bookbinding, journaling + mail art

In with the new…

Papa Legba

Make the book

Because I am a book binder, when I start a new journal, I get to choose and bind the paper pages together, measure the book, then make covers for the book based on these measurements. For this next journal I opted to use a text block that Kris made for me…it is comprised entirely of old sailing charts. The paper’s very strong and heavy, and I love the way patches of land and water appear randomly on the pages, along with the names of distant ports and reefs and bays, both familiar and unfamiliar to me.

símbolos para abrir los caminos

The year 2014 already has several trips booked or blocked off on the calendar, and those are just the baby steps of an odyssey that we think may span some 4-6 years (!) So, obviously, the spirit of this new journal is one of wanderlust, exploration, change, movement and maybe even adventure (all good, I pray!) The strong feeling that I am about to throw myself into the unknown exerts powerful influences on the journal, too. I painted a canvas with symbols and requests to spirits of the crossroads, the guardians of the ways, asking that the paths I walk be unblocked for me, that gates and doors to a happy destiny be opened to me. It’s good to see my dreams and hopes visualized on the covers of my journal, hidden in little charms and rezos that I’ve tucked in among the decorative elements…

rooster feathers

If you are buying a journal, you are spared all that work, though you may want to decorate the generic or commercially decorated covers with your own symbols and designs to make the book more personal and unique. I once wrote a tutorial over on ilovegifting.me, about painting the covers of a cheap, generic hardbound blank book, that might help you customise your journal.

Give your journal a name

If you want to, of course. Walt Whitman’s poem Song of The Open Road has always inspired me…its wide open spaces and its rambling declaration of love for walking the road of life with ordinary people has always moved me, so now I can name this journal after it, in homage and desire.

“Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.

Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,
Strong and content I travel the open road….”

Some pages you can fill in or prepare, now:

  • Your name and contact information on the front page…very important, should you lose the journal. Keep the information up-to-date.
  • The quotes, poems, passages that inspire you and embody the feeling of the new journal
  • You can glue in pockets, tabs or dividers; you can add foldouts of blank paper, maps, heavier pages for photos.
  • Create a calendar for the coming months or years.
    If your plan is to carry your journal around with you all the time, you can actually use the calendars as your everyday planner (so much more awesome than a printed planner!). The pictures below are from the visual diary I kept while taking a few classes in visual art at the local uni—a ‘show-and-tell’ journal, not a deeply private one—so I used these calendar pages like a daily planner…appointments, deadlines, class schedules.
    Otherwise, use these pages to record events…a kind of “Year At A Glance” for things that have happened: Births, deaths, red-letter days, world events that will go down in history…it’s a good way to keep track of all the things that happened in that month/year, so you can quickly look them up without having to read your entire journal to find them.

art journal calendar

art journal calendar

  • Paint or write the prefatory pages…are you going to have a table of contents? A list of illustrations? A title page? A prayer, poem, or blessing at the start? A curse for intruders? Islamic manuscripts always started with a dedication of the book and its contents to Allah, the merciful and compassionate. The Jesuit priests (and their students) at the university I attended some 20 years ago used a shorthand version of this by writing their motto, “Ad maiorem Dei gloriam” (shortened to “AMDG”) at the start of everything. It means “For the greater glory of God”.
  • Other lists and written rituals
    Different people have different rituals. Kris keeps a list of about 140 countries he’s always wanted to visit, which he started writing when he was 10 years old and living in a Communist country. His mother made fun of his list, and everyone told him that he would never see those places, as virtually no one was allowed to travel beyond the borders of their coalition of Communist countries. It became his life’s goal to run away from Czechoslovakia and visit all those exotic places. He still moves the entire list from one journal to the next, ticking off the ones he has been to (half the list, some 70+ countries in all). And he hasn’t stopped making plans to see the rest.
    I, on the other hand, give each year a name, at its end, to sum up the most important, prevalent, unusual, influential thing that happened that year. For example, 2013 has been named The Year of Jacksons. I re-write my list of named years (started in 1997) in each journal I start.painting journal pages
  • Do a bit of background artwork, if you like. Paint some pages with washes of color. Fill some pages with hand-drawn lines to write on later. Maybe stick fabric down so some pages are cloth rather than paper.

