Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Easy Peasy Journal Tutorial - Part three: writing

Better late than never. Here is part three of my Easy Peasy Journaling Tutorial. It's another lengthy one!  I have tried to be extensive in my writing about writing, but If anything is not clear or if you have any questions, please let me know in the comment section so others can profit from it too.

I would also like to thank all of you who have commented on the other two parts of this tutorial. Believe me, if only one of you gets something out of it, it will be worth my time. Hope you enjoy this last installment!


It seems that when I post my journal pages the one thing people are most intrigued by is the writing. There's so much of it and it seems so neat and straight (I dare you to put a ruler to my pages however and you'll see I'm not so perfect after all, haha).  How do I do it? Whatever do I write about? Where do all those words come from? My life can't possibly be that interesting, can it?

This is how the Easy Peasy Journal front cover looks all finished. I added some writing in longhand and my signature. I don't usually write on my covers, but I had left some space empty, so why not? I'm pretty happy with how this journal turned out, although I believe it's become more of a journal sampler than an actual journal, but I suppose that is to be expected if you use a journal to illustrate things you want to show for a tutorial.

Writing by hand is quickly becoming one of those mysterious acts of the past, a lost art. I notice it when I sit in a public place and write. People are amazed and curious, they stare at me and some even comment on my handwriting. Really people, I'm not fishing for compliments, nor am I trying to be modest when I say: my handwriting is nothing special. I work in an office where people have to file for local taxes once a year and around that time I see a lot of handwritten filled in forms and you would be surprised how much more beautiful most people write and also...every personal handwriting is unique and special. I think the point really is that hardly anybody does it anymore, writing by hand I mean. So when you do, that already sets you apart from the masses and makes you look special. Keep that in mind: if you write by hand you're already doing something special, no matter what you write about or how your handwriting looks. Isn't that a great way to start this tutorial? Just like with all the other aspects of journaling: journal writing is something you cannot fail at, there is no right or wrong way to do it. Just as long as you do it!

Still, if you never write you may be completely mystified by it and I hope to give you some ideas for writing today. This tutorial will be about the two aspects of journal writing. One is content and the other is form. I have decided to do it in the following way: I will do a lot of writing on the content of writing (what to write about) and I will illustrate the form (how to write it all down) with examples from the Easy Peasy Journal. I will also give some resources at the end of this post. Let's go!

This is basically how I journal about 99% of the time. I just write long straight sentences in my preferred handwriting. Sometimes I will write longhand, depending on my mood or my position to the paper. That it looks pretty straight and neat is not the result of any trick, but just of practice. I have written for years and years and at some point left behind the ruled books for blank pages. In the beginning my writing was much more all over the place, but somehow I have learned to write in  a more consistent way. If you don't write that way naturally don't fret. Just write how your write. Don't try to emulate someone elses handwriting, try developing your own. You can only do this by writing. A lot! If writing in straight lines is very important to you for some reason, you can always put down lines with a pencil and a ruler and erase them later. But don't feel you have to do this. Keep your own style, it's usually the better choice.

What you need
For journaling there's really not that much that you need. This is the most extensive list I could think of:
·          Your journal
·          Something to write with
·          An open mind

You might like to have some different types of pens for colour effects or different lines. I find that ballpoint pens will write on just about anything. Experiment with markers, gel pens, felt tip pens, paint markers, pencils, etc. etc. Some backgrounds, especially when very structured and layered can ruin some pens. In that case try pens with a brush tip, they work like a charm and don't get destroyed by too many rough effects on the page. As with the other instalments of this tutorial, you will have to try and find out what works best for you. There's no one pen that fits all situations.

It can be very interesting to consciously not go for straight lines, but choose for diagonal or wavy ones instead. On this spread I used a marker to draw wavy lines diagonally across the pages. After that I filled those line with writing. In this case I filled up the entire space between the lines, but you can vary the size of your handwriting. It can however give an interesting effect to try to oversize your lettering by filling the space between the lines. You can use a different color for the lines and the writing, but you can also use the same color. You could also do these lines in pencil and erase them after you're done with your writing. Experiment and see what you like best.

