Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Confessions of a Journal Junkie

I have to confess, I can't resist beautiful journals! Every time I go into a book store, stationers or art supply store I find myself irresistibly drawn to those lovely little books, hard or soft covered, spiral or perfect bound, blank or lined pages or, as they make here in France, pages with a little grid (the French are so much neater about their handwriting). I have so many notebooks, journals and sketch books that one could imagine I do nothing but draw and write. Of course it isn't true. Often these beautiful little books languish for years on my shelves, and still, I continue looking at and buying more. Finding the perfect journal becomes an obsession. Realistically, the notebooks I use the most faithfully are ones you can purchase at the grocery store. Just soft little books with lines. These are great for collecting restaurant cards, and wine labels to remind myself of a really good bottle (restaurants are very kind about giving these to you if you ask). I also cut restaurant reviews out of magazines and paste them into little notebooks. I have my own personal guide to Paris, for instance. I always have a notebook in my purse. When I'm out I use it as a place to write down reflections that come to me, or some anecdote that I want to remember. I love people-watching and I can make a quick sketch or write a few words to help myself remember something that seems charming or strange. When I reread these entries months later I sometimes lose the whole point of what I was wanting to remind myself! When out at a nice restaurant I often make a tiny schematic of the plate that is served to me, if it's paricularly attractive. I love to write down interesting food combinations to reuse myself at our Bed & Breakfast. I adore those beautiful notebooks