Like many artists, I’ve gone through periods of writing down fleeting thoughts in a little journal. Some of the entries are pretty personal — which I’ll tell you about later.
Right now we have a worldwide viral epidemic of “gratitude journaling.” This is where folks put down a few nice things that happened during the day. A lot of the good stuff takes place under the covers at bedtime, and is not meant to be shared. As my daughter Sara says, “It’s not a journal, it’s a brain exercise.” Fact is, there’s considerable evidence it makes us into better people, maybe better artists.
Sara just closed out last year’s Moleskine and started this year’s. The Italian company that makes these beautiful books with ribbon bookmarks, elastic closures and acid free paper follows a tradition started in Paris about 1850 by a small stationery company that allegedly supplied Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, Oscar Wilde, and Henri Matisse. The celebrated Australian traveller and Songlines author Bruce Chatwin used the little books so voraciously that in 1986 he bought up all copies then available.
These books are more than journals. They’re a way of life — key, says the Moleskine promo, to “culture, imagination, memory, travel and personal identity.”
Understanding that we become what we think, advanced Moleskiners avoid three main negatives — nostalgic regret, adherence to outcome, and fearful anticipation. These sorts of thoughts, common to all humanity, are banned from the tiny pages. Proper Moleskiners stick to a positive, optimistic outlook.
I find mentioning things that no one else must know about, even if I have to erase it right after, to be particularly valuable. For example, last night I wrote, “Three square inches in the lower left centre of that 11″ x 14″ are rather excellent.” But I wouldn’t want this sort of flagrant boasting to get around. Keep it under your bonnet, eh? And even though I erased it right after, I wouldn’t want my journal and all that positive erased info getting into the wrong hands.
Esoterica: Painter Nicoletta Baumeister uses her journal for another purpose: “A poem, haiku or a small drawing at night has the effect of driving all other thoughts away. The narrowed focus and purity of intent creates a sense of calm after a day of supersaturated activity. It also affords feelings of satisfaction, job well done, if only in the tiniest work, so that I slip seamlessly into excellent sleep. Too many people out there have insomnia!” Baumeister does it again in the morning: “Gratefulness thoughts in the morning light are about the setting of the daily lens. What will we take in, what will we seek and what is today’s sense of self? Feeling grateful puts my feet on solid ground, able to work out the next step; whereas, asking what I don’t have sets my day on a frantic course.”
Artist’s Journal Workshop
by Cathy Johnson, MO, USA
I have journaled for many years, have written numerous articles about the benefits in a variety of magazines, and am delighted with the success my latest book is having, in reaching my fellow artists with those same benefits. Artist’s Journal Workshop encourages the same kind of honest work… it’s not about art journals, which I either think of as elegant coffee table magazines or the kind of journals that are works of art in themselves. It’s about an artist, keeping a journal, and all the things and types and reasons and again, benefits that can involve.
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Surrounded by negativity
by Richard Gagnon, Knowlton, QC, Canada
It’s amazing how we are surrounded by and seem to focus on negativity. There seems to be a rush to be the first to bring the bad news. I believe the press call it the ‘dead baby syndrome.’ The Eagles sing that ‘…she can tell you about the plane crash with a gleam in her eye…’ or words to that effect. I was grateful for a happy panda story on BBC News this weekend.
The Moleskine concept is a great idea. To carry it a step further perhaps we should get into the habit of dragging out the good writings and reveling in them whenever negativity strikes. On that note I will get off to search for one of those little gems and start recording the good stuff. Later, I will get back to my day job in disaster management. Talk about surrounded by negativity.
Too much sharing going on
by Rick Rotante, Tujunga, CA, USA
In my opinion there is too much “sharing” — especially on the Internet. Information that should never be shared on any level with anyone.
Also, I am bored of those who admit the dark side of life. It’s equivalent to sticking your head in the ground at the first sight of danger. If you are an artist of any worth, you see the good along with the bad. If you choose to ignore the bad, you do so at your peril — but that is your choice and I don’t take issue.
