Art Before Breakfast by Danny Gregory

I found a quote on my Good Earth tea tag:  “Life isn’t about finding yourself.  Life is about creating yourself.”  It didn’t say exactly how.  Nevertheless, I pasted it on the front page of my latest journal. 
My journal is my constant companion and often it props me up when I’m sagging with fatigue.  Little quotes like that keep me going.  Since I sometimes write and draw in my journal at coffee shops or in the park, I often get comments from people who pass by.  They often say some variation of I wish I had time and the talent to draw. 
I try to tell them you don’t have to have talent (I don’t), but you need to make time.  Everyone claims to be busy, and I don’t doubt that.  I’ve been recommending Danny Gregory’s book Everyday Matters since it was published in 2003, because it’s a compelling illustrated memoir, and it’s also a story about how to make time for art in your life.  How to create yourself by observing the world around you, drawing what you see, and writing about it. 
Now I have another Danny Gregory book to recommend:  Art Before Breakfast: A Zillion Ways to Be More Creative No Matter How Busy You Are (Chronicle Books, 2015).
He says:  “Art will make your life richer and more fun and better, and cooler, and less stressed…Art stops time.  When you draw or paint what’s around you, you see it for what it is. Instead of living in a virtual world, as we do most of the time these days, you will be present in the real one.  Instead of focusing on all the things whirring in your head, you will be able to stop, clear your mind, take a deep breath, and just be.  You don’t need a mantra or guru.  Or an app.  Just a pen.”

I’ve always kept a journal, but not every day and often I got rid of my journals.  When I started purposefully doodling, adding a visual element to my journals, it made me treasure my journals more.  It also took away the fear of despoiling a beautiful blank book.  Once I started drawing, doing some calligraphy and colorful front pages in the journal, I wanted to work in it, and I wanted to go back and see what I’d drawn and written.  It’s not great work, but it’s mine.  A celebration of the ups and downs of my life.  It helped me through the years when I had a mystery neurological disorder – drawing pictures of the spine, drawing a network of nerves in a simple gingerbread type figure, doing self portraits – it took the sting out of life.  It made me appreciate the details. It made me grateful for what is around me.
Art Before Breakfast is a playful and accessible book.  It stops time – and it makes you aware of all the time you do have.  We make time for all sorts of things in life.  If we elevate our own creative needs to the level of say, washing the dishes, then we create the time we need.  Keeping a little book to draw and write in close by makes it easy to take the few minutes you need to create and center yourself.
If you think you’re too busy to make art, then by all means, make art.

First, redefine what you think of as art.  It’s within you, truly.

This is not a typical book that emphasizes a certain technique or mastery, it’s a book that gives you permission to ignore all rules and just play:

Don’t let your brain stop you from drawing.

As for making time, develop an art addiction and take art breaks just like smokers make time for smoke breaks (and if you smoke, take your journal with you

When you were a child, you drew with abandon.  Find a kid to teach you abandon again.  Tell your story in your own unique and beautiful way
If you’re afraid to draw a picture, practice calligraphy and writing in cursive.  Develop your own font.
Gregory has written and edited several books to encourage the artist in us all.  In the book An Illustrated Life: Drawing Inspiration from the Private Sketchbooks of Artists, Illustrators and Designers, How Books, 2008, he says, “Illustrated journaling has transformed my life and given me the clearest form of identity I’ve ever had.”
Can an art journal really do that?  Everyday Matters was a memoir that told how it happened.  In that book, he encourages illustrated journaling but also tells the story of how he came to accept his life after his beloved wife became paraplegic  after a subway accident.  The story unfolds in the drawings and his writings.  
In it, he explains there is ALWAYS something to draw
Years later, his illustrated journals kept him afloat while grieving for the loss of his wife in the stunning and profound A Kiss Before You Go, which I reviewed here and I encourage you to read.  It helped me understand more about grief and how to honor it. 
If you haven’t started drawing or keeping a journal, I urge you to read Art Before Breakfast.  It’s an invitation to make your world more vivid, playful and beautiful.  The instructions will lead you to judge yourself less harshly and celebrate your unique style and story. 
I’m much more likely to draw the empty plate after I’ve eaten
Writer and filmmaker Jean Cocteau said, “After the writer’s death, reading his journal is like receiving a long letter.”  There are so many of my ancestors I would have loved to get a letter from.  Don’t let your life slip by, or wind up being a pristine blank book.  Encourage yourself and start to draw.  Create yourself.  Let Art Before Breakfast nourish the urge to leave your mark in the world, if not for your heirs, then for yourself.  It’s a gift you can give yourself that will reveal the treasure all around you.
You can find out more about Danny Gregory at http://dannygregorysblog.com/  He’s got lots of encouraging articles and has a presence on both Facebook and Twitter.  Get to know his work, then get drawing.  
Thanks for visiting my blog.  If you’d like, leave a comment.