WARNING: Don’t overdo it…the current mania for “Mixed Media Art Journaling”—where all the pages get fancied up and stuck all over with collages of colorful junk from magazines, meaningless words, and pieces of washi tape—is not a good way to stay grounded in the present.

By filling the journal up too much at the start you don’t leave yourself any room for the unexpected, the magical, the miraculous. You don’t have room to respond in the Here & Now to your surroundings, or to grow as an artist. Don’t apply a formula to the entire journal in advance, as though life were just one day on a loop…reality doesn’t do Groundhog Day; every moment is different, unique, and impossible to return to. Respect the immediacy of the moment, honour the singularities of your life by leaving lots of wide open spaces to fill with your own drawings, your own designs…really simple, honest work that doesn’t rely on store-bought journal bling or eye-candy cut out of other publications. Scare and challenge yourself by going, armed with only a pen and some colors, into that empty field of blank page, and developing the art you’re really capable of, when you aren’t peeking at what everyone else is doing, or trying your best to imitate Donna Downey and the gorgeous pages you see in dozens of Art Journal Workshop-type craft books.
Do yourself a favour. Get rid of those books. Stop buying them. Stop wasting time looking at other people’s enviable talent on Pinterest. Go naked into the arena of the unknown. Go often, kick ass often and get your ass kicked even more often! Become really, genuinely, innately, self-sufficiently CREATIVE. Make something out of NOTHING—which is real creativity—and turn your back on kits and how-tos and pre-chewed, pre-digested art mush, and “all the creativity that money can buy”.

Gris-gris (a.k.a."Mano")

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24 thoughts on “In with the new…

  1. Pingback: In with the new… | The Wanderlust Life

  2. Pingback: I am a potato | AllFun&Done

  3. Reblogged this on The Iris Garden by iSfollifarina and commented:
    “Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
    Healthy, free, the world before me,
    The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.

    Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,
    Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
    Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,
    Strong and content I travel the open road….” Walt Whitman

    • I’m always a little horrified, after one of these big posts, that some readers feel like I have just given them rules that they need to follow…makes me want to backpedal and write a post saying “Hey! I’m just a shmuck bumbling through my life, too! They’re just ideas” LOL But if something resonated with you, you are welcome to it and thank you for the enthusiasm. Just don’t put yourself under any strain, nobody knows better what you need to apply than you. :)

      • Hi – no, I’m not the kind of person to blindly accept something. I just recognise I want to restart my journal writing/drawing. I think your approach is great, and ‘rules’ can be quite binding anyway. I still like your journal.

  4. This was the most inspiring of all your posts and I’ve loved them all. I have kept a journal off and on for several years. But, when I look back at it, it doesn’t seem very personal. I am going to put it away and start this new year with a new journal which I will name, dedicate, index, color and keep with me so I can put my thoughts on paper in the moment instead of weeks or months later.

    • Oh, honey, I didn’t mean to make you feel like your journal is inadequate! You’re meant to feel comfortable with it, not under strain to perform better or follow yet more rules. But if there are ideas in this post that sit well with you, by all means, go for it, and thank you for being such a supportive reader :)

  5. Great advice & ideas. Our systems are quite similar already. I number and name all journals, etc. And when I start a new diay soon I will start it with some ideas/intentions for the new year! :)

  6. These are beautiful photos you’ve chosen to share with us here of your journal journey and I wholeheartedly agree with your sentiment on not allowing yourself to be guided by others brilliant work; but to be the best you can be yourself, drawing inspiration from our own surroundings.
    It’s all too easy to compare ourselves to others; focus on one’s own creativity :-)

    • Comparison, you’re so right, that’s where the dog is buried (there’s a funny smell…) ;) the only works you should compare your own to are your previous works…the only goal should be to do better than you did before, and not to do as well or better than somebody else. Skill has to grow organically. Copying is a skill, too, but not really the one most people want when they say they want to be creative. Thank you so much for joining the discussion!

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