Thursday, December 03, 2015

I'm Not Getting Older, I'm Getting Wiser: Lessons Learned While Journalling

For years I have wanted to be a journaler. I've drooled over the journals I've seen in person and spent hours looking at journal posts online. Joining Facebook didn't help. There I kept seeing even more luscious offerings.

And so, midway through 2014, I decided to stop dreaming about journalling, decided to stop saying 'someday'. I signed up for The Documented Life Project. I jumped in with both feet that first week, already 6 months behind but keen to catch up and keep up. I started by getting a gelli plate and printing lots of papers and since it was too late to find a planner like they were using I cut my own pages, bought washi tape and started. I was all jazzed up. The next morning (yes, I know, I pack a great deal into a day) I discovered that washi tape doesn't hold book pages together. It should come with a warning label. It kind of ruined my forward motion. I got some pages done but just couldn't keep up. Couldn't find the time or the energy.

I loved seeing the work that group does but seeing didn't translate to doing for me and I needed to understand why. So I set about thinking about it last fall when I was out on my walks, trying to understand why I couldn't translate my desire to create a journal like the ones I was seeing into action. Here are some things I discovered about myself.

1. I wasn't going to work on a journal if I had to go to my studio and get out everything. My journal time was at night, when I wanted to relax while working. This was why I kept sketchbooks by my comfy chair in the family room. I could pull them out and draw while I watched TV and was sociable. The work in Documented Life was full of layers and stickers and fun stuff. That could not be created in an easy chair.

2. My style was more stripped down and muted than the style in Documented Life. While I was attracted to all the colour and layers of paint and 'stuff' on their pages I had moved past falling in line with the trends and needed to work in my own way. I was uncomfortable posting my work as it was so different. To be clear, this had nothing to do with the people on the site, this was my own problem, my own insecurity holding me back.

3. The FB page for Documented Life was busy, too busy. There was so much to see that it was difficult to stick to my alloted viewing time (you know I like to keep to a schedule). I like to comment and not lurk and it was hard to keep up with it all. I needed a more intimate space to share and communicate in.

Mixed into these observations about that project were things I knew about myself from the past.

1. I find it difficult to feel free in a bound book because of the fear of messing up and because it was uncomfortable to have my hand falling off the side all the time.

2. Most of the books that I had tried journalling in were too large to hold, too heavy to travel with and I hated the paper for one reason or another.

3. I wasn't going to actually do this unless I had some people to 'hold my feet to the fire', to hold me accountable, in a good way. I am one of those people who needs help reaching goals like this. I needed playmates (or fellow inmates).

So I thought about all of  this and came up with an idea - why not start a group of my own! 

I'd set some parameters and post a message and see if I could find a few people who were interested.
I waited for 48 hours, a self imposed cooling off period. It still seemed like a good idea so I decided to post to the CZT FB page first as it would likely be a place where 3 or 4 likeminded souls could be found. How wrong I was. Within hours I had a tsunami of interest. And so Our Tangled Lives was born, a secret group of 150 members who agreed to work on weekly prompts, post at least once a month and be kind and supportive of each other.

And how has the year been? It has been splendid! The group has been a joy to work with and there has been such growth and blossoming that has come from it. A core group of about 40 have kept up in one way or another despite 'life' happening, the support in the group has been amazing and we are cued up for another great year.

And what have I learned?  What rules would I suggest? (Put "as much as possible" in front of these guidelines.)

1. Work with papers that you love and a format that is appropriate for you.

I worked in small 5.5" x 5.5" monthly journals and these suited me perfectly because I made them myself, with paper I loved. I never had the sense that I was going to ruin the whole book if I tried something unusual and it was a totally portable size. Each book had four folded pages in it so my hand didn't fall off the edge when I was working. I had room for four prompts and a few extra pages to play with. I used papers I had decorated myself, mostly gelli printed, a technique I learned because of all the lush papers in Documented Life. Having them pre-decorated or pre-energized was perfect for me. The colour and pizazz was already there urging me on and I didn't need to go to my studio or find the energy to create the right background. I also used some paste papers, Masterfield papers, graphite blasting etc. The paper I worked on was Arche Text Wove which is my favourite book weight paper because it is a little toothy, takes all kinds of abuse and lays flat afterwards. It also loves pens and pencils of all kinds. I made many different types of books over the year but my favourites were tongue and groove (Fold), interlocking signatures (Books with Girth) and pamphlet stitch. The others included two-sewn-as-one, meander, coptic, accordion, 2 minute book, long stitch variation and origami envelope.

2. Prepare to succeed. Remove as many obstacles as possible.

Prep is key for me. I got out my Xyron and put through lots of collage papers which I kept in a 12"x12" scrapbook box beside my easy chair. I also made up a smaller 5"x7" box which travelled well. Having the adhesive on one side made collage fun. No glue to worry about and you know how much I hate glue! The papers I used most were the deli papers I rolled my excess paint off on during gelli printing and vintage pages from old text books.