Stream of consciousness writing
I am often asked what I write about and when I post pictures on my blog or on websites people are always wishing they could read what it says. I think they are under the impression that my writing is full of profound prose, deep feelings and fascinating ideas. Let me burst that bubble for you: it is not! ;-) What I do is called stream of consciousness writing. This is a very neat term for something very simple: write down your thoughts. Note that I don't say: "write down your deepest thoughts", or "write down your most brilliant thoughts", or even "write down the thoughts that matter". No! Just. Your. Thoughts. Whatever comes to your mind, write it down!  I truly believe that anybody who has thoughts can write, and I dare you not to have any thoughts!  You're not an air head are you? ;-)

Want to know what I write about? Most entries start with observations about the weather, about how I slept, about the day behind me and the day ahead of me. It's full of trivial repetitive drivel. I often write in the morning and I hate getting up early, so guess what some of my very first thoughts are about? Yup, there's usually some complaint about not being able to sleep late or about being tired or feeling dazed and a curse on the daily grind. Fun stuff, right? ;-)
What stops people from writing is not that they have no thoughts or ideas, it's that they censor them before they go to the page! They think they are not page worthy. This is a big mistake in thinking. It's thinking of journal writing as something that will be read. But journal writing is not about reading, it's about getting it (whatever it is) out of your system. It's writing for writing's sake. It's the act in itself that matters. It's expression. You're clearing your head by putting your thoughts down. That's all. You're not writing a novel here. You're not trying to win a Pulitzer or a  Booker Prize. Don't look at your journal as some kind of sacred spot where only the most profound and deep feelings have a place. Look at is as a dumping ground for everything that's in your head. Spelling, style, grammar and all that stuff have no importance in the journal. You're not looking to publish, you're looking to get it out of your system. Journaling is ultimately an instrument, a tool, it's not a purpose or goal. The point is to sit with your thoughts and get them out in whatever way they present themselves. If anything else, consider this: how can you ever get to the profound thoughts and feelings if you don't clear away all the crap that's in front of them?

On this spread I used my normal everyday writing in my normal every day straight lines. But after I was done I took a different color pen/marker to outline and underline specific words. This can give a nice visual effect. For a more muted look you can do this with the same pen you were writing with. You can put circles or squares around words, underline them with straight or wavy lines or use dashed lines. Try to doodle a little around your words and see how that makes the text look. Some accents can really liven up an otherwise bland text. On the side of the spread there was some space left that I filled up with some bigger lettering in a bigger marker. Don't forget you can write in any direction you want!

If writing down your thoughts the way they come to you seems scary or just impossible, you might like to try getting out of your head instead. How about looking around you? When you sit down  to write, you are probably in some place that's familiar to you, but have you ever really looked at it? What does your table look like, or your pen, or how does the chair feel that you are sitting on? What color is the wall in the room, what patterns present themselves? Look around you and tell your journal what you see. You don't have to write how you feel about it, although you might get to that eventually. Something you see can trigger all kinds of thoughts and feelings. You can choose to go with those thoughts, but you can also choose to ignore them and keep your writing observational.
An example: when I use a new pen or other material or start a new journal I will often write about how it performs. How does the paper feel, the size of it, how does the ink look on the page, how does the pen move across it. Stuff like that.

This kind of writing is especially nice if you are in a place like a museum or on vacation. What does it all look like, smell like, feel like, behave like? You are writing down clues for future reference, you are putting a memory on paper, how wonderful! The most ordinary thing can become interesting if you really take the time to observe it.

You could try to seperate your senses when you do this. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you taste? What do you smell? What do you feel on your skin? Have you ever just sat for a few minutes, eyes closed, and listened to the sounds around you? Try it and write down what you hear. It may give you a whole new perspective on your surroundings. Try it in different locations too.

Another cool thing about observations is that it gets the hand moving on the page. There's a reason that about 90% of my journal entries start with an observation about the weather. It's simply a place to start. The first words have found the page and I'm off!  The page is no longer blank and scary.

What you see can trigger emotions. Why not write about them? Now we come to another kind of observation: the internal kind. The one that answers the question "How do you feel?" My, you could just write pages and pages on that question alone, right? You can observe how you feel and you can even dig deeper and ask yourself why you feel that way. Maybe that will trigger memories or ideas you can also write about. I feel that writing is a lot like painting. You cannot be too concerned about the final outcome, because you don't know the final outcome. You just have to start with a color (or word or sentence) and see what happens and don't be afraid to try a different color (or word or sentence). Don't think too much beyond the layer you are working on. Just go with it and let it evolve. It doesn't have to make sense, really it doesn't.

