I'm not great at keeping an artist journal, but I thought it might be interesting to share a few pages.
When I studied art many years ago, it was mandatory to keep a visual journal. Part of our assessment, actually. I struggled with it a bit and always felt that my journal was a bit under par, as it wasn't brimming with sketches. I loved the romantic idea of the artist who carries a journal everywhere with them, stopping as inspiration strikes to furiously sketch ideas.
But the reality is, that just isn't the way I work. Mostly, I find that it is words and sounds that inspire me. The very early stages of an idea rarely involve a drawing, but I always have a phrase or a poem or a line from a song in my head. It's the images that go with these words that eventually become the artwork. My journal isn't particularly pretty, or colourful, and not even necessarily full of my own work... it's just as likely to contain words and thoughts that I have stolen from my favourite writers.
There are bird tracks and nothing in the sky;
something lived, left, and left something.
It's from William Wharton's Birdy. It's been many years since I read that book, and to be honest I don't remember much about it except that particular phrase which has never left me.
Earlier this year those bird tracks started wanting to appear in my work, and it made me wonder about the significance of that phrase to me. As serendipity would have it, I bought a book of Anis Mojgani poems and fell in love with this one:
The people in town seemed surprised. Like they had never seen a flock
of bees come out of someone's mouth before. It wasn't even so much
the bees. Or the wasps. Or the tiny tiny rainstorms. It wasn't the shining
rings or the swans of amber that any of them seemed to be surprised by.
It wasn't even my mouth. They told me: It's just, that's not how we talk.
I said something back. Some... some word. I don't know if it was
an emerald or a tugboat or some yellow yellow petal. But after it fell
I turned to walk back through the scarves, leaving footprints in the
flowers, hoping someone would use them to follow me home. Afraid of
whom it might be, somebody who knew what I was trying to say.
Anis Mojgani, from The Feather Room, Write Bloody Publishing, 2011
The idea of those footprints in the flowers, and the bird tracks in the sky just went together so nicely for me... not only because I love exploring the concept of navigation in my work, but it also made me think about art as communication, one side of a conversation.
There is an awfully vulnerable place we go to when we share a part of ourselves through our art, whether it is visual art, poetry, music or writing. Why would we do it, except in an effort to leave our own subtle tracks - bird tracks in the sky or footprints in the flowers - personal thoughts and ideas that might be lost on many, but may just find a home in a vulnerable place in someone else?
Or, as Neil Gaiman puts it in this wonderful speech, we send out messages in bottles, and occasionally they return to us.
So now, a question for my readers... do you keep a journal? What does your journal look like?