As humans living in similar societal settings, we all experience life’s ups and downs. I am not particularly interested in reading about it. Many more are. We’ve become a voyeuristic people, reveling in the misery of others. This shows us how superior we are or how much better off we are than those on TV. It explains the popularity of “reality shows” in America.
(RG note) Thanks, Rick. We are in an age of democratic self-expression where even the lowliest millipede is encouraged to express himself. Indeed, he becomes vexed when he can’t. So I’m afraid we are stuck with an ever-growing barrage of verbiage (and paintage) for the near future. Maybe some over-lettered country will bring in the “Journaling Police,” where only those critters with something to say will be allowed to own a Moleskine.
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The perfect sketchbook!
by Brenda Swenson, South Pasadena, CA, USA
Oh, my gosh… you have now opened up conversation with the Moleskine community! When I bought my first Moleskine I thought it was a nice sketchbook and gave it a try. I went online and Googled Moleskine. What I found was a huge community of artists, doodlers, writers, musicians…
The pamphlet inside touted ties with Europe and history, with some of the greatest artists of all time. I liked the idea of working in a sketchbook that had a history built on tradition. I was under the assumption it was made in Italy. Imagine my surprise when I took the colored band off the book and noticed the very small type on the back. “Designed by Moleskine in Italy — Manufactured in China.” I still use Moleskines because I adore them. The book feels of quality, pages lay flat with stitch binding, cover is sturdy (protects artwork inside), it’s travel-friendly, and there’s a variety of papers and sizes to select from. Some of my greatest travel adventures and sketches are contained in the pages of these books. My only gripe is they only make the watercolor sketchbook in a landscape format. I became determined to have the normal format and size (8.25x 5.0 inches) which would fit into my travel purse. What I did was the unthinkable… I took the bandsaw to it. What I ended up with is the perfect sketchbook! I would much rather the company make it this size… but in the meantime, a girl must do what a girl must do.
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G.R.A.B and homemade tarts
by Lynne Sawford, Petawawa, NF, Canada
When I come downstairs my first task is immediately to feed the birds, squirrels etc. and then I sit in a comfy leather chair overlooking the Petawawa River and the woods into Algonquin Park. Most days the doe and buck and nine wild turkeys and noisy blue jays, etc., visit the deer and bird feeders. It is in this quiet time that I multi-task by enjoying an excellent cappuccino that my husband has made. This cuppa is accompanied by two of my homemade butter tarts. Half way down the cup of coffee I start journaling in a quality journal with a nice ink pen. My first entry is to G.R.A.B.
G is for the things I’m grateful about.
R is the things I’m receptive to occurring that are in my control.
A is for the things I ask for.
B, as in be, is how I am going to attempt to proceed through the day.
Most days I find that the g for gratitude is the easiest and most extensive entry in G.R.A.B.
While in Rose Blanche, Newfoundland from May to October the pattern is similar except I write while overlooking the harbour. I have been writing three pages of 8 1/2″ x 10 ” for over thirty years, recording anything that comes into my head. I find my routine a harmonious way to start the day. And it isn’t just because of those two butter tarts, Robert.
Three rules of journaling
by Damaris O’Trand, CO, USA
I have been an avid journal keeper since high school. One of the best books on journaling I’ve ever found is Writing Away by Lavinia Spadling. For those who write and draw, I recommend, An Illustrated Life by Danny Gregory. And for artists who think some things are too awful to be recorded on the page, let me steer them to the two-volume graphic novel, Maus, by the Pulitzer Prize- winner, Art Spiegelman. Spiegelman also did the cover for The New Yorker magazine after 9/11.
Four things: 1) when I was 16, a teacher saw me writing in my journal; he grabbed my diary and started reading it aloud to the class; I’ve never forgotten his name; 2) at age 23 after being beaten by my boyfriend who was in a drunken blackout at the time, I poured my heart out in my journal; later he read the entry when he sobered up; both events changed my life; 3) in my 40’s, while on a trip, I left my journal behind in a camp ground outhouse; my husband and I backtracked over a hundred miles so that we could rescue it; 4) in my 50’s, I kept journals as I watched my parents become ill and die. Last year, when I learned a friend had raped our next door neighbors’ nine-year old daughter, my journal kept me sane.