3. Work with tools you love and tools that love you.

I put together a selection of pens and pencils etc. in a carrier meant for garden supplies. This stayed by my comfy chair and held pretty much everything I needed to work on my journal pages. The selection changed some over the year. I spent too much on fancy markers early on but found I was rarely reaching for them. They are fun to have and I get them out periodically to play with. When I travelled I took my favourites which included my microns, a few favourite pencils, a core set of Derwent Inktense, a water brush and a Stabilo blue watersoluble pencil. When I was in a buying mood I did invest in a set of Rotring Isograph pens which I love and they don't clog like the old ones! I haven't been brave enough to fly with them yet.

4. Play with friends. This can mean reaching out and making new friends which is scary.

Having the right support group is vital and I got so lucky with this. Truly they are a blessing. We came to the group with all sorts of different backgrounds and expectations but it worked because we were so positive and nurturing with each other. It also worked because we all shared a common language which was tangling. As artists we tend not to be as positive and nurturing of ourselves as we should be. We need our art friends to lift us up. Facebook can be a place to look for the right playmates if you don't have ones that live close to you. The key is to look in the right places and have an idea of what your needs are. Our Tangled Lives wasn't the only secret group I was involved in this year. I have written before about using a private Facebook page to get excellent mentoring and critique from a select group of friends.

5. Take time to assess your goals periodically.

We are going forward with Our Tangled Lives 2016. It has been such a positive experience for me that I wanted to move forward but I did take time to think about what my goals are going forward and how the group fits into all that. Some of our members are choosing not to carry on for a variety of reasons. This is good in its own way. They have looked at the commitment and decided that their lives and creative paths are asking for different things. Assessing where you are and moving forward consciously is good. We are adding new members who are nominated by our current members. I am looking forward to the different strengths and interests that they will bring to the group. There are still a few openings - send me a message if you might be interested.

6. Speak with your own voice.
This has been a mantra for me for years now. It is one of the main tenants of my teaching philosophy. I've written about it, lectured on it, tried to live it. My goal is to teach skills and encourage people to play with their toys as often as possible. My job is not to make something and teach you how to copy it. Never will be. What I am proudest about with Our Tangle Lives is that the work that is posted each week is diverse, personal and alive. Without looking at the name of the poster I can almost always guess who did the work. The members all have voices and they are using them.

7. Get Over Yourself!

The best thing about Facebook and Our Tangled Lives has been the constant posting which has made me much less afraid of posting my work. I only see the flaws and they only see the good stuff, or at least they are polite enough to focus on that! I am feeling more confident, less controlled, less afraid of people seeing my lettering. I know what some of you are thinking and you are right, I should get over myself and enjoy myself!

8. Find a formula that works.

This will take trial and error. I've tried lots of things over the years that didn't work. Our Tangled Lives did. How did it work you ask? Here are the basics:

-Members chose their own journal

- There was a prompt each week. For January  I wrote the prompts and they were pretty wordy! I wanted to make sure that everyone had as much info as possible and could move through the jitters they all felt. After that a list went up and  members of the group signed up to do a prompt for one of the remaining weeks. As the year went on and people got more comfortable the prompts got less wordy but never less exciting. We waited with great anticipation for the posting of the prompts each week.

-Members posted their work and we all got to see lovely eye candy.

It was that easy.

Going forward we are going to follow basically the same format. Members want a little more input on paper techniques and tangle ideas and I've tweaked the formula enough to add that without losing the freedom of the prompts.

My journal will be a little different this year. My work tends to be public, my journals passed around in classes and posted online and I am good with that. I was really impressed by the work that Aimee Michaels did this year and I want to try and emulate it in my own way. I am going to keep 4 hand bound coptic books (one for each quarter) in a size no larger than 5" x 7" for my public prompt artwork. In addition I am going to keep a larger journal for writing my thoughts about each prompt and the deeper meaning behind them and this will be mostly kept private. I am going to mix in some solid papers here and there, some Japanese washi, a few pages with flaps, some shapes...a few design challenges for myself.

I know December is a busy month. I hope you can find some time to settle down with yourself and examine what you want for your artistic life in the year ahead. What dream can you make a reality by doing a little planning and preparing?


  1. Cherryl, you are such a thoughtful and caring person! I had struggled to find a group of people I could post with because too many groups have strict rules that didn't fit in with my style. At first I felt intimidated and overwhelmed, but then as time went by, it seemed that whatever people posted was just fine with you. There was no judgement and second guessing from you and the members followed suit. Everyone played "nice" and it has been amazing how much I have learned. I have also found out that what I admire in someone else's page is not necessarily what I want on my page for a variety of reasons. I do what I want and finally, I feel at HOME. Thank you so much. You are a blessing!

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  3. Fabulous post! So much to identify with, and learn from. Thank you for sharing all of your thoughts here, truly helpful!

  4. It was very interesting to hear the process that went into creating this group - your personal process is inspiring. I am encouraged to share more next year -- bravery comes slowly to me! I love the idea of smaller, monthly journals and look forward to creating some with the use of your books. Running pages through a xyron is brilliant... never thought of doing that! I'm finishing up 2015 (with a few prompts I need to return to that didn't "speak" to me when they came up). Looking forward to 2016!

  5. I FINALLY got around to reading this post like 20 days after you posted it!
    I am one of the 40 who have been "learning along" and your history above is very illuminating.
    I look forward to 2016 and know that it will unfold in amazing ways.
    Thank you for moderating this fascinating group. Happy New Year!


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