As any of the long time readers among you here already know, much of the focus of my work involves the art of keeping a travel journal. I am often found wandering the world to my favorite depth-filled places to capture a bit of their magic and bring it home with me, in my journals and on this blog as well. My travels have shaped who I am since I was a small girl. Though divorce and poverty curtailed my adventures in later childhood and my teen years, the gypsy spirit of early life remained. Through more localized years here back in Ohio, I learned to appreciate the magic all around me in the mundane. I walked barefooted in the creek behind my friend’s house and searched for fascinating crawdads. For vacations we camped and hiked, and once even took a “Big Trip” up to the Great Lakes.
“You pass through places and places pass through you
But you carry them with you on the soles of your travelers shoes.” ~ The Be Good Tanyas
Like many in the world just now, I do not know what my work will look like in the coming months and possibly years.
There will likely be a curtailment of my rambling ways at least short term . Time will tell. But this doesn’t mean that I won’t be working in my sketchbook, or that I’ll quit teaching. I may need to go back to what got me here in the first place.
“And I’m going to quit these rambling ways
One of these days soon, ooh” ~be good tanyas
You see, the amazing trips I take and the workshops I teach started off because people would get a glimpse of my sketchbook and say, “you should teach that.” It took me a long time to take these comments seriously. For the longest time, I didn’t even know other people made books like mine, filled with thoughts, doodles, sketches, quotes, artful experiments, photos, stamps, etc. It’s just what I did as a way to check in with myself. A way to have a history of it all.
“What was any art but a mold to imprison for a moment the shining elusive element which is life itself – life hurrying past us and running away. Too strong to stop. Too sweet to lose.”
~ Willa Cather
The piles and piles of books I have amassed over the years have played a large part in teaching me who I really am at the heart of it all. My travels are amazing, sure. But sometimes it’s the bits between the trips where the real work is happening. The practicing. The daily dredging for internal inspiration. The reaching toward a lighter way of being in the world. Turning away from the constant stream of what the broader popular culture says I should think and care for, and figuring out my own true north. All of this happened in my books.
How to Make a Travel Journal for Turbulent Times?
There is a lot of content flying around on the internet. Really great stuff from artists and musicians and writers, interpreting this time in their own way. Continuing to make art in spite of dire uncertainty. I’ve also seen many fellow artists admit that they are simply a bit shell-shocked by it all and are finding it difficult to concentrate. This is where I happen to fall.
We mustn’t be too hard on ourselves. I’ve been blogging and drawing a bit, but the hum of worry about The State of Things occupies a lot of bandwidth. I am beginning to settle in to this new normal, this grand and difficult state of unknowing and anxiety and I am beginning to think about my own contribution in the midst of it.
This morning in the wee hours, the words Traveling through Turbulent Times kept weaving and wandering through my troubled mind. And so I grabbed onto the tail of one of those threads and followed it awhile and came up with some ideas.
Many of us are home bound now, for the near and foreseeable future. Our mental health might be taking a toll. Making art is a great way to rewire our brains and get our thoughts pointed in a healthier direction…..
“Do not let the world make you hard.”
old adage via @malakagharib
So, let’s start a travel journal. Right now. In the midst of chaos.
An historian I follow over on twitter (wish I could remember which, but I can’t) posted something that stuck with me. They said something to the effect of:
“Start a journal. Write all of this down. What you feel, how you are affected by all of this, all of it. Historians in the future will thank you.”
I believe this to be true. Even before all of this started, I have always believed that everyone of us matters. I still believe this. Our voices are recognizable on the phone when a loved one or friend picks up on the other end of the line. This holds true for drawing and writing as well.
“The littlest birds sing the prettiest songs.” ~the be good tanyas
So below are some tips to get started and links to light the way. I give you these with a promise:
I will be here. Reach out to me here on the blog, over on IG or Twitter or Facebook and send me a message. We can chat about what holds you back, ideas to get a page started or completed, what to do about a drawing. We can do this, together. This is my gift to you for the time being….
Step 1: Get yer materials together.
A book, a little set of watercolors and a few things to write/draw with. That’s it. Most of us have some sort of blank book we “don’t want to ruin” lying around on a shelf somewhere. Get it out and mess it up. As for watercolors, if you don’t have them, try to order them, or, send out the proverbial bat signal in your local community. Some one is bound to have something lying around. We will work together with the materials YOU have.