There are only three rules for journal keeping:
1) Always have pen and paper handy.
2) Never edit.
3) Know where your journal is at all times.
Journaling the difficult and challenging
by Rachel Webb, Ireland
I cannot agree with only using positive stuff in notebooks. For me, art is a way of exploring whatever I am feeling and thinking about — and sometimes that is not so positive. For instance, I have been dealing with a possible heart problem and waiting for an angiogram. I have been using meditation, the support of friends and family, connecting with nature etc. to deal with this stress — but have to admit I am also very frightened. I write this fear in my own notebook and am currently engaged in a self-portrait that explores my fear, my sense of vulnerability and my feelings of mortality. Surely this exploration has aided many artists to deal with their demons, to reach out to others who experience the same and also produce some great art.
As a counselor I know that feelings cannot be denied. Although I do try to help myself and my clients to use gratitude and to challenge negative self-talk, I also know that suppressing negative feelings often leads to depression. Even calling these thoughts and feelings ‘negative’ might be a mistake. I try to think of them as difficult or challenging instead. We are animals and cannot over-ride our animal nature — which leaves us prey to adrenaline, cortasol and all the other body chemicals that lead us into fear, anger etc. Like you, I know that love and connection is a path to well-being and creativity, but we need to stop being afraid of our own darkness, our fear, our rage and our shadow. Our inner darkness is the lead that we, as artists/alchemists, can turn to gold.
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Illustration and fine art
by Nader Khaghani, Gilroy, CA, USA
We love you and Sara for sharing your insights and intuitions with the rest of brothers and sisters in arms that is the brush in hand. I never get tired of saying that. Can you kindly shed some light in art versus illustrations? Of course both are arts but you know what I mean. My own understanding is the art work emphasizes the elements of design and surface quality verses the other more an idea. But what if the idea is strong in a painting? How close that gets to illustration? Do we need to feel guilty that we are more idea oriented? And trying to paint an image with an idea strongly presented?
After all, idea is at the heart of paintings and yes I know Picasso’s statement that you can’t stick ideas on the canvas. He certainly did exactly that.
(RG note) Thanks, Nader. The trouble with that thought is many illustrations are driven by ideas while some “fine art” is practically devoid of it. One needs to drop the loaded words and look at all visual efforts for what they are. As you are probably aware, there is currently a big collectorship for illustration, both historical and current. The new collectors, we are told, have grown tired of the vacuity of much of modern art and are busy collecting what they see as craftsmanship and skill.
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Suggestion for Robert
by Priscilla French
I really enjoy these pithy letters you’ve created for all of us artists, both seasoned and budding. There are a lot of pragmatic gems (truisms) embedded in your twice-weekly material. Some of your letters I’ve printed out and posted on my studio wall for inspiration!
But I have a 2012 suggestion: Would you consider a once-weekly letter? I think I’d find a weekly letter from you with all of its content to be enough spiritual sustenance. (I’m being complimentary here!) I can barely keep up with all the daily email I get, and we all get these days, with the reading/replying which takes so much time and takes us away from our painting!
(RG note) Thanks, Priscilla. I know, I write to you too much. But for me it’s just so much fun — it’s like gratitude journaling — I’m addicted to it and I can’t get it stopped. Not right now anyway. And people can continue to use my letters and get benefits from them. Just the other day a woman wrote to say she printed them out and put them on the bottom of her bird cage. Perhaps, in your case, you might just delete me more regularly. It would be better for the environment if you did that. Birds are not good readers.
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Enjoy the past comments below for My little black book…
mixed media, 24 x 30 inches
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Alison Aldrich of Fort Worth, TX, USA who wrote, “I am curious where to find a Moleskine as they sound very nice and must be affordable if Vincent Van Gogh had one.”
(RG note) Thanks, Alison. I’m sorry that we do not supply Moleskines. Lots of folks put in their order which we were unable to fill. Amazon has an excellent selection of Moleskines, although readers have reported that a few sizes of the specialized 2012 books are sold out.