Developing a practice in words and images

Illustrated journal entry, 6/15/11

Illustrated journal entry, 6/15/11

A couple of months ago — I can’t remember now what prompted the thought — it occurred to me that it would be useful practice to pair my morning pages with a visual version of the same. I don’t keep up with morning pages as religiously as I used to, but I do still rely on them when life gets complicated, and they (and blogging) definitely keep my wordsmithing muscles limber and ready. I wanted a similar form of daily stretching for my drawing muscles, particularly regarding: (a) drawing everyday things, and (b) visual expression of moods and emotions.

I first tried to incorporate little sketches into my regular morning pages, but I quickly got frustrated. The pens I prefer for writing are not my implements of choice for drawing, I dislike drawing on ruled paper, and it slowed or derailed my verbal train of thought to have to make all these stops for drawing. I then thought I would do my morning pages first, and then make sketches inspired by my writings, but that failed so badly I never even tried it; I never wanted to. A good session of morning pages can take over an hour, and after that much mental decluttering, the last thing I want to do is sit down again to illustrate all those pesky thoughts.

Another option was free drawing, the way morning pages are free writing. But without a point of entry, drawing just doesn’t appeal to me. I think I’ve been doodling for so long now that when I sit down to doodle, I can only draw the same old figures and vines and flowers that adorn hundreds of my classroom notes from over the years. The wellspring feels dull and tired. I shouldn’t be surprised, because I know how difficult it is to freewrite without some kind of prompt, even if the prompt is only a single word. The only reason written morning pages work is I usually have some kind of starting place in my thoughts. But I don’t think in images, and it bores me to just pluck them from my surroundings; there’s a reason I rarely go out and sketch from life. I probably should, since it’s good practice, but art’s appeal for me has always been interpretive, not representative. It’s a strange thing, because all I ever draw are representations (as opposed to abstractions), yet it’s very dull for me to just draw a thing’s appearance. Even in my watercolor class, my “real-life” paintings of drinking glasses and Shasta daisies have character from the use of color and composition.

Detail from 6/15

Detail from 6/15 entry

Finally, I just went ahead and bought several large, spiral-bound watercolor journals, and started combination morning pages in those. I’ve tried this twice so far and it has worked, though with some caveats. Watercolor is definitely necessary, hence the fancy sketchbooks. It just flows so much more easily than any other medium, and the color adds so much energy. There is a nice rhythm to moving back and forth between wet paint and words, then back to the paint once the first layer has dried. But I can do this because both times I’ve tried this, I already had something on my mind that I wanted to write about (just as I did while doing the Tisha book). So it was easy to move back and forth between words and pictures because I wasn’t switching content, just form. Even so, the combination is more tiring than either pursuit alone. Moreover, I still think and write at much greater length than I can draw, and there’s a logistical difficulty of laying out words and pictures together on the page. If I write first, how will I know how much space to leave for drawings? While doing the Tisha book I used to write several pages at a time, leaving space for illustrations, but this confined the illustrations to smallish spaces of fairly regular shape. I want my journal to be more free and experimental than that. Yet if I draw first, how do I know the pictures will correspond with my eventual words? How can I be sure they will intersect in interesting ways?

Illustrated journal entry, 6/20/11

Illustrated journal entry, 6/20/11

These are all good questions, but the bottom line is this: I can learn the answers by doing. That’s why I’m starting this words-and-pictures practice with a journal, where it doesn’t matter, so I’ll have more experience when it does matter. In these two entries I started with the words first, but maybe later I’ll start with pictures. Maybe I’ll do only pictures one day, and then add words on top of them. The point is, this is my chance to develop my own unique language and working style, so I should just go forth and do it until it feels right.

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