I’m linking this post to Paint Party Friday.  Click the link and find a whole list of artist who are living creatively and have made art a part of their lives.  

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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.

Journaling Toward The Light


14 Art and Writing Journals of 2014
Last year, I made a resolution to write in my journal every day.  I’m proud to say I succeeded.  I must have written almost 1000 pages.  I began by writing in bed first thing in the morning, before I was truly conscious.  I only wanted to write about 15 minutes, just enough to get access to my imagination and the part of my brain that puts life into language.  It worked pretty well, unless I urgently had to go to the bathroom.  I resolved that by taking my notebook with me to bathroom.  No interruptions there!
I think the key in getting a writing practice started, is aligning it with something that’s already a habit.  I usually wake up.  The notebook’s right there.  It’s easy to pick it up and start.  It took about a month for it to get easy, but now it’s a habit and I feel weird if I don’t get to write first thing.  Luckily, I’ve only had a few days when I didn’t have the time or privacy to get it done in the morning. 
I don’t really do a free write, though sometimes it’s pretty close.  I make a conscious effort to remember stories and events that I want to record in my journal.  In the coming year, I want to use my 15 minute burst of writing to capture more details, and more stories and poems.  Now that the habit is firmly a part of my life, I can start directing the writing energy a bit.  
Around August, I decided I was wasting too much good paper to keep writing in my sketch books, so I switched to cheap lined composition books for the morning write. 
Two things happened.  The first was a good thing.  I was able to write more freely about things I wanted to be private about.  I carry my sketchbook journal with me everywhere and I show it to people, so I didn’t feel as free to write about many things — most of the pictures here are from the sketchbook visual journal. 
The second wasn’t so good.  I felt like I was leaving part of my memory at home.  I’ve used my journals over the years to help me with my inability to remember things consistently.  It took me a few months to get used to keeping two separate kinds of journals, but now, I like it. 
My writing partner and I discovered the book Leaving a Trace: On Keeping a Journalby Alexandra Johnson.  If you want to start or improve your writing practice, this is a great book.  It has very useful ideas on how to keep up with the information in our journals, and on using journals to reach creative goals.  The first step is finding a way to access all that writing.  Johnson has suggestions that I used to make a simple index for my composition books.  On the last few pages, I divided it into section, and marked each with a letter of the alphabet.  
Keeping it simple is key to getting it done
When I finished my writing session, I made a note in the margin on what it was about, put a square around it, and then wrote it in the index, too.  Some days I had one subject, some days I had several.  Now I feel like I can find what I need in them – stories, notes, dreams – without too much trouble.  It worked so well, I began to number and list my sketchbook entries, too.  Looking over the indexes, you start to notice what’s most important to you, what threads to follow.  It makes a map of your creative life.
Well, my square around my subject is usually wonky
These little ring tabs are perfect for putting a date on spiral bound journals and notebooks.
My challenge this coming year is to read through my old journals and index them.  I want to glean them for stories, poems and insights.  I also want to see how much stupid blather I’ve produced.  I’m not as afraid of that as I used to be.  I’ve found that stupid blather helps the stories grow.  When the itty bitty shitty committee in my head tries to shame me, I just remind it that every garden needs fertilizer.  I ask the committee to help me find the best stuff instead of focusing on the worst.  And sometimes, it works.
As I read back through this year, I see again and again how keeping a journal and sketchbook has helped me through difficult challenges.  I made it a practice years ago to be honest about things like depression, chronic health problems, and heartache, but not to give them more attention than the things that make me happy and the goodness that’s all around me.  When I scrape myself up off the floor after a bad day or week or month, I see that I’ve not focused on the shadows.  I write to the shafts of light that peek through the seams and cracks of my darkest moments.  
A recurring theme!
Tolstoy spoke of enlightenment as “the increase of light in oneself and attention to what it shows.”  In this coming year of 2015, the year I will turn 55, I plan to pay more attention to that light and speak of it in the language of art as often as possible. 
If you have creative goals for the year but have a lot of resistance, I urge you to read Art & Fear, Observations on the Perils and Rewards of Art Making, by David Bales and Ted Orland, which I reviewed here. 
I’ll end this last blog post of the year with my favorite quote of the year, by choreographer Merce Cunningham:  “Falling is just one of the ways of moving.”
I’d love to hear your comments. I’m linking this to the Paint Party Friday site where you can find a plethora of artists following their dreams.  Have a happy new year.

