Dawn DeVries Sokol


{AJF: The Journal Artists 3}

Aaah, back to the amazing contributors of 1000 Artist Journal Pages. Today we talk with Carolee Gilligan Wheeler, whose travel journal pages amaze me. She and fellow 1000 AJP contributor Jennie Hinchcliff run Pod Post, an online shop offering ephemera for mail art and journaling needs. I certainly hope she and Jennie make another trip to Japan soon so they can sell more of their amazing mail art bento boxes...Carolee, you need to alert me when that happens! Look for more of their mail art in upcoming publications from Quarry, including their own book about mail art, scheduled for publication in Fall 2009!!!

Why do you journal?

I keep a notebook to clear out my head, to work through visual ideas, because life is too short to forget things, and because (now that I've been doing it for thirteen years) I feel crabby if I go too long without.

How did you start journaling?
I had diaries as a kid, and in high school I tried keeping a journal but felt stifled, afraid that someone would find it (Harriet the Spy had a big impact on me). I kept a series of sketchbooks in art school, but that wasn’t the same as keeping a journal. Finally, after college a friend I really admired (coincidentally the same one who inspired me to learn bookbinding) showed me a few pages of hers and, in the time-tested spirit of copycat-ism, I decided I wanted to have something to show for my time on earth. My first real “journal” in that spirit was a blank book with a Frida Kahlo painting on the front. It took me a long time after that to really hit my stride and work out a style that resonated with me.

What artists do you look to for inspiration?
I try very, very hard not to look too much at other people’s work, because I think it taints my ability to interpret things in a manner that’s true to my own thoughts and vision. But having said that, I really admire the work of author and cartoonist Lynda Barry, the artist David Fullarton, and my friend Jennie Hinchcliff.

Where do you journal?

Everywhere! At work, on the bus or train, in a coffeehouse, at my desk, on the bed with the cat, on vacation...all I really need is a pen and maybe a glue stick or tape.

What are your favorite mediums to journal with?
I think simple is best. I need a pen (I like either fine rollerball pens or a fine point fountain pen), a glue stick, and some papery junk (off the ground, from my desk drawer, from the recycling bin). Super bonus items include a stapler, some blank labels, and maybe a date stamp. If I’m getting really fancy I might use colored ink.

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?
Working chronologically is very important to me, because I want my notebooks to tell me something further down the line. I might leave portions of some pages blank but I always feel bad about it. So basically I start by putting down the date, and then filling up the page with writing, or collage, or lettering, or drawing. If I am going to collage I almost always rip things up, rather than cutting them with scissors. Mostly I try not to be too thinky about the process. I think it ruins it, because what’s important to me is grabbing onto a moment in time. Sometimes my notebook pages are just packing lists, shopping lists, lists of grievances, and other pages are full of color and stuff. I try not to get too worked up about making it any one thing. What’s important to me is just keeping it going.

What other art forms do you partake in and how do they influence your journaling and vice versa?
I bind books, which has a lot to do with how I approach my notebooks, and my keeping a journal definitely influences the kinds of books I make. I go through stages of wanting different sizes, types of paper, hard- versus soft-cover, and so forth. I also teach classes on making books, which is not really an art form, but it helps me solidify and articulate why I think keeping a notebook is important. I try not to get too preachy in the classes I teach, but I do proselytize about journal-keeping. I think if everybody had one the world would be at least a 50 percent happier place.

What do you recommend to those who want to start journaling but aren’t sure how?
In my own life and in the classes I teach, I tell people I believe that you should remove as many barriers as possible that keep you from action. So it's a lot like what you would do if you wanted to get fit: rather than embarking on some sport or activity that required a whole bunch of fancy equipment, it’s easier if you choose a simple form of exercise with few accessories. That way, you can’t say “Oh, I can’t exercise until I get that fancy new thing.” You have no excuses. Being creative and making things is the same, to me. If you decide you’re not going to be precious about it, you can’t feel bad if something doesn’t work out the way you wanted it to. It’s really about the process—that’s what I think is the whole point. So by keeping your art media down to a few tools, you remove the excuse that you have to wait until you get home at night to put something down in your notebook. I like to tell people—over and over again—about the interview I read with Lynda Barry where she was complaining to her husband that she couldn’t get a drawing to look right. She was panicking about how it looked stupid and was feeling bad about it. He said, “That’s right. Because doing it right is what fascism is all about.” Why are we such fascists with ourselves? Why do we decide that art looks like this or that, or that something isn’t legitimate until it resembles something else has already done? I have no idea. My other favorite quote is from Anne Lamott, who wrote a very popular book about writing called Bird by Bird: “Perfectionism is the oppressor.”
So. That’s a long, convoluted way to say: Just begin. Start and keep at it—just to do it. Don’t do it for any other reason than just to do it. All the rest will fall into place. Get a little notebook and do one page a day, however you want to do it. That’s it. Even if all you do is glue in the receipt from your grocery trip, you’ll be able to say you did that, at least.

What has journaling done for you personally?
I have a better idea of how I really felt about things in the past. Our memories have an awesome ability to deceive us. With my notebook, I have a little less self-deceit. Also, it helps me learn to focus and to keep track of creative ideas. Like going out on a daily run, I find that I feel more centered when I am regularly doing things in my notebook. Otherwise, the puzzle pieces get shaken out of place.

Journaling seems to be trendy right now—do you see yourself journaling long after the fad is gone? Why or why not?
IS it trendy? Maybe it’s trendy because Oprah likes it? I don’t really care about whether things are popular, other than that occasionally it makes the fun art supplies easier to find. But, yes. I will keep going because there is nothing else to do. Why would I stop doing something that is so simple and that makes me so happy?

What do you see for the future of art journaling?
I’d love to see every grown-up carrying around a notebook, scribbling and drawing and babbling on about their lives. I’d love to see entire library archives filled with personal journals. But like most marginal activities (like letter-writing, or professional frisbee, or knitting dog sweaters), it’s going to be the people who have something invested in it that stick to it. I’m curious to see what other people think the “future of art journaling” will be. Will it become an Olympic sport? Have its own museum? Hmmmm.

Thanks, Carolee, for joining us for Art Journal Fridays. And everyone: don’t forget to pick up your copy of 1000 Artist Journal Pages if you haven’t already...It’ll inspire you!

Have a GREAT Friday!!!