Dawn DeVries Sokol


{AJF: The Journal Artists 2}

I know I said I’d run this feature every once in a while on Fridays, but I have so many wonderful answers from so many of the 1000 AJP artists, that I just can’t contain them!

Today’s interview is with Melanie Sage, a journal artist whose work I admire for it’s depth and honesty. After seeing her pages up close and personal, I realized I needed more of me in my journals. Her journaling is raw and edgy and captures the bitterness and beauty of life. Her mother, Vickie Enkoff (an art journaler as well), passed away just before Melanie sent me her journals for 1000 AJP. She sent me some of Vickie’s work, and one of those pages resides on page 300. I felt that it speaks volumes about the world around us. It’s not difficult to see her mother’s influence in Melanie’s work.

Why do you journal?

I journal as a way to express myself creatively, to answer questions that aren't quite at the surface and ready for conversation yet, to remind myself of what's important to me. Often my journaling follows themes related to figuring out how I want to spend my time or gets me refocused on my values. I map out goals and ways of reaching them. I use my art journal as a way to play, meditate, and explore, too.  Sometimes I think I am just making art, but once I am done I marvel about the messages reflected in the pages. I use a lot of found text cut randomly from a page, and once I put the words together I am often struck by how revealing and deep the pasted words have become.

How did you start journaling?
I kept art journals in the past, a scrapbook of images cut out that I liked, or sketches of art I wanted to make. But my current journals are different. My definition of art journaling involves writing and images as a focus reflective of life, not just random collages in a book... so the old scrapbooks I kept—I don't really consider those art journals. I’ve been involved in rubber stamps and paper arts for years—I started a rubber stamp company when I was 18—so I drifted with many others to mixed media, book binding, and collage.

What artists do you look to for inspiration?

Teesha and Tracy Moore were certainly inspirational and influenced my art making by how widely they shared their work. I had just started art journaling when I took a class from Juliana Coles. I LOVE her art journals; I think her work is tremendous. I didn’t connect well with her methods for art making, and I found myself not as interested in being coached through making a page—it doesn’t work for me—it interrupts the authenticity of my work. (I don’t think that’s true for everyone, and I’ve even taught a few art journaling classes... this was just how it happened for me.) But I took a few classes anyway, just for the experience of being near her books and being close to her passion for the process. Those things are inspiring to me.

More recently, I’ve really fallen in love with the art and messages of Judy Wise. I am inspired by her passion for life, her care for others, the way she shares her art, and of course, her incredible journals.  There are others—there is so much eye candy on the web now, so many incredible people keeping blogs. I appreciate Kelly Kilmer and her work and her kindness. I am inspired by the work of DJ Pettitt, although her approach and style are very different than mine. I like how she does a study of faces, and has so many different pieces of work that hold together thematically; they are recognizable. I love the styles of Anahata Katkin and Mary Ann Moss (go to her blog—the world should be watching this woman!)

I often look to music or emotion for inspiration, too. Right now, I am swooning over Kimya Dawson, who sings this playful child-like music that is like poetry, often about social injustice or trying hard to love the world. I am very inspired by artists who share generously and want to help make the world a better place and are kind and considerate. They make me want to be a better person. I want those values to be reflected in my art. When I experience the opposite of that, even in an artist whose work I enjoy, it’s a real turn-off for me.

What are your favorite mediums to journal with?
Pretty easy: cheap craft (fake acrylic) paint, peerless watercolors, cheap foam brushes, stencils, spray paint, letter stickers, white opaque pens from Japan, Sharpie markers of all colors and sizes, and sewing on paper.

Describe your journaling process. Do you jump around in your
journal, or journal each consecutive page? Do you have to complete a
journal page before starting on others, or do you have several in
different stages?

This is funny for me. I like to start and finish a spread in one journaling session. I rarely go back to a page I’ve worked on before. I like my pages to be an expression of the moment so they capture my life-in-time. It feels like rewriting a period of life to go backward, or to not finish the spread I am working on before starting another. I feel like finishing is part of the process of working through it for me. I know—I am kind of neurotic about it. But I don’t even paint pages ahead because I don’t know what color mood I will be in in the future. I work in one book at a time. They are not separated by subject. I DO go back and add a table of contents to my book when I am completely done with it—it’s kind of how I finish off that chunk of my life, by looking at the book to see what I learned/went through/discovered about myself between those covers. I want to name it and acknowledge it before I move on to another book. Finishing a book always feels like an accomplishment to me. It takes me about six months to one year.

