vintage register journals

I was given, several years apart and by different people, these two “true vintage” register books. Both date to the 50’s, have been bound by hand, with  laid ivory pages ruled into columns and rows with red and grey ink. They’re massive…the bigger one measures 380mm x 500mm when open (15″ x 20″)! On both, the covers have suffered  water damage, leather deterioration, and just a general rotting away, I guess, due to how they were stored and who-knows-what they were exposed to.

I started using one of the books as a journal, a year ago.

At some point in its life, one of its owners started using it to catalog a reel-to-reel music collection…a whole bunch of songs were listed on half-a-dozen pages, including the counter numbers that marked where each track started and ended.
suitcase with wheels
Someone else—a sailboat owner—started an “address book” in its Index, gluing photos of some 40 yachts and writing down owners’ names and addresses, alongside.
They are the first hand-bound books not made by myself (or by one of my bookbinding students), that I have ever owned.

Mostly I doodle or stick things in. I don’t write in it as often as I’d like/I should. I wonder if it’s the unwieldy size that’s subtly discouraging me?

Serendipity Ink

serendipity ink
An ink-soaked fountain pen made these random ink blots. Ecoline’s “Fir Green” bled from yellow green out to dark turquoise, as it soaked into a wad of tissue.
serendipity ink
Half of the trick is to recognise the happy accident, rather than toss the tightly-wadded tissue into a bin.
serendipity ink
Ecoline inks are very water-soluble and any kind of water-based glue or medium will make them bleed, so I used a quick mist of solvent-based spray adhesive on the journal page, instead. I lay the flattened tissue onto the adhesive, and rolled it down flat with a rubber brayer.

I just like having this bright splash of a page, in the enormous antique Register that I use as a journal these days.

Craving sun


It rained for three weeks, straight. Without sun, the solar panel wasn’t feeding the battery. Couldn’t use the lights on the boat, nor the laptop; certainly there was no internet. No chance to do the laundry. Everything in the boat was damp, musty, smelly, or starting to sprout mold. There was nowhere we could go for a walk on these boggy islands that are technically below sea level and therefore flooded during the wet season. We sat, or lay around for hours at a time, in the dark. There were several days at the beginning of all this when I thought I would have a little melt down. All my energy was starting to funnel into something like suicidal madness. There were times when I wanted to rush screaming out of the boat and jump into the strong current of the river, kicking my legs, churning the water with my arms, risk drowning just to feel alive again.

I caught desperately at the few threads of sanity remaining, and forced them into painting things, instead. Imagined scenes loosely based on the jungle all around us. Mechanically, at first, but as the ideas started to spread, I was pushing paint around with more and more enthusiasm.

It all started with the journal page, above. I went on to make this postcard (gave it to Kris…)

Not the first time creating something has saved my sanity…I’m sure it won’t be the last.

Jennifer Orkin Lewis, via Lisa Congdon

7.1 & 2 by Jennifer Orkin Lewis

Jennifer Orkin Lewis’s Daily Sketchbook Paintings…oh, to do something like this on my travels! Or even just to do something like this, at home, every single day, without losing the plot or getting distracted, or letting laziness take over!

What a fabulous journal she’s got! I drool over every page. In an interview with Lisa Congdon of Today is Going to be Awesome,  Jennifer says that she spends just thirty minutes on each page. Thirty minutes! I look at any one of her journal pages, and I know I would struggle to do it within two hours. But maybe that’s because I don’t paint a journal page every single day. Duh.

These 365-day projects, though I admire them like crazy in others, have just never worked out for me…my good intentions and initial enthusiasm about a project are built on such weak foundations. Oh, well, that’s not quite accurate, I have managed to make a pot of coffee every morning for the past 16 years of my life, or something like that. (Now that’s something to think about…perspective shift! Convince self that art is coffee, and that I will kill someone if I don’t do it! LOL)

*sigh* You know I only posted this to satisfy a preposterous inner need, right now, to be Jennifer Orkin Lewis…as though sharing someone’s amazing work will allow a little bit of the achievement to rub off on me…vicarious blogging. It’s lame. 🙂

Daily Sketchbook Paintings 7.1-20 | August Wren.

The roaring forties

the call of the wild

This was just going to be a rough sketch for an art doll I am about to make. I got a little carried away…

Really, I just wrote today to say  “Hello, 40.”

