Saturday, January 18, 2014

Sketchbooks, Journals, Notebooks ………....Collecting the Idea; Part I

This post is specifically dedicated to my students…..

I have sketchbooks, journals, notes, notations, diagrams and specs. I have kept them in one form or another since I was a child. The most comprehensive ones go back to my days in high school. I'm always on the lookout for new blank books that can be used at a moments notice to record ideas, jot down quotes, document technical info, add wisdom or a bit of humor. My journals serve as a record, a file, a documentary dictionary and encyclopedia. It is the way I collect my thoughts and try to make sense of experiences, ideas and life, things I want to know and try to understand. I take great pleasure in looking back at those tomes and revisiting my interests and notions over the years.

Much of what I have collected makes sense only to me. That is because I jot, scribble, list, scratch diagrams, stick things in, tear things out, and assemble something that vaguely resembles qualities of hoarding. Literally, I am recording my cognitive thought process on those pages. Some artists are analytical, methodical, and highly meticulous with their journal notations, but more often I find most artists follow a similar process to mine that is along the lines of collecting for contemplation and reference.

A look back in history at journals of iconic artists reveals all sorts of insights into masterpieces that we as viewers may only know as finished works installed in museums. Most are familiar with the highly detailed notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, who recorded more about science and engineering than art in his journals. Da Vinci was so meticulous and protective of his work that he wrote the text in reverse so it could not be read by outsiders. A more recent artist that comes to mind for copious notes and diagrams is Frida Kahlo whose journals have been published in one form or another and are very popular for studying her life and her art.

Detail: Journals of Frida Kahlo

Detail: Notebook of Leonardo da Vinci
Detail: Notebook of Leonardo da Vinci
Found items from books and magazines, or a printout from the web, have caused many a sketchbook to split its spine. While my past sketchbooks include torn pages and slips of paper, today I see much of that same content material posted on my Facebook page. I tend to select and share items of interest and humor. Those posts have become a resource and a record for my ideas just like my bound journals have for so many years. An outsider looking at my journals or my Facebook posts would see threads that have followed my thoughts and ideas throughout my career. A musician friend that performs and writes about music mentioned that he now keeps everything electronically on his phone or iPad since he is currently living on a boat in southern California. The forms may be changing, but the inclination to collect, organize, order and revise stays the same.

For this post, Part I & Part II, I invited several friends to share their journaling process and their forms of notation with statements and images. All of the individuals are creatives working in a variety of styles and media.

Deborah Kapoor lives and works in Seattle. Deborah has background in photography, painting and drawing, and is current working in sculpture and installation. Several ways she uses journaling is jotting ideas on Post-It notes, lined note paper, Moleskin journals and small travel journals. Relating to my earlier comment of how Facebook posts have become a journal for me, Deborah mentioned her smart phone has become a way to record notes electronically.

"… to simply jot an idea down before I forget it ­ when I¹m in a hurry.  I have ideas at the oddest times and just worry that I will forget them (because I will), so am constantly writing things on post it notes. Another is on simple lined paper,....  I have always liked the ruled lines, even though I mostly ignore them.  I will do little thumbnail sketches  that are not detailed at all, but gives me a really rough and quick idea of the form I am thinking about, with lots of written verbal description.  I do this A LOT. The words are a way of brainstorming as the ideas come, with no judgment at this time.  I may or may not use any of them." Deborah Kapoor
Deborah Kapoor examples of journaling/notations.
Note the small travel journals that she can carry in a pocket or purse.
I like that Deborah mentioned she delays or avoids judgement at this early stage of collecting notations. I emphasize to my students the importance of delaying judgement in the early stages of brainstorming ideas. Also, for organizing purposes Deborah uses typical manila office folders and files notes according to topic or project. 

Terry Jarrard-Dimond lives in Clemson, South Carolina where she works in fibers as surface design and sculptural form. On the issue of netting a fleeting idea she says,
"Anyone who doesn’t keep some type of notes on ideas for future work in my opinion is really playing fast and loose with their creativity.  You have a flash of an idea and you think you will remember it but often what seemed so vivid one minute can fade very quickly in our fast paced modern world.

Terry Jarrad-Dimond journals and notebooks. Note the office-organizer tabs she uses.
I keep journals with thumbnail sketches, written notes, tear sheets of images that catch my eye, scraps of fabric that don’t make it into completed work, file cards with ideas scribbled on them, color samples and anything else which might go into the stew of art making.  Sometimes things get pinned to my wall where I study them in a casual way.  Other times items just float around my studio where I discover and rediscover them as materials get shifted and sorted. My journals serve the singular purpose of igniting ideas that can be developed into finished works of art." Terry Jarrard-Dimond

Also living and working in South Carolina, artist Debbie Cooke told me she has kept journals for over thirty years. Her journals like her life, are an evolving process.

Journals by Debbie Cooke. Notice hr collections include tiny 
watercolors, pressed leaves, stamps, notes & diagrams
"In the beginning, I purchased journals and carried them to be able to record observations and ideas---some writings and drawings were for inspiration, and some were notes and sketches just as record. I found myself thinking, "I wish this journal was smaller, lighter, had better quality paper, etc."......and so I began making my journals. Because I designed it to easily fit in a camera bag or pocketbook, I began carrying them with me.... and my entries became less about ideas for new work, and more about my observations...more drawings, watercolors, and collage accompanied my writings….I still collage random objects---sugar packets, labels, ticket stubs, etc. These would serve as writing prompts for my musings, which would often lead to Internet searches on things I wanted to know more about "Debbie Cooke

In 1997 when Debbie accepted a position teaching photography, her journals underwent a major change becoming more about writing, notations and musings, and less about images since she was capturing those with the camera. Now that she has retired from teaching her studio work is focused on the gum dichromate photo process, known for demanding precision to gain success. Her journals now reflect detailed notes on chemistry, times, humidity, etc. Because these are based on utility, she pointed out they do not "feed my soul" as the previous books. Her solution has been to revisit her earlier process of collection by maintaining a separate journal for observational and musing purposes.

In Part II we will look at more collections and musings by creatives and I will share my personal collections.


  1. Excellent post Jane. We all get in a rush and it's easy not to take notes, save snippets, or take a picture of things we see that energizes our creativity. Seeing the different ways artists do this is inspiring.

    1. Terry, thanks for commenting and thank yo for participating as one of the artists in this post.

  2. My sketchbook allows me to keep track of what I think what I do and where I am going in my work. Without it I would not be able to have any steady flow to my work. My sketchbook is not just full of drawings it has a visual record of every direction my creative drive takes me.