If you can't think of anything to write, you can always resort to the words of others. Try quotes from literature, poetry or (as in this case) songs. There's a world of beautiful lines out there ready to go into your journal. I wrote this quote from one of my favorite songs in big bold letters that I later decorated with a paint marker. Try drawing your own letters by first making a simple letter and then making parts of it fatter with a marker. You can easily decorate them by outlining them or putting dots or other marks on top with a contrasting marker. If you want to do more elaborate lettering check out the resource section at the end of this post. There are some very cool lettering books out there. You might also want to try a search on google or see others do lettering or calligraphy on youtube. If all else fails: use stamps!

Questions and prompts
For some it is really hard to just write out of the blue without a specific thing to write about. They need a little (or big) nudge to get the juices flowing, because they are just stumped for ideas. I guess there are as many different kinds of writers as there are people. For you the gods of journal writing have invented questions and prompts! Yay!

Think of prompts as specific subjects to think and write about. They can be elaborate and intense or very simple and straight forward. There are websites devoted to journaling prompts (check the resources below this post) and there are books with questions or prompts in them that you can use. Someone like Kelly Kilmer has online classes where she both teaches her (wonderful) style of journaling and gives loads of journaling prompts to write with. I'm sure there's others out there who do this too.

Another way to get prompts that I have used in the past is to read interviews with celebrities in magazines. See if you cannot answer some of the questions they are asked for yourself. Of course not all questions will apply to you, but a lot of them will or you can adapt them to your personal situation. Think of it as the big interview with yourself. It's fun!

Here's some examples of prompts that I just make up as I'm writing this:

·          Where do you live? How long have you lived there? What does your town look like? What do you or don't you like about it? Is this the place you want to stay forever? Why? Why not?

·          What do you do for a living? How did you come about doing this? Is it your dream job? Why or why not? And if not, what would your dream job look like?

·          What's your favorite color? Why? What does it remind you of? Do you surround yourself with this color? If yes, in what way? If not, why not? Do you ever wear it?

Get the point? A question can lead to another question and another and another. There are so many interesting things to know about yourself and your surroundings. Why not write them down and enrich your knowledge of self or expand your horizon.

A variation on the prompt technique can be asking questions yourself. Not answering them, just asking them. A few years ago I read the book "How to think like Leonardo da Vinci" by Michael Gelb, which has a wonderful amount of exercises in it to broaden your mind and one of those was thinking up a 100 questions. You can tell a lot about yourself by the questions you ask. You might try it and see if it doesn't strike an interesting nerve. Write about that nerve! ;-)

I made this page to show you how different markers can affect the way your handwriting looks. Thicker tips make for thicker letters and this affects how you can write. Also try to experiment with your handwriting itself. Try longhand, try print letters, try capitals. How does it affect your message? Try writing in different directions on the same page. Try following the outline of part of an image. Everything has a different effect and it makes the writing fun.

Conversation / dialogue
This is a very interesting technique if there's a specific problem you want to tackle. Talk to it! Huh? Yes, that's what I said: talk to it! Have a conversation on paper with a person, an object or an idea. It may seem silly, but it can really clarify things for you in a way you may never have considered. Maybe you have a distorted relationship with your body for instance. Why not start a dialogue with it and get to the bottom of things. By putting yourself in the position of the 'opposite party' you may gain a new perspective on the situation. If anything it will help you get out of the vicious circle of your one sided thoughts.
What you do is that you put on paper both sides of the conversation. You write down what you say and then you answer through the 'mouth' of your problem/object/person. This is not about what they would say or think, it's about what you think they would say or think. Get the difference? It's all in your head!

Letter writing
This is in a way a variation of the dialogue, except it is one sided. Write a letter to who or whatever you want to. This can be for a deep troublesome reason, to clarify your mind, to get out your anger at somebody, whatever. But it can also be a very light hearted exercise. How about writing a fan letter to a long gone movie star or a fictional character? Or it can be to stir memories. How about writing to a lost loved one? Or an old friend? Or how about writing a letter to yourself? The possibilities are endless! You could even use pretty stationary and clip the envelope to your journal pages. You could even mail a letter to yourself.  We are getting close to the next possibility now, creative writing. Just remember, that whatever you write, the person you write to never has to read it, so you can be free to write whatever you want.

