor pencils, Pan pastels, holiday projects.
For scheduled workshops go to:
 For registration information


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