Wednesday, October 30, 2013

bird tracks

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.
This page started with a quote that has been written in nearly every journal I have kept for the last 20 years.

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?


Faye Cook said...

Im a watercolour artist as well as a crafter. I don't keep what most people call journals but have old excise books full of words,poems and snippets of information and occasional very weird scribbles .Form these I get my inspiration . I always have in the front of my journals the first couple of lines of The World by Henry Vanghan.
It feeds my soul in some unknown way......

Janey G said...

oh my goodness you echoed my own way of working so much! I use words and my sketchbooks often look more like notebooks! I have just started an alternating saturday linkup to give myself a kick of inspiration and hopefully readers as well...and one week involves sketchbooks! So this week this has really been on my mind as I have found exceptions in the past to where an entire body of work and solo exhibition DID actually evolve when i began a more visual sketchbook and do you know within 3 days of starting one this week, my mind has a new train of thought racing off the rails! i love creativity for the journey it puts us on, don't you! I have to add though, each visual page also has a written page stapled to it...seems i cant get away from words (wordy me...can you tell? xx) so lovely to find you, you are a breath of fresh air and colour in my day! I am now following and off to find you on flickr as well. Have a beautiful day xxxx

tinajo said...

It´s a lovely quote, thanks for sharing!

Rett said...

Oh, I love that quote Faye! Exactly what art and craft does for me, too... feeds my soul :)

Rett said...

Hi Janey, thanks for finding my blog and for your wonderful comments! I like your thoughts on pushing yourself out of your comfort zone when it comes to more visual journaling... I need to do that sometimes too. It can be easier to hold onto a perfect little seed of an idea than let it grow.

Rett said...

Thank you :)

Zoya said...

Thank you for sharing the beautiful quote and poem and writing a thought provoking post about keeping journal.

My journal/sketchbook is a mix of quotes, my own thoughts, notes, receipts, diary entries, bits of brochures from my travels, cards sent to me, photos of my kids, my sketches. Sometimes anything that can be glued in or written in or sketched in goes into it; other times it isn't touched for days and days. Occasionally I come across an article about the "right" way to keep an artist journal, but the messy record of my life is what seems to work for me and I think I would struggle to keep one if there were some type of constraints and expectations put upon it by outside forces (like formal study)

Rett said...

I love the sound of your journal, Zoya! And I agree... there is no "right way" to keep a journal :)