Size Matters — or Does It?

I haven’t posted about journaling in a while, so I thought I’d write about how I keep up my writing and drawing practice.

Last year, I started keeping a morning written journal where I spent 10 to 30 minutes writing freely.  This is different than the free write some people do, or the morning pages, where you write to loosen up and just throw the pages away.  I can’t do that — I horde words and stories.  I write about what’s happening in my life and my mind, the details of the day before.  I also use that time for story beginnings.

During the day, I keep a visual journal for taking notes, practicing drawing, trying out painting techniques and giving myself a place to play.  Play is the best way to learn.

One of the things I’ve learned is that size matters.  Maybe.

I bought a little journal with nice paper that would be easy to carry. I could sketch discreetly.  It would be light and perfect.  Except I didn’t really like it after I started using it.  It was too small. I resisted it for a while, but it was the only thing I had.  I only did one painted piece in it.  A loose tree:

 But I used it, nonetheless, and actually wound up with a few expressive drawings:

My husband at Salty’s bar– a fish was on the wall behind him

Church notes during a music service

Further church notes

Multnomah falls

I think if I’d liked the journal better, I would have gone back and painted a few of these, but looking back, I enjoy the simplicity and these drawings bring back memories — simple visual language in a letter to my future self.

My next journal was a Strathmore hardbound 8.5 x 5.5″ watercolor journal with cotton paper.  It was a little larger and that made a big difference.  However, it was hard to use that thick paper for light sketches and writing.  It felt like I was wasting it.  It had a precious quality to it.  It did force me to try more paintings and to work across the spread.  However, that didn’t work out as well as I’d hoped.

ink sketch
Spirit Bird

I went on happily painting pages.  One thing I like is to use my leftover paint puddles to paint journal pages so I can draw or write on colored pages later.  This wonderfully absorbent paper didn’t do so well with my wet techniques:

paint seeped through

I had some seepage problems with journals before, but not to this extent.

The sun got green ooze.

I had better luck with writing and illustrating, though the paper seemed meant for watercolor:

At the Tula’s a gluten free pasty and coffee shop
At Sound Grounds after my first venture in my power chair on the bus.  I colored their logo the wrong colors

So now I’m back to an inexpensive Canson Art Sketch book, hardbound 8.5 x 5.5.  The paper is only 65 lb.  I’ve used it before and it buckles when I paint, but the buckles flatten out after a while and there’s not the same kind of seepage.  It’s great for writing and doesn’t feel precious.

I’m most excited about trying my new Winsor and Newton inks:

I also have a big 9×12 Canson Mixed Media spiral bound book when I need to go big.  That means I’m now keeping 3 journals.  The morning write, the day and travel book, and the big journal.  I’m also considering keeping subject journals — like one for Bridge Meadows Meetings, one for concerts. one for spring flowers — I don’t know if it’ll feel as if I’m spread too thin or if it’ll help me tell the story of myself to myself a little better.

I think the different sizes and different kinds of paper bring out different styles.  It was easy to do minimalist sketches in my little journal, easy to paint in the watercolor one.  It’s fun to do collage and paint in the large journals.  But the humble 5.5 x 8.5 Canson seems to be right for everything at this point.  I wonder if I’ll feel the same 50 pages from now?

If you’d like you can read my last post on journaling in 2014 here.

How do you keep your journals and sketch books?  What’s worked and what’s not worked?

By the way, Danny Gregory, who I blame for getting me addicted to visual journaling, has a new book out, Art Before Breakfast, which I’ll review next week.  Check out his blog for inspiration to illustrate your life and to live better through bad drawing.  It works 🙂

Thanks for reading my blog.

I’m linking to Paint Party Friday, where you can find lots of enthusiastic and creative art bloggers.

37 thoughts on “Size Matters — or Does It?

  1. Enjoyed the post, Joy–and I really like the turtle, and Multnomah Falls…and the bird! My sketchbooks are everywhere in the house–falling out of bookcases and sliding under the couch cushions. Like you, I keep trying different types, and none work for every media, but all work for something. Sometimes I haul around many (too many) just in case I feel like using a certain media. It's all a bit much I think, lol.

  2. so many wonderful sketches and illustrations here Joy! I have used a variety of sizes as you have and am on my second larger journal- XL mixed media Canson ( I do work in several sizes at one time though). I prefer heavy pages because I mostly end up using acrylics. I have also used this journal for watercolor work. Having worked with small (even 1 inch) spaces for so long it is a bit of a challenge to work big but I am enjoying the learning process. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the papers and journals:)

  3. I like the idea of free writing every morning Joy. I keep a gratitude journal in which I write 4 things I'm grateful for each day – usually at the end of the same day or first thing the following morning. I always like the idea of an art journal and my husband did buy me a lovely moleskine one a few years ago but, like you said, the paper seems almost too nice to use especially just for rough sketches out and about. I don't really do any sketching these days and I do think you're right – it's the best way to practice and improve. Maybe I should start the problem is that I tend to photograph things instead as usually here it is too cold to sit down outside and start sketching!

