Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Visual Journal

As children, we draw and paint without giving any conscious thought to composition, materials or color theory.  Looking at some of my childhood creations, I see the unrestrained freedom of mixed media; collages, cutouts, stickers, crayolas and markers mixed with watercolors and found and flattened ephemera. If it could be glued down, I apparently did.  I created comic books, game boards and experimented with pop-up books.

While some stop drawing and creating altogether, my artistic endeavors became "serious". In my spare time, I studied the old masters, realism, art movements and focused on sketching and painting images inspired by the natural world.

At times prolific, at other times other interests took over, but I have always tried to keep some connection to the artistic needs of my right hemisphere. When lack of time prevented me from planning and executing completed paintings, I was restricted to sketching and doodling. Then I discovered the visual journals of Peter Beard; raw, visceral, sometimes graphic, yet always authentic.  I was familiar with his wildlife photography, but I had never seen a grown-up version of creating for the sake of creating with his childlike abandon.

Image by Peter Beard

Image by Peter Beard
Peter Beard's natural studio
I was fascinated and inspired by his journals and began combining writing journals with sketches, found images, paint and markers, without thinking about the end-product or attempting to create "art". It was liberating and allowed me to continue creating, when I had little time to devote to anything artistic.

Visual journals are not a new invention, they have been described as notebooks, field books, visual diaries, scrapbooks and recently resurfaced as "art journals". What they offer in their various guises are infinite possibilities to experiment, observe and explore the world around us and within us.  They require no artistic skill, art supplies or time-commitment. They are not restricted to subject matter or creating a work of art and can contain anything from mundane to-do lists to deep thoughts.  Eventually, they will add up to represent ones life, guiding memories through visual imagery.

I highly recommend them.


  1. One of my first art classes in college included keeping an art journal. It's completely filled and one of the things I've kept over the years. I guess as I've gotten older, had children and such, I feel like I'm too busy to be creative sometimes. Maybe I should start a visual journal. Thank you for the inspiration.

  2. Cool! I never did this as a kids, but I imagine that scrapbooking (which is something I do now) is similar!

  3. Your post makes me guilty that I have not started making my visual journal yet..
    Seriously, need to get into the garage to find my leather...

    OO! I am going to the art shop tomorrow.. I have $200...

  4. I love these sorts of things, big lumpy scrapbooks filled with life and imagination.

    I have the urge to get out my scissors and glue.


  5. @Meg, if they are not to personal I would like to see some pics out of them.
    I use the same "excuse", too busy to paint, but the visual journaling allows me to do something, mostly fugly, but at least creative.

    @HeatherL, it's similar to the old-fashioned scrapbooking, when people pasted scraps of their lives, like newspaper clippings etc.

    @Sprite, you could just use one of the journals you already have.;)
    Oh.no. lol. More preciousssss.

    @Pearl, exactly.
    Follow the urge. Tear, glue and write.

  6. Use..one..I..already..have..???

    What is this strange language you speak?

    must haves more of the precioussss

  7. Antares, the journal is in a storage box somewhere in this house. If I come across it during preparation for moving and still have access to my scanner, I will share. If not on this end, then when we get settled in the new place. Just keep in mind I made it when I was 18 and I'm a child of the 80's. :)

  8. I could get one of those... but then I'd probably end up just drawing more stick people with big boobs.

  9. This Peter Beard fellow is quite talented! Wow, I like those journals. Thanks for putting me on to this. I'm not visually artistic myself ... figured that out early in my preschool year, unfortunately. :) But I do so much appreciate the talent in others.


  10. @Sprite, what was I thinking?;)

    @Laoch, very therapeutic.

    @Meg, don't feel obligated, I just enjoy looking at sketchbooks. Keep in mind that posting art on the webs has its disadvantages.

    @Vinny, I think you should.

    @David, he's quite the character and has a fascinating biography. Have a look at his site if you're interested.
    The point of these is to record, not create art. It might surprise you.

  11. My artistic skill never evolved beyond stick figures. Though I am told than anyone can be taught to draw, I probably lack the patience to develop and hone such skills over time. I'll will have to be content to be a "looker".

  12. The page as magpie's nest or a visual expression of thought and voice. A place intensity, inventing, chronicling. A friend and former stamp store owner found Dan Eldon's "The Journey Is The Destination" when it was first published and knew it was the beginning of something significant. As much as such subjects are on my mind, I forget to reach for one of the still mostly blank books at my side and just do something. Peter Beard, as I remember, left nothing out. Some of his pages produced squirming discomfort because the truth can be hard to face. Very well told, thank you.

  13. @Robert, no artistic skill required for these type of journals.

    @Marylinn, and memory.
    I think that both Beard and Eldon saw and experienced too much. At least they found a way to express it.
    Certain truths I do not wish to witness, the End of the Game was a difficult and disquieting read.

    @dbs, agreed. And calms us down.

  14. Those are awesome looking. I also loved mixed media work. So do you think we may, one day, get to see some of your art??

  15. Checking in to report 2, count 'em 2, days of very simple b&w journaling, thanks to your encouraging post and Kelly Kilmer's similar thoughts in her review of Seth Apter's new book. How is it so easy to forget that things can be done simply?

  16. @DocCyn, probably not. Like the anonymity and keeping the rights to my work.
    Did you used to paint?

    @Marylinn, I hope it was sufficient to inspire. Beard called them "a great waste of time".:)
    We do forget and need those reminders. Without the journals I would not be doing anything creative. My issue is time.

  17. It is very liberating to be unworried by an end product.

    These are really cool.

  18. @Kerry, agreed.
    There is a 2 volume book out that has a lot of his journals. They are fascinating.

    Thank you for your comment.

  19. I love your post about this artists' visual journals. I love the layers, and how three dimensional it becomes.

    I am also a big visual journaler, but I tend to keep my pages simple and focused on one subject. A part of me wants to let a little more loose one day, and try to build up images, words, paint, etc. Thanks so much for sharing!

    I recently started a blog about visual journaling as well and would love your feedback if you have a minute! www.lookbetweenthelines.com

  20. We are all right brained, here, so we've craft things galore, and visual journals or art journals are my favorite. Therapeutic and beautiful, and so much fun to work on. Really, no work at all. :)

  21. @Whitney, thank you for your comment.

    I don't think there are any rules when it comes to visual journaling.

    I will stop by your blog.

    @Jayne, they really aren't work, are they? :)
    Also make for a good visual reminder of where we've been.
    I like them too.


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