Step 2: Set an intention (and optional step 2.a, collage the cover of your book. Nothing fancy, just some cut out stuff you like. Get some glue all up in it. Allow to dry.)
Pick a quote that you like. If you find this overwhelming, let me know, I have a stash of them. A good one for the time we find ourselves in is:
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
~JRR Tolkien, Fellowship of The Ring
Now write or type or print this quote into the front cover or first page or so of your book.
Step 3: (the scary step) Begin
This is the hard part. The part where you will not like your drawings for a while perhaps, or you might notice your handwriting has tilted one way or another, you might “mess up” a page. Keep going. Trust me. And here are a few ways how as you move forward…….
Seek the words of the wise ones. Write or type them out on an old typewriter or print them out to glue into your book. (not just for the intention page, but wherever you feel like sprinkling them throughout your own book.)
Don’t be afraid of the dark stuff. You can always paint over it if you need to later. But get it out. Write that shit down lads. Get. It. Out. On to the page. Look at work by Amanda Grace, Julia Cameron, and others.
Slow down and savor the small things. Make a cup of tea in your favorite cup. Try drawing it. Then do it again. Notice the differences in your drawings. Make notes. Do it again. Look at the work of Dan Price and Danny Gregory.
If you are new to watercolor, begin by just making colors. See how much water is too much, too little. See how far you can stretch a color out with just water, thus creating value. Make little color swatch squares, page after page after page of experiments. Make a day of it. Try to match some colors in your home or yard if you are permitted out of doors. There are so many greens and grays in the world it might make your head spin. (Hit me up if you are struggling, and we can do a zoom chat and make some colors.)
Time travel!! Use old photos of past trips, or online photos of dreamed of journeys as inspiration and source photos for drawings. Approach these drawings in a variety of ways. Contour drawing, just paint, paint and ink, pencil.
Add text/words to your page. Try your hand at Haiku or The American Sentence.
Make a note every day of something that makes you go *gasp*. Pay attention to these things. They will light the way.
In spite of the world seeming dim just now, write down the things you see, hear, read that are positive. Our brains are hardwired as a survival trick to follow the negative. We must circumvent that to stay mentally healthy.
Pay attention to what you pay attention to.
Pick a color, and draw/ paint/ list 3-5 things that are of that color around you.
For 1 week, make a page of what you eat each day. Draw or print pictures to put in your journal.
If you are able to get outside at all, either on a hike by yourself, or just out in your own garden, make a nature journal. Get to know the work of my husband Tony over on instagram. He “doesn’t consider himself an artist.” But I beg to differ. He just began, and kept going……
Keep track of which birds are coming or going, what plants are popping up. Learn your weeds and your mushrooms. Draw them. There is no better way to get to know them.
Note that Cathy Johnson is offering her book about keeping an artist’s nature journal for free viewing online.
“copy” the work of artists you admire. Do this in your sketchbook as a great way to learn. Make a note on your drawing of who you are “working in the style of” and what you learned.
Don’t be afraid to be silly, get into your imagination a bit now and then.
Step 4: Keep going, enjoy the journey.
Hook up online with your local chapter of the Urban Sketchers. If you don’t have a chapter near you, come join us Cincinnatians. It’s a wonderful, inclusive community. All chapters around the world just now are working virtually. It’s a great time to practice from the safety of your desktop while getting to know your fellow sketchers online. Join us!
As a global community, we are collectively on entirely new ground. There will be discomfort and grief. And possibly a lot of it. I can only say that a practice of sitting with a simple sketchbook set up and taking stock, even in, and perhaps especially in, the roughest times, can be a bit of a soothing balm to a weary soul when all is said and done. These personal impressions of ours are important to express. And one day we may even want to share them.
We will get through this, alone, together. I’m off now to get out of my pajamas (it’s 2 pm.) and to make a pot of soup and some cookies. I plan to wrap these up to deliver to neighbors as a way of saying hi, I love you and to connect in a way that isn’t online. Then likely I’ll play a few tunes, write a bit in my journal, make a painting. Join me.