  4. Hi Joy, I actually like the green ring around the sun. I do understand being disappointed though if things get marked differently than you intended. When I draw and watercolor I really like a very smooth paper like Bristol Board. It has a smooth side and a textured side.

  5. Hi Joy, I actually like the green ring around the sun. I do understand being disappointed though if things get marked differently than you intended. When I draw and watercolor I really like a very smooth paper like Bristol Board. It has a smooth side and a textured side.

  6. I guess if I gave up the idea of each book being a narrative of some sort, I could just relax and enjoy them all more. I think it comes from starting as a writer, wanting a beginning and end and maybe a theme. Maybe I'll buy some and throw them around everywhere and see what happens. Thanks for your support 🙂

  7. The trick for me is making sure I have a journal everywhere I go. There's a lot of time when you can just doodle and practice if you have your pen and journal nearby. thanks for your kind comment.

  8. I have a tiny little 2 inch journal that I want to make into a book or letter, but usually I want to work bigger. It's easier to get detailed. I think I'll do two sizes at once, too. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Love you work.

  9. When I photograph, I tend not to draw. I don't think you have to sketch live, though. Ideally, I like to photograph and then draw from that. Sometimes, I draw a few lines on site, then finish from memory. It's not accurate but it's art. I have done the gratitude practice and it helps tremendously. I go in spurts with it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  10. I made peace with the seepage, but I won't use that kind of journal again and I won't work as wet in any journal. I love using smooth paper sometimes too. I love the detail you can get and way the watercolor sits on the paper. Thanks for your comment!

  11. I love your openness in giving your feelings about the papers. I too feel the same way, and I'm finding myself sometimes overthinking which type of book I'll sketch, paint, draw, etc. in. One hint from an old watercolor master, Ed Whitney, he said to have a roadmap – like do your sketch/drawing and then the value scales before anything.That's helped me 'get into the piece' I'm doing w/o thinking too much about the paper. Thanks for your blog, and I like your turtle also. What paper and medium was this done in? It looks like watercolor on hot press paper?

  12. Thanks for the tip, tho in my journals I try to be spontaneous, but a little planning ahead would help. I did the turtle as the front piece of a canson sketchbook on 65 lb sketch paper with ink, watercolor and gouache. It buckled but laid flat after the book was closed for awhile. Thanks for your kind comment!

  13. What a fabulous post. I love your journals even with the leakages. I was determined to more journaling this year and got journals for Christmas but I have only done one or two so far. Mine are Stillman and Birn both the alpha and beta series and I love them, just wish I could get around to doing more in them. I have purchased Danny's book but I'm still waiting for it to arrive. That should get me going on the journals.

  14. It was nice to read your text and follow the sketches and paintings you've done. That bird is so full of coming spring!

    In my paintings I love to use recycled materials, because there is already so much stuff in the world and for the second, I'm poor of money, can't afford to buy papers I'd like to. I use to gather cardboard from the trash room, my neighbors buy a lot of stuff, big TVs and the card boards are amazing. I like to work wit cardboard, it's light, it absorbs color always in such a surprising way.

  15. Wonderful post, Joy. It is interesting how size really does matter. Like you, using expensive paper to play on seems wasteful. But it takes all kinds of paper to find the right one. Love your sketches.

  16. I recently started making things with and painting on cardboard. It's a wonderful surface. When I buy expensive papers or sketchbooks, I'm too careful with them. I like the inexpensive ones best, so far. For paintings intended for the wall, I like 300lb cotton paper, all different surfaces from smooth to rough, depending on how I feel. Thanks for your comments!

  17. Thanks so much. It's nice to have a few sizes of paper around for when we feel like experimenting. But I like to have one standard I can play in. Thanks for your kind comments.

  18. That's a shame the paint seeping through on your wonderful bird. There are so many journals out there it's hard to choose. Maybe you could make your own journal and use different kinds of papers. That way you don't have to feel bad when you just use it to write on…. I don't even know how many journals I have. I have different sizes, different papers, some for sketching, some for painting, some for doodling etc… And you're right: size matters: sometimes I feel like working small and sometimes it needs to be a lot bigger. I like the sketches you did in your smaller journal, and also the illustrations with text. That turtle is so cute….

  19. What a great post – with so much good info on sketch books. I admire anyone who keeps a regular art journal. I have never been a journal kind of person. Not with writing nor with art. It's too bad, but I do enjoy seeing other artist's journal creations. Yours are just beautiful!! xoxo

  20. Thanks so much. I started keeping a journal soon after learning to read because stringing words together helped make sense of my life. I stopped several times in my life and I regret that I don't have those memories in the same way I keep them now. I think you art is probably the way you keep your life story — your art is the story 🙂

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