Smithereens, Post No. 2: Visual Journaling

Smithereens: [smith -uh-reenz] Plural Noun. 1. Small pieces, bits.
Smithereens are tiny pieces, fragments of a larger thing. In this series of blog posts, I share small slivers of my process, thoughts on materials, and insights into the larger world of illustration. 

These last couple of months found me at an all time low. You might remember me sharing what was quite possibly the worst burnout I'd ever faced. I still can't say with certainty that it's over, but what I can say is that despite feeling a complete aversion to drawing, I did not give up visual journaling. I started consistently journaling last year, partly due to personal situations, but also, it was the only act of creating that I felt was mine. I didn't have to share it, in fact I planned on never sharing it. Don't get me wrong, sharing my work with anyone who wants to see it is one of the most rewarding and uplifting things about making art. But with it, also comes sort of an unspoken constraint. We feel we must constantly share for fear of falling behind, or worse, being forgotten. And when everything is on display, that tiny sacred spark can feel vulnerable and out in the open. That spark can even go out.


It didn't even occur to me that while I was stifled by art, I loved sitting alone for sometimes hours, doing just that: writing and drawing. It hadn't presented itself as art because I saw it as a way to be present, record my life, and celebrate moments instead of overthinking and overcomplicating the process. My lines were unburdened by my usual thoughts: "Is this your style? Doesn't it look too much like this person, or that? Who's going to buy this? Is this what the client wants? How do I draw this, and why do I feel like I don't know what I'm doing? Who am I? What will people think? I'll just erase this and start over 8000 times.". 


I use ink so I can't erase. I use black so I don't have to think about color. I draw what I see, what I remember, and often how I feel - which keeps things simple. Truly, these pages feel indulgent and personal, and I find myself. My source and creative spark comes out when I just let my hand record my days. 


One of my favorite times to journal is on trips - I can record my days in a detailed way that isn't possible with photos. I also hate flying, so recording the trip on my way home on the airplane is immensely relaxing. While I usually don't work from photographs in my journal, sometimes it's just impossible to sit and draw something, no matter how badly you'd like to record it. A couple of weeks ago I visited The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, for instance, and there was NO way I could draw all of the details I saw. I took like 10 million pictures and have been slowly recording my visit...


It's a totally different experience drawing from photos vs memory, and while I have more experience with the latter, I do think it comes in handy to snap pics and record your life from the photos. It allows me to really capture details that not only inspire me, but will probably find their way into my future illustrations...


I have found this practice to be incredibly rewarding. Here's what I've gained/learned:

+ My visual journal is a space that is all my own.
No comments, no interference, no expectations. It allows me to be really intuitive about my line work and my thoughts. 

+ I have a long standing record of my everyday.
I love the idea that later in life (please let me live long) that I'll have a recording of the ordinary things. Like the Thai food I ate in a small town with my husband on a Sunday or the thunderstorm that kept me up all night, or the time I wore a long sleeve shirt on a humid August morning and my neighbor said, 'Waitin' for cool weather?' or the man who runs to the bus stop past my house every morning at 7. All of this I record. 

+ It really helps my drawing skills.
Imagine drawing just about everyday, but it doesn't feel like work. I know now how to draw a lot of food, places, people in airports, my dog, red salamanders, flower vases at restaurants - anything is fair game! 

Do you guys keep visual journals? Travel journals? A way to record your days? Is it a goal you have, but aren't sure how to get started? I think the simplest thing to do is pick up a journal you love - some of mine have dotted pages, some are just blank - and grab a pen! It doesn't have to be fancy, a regular old pen will do, although my favorite to use is the 01 Micron. And remember, nothing is too ordinary to draw. Start simple by writing about your day - what did you see, what do you want to remember? Is there something in your home you can draw? Don't over think it - just start laying down lines. And don't get frustrated if the drawing skills aren't where you want them to be, because every day you'll see your drawings improve, and journaling will be the fulfilling experience it's meant to be. 

Cheers and Happy Journaling!