So, if you happen to be new here, let’s start by saying that I’m really into art journaling. I’ve been doing it for just over 3 years now and I love it. I’ve dabbled in ALL kinds of art journaling, visual journaling, and creative journaling, and I’ve bought lots of books, watched LOTS of youtube videos, and even taken a few online classes in my quest to learn more about it and explore it thoroughly. I’ve actually even finished a few journals. Pause here for the appropriate shock and awe, if you know me. And I have a whole lot more started.
Which is kind of the problem. Right now, I’ve just finished my most go-to journal, and I have a wide variety of journal types available and never really know where to work, with the exception of the extremely intense work I do in my Book of the Night workshop. So I’m gonna try and focus in on a daily art journal choice that will be the most likely to bring me joy, by thinking out loud in this blog post.
My current books:
Book of the Night. This was an old hardback book on how to play the stock market, written in the 80’s for a very specialized audience. It’s full of insane gibbrish and awesome dot-matrix graphs that mean nothing to me. I’m altering it and using it in my Book of the Night workshop, given by Juliana Coles, my favorite artist and Extreme Visual Journalist. I’ve painted it black and glued pages together and put black gesso on some and made a book mark and pockets and etc. etc. I know exactly when to pull that one out, and although I’ve put a few non-workshop related things in there, I wish I hadn’t and don’t want to anymore. I only want to do BOTN work in this from now on. So that’s settled.
Composition notebook turned art journal. I love comp notebooks and just honestly can’t get enough of them. I love how heavy they feel, their hard covers, their cloth spines, the way the pages are stitched in and not glued, the rounded corners…I just love these sumbitches. My inner child decorated this one’s cover last week and made the sparkly gold closure, and I think this would be a good place to go when I just want to play with my stuff like a kid. I don’t want to glue pages together but instead just gesso them all, so I have thin but strong pages that make a very satisfying crinkly sound when I leaf through them. This is a new experiment. I have about 4 spreads gesso’d already, so it’s ready to work/play in a little.
8 1/2 x 5 1/2 hardbound sketchbook. I just finished one of these (on the left, Artist’s Loft) and bought another (on the right, Art Alternatives). I like to experiment with media on a known, blank art paper, and I like the feeling of a hardbound sketchbook. I like to sketch with pencil and pen and watercolor pencils and watersoluble crayons, and for the most part, this paper can take that well. But it’s not thick, and heavier washes will bleed, which is a real drag since that’s what I’ve been doing most often when I play. I can’t really do that in here. And it doesn’t take actual watercolor well at all.
8 1/2 x 5 1/2 inch spiral bound Strathmore Mixed Media journal/sketchbook. I painted the cover, so I’m showing you some pages where I tested different media inside it instead. I love this heavier paper for doing my heavier watercolor washes on, and it’s sturdy enough to stand up to layering. It’s also smooth enough for markers and takes the washes I like to do over them well, without bleeding and falling apart. But I don’t like spirals. I think they’re ugly, and they make doing 2-page spreads kind of impossible since the pages don’t meet and there’s this big wire between them. Spiral binding on my book just makes me not want to do art there. I end up taking lots of notes in them instead. I’m seriously considering buying the new Strathmore softcover or hardcover mixed media journal, even though I have lots and lots of art paper I could make my own journals out of. I think it sounds kinda dreamy, but I’m also afraid I’d be intimidated by its price of nearly $20, and my guilt over having bought yet another type of art journal. So I probably need to just…step away from the shopping option. My partner’s nodding as she reads this.
Altered Nature book. I have this old vintage hardback nature book from the seventies, and the pages are nice and heavy and they lie flat, which is my criteria when choosing a book to alter. I love the size, it’s about 7 x 9 or so, and it’s not too thick, which is also less intimidating for me. I’m just now experimenting with leaving the imagery and/or text on the page and drawing or writing over it, but I like it and want to do more of it.
Obviously it’s not a place to play with water media, but it’s a super place to play with layers, and I like the way it takes both graphite and colored pencils. It has a nice, soft toothiness.
Strathmore Visual Journals. I have three of these (they were on super sale at Cheap Joe’s), 2 of the 9 x 12 ones and 1 of the 6 x 9 ones. The one here is a finished one, which was my first mixed media journal. All of mine are actually watercolor paper ones, not the mixed media paper. They’re spiral, so obviously that’s why they’re not really contenders. Also, the page size they say they are is NOT the size they are. For some whack reason, Strathmore counts the spiral in the size of the page in these! So your working space is actually less, leaving a tall, thin space for art. I prefer extra width, portait orientation pages, so these are not making me happy at all. If you do a page and then cut it out to frame, it will NOT be standard and will not fit the frame. Which I found out because I tried it. Seriously, what are they thinking with that? I won’t buy these again, but I do have three already.
Stonehenge printmaking paper. I have to bind this into my own books to use it. This is the number one paper I love the most for watercolor. I discovered it through Diana Trout in her book Journal Spilling, one of my top five, and upon trying several papers designed specifically for watercolor, I come back to this every time. I love the way the paint sits and moves on the page (left).
It’s a bit smoother than regular cold press, but more rough than hot press, and it takes pencil, charcoal, and colored pencil just beautifully. And well, I just love it. It’s also cheap, at about $2.50 per sheet, and I can make a nice little friendly 5×7 ish book with 32 pages out of one sheet. I just finished one of those and have another sheet I need to cut down and bind. But I don’t know if I want to add another book to the mix. Plus I have inhibitions to using Stonehenge for anything but watercolor, because it is so perfect for it. But maybe that’s a kind of crazy idea I should toss.
