This week’s Documented Life Project prompt was to use “storytelling” as an “underlying fabric” in the art journal. I was not sure how to deploy either of those things in my art journal in a way that worked for me but I did, however, decide to continue with the overarching theme of using words and text as the predominant element. Perhaps because the “underlying fabric” aspect of the prompt made me think of layers but mostly because I had been rereading the poetry of Carol Ann Duffy, I arrived at the decision to use her poem ‘Valentine’ on my page. When I was a High School English Teacher, I taught the poems of Carol Ann Duffy, ‘Valentine’ among them. It serves as a useful introduction to conceits, given the extended metaphor of the onion for love.
Using a fountain pen and my own handwriting, I wrote the lines of the poem so that they became the layers of an onion. I then used watercolour to paint in the layers of onion surrounding the text and the “brown paper” skin surrounding it. It is another time-pushed simple art journal page from me but I am pleased with how well I translated my idea onto the page.
This is my final Documented Life Project page not just of the year but ever. The project coordinators are taking it in a different direction next year, one that focuses more on the planner than the art journal. I am, therefore, probably going to use a different set of art journal prompts next year, almost certainly Colour Me Positive which is hosted on another WordPress blog. I was going to just do my own thing in my art journal all the time but actually the weekly prompt is a welcome nudge for me to do something playful in my journal, experiment, and try new things. 2016 is looking set to be a very busy year for me creatively.
This week’s Documented Life Project prompt was to use hidden journaling, that is to write or otherwise record something that would then be concealed in some way on the page. As I have explained before, I don’t tend to use my art journal as a means of processing my thoughts and feelings. I have other ways of doing that, including writing this blog, plus I prefer for my art time to be about escapism and decompressing from my everyday life rather than being a record of my life. The phrase prompt, however, was “The greatest gift I can give myself” and I thought that was something I could use. This is the time of year when thoughts turn to what has been accomplished and experienced in the year about to end and what might be achieved in the year to come. The phrase prompt made me think about the ways I have invested in myself this year and the ways in which I might invest in myself next year. I, therefore, decided that my journal page would be about setting my goals for 2016. I chose not to hide them but kept them to a very brief statement. Strangely enough, this week is incredibly busy so I kept my page simple: watercolour shapes that I encouraged to bleed into one another, a bit of spatter, and text written with ink pen.
So what are my goals for 2016? Well I have the usual goal of getting healthier – exercise, sleep, diet, self-care – and added to that I built in a goal to simply relax more. I am one of those people who likes to be doing something but I end the day exhausted so I need to find time to just chill out a bit, maybe by doing just one thing at a time ever so often. I want to travel in the coming year, whether that is exploring more of the local area, travelling to another state (I have been stuck on 25 US states visited since 2002!) or further afield. I have fallen into a bit of a rut of cooking food that will not lead to an uprising from all of my kids. It is unrealistic to think I can appease all four of them at every meal time but the moaning gets a bit much some days and I seem to have capitulated lately and end up cooking the same things over and over. I, therefore, want to challenge myself to cook one new recipe each week in order to expand my collection of foods the boys will enjoy eating. I am lucky in that they have pretty sophisticated and mature palates for kids so I am never stuck just cooking kid fare but building my repertoire of meals they at least tolerate and which I enjoy would be a boon. I want to decorate more rooms in our house, drag a few more of them out of 1970. I want to come up with another project to do with the kids this summer, following this year’s History of Art course, and also some smaller projects too. I have two family history projects that I had actually set as goals for this year and never got around to so hopefully I will get them done this year: writing up my research on at least one more of my families into narrative form and reorganising the family history photographs into a larger album. Then I have lots of creative challenges: I want to create every day – or at least try to; I want to complete all of the art courses I have signed up for; I want to explore the possibility of selling my art online. The “keep fighting” goal refers to an issue I am in the midst of tackling. That is my nod to hidden journaling.
I didn’t quite fulfill all of last year’s goals but that is OK. Life gets in the way of plans some times. I wonder how many of these goals I will complete in 2016.
The theme is still “Words” for the Documented Life Project’s prompts. This week the challenge was to use quotations or lyrics and the prompt quotation was from actor James Earl Jones: “One of the hardest things in life is having words in your heart that you can’t utter”.
I pondered using favourite songs or poems, even developed the ideas in my head, but I just did not feel inspired by any of my ideas. I decided I should think of something that really articulated my thoughts and feelings right now, thinking that the additional meaning might inspire me. Lately I have been thinking a lot about the state of the world, about my job as a parent trying to raise children in this world. Bloody conflicts; terrible acts of terrorism and other atrocities: massive numbers of people being displaced and desperate; individuals campaigning on manifestos of fear, hatred, and intolerance; division and selfishness… Some days it is hard to focus on the good in humanity. It is there if we look for it, of course, but the cruelty of the world is much in evidence at the moment.