What the Ocean Provides

My husband Jim and I got to drive from Portland, Oregon, where we live, to the sea side town of Seaside. I took my trusty journal along.  Not only do I like writing and sketching by the ocean (and everywhere else), but it helps me cope with the fact that my mobility is so much more limited than it used to be.  I’ve had problems walking since I was sixteen, but since I turned fifty, 3 years ago, my joints and balance have deteriorated a bit more. 

Three years ago I felt pretty safe just using my cane at the shore, but now I need a walker to keep from falling.  My friend photographer Clyde Jones took this about four years ago.  I was getting along pretty well with my quad cane. 

Jim now brings camp chairs and we do tandem journaling and breathe the sea air.  I forgot my camera, so I did a lot of quick sketching.  When I sketched, I kept thinking of those nice polished visual journals that get posted on line.  I despair that my drawing will never be that good.  I like drawing birds and people and things that tend to move quickly, so I’m scribbling and trying to keep up.  But even when I draw a rock, some days, the drawing isn’t so great.

But that’s not why I keep my journal.  Even with bad drawing, it’s good memory.  And it keeps me from dwelling on the past.  If you want to live in the present, sketching is a very helpful tool.  The inner chatter stops.  If you do it long enough, even the inner critic (sometimes known as the itty bitty sh**ty committee) goes quiet.

At our first stop for sitting on the beach, a man and woman were building a cross.  The woman held pieces of drift wood together while the man tried to cut rope with a rock.  Jim was alarmed that she was leaning over to hold up the heavy wood and might throw her back out, so he offered the man his knife.  The man refused and said he only built crosses with things that God provided.  The woman said, “Maybe God provided him with the knife,” but the man kept working the rope on a the rock.  He had on designer looking sunglasses, a nice watch and a leather fanny pack.  “The Lord doesn’t usually provide such large pieces of rope.  I’ve built lots of these crosses and I always only use what we the Lord provides.”

So Jim sat back down next to me.  Eventually the woman let go of the driftwood til the man got t he rope sorted out.  He was singing praise songs.  And when he finished, he took a picture of the cross with a digital camera.

I drew it quickly and terribly, but the story is set in my mind and I captured details I wouldn’t have otherwise.  I also totally forgot about not being able to frolic at the water’s edge.  

Has your journal ever elevated your mood and helped you see the humor in humans?

Here’s some pages from yesterday — on thin sketchbook paper and painted later with cheap pan watercolors.  Not so very artful, but a delight to me nontheless.  And now I have a little bit of the ocean to carry with me all month.

 Thanks for looking.