What other art forms do you partake in and how do they influence your journaling and vice versa?
I still manufacture rubber stamps. It’s an addiction. I do small limited edition presses now, I’ve scaled way back. I don’t really do much other art right now except sewing—I make purses. Way too many purses. I sew some other small projects, or make quickie gifts for friends. But mostly just journals. I practice other mediums in my journal (stencil cutting for example) but I am not really drawn to any other art form right now. In the past I’ve done collage, painting on canvas, mail art, book binding, rubber stamping, card making. I haven’t made a card in years. My little sister makes my art journals for me. She has the patience and tolerance for that. I don’t enjoy book binding much, or other technical arts, honestly. It’s not how my art brain works. Which is funny, I am a social worker and working on a Ph.D. in research, and work with some very exacting skill sets. I think I move in to the other side of my brain for those. I know social work isn’t art, technically, but I do believe my line of work influences my art and the way that I use my journal.

What do you recommend to those who want to start journaling but aren't sure how? 
Look at some pictures that inspire you, but don’t obsess over them. Don’t try to make your pages pretty. Just try to put things on the page. If you don’t like it, leave it overnight. If you still don’t like it in the morning, paint over it and start again. There are no failures in art journals. Consider them a conversation with yourself. Nobody else has to see it or like it until/if you want to share. OR, if you have an art buddy, pull out your collage stuff, glue stick, paint, and sit together and work as you talk, and let the journaling be loose and natural, don’t obsess over getting it right. Glue things down, pull things up. Play with photocopied pictures from your childhood. Cut out words (but DON’T read them in context of the page you cut them from, it’ll mess you up and make it harder to use them in a new way.) Turn off your inner sensor. Let your inner child guide you. Remember when you weren’t afraid to play.

What has journaling done for you personally?
When I started journaling, I would have the internal dialogues on paper and be ashamed of them and paint over them. I didn’t want people to see/read that part of me. After my first book, I really started thinking about what that meant for me and others. Am I disapproving of my own voice? What about my real life did I want to hide from others? I really started connecting with the idea of being real in my books and sharing the real stories with others. I think at first it was like “if they read this and still accept me, then I have a legitimate friendship.” It was almost like a test, being accepted for the real me and the things I don’t say out loud. But after a while I realized it was important to share my journals where I struggle with my faults, my nagging questions, my self that wants to be thinner or smarter or do more (more, more!) in the world, or wants to be less messy, or questions the meaning.... I want other people to know that there are so many of us asking those same questions, feeling the same periods of depression or loneliness, wondering about our places in the world. I didn’t want my journal to be a place where people only saw the “happy” me and expected that I therefore had a happy perfect life. I don’t. I think trying to live up to those images makes us feel even more inadequate and alone. 

I paused when I got my copy of 1000 Artist Journal Pages because I didn’t realize my words on the pages would be readable. But when I started reading some of the others, I relaxed and felt pretty excited to be connected to Something Bigger—this community of people putting their hearts on paper, being real. It’s really exciting to me. I wish we could all be in a room together. (Wanna come over?)

Journaling seems to be trendy right now—do you see yourself journaling long after the fad is gone? Why or why not?
Yes, I think so. I guess it would be OK if I didn’t want to anymore. But right now it feels very important to me, and I can’t imagine

What do you see for the future of art journaling?
I am not sure. I think the scrapbook world is still strong, but I think a lot of scrapbookers are still Disneyland journalers, sharing mostly happy images. (Not all, but most.) Maybe pieces of the art journaling/scrapbooking world will collide and the scrapbookers will share more of their bruises. I know that I’ve started using photos a lot in my art journals... I was in a photo void for a while when I changed over to digital because my pictures just sat on my computer. But now that online photo buying is so easy, I’ve been really inspired by incorporating real photos. Maybe there will be an art journal revolution. I see art journaling classes pushing their way more and more in to the convention/retreat circuit.

I once came across this question in a book... “What would happen if you treated everyone you met as if their heart was broken?” When I answered that for myself, I realized that I wish I was more patient with others, and tried to remind myself to be kinder to the hearts of strangers. Maybe in the future of art journaling more people will be less scared of sharing their truths. That’s what I hope happens. And I hope that it will make us all be a little kinder to each other.

Thank you, Melanie, for sharing yourself and your pages with us!

Check out Melanie’s blog and shop for more...And grab a copy of 1000 Artist Journal Pages for more pages by Melanie and other journal artists!