An online friend of mine recently asked me how I do my journals, so I thought I’d post here a modified version of my reply to her. I must have mentioned here on the blog that I’ve kept journals for more than 40 years now; I’ve used all sorts of ready bound books, plain school paper in binders, small journals, big journals, everything you can imagine! I could probably give you the pros and cons on just about anything you can find on the market these days! There are only two things I regret in all these years of journalling: the years when I wrote very little, and the fact that it’s a real pain to move more than 10 bankers’ boxes full of journals every time we move.
What I’m finding works best for me these days is to buy watercolor paper when it’s a 2 for 1 sale, Canson brand, 11 x 15 inches. I fold those pages in half, take groups of 3 pages and sew them into canvas or heavy cloth covers. I usually use 5 or 6 signatures (the 3 page piles) per journal. I learned to make these particular books from the online art journaller Effy Wild, but there are many tutorials on youtube. I go for “useful,” and don’t spend that much time on “perfectly beautiful.” Now you don’t have to go to that trouble at all: a Strathmore Mixed Media journal, or a Canson XL journal have paper thick enough to paint on (and not buckle b/c of the wetness).
I find dating my entries to be a real key for their usefulness to me in the future. I reread my journals from time to time, and note either my growth or my dealing with the same old/same old (my lifelong challenges, it seems!) What I do is put the date vertically along the borders of the page, and that seems to look nice. It’s also consistent, which means I can find a particular date easily, even in a journal where I might have 2 pages for a day, or 10.
When I use acrylics in my journal, as I do when I’m doing more “arting” rather than writing, or when I’m doing a collage or mixed media page, I find it tricky to write over the paint. It can be done, for sure, but you have to have the right pen, and it’s “lumpy”, i.e., difficult to write comfortably. So I use watercolor paints most of the time in my journals because they are so easy to write on. I go through the book and paint pages before I need them. Then they’re ready for when I write. Mostly I use 2 or at most 3 colors on the 2 page spread, and keep it either plain, or use larger squares and other shapes that would give me nice spaces to write in. Some of the pages I include here have been made with watercolor pencils, just horizontal and vertical stripes. When I then go over them with water and a brush, I bring the colors together to cover the whole page.
This prepping of the pages can be done while I’m on the phone or listening to an audio, or sometimes even having coffee with friends.
VERY IMPORTANT: I don’t try to be perfect, or make it look particularly “beautiful”. I find that way of thinking to be paralyzing. I just aim to get some color on the page. I let it dry, turn the page, and slap down more color. I can always add more color, or add collage, or anything else that will spice it up, and I often do. I love doing this —- the colored page invites me to write. I journal almost every day, and often add a sentence or two at several times during the day. My journals are not expensive, so I don’t worry about “ruining” a page. I just go for it, and some pages ARE better than others (as you can see from the ones I’ve included here).
If you work with your dreams, I’ve developed a system that works well for me, after years of more awkward solutions. Because my journal’s pages are 7 1/2 in. by 11 in., I take cheap notebook paper (that’s usually 8 1/2 by 11), and cut an inch off the width so that the papers can eventually be tucked into the back cover of my journals. I take those notebook papers, and have them on a clipboard onto which I’ve taped a pen, so that I can write my dreams in the dark. If you want to record your dreams, it’s important to have the paper and pen ready, because large muscle movement often causes the dream to disappear. I have 3 of those: one by my pillow, one by the lazyboy chair that I sometimes sleep in, and one in a magazine holder in the bathroom. That way, there’s always appropriately sized paper, and pen or pencil, everywhere I might find myself when I’m awakened.
In the morning I collect whatever dreams I’ve recorded, date them, and read through them, adding details or making my writing clearer, and then I name the dream. I try to pick descriptive names that tell what’s happening in the dream so that the title will help me easily picture the dream. On a page in my journal, I list the dream titles chronologically. This helps me quickly find the date of a dream I might want to work with more deeply. Then I collect the dreams themselves, in order, and clip them into the back of my journal.
My journals are like scrapbooks, too, in that I glue in notes from others or daily life ephemera. For several years I did more traditional photo-scrapbooking. I like that, too, but that’s in a different category for me. The photo-scrapbooks were made for other people’s eyes, whereas my journals are made for me. I put in whatever pleases me, whether it’s “beautiful” or “perfect” or not. And if I don’t like how a page turns out, I don’t tear it out or destroy it; I just turn the page and start again. That’s also how I try to do life: move forward, turn the page and start again!