Let’s talk more about that. I love to do washes over all kinds of media, so sketch paper doesn’t really meet my needs much of the time, it turns out. BUT…I feel guilty doing dry sketches on either mixed media or Stonehenge paper. Because it’s so nice and thick and perfect for heavier use. It feels like wasting it to do simple drawing and sketching. Which is my own little brand of crazy (one of them). I have this block to wasting supplies. I think it actually leads to me wasting more, though, because I look for cheaper paper to take the abuse I want to give the good stuff…and end up with all kinds of papers that don’t quite work. So…yeah. That’s stupid. Okay, we’ve established that.
Mixed media paper is the same. I feel guilty sketching on it because it’s heavy enough for other use. But it doesn’t take actual watercolor painting as well as the Stonehenge, so if I want to really play with the properties of watercolor paint, I will always choose Stonehenge for that. And I don’t like the spiral on the mixed media journal I have right now. So to use mixed media paper, I’d have to buy a bound book, like I talked about, or buy loose sheets and make my own, if I was going to really enjoy it as much as possible, which is the point.
So what if I made my own Stonehenge paper journal and made that my go-to art journal, creative journal, and non-BOTN visual journal? Well…okay, but I like hard covers. I like how they keep my pages safe, and I like how they give me a hard surface to work on when I’m working on the bed or couch or other non-table-type surface, which I do a lot right now. So…I could either make my own hard covers, ala Jenniebellie on youtube, or I could take the innards out of a hardback book and sew in Stonehenge paper pages.
I’m afraid of the intimidation factor with that too though. If I do too much prep work on a page or book, it feels too ‘good’ to just play with. I know, that’s stupid too, but it’s what I deal with. If I spend all this time and effort making my own book just so, I’ll feel like I have to do only good work in it, which means I won’t do anything. I have a real bitch of a perfectionist inside who still rules my art life more than I would like.
If I made the book refillable, then I would only be making the cover once but could put pages in it over and over, thus making it less precious to work in. I could do something like the Midori Traveler’s Notebook does (Yes, I gave in and bought one.) and then just either pamphlet-stitch simple signatures as refills, or really even just fold new folios to slip into the elastic.
But I like the feel of a bound book. The permanence appeals to me. The solidness. The realness. And I’m not all that gentle with my books. They get tossed around a lot and need to hold up to that. I’m finding I like having a closure, too.
Okay, so what about using a really thick hard cover, like a 2 inch thick hardback book, so that I can fill it with like…a ton of pages. Would that be too many pages, another thing I find intimidating? (Yes, I know. More of my own brand of crazy.) OR…would having all those sheets let me feel more freedom, the abundance of pages allowing me to experiment freely because, hey, there’s more where that came from? Maybe…and I do like ripping old books apart…and sewing pages together…
Hmm…I think maybe I’ve hit on something…but I only have one sheet of Stonehenge left, so I can only do one or two signatures of that right now. And I have to buy the sheets in minimum packs of ten, and order them online and wait a couple of weeks for delivery, so it’s no small deal to get more. And I am just SO not about waiting. Plus I want to use what I already have.
Oh! And I just remembered, I don’t like the way Stonehenge takes marker. It drinks it up and the line is sketchy, not smooth. Same with pen and ink, another thing I like to play with. Lately, I really like using water soluble markers and doing a wash or two or three. Especially for my more childlike creative journaling. The absolute best paper for that is one I haven’t yet mentioned, which is Hammermill cover stock, which I have a ton of because I bought a case of 500 sheets a few years ago for $12. I was tickled to find that it actually takes washes better than bristol, and it’s super smooth for markers and pen and ink, as well as just any kind of writing. It doesn’t take pencil well, though. Colored or graphite. Or charcoal. It’s too smooth and slick. And I would obviously be limited to either 8 1/2 x 11 sheets or folding those into 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 inch signature pages.
But… what about doing a book that size (we’ll figure out what to use for a cover in a minute) and putting in both Stonehenge and Hammermill papers? Using Stonehenge for pure watercolor play and for graphite, charcoal, and colored pencil play, and using Hammermill for markers and pens and sketch and wash stuff, and using both for whatever kind of layering work I feel like. Hmm…that…kinda sounds awesome…I could start by making it refillable, Midori-style, and maybe I can consider each signature its own book so it can contain that period’s work and then I can move into a new signature as my new container. And if I don’t enjoy that enough, I can bind the pages in permanently. I have all the paper I need to fill it up right away, if it’s mostly Hammermill. Plus I have a bunch of 9 x 12 pads of art papers like bristol and drawing and watercolor and even canvas paper to make other signatures with, too.
I could also make some signatures out of trash paper, another passion of mine. I have a ton of it left over from the packaging from a bunch of things we had delivered. In fact, if the book is refillable, I can experiment with all kinds of signatures whenever I want…but maybe I can form a relationship with the book itself, and feel like it’s a friend I can go to when it’s time for creative expression.
I think I’m onto something…a journal for (almost) all seasons and reasons…and I think that’s enough thinking out loud for now! I’ll keep you posted. And I’d love to hear what your own favorite journal is, as well as any suggestions or feedback on my possible choices!