So that was my inspiration for my art journal page. I used watercolour to write words associated with peace – as well as the word peace itself – and used those to fill the shape of a dove, a recognised symbol of peace.
This year’s final Documented Life Project theme is “storytelling with the written word” and this week’s challenge was to use words front and centre. As you will have observed, I am not someone who tends to write much in my art journal. I much prefer all of the visual elements to the written word when it comes to my creative experiments and I also shy away from recording anything too personal in my art journal too so I don’t use it as a visual diary. Therefore, when I do use words, they tend to be very brief or else be the words of someone else.
I decided to focus on the word “centre” in the challenge prompt. A quick google turned up a quotation attributed to Karl Wilhelm Friederich Schlegel, the German philosopher and poet. That quotation spoke to me amid all the other quotations that google had turned up because it seemed to connect to my word of the year, which was “Balance”. I have worked really hard to restore some balance back into my life this year, making some time for myself, recharging my own batteries so that I can keep on investing in my family to the best of my ability. It’s not a perfect yin-yang balance, of course, because that would be both impossible and unreasonable but I am definitely starting to feel more level, more centred. Centre. Ta da.
I kept the page pretty simple as I was working on it in very short bursts throughout a busy day. The background is lots of liquidy watercolour. Playing on the idea of extremes and balance, I used cold colours at the top of the page and warm colours at the bottom so that they merged in the middle – or the centre as it were. I then sprinkled salt onto the page, more so on the left than on the right, just to create some visual interest and a subtle difference between the two sides of the page. I have used salt before with watercolour but have never had it stick fast to the page but it did so this time. Maybe it was because I was using watercolour paper before whereas my art journal is mixed media paper and is much less toothy. Maybe the pigment was just far too liquidy for this technique and I should have let the puddles dry a bit first. Whatever the reason, I am glad I have these oops learning opportunities in my art journal as that is the place for such experiments. I then wrote the quotation across the page using a black gel pen. The font is one I found on Pinterest which I thought would be fun to try out as the curls and tendrils of it appealed.
So another year of DLP prompts is almost over. I won’t be continuing with it in 2016 as the organisers are taking the challenges in the direction of planners rather than art journals and that’s not my bag. I will continue to work in my art journal, however. I find I enjoy the quick bursts of art I can achieve in my journal as well as the experiments and development of ideas. As the year draws to a close, I will also need to revisit my goals for 2015 and see which ones I achieved and which I need to roll forward into 2016 in my continuing quest for balance.
This week’s Documented Life Project challenge was to combine the previous three weeks’ challenges: stamps, stencils and masks. The quotation prompt was one from Henry James: “Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.” When watching the news at present, it is difficult to see much kindness in the world but I like to think that the sentiment of James’ words are true. If we want to affect change then we can all start by individually striving to respond to others with tolerance, compassion and kindness. Maybe small gestures have a ripple effect.
I wanted to illustrate that idea in my art journal, the notion that small changes in individual behaviour can be a seed that germinates and grows. I, therefore, used stencils and a mask – an oval blob I surrounded with thick black paint – to create a little pod person, a seed to grow in the darkness. I then used stamps to add the words “Just be kind”. A simple message for a simple idea and a simple page.
In order to catch up with the Documented Life Project challenges, I decided to combine two together. The challenges involved using a hand carved stamp and using masks. I used the gelli plate to construct a background in my journal page. I cut some chunky, wiggly lines from cardboard and used those as masks on the gelli plate to print on to a page collaged with text pages. By moving them around on the gelli plate with each change of colour, I achieved some nice layering. That gave me some water. Next I needed the fish. I had some scraps of lino so I used those to carve two fish stamps. Using block printing ink and a baren, I printed one fish – different from the rest – swimming in a different direction from the rest of the shoal. I was thinking about the need for each person to find their own way in life, the importance of not just following the herd (or shoal) but making informed and active decisions instead, of celebrating non-conformity, of how life is richer because of diversity and difference. Maybe I should have added a quotation to make the message explicit but I like to think the image, for all its simplicity, conveys the ideas well enough.
A new month brought with it a new theme to the Documented Life Project. This month is to be all about stencils, masks and stamps. While none of these is my favourite tool to use (my fault, not the tools), I am certainly much happier with this theme than I was last month’s theme of experimenting with different paper substrates. This week was all about stencils and the phrase prompt was “On the edge of uncertainty…what are you afraid of?” Well, I am kind of afraid of stencilling so that’s a happy coincidence.