On this spread you can see two techniques side by side. On the left you can see I made straight (well sort of) lines with a marker and then wrote on them. But the way I wrote was not straight forward, but ever changing in style. Different letters in different sizes. Alternate between big and small letters, between capital en regular letters. Decorate some of the letters. In other words: go for lots of variety in one piece of writing. It makes for a very visual page. The same goes for the technique on the right. Here I started writing close to the central image on the page and just followed the outline of that image again and again until the page spiraled full by itself. This may be a good technique if you want to show your journal, but don't want everybody to read everything. To make out this kind of writing someone has to go through a lot of trouble and most people will be too polite to try this when you are watching! ;-)

Creative writing
If you are not one for traditional journal writing, but the idea of putting pen to paper still appeals to you, how about doing some creative writing? You could write poetry for instance, or a small story. You could turn your life into a melodrama by writing all dramatically about it and using big words. Write in third person about yourself and see if it changes your perspective. You could use your imagination on anything you see or hear. You could note down overheard conversations and imagine how they would proceed after you left. Creative writing is a whole other realm of wonderfulness and there are some very cool books about it.  (see the resources section below)

Keep in mind that nobody has a right to read what your are writing, your journal is for you alone. As I said above, it's all about the writing, not about the reading. In fact, keep in mind that a journal is personal. It's not a scrap book, it's not a show album. It's for you and it's to be used as an instrument for self exploration. Nobody else has any business reading it. This does not mean that you should not let anybody read it if that's what you want, but who reads it is up to you, not to them.
As you can tell I show most of my journal pages, because there is not much on them that I wouldn't say out loud too, but there are some pages I will not show, some writing I will not share. My thoughts are my own. If a loved one thinks he or she is entitled to read your journal ask them to think how they would like it if everybody could read their mind 24/7. That's what a journal should be, a mind uncensored. A free and safe  zone. Who you share that zone with is completely your choice.

Next to writing in different forms of letters, try writing with different color markers or pens. Combine different styles with different colors and see how it affects your pages. If a certain type of color is not very visible on the page (as is the case with the pink marker on the right hand page) you can always outline it with a contrasting color to make it visible again. See your journal not only as a place to express your thoughts, but as a place to play with visual effects. Experiment with the materials you have at hand, before you go out buying all sorts of stuff. You might surprise yourself!

Websites for prompts:
·          http://journalingprompts.com/

Books on content:
·          How to make a journal of your life / Dan Price (I dare anybody not to want to journal after reading this little gem, it's my favorite journaling book)
·          The artist's way - Julia Cameron (she encourages stream of consciousness writing every morning)
·          The new diary - Tristine Rainer (the best book on journal writing ever by far, if you get only one, get this one)
·          Journal to the self - Kathleen Adams (journaling as a therapeutic technique)
·          The complete book of questions - Garry Poole (questions for conversation that are easily used as prompts for journaling)
·          True vision - L.K. Ludwig (this book about art journaling has many prompts in it as well)
·          The right to write - Julia Cameron (a book about the love of creative writing, with exercises)
·          Rip the page! - Karen Benke (fantastic book originally meant for young people, but full of fun writing exercises for all ages)
·          The pocket muse - Monica Wood (very cute little book with creative writing prompts)
·          How to think like Leonardo da Vinci - Michael Gelb (not really about journaling, but about curiosity and interest in life, a good thing for every journal writer)

Books on form:
·          How to be the best bubble writer in the world ever - Linda Scott (on lettering, originally meant for children)
·          The scrapbooker's handwriting workshop - Crystal Jeffrey Rieger (on lettering, with practice sheets)
·          Modern mark making - Lisa Engelbrecht (this is more calligraphy style)
·          Scrapbooker's alphabets - Ruth Booth (on lettering)
·          1000 artist journal pages - Dawn de Vries Sokol (it is what it says, no text, just pictures from hundreds of journalers, all these pages give you a wonderful insight into how varied journaling can be)

I guess you can tell I was quite relieved in finishing this journal. I had a lot of fun doing this tutorial, but boy, did I ever underestimate the amount of work that would be involved! So the final words of my Easy Peasy Journal speak for themselves. If you have a small but strong statement to make, try drawing your own letters and embellishing them. I did this in a very simple way by writing the letters with a white paint marker and then outlining them with a black pen. After that I added some lines across the letters for some more decoration. Of course there are much more elaborate and beautiful ways to embellish letters, but this is the Easy Peasy Journal, after all. Check out the resource section for books on lettering. Also check out websites on art journaling and other people's blogs. You can learn a lot from them just by looking.

Final words
And here we come to the end of our three part art journaling tutorial. I hope you enjoyed it. It was fun, but also quite challenging to put it all together and it's always much more work than you expect it to be. Still, this blog is a work of love and as long as it stays that way I will try to keep pushing myself into new directions.

If you have any suggestions for future tutorials I would love to hear from you. Until then I wish you lots of fun trying some of the techniques and ideas from the Easy Peasy Journal. Let me know how it goes!