I have always loved words. As a kid, I loved to just flip the dictionary open to a random page and read all of the words, their definitions, and the etymology. I was fascinated about why each word was chosen to represent what it did, why some words had so many different meanings, and just the sound of different words. I used to enjoy the challenge of trying to deploy more obscure or at least unusual words into conversations. In doing so, I increased my vocabulary. Years later, as a High School English teacher, I used to encourage my students to do the same thing when they had idle time. I have never lost my love for words and my enjoyment of the richness of the English language with all its mongrel origins.
Therefore, I knew I was in a tricky spot when this week’s Art Journal Adventure prompt was to incorporate a word and its definition in an art journal page. Impossible! How on earth could I ever choose a single, solitary word? By the time I actually had some free time for art, I had arrived at my solution: I was not going to visually represent one word; I was going to visually represent my love of all words. I, therefore, covered an art journal page in dictionary pages (from a discarded, library reject dictionary, worry ye not) and then drew my doodle version of me swimming among the words, an endless sea of vocabulary for me to explore, float through and enjoy.
If you are a regular reader of my blog, you may have noticed that it has been quiet for a while. You may also have noted that – other than finishing off my extended Inktober challenge – I have not produced any art in weeks. The reason for both is that I was laid low by some mysterious nasty viral thing. It probably all started on Thanksgiving Day when I spent a large chunk of the day at Urgent Care. That illness then segued into what I thought was a sinus infection. I get sinus infections a couple of times every winter so I am used to just treating the symptoms and pushing through. But then I started to feel really cruddy. Seriously awful. What I assumed was a series of separate cruddy illnesses was, it appeared, probably all part of a bigger illness. A nurse friend diagnosed me with ‘flu from a distance but who really knows. I just know it was completely debilitating and was the most ill I have felt since I had ‘flu when my 8 year old was a newborn. During my entire working life, I have had seven sick days off work; three of them were this month. I had fevers, chills, aches, zero appetite, and a pounding headache that stretched from the backs of my eyes all the way down my neck. Thankfully my kids are all now old enough to largely fend for themselves and get themselves to and from school because I really was not functioning as a human being let alone as a parent. Since recovering, I have been very tired – perhaps with some sort of post-viral fatigue – so I have had almost zero free time because staying on top of regular work, chores, family life, and festive planning is taking me longer than usual. Still, worse things happen at sea and I am thankful to have my health generally. That, however, is why I have been absent from blogging and why I have not spent any time at my art table.
Still, I was desperate to do something arty because I don’t feel fully like myself unless I am doing something creative. I, therefore, picked up my Art Journal because it does not matter a jot if I complete the page or not or make a mess in my art journal. I looked at last week’s Art Journal Adventure prompt which was to use a quotation. I am not one of those people who has inspirational quotations to hand so I was pondering what to write while overhearing my kids, who were decorating a gingerbread house in an adjacent room. They were listening to Christmas music so that gave me my inspiration. I have been thinking about practicing some brush lettering for a while so I thought that writing down some festive words using a brush dipped in watercolour paint would be an easy, fuss-free way to fill a journal page. My brush lettering still needs a great deal of work, especially since I have a tendency to be inconsistent and to lapse into just using my own handwriting, but it was fun to practice and it was therapeutic to sit down at my art table again and splash around in some paint.
My 2016 is going to be absolutely jam-packed with creative challenges if everything goes to plan and I manage to keep on schedule with everything. I really want to push myself and increase my skill level, hone my own style, and increase my artistic output. Brace yourselves, dear readers, for lots of art posts.
My first arty activity for 2016 was to create an art journal page. As busy as I will be with art courses and my own art projects, I want to keep art journaling as it is useful experimentation and is quick and relaxing. This year, I am responding to prompts that form the Colour Me Positive project hosted on the Lulu Art blog. The first prompt was a quotation and a suggestion that we construct a page about “gratitude”. Since I was both pushed for time and aware of the need to practice typography, I opted to write out the quotation on my page. Trouble was that when I finally sat down to put pen to paper, I was so tired that I could not motivate myself to try a specific style of hand lettering so I just defaulted to my own handwriting. Oops. I then surrounded the words with a ring of watercolour paint which I blew with a straw to create more interest. Quick and simple.
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.
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 week’s Documented Life Project prompt encouraged group members to create a page that somehow depicted our older selves dispensing advice to our younger selves. I decided to put a slightly different spin on the prompt, just a slight tangent.
Firstly, as I recently discovered, I don’t really like to use my art journal for the more emotive stuff. It’s escapism and stress-busting for me to work in my art journal rather than it function as a route to introspection and reflection. Secondly, I don’t really chime with the idea of giving my younger self advice. Even if such a thing were possible, I wouldn’t do it. For a start, I don’t give unsolicited advice plus there is nothing I really regret that I would steer myself away from. Sure there are many things in my life I wish had worked out differently but for the most part those are things over which I had no control anyway so nothing I did or didn’t do would have made one iota of difference to the outcome. I also feel happy with where I am in life and I have watched enough sci-fi movies to have contemplated the idea that I am where I am because of all the things I have been through, good and bad, and any small change might have had a ripple effect to land me somewhere else in a different set of circumstances. So, in short, no advice is being dispensed to my younger self.
What I did decide to do was write some words of encouragement to my younger self and I plumped for the vague “Life is full of possibilities”. I drew a simple version of myself aged about 5 in the centre of my page and then surrounded it with triangular doodles, making the words emerge in the negative space. Simple. That was a lot of doodling though. My hand was a bit achy by the time I completed the page.