Art Journal Tricks : : s’graffito with acrylics

art journal page: squid music

sgraffito |sgraˈfiːtəʊ|
noun ( pl. -ti |-ti|)
literally ‘scratched away’; a form of decoration made by scratching through a surface to reveal a lower layer of a contrasting color, typically done in plaster or stucco on walls, or in slip on ceramics before firing.

This technique is pretty much like scraperboard work…or those oil pastel drawings you made in primary school art class that you covered with a thick black poster paint, and then scraped back to reveal the colors…with the advantage of being fully smudge and waterproof once dry, because you only use acrylic paints, which makes it a great technique for the art journal.


Start by painting your page with the background colors. You can paint it solidly in one color of acrylics, as I hurriedly did today for this post, or you can execute an actual design—shapes, letters, whatever—in blocks of solid color.

N.B. Remember that when you cover the background with another color to start the sgraffito, the background color will only be seen in the lines you have scratched out. So if you want a pink lily, for example, with fine black lines, you would paint a black lily, first, and then cover it all up with a very opaque pink, and then scratch lines to reveal the black underneath.



When the acrylic is dry, give the page a single coat of gloss or semi-gloss acrylic medium. This seals one color from the next, keeping the layers of different colors from sticking to each other, and so keeps the colors and lines distinct.

Let the coat dry.


Take the color of your next layer, and mix it with retarder medium. Don’t use any water, just the medium, and try to use a paint to medium ratio of 2:1…too much retarder medium and your paint will take forever to dry. Also, it will sit in a wet puddle that is no good for scratching because every time you draw a line through it the wet paint will simply flow in to fill the line again. You want the paint smooth but not runny.



Fill in the shape, or letters, or whatever that you’ve drawn. Don’t do the whole page at once…remember that even with retarder, the thin film of paint will start to dry, and if the shape is so big that it takes you a long time to scratch your designs into it, parts of it may be dry before you get to them. Scratching only really works if the paint is still wet. I work on patches the size of a playing card, scrape my lines into it, then paint the next patch, scrape into that, and so on.

I didn’t have a design planned,so I just kind of doodled this rather underwhelming shape: yet another tentacled creature…every time I try to paint something spontaneously I end up with tentacles. Damn limited imagination. Anyway.



Experiment with scratching tools. From top to bottom are a thin brass rod, a sculpting tool with a soft rubber cone on the tip (I think polymer clay artists use these things?), and the wrong end of a thin paintbrush. Personally I find the rubber-tipped tool too yielding…the very end of the cone tends to wiggle, but you may like that. I prefer the metal rod and the paintbrush…firm sticks that draw consistent lines, each of a definite weight. Find what you like.



Keep a wad of tissue in your other hand, and start scratching your design into the wet paint. Every inch or so, wipe the tip of your tool off on the tissue paper, as a glob of wet paint will collect there. The term “scratching” here isn’t quite accurate…it implies more force than necessary. There’s no need to bear down or tear the paint and paper beneath. If the paint hasn’t dried yet, it’s like drawing in butter. If the paint has dried, you can still revive it with a tiny dab of retarder from a small brush. Spread that dab of retarder around the dry area, wait a few seconds, and try again.


The rounded tip of a paintbrush makes good dots…hold the brush vertically and rotate the handle between your fingers, rather than try and ‘gouge’ the dot out from one direction. It makes nice round dimples (albeit small ones)

art journal page: squid music

If you have made your paint too wet and runny—with either water or retarder—you will know it right away, because the paint will form wet patches, and scratching into it will not leave behind a clean path, but the liquid paint will creep back into the lines you scratched, which is what happened in this toxic green speech bubble I painted next. Wait a bit for the paint to dry a little bit or, if you used too much retarder and it looks like the paint won’t dry for hours, blot it up with paper towel, maybe a slightly moistened one (the acrylic gloss medium will protect the background layer) and paint the shape in again with the right consistency of paint.


And that’s it. Nothing special, really, but it produces a nice effect of its own, distinct from painting fine lines onto a background with a brush or mapping pen. It was often used by the old masters in their oil paintings to hint at, without actually detailing, the intricate lines of lacework or leafy shrubbery. It allows your drawn line to variegate from color to color, too…just paint the background with rainbows or whatever, before covering up and scratching through.

I wish I’d given more thought to what I was going to draw for this post…this tentacled thing has turned out pretty fugly. Hopefully you see the potential of the technique without being put off by Squid Ugly, here. 😉

For all posts on art journaling techniques, click here.

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