I am sure I have many of the same deep, primal and natural fears that most people have, such as losing a loved one or outliving one’s children. However, journaling is escapism and decompression for me; I don’t really want to use it to explore those dark recesses of my mind. I have two phobias – heights and clowns, three or four if you add in my fear of mime artists and those people who dress up as statues – but drawing clowns in my art journal would be like some sort of horrible therapy exercise. No. So then I thought about another sort of fear that I experience, a fear that manifests from the negative chatter in my head, the inner critic, my high expectations of myself that are often dashed. They could all be summed up in one question that nags me all the time, plagues me and nips at my heels: Am I good enough?
Necessity made me work at this page intuitively so I was facing another “fear” of mine because I feel like I fail more often than I succeed when I try to work without any sort of plan or vision. Long time readers of my blog will notice that I defaulted to my standbys of dribble and spatter to get some colour onto the page. Then it was time to deploy the stencil. I suck at stencilling, as you may have noted. I never get anything approximately a clear, crisp edge or consistent application. What I get is blobby mess. I used a large arrow stencil thinking that perhaps the larger spaces would give me a better result. Nope. I still bodged it. I also think the white was a bit light and didn’t provide enough of a contrast though, on the other hand, it also means that the stencilling is not so prominent. Then I used black paint to freehand draw a face and added some paint pen and Inktense to the eyes and mouth to make those pop. Finally, I stamped the phrase “Am I good enough?” to complete the page.
So is my art journal page “good enough?” Yes. It falls short of being great or any other superlative but it’s certainly good enough. It fulfils the brief and works as a page overall even if some elements (hello stencilling) are lacking. Good enough is all that is required in my art journal anyway. Compared to being “good enough” at parenting or being a “good enough” person, I think producing a good enough art journal page is small beer. So no nagging inner critic over this page. The inner critic is too busy hassling me over those bigger issues.
This week’s Documented Life Project prompt encouraged participants to use tea bags as a substrate. I have written before about how much I love tea and my love of tea has even inspired an art journal page or two before. Putting my hands to tea bags, used or unused, was not a problem. I watched a few YouTube tutorials about working on tea bags, got an idea mulling around in my head and set to work. The result was more than lacking. It was hideous. Truly. You know I am just as likely to share my artistic disasters as successes on this blog so the fact I didn’t even stop to take a photo of it before lobbing it in the bin should convey something of how totally and utterly ugly it was. Thankfully I had been concerned enough about the tannins from the tea doing nasty things to my art journal that I had worked on a separate piece of paper I was going to attach to the journal. Getting rid of it was, therefore, quick and easy.
Back to square one, I decided to ditch the whole idea of painting or drawing on top of tea bags and decided to just use tea as my inspiration. It has been some time since I properly practiced my typography skills so I decided to play around with text and with negative space. Right at the beginning of Life Book, a lesson from Joanne Sharpe had inspired me to embrace using my own handwriting and I was pleased with the outcome. I decided, therefore, to deploy some of my learning from that lesson in my art journal. I found the quotation online (it’s from Mary Lou Heiss but I failed to add that to the page before taking the photo) and used very wet watercolour around the letters to create colourful, bleeding puddles around the text and imagery.
This week’s Documented Life Project challenge was to use glassine. I had quite honestly never heard of glassine much less have any in my art stash. I, therefore, chose to focus on the phrase prompt which was “windows of my mind” which I chose to narrow down to just being about windows. I wanted to document the fact that this art journal page was created in Halloween week. My art journal page commemorating last Halloween was a collaboration between my kids and I and involved constructing tabs. This year, I decided to do another bit of construction and, since I think about zombies a lot, I decided to create a window crammed full of zombie bunnies.
I used inktense pencils and India ink to draw the creepy old windows and the clamouring zombie bunny horde behind them. The white spaces to each side of the zombies bugged me so I used a brush and watercolour to add some appropriate words. It has been a while since I last drew any of my zombie bunnies so I was glad they appeared in the art journal this week. I have missed them.
This week’s Documented Life Project prompt was to use vellum. I do not possess any vellum and I had no desire to buy some so I decided to have another whirl at using deli paper. A couple of weeks ago, I used the deli paper as a collage material; this time I decided I would use it as a surface on which to paint.
Since we had just spent a fun day at last weekend’s Harry Potter Festival, I decided to actually document my life and work on a Harry Potter inspired page. I painted Harry on my journal page and then used washi tape to fix a “flap” of deli paper onto the page. I then painted Voldemort onto the deli paper “page” so that his face covered that of Harry beneath. I found the deli paper quite hard to paint on because it was so crinkly and the paint took longer to dry. It was a good way to add a flap since it meant I had an extra page without adding any additional bulk but I think I prefer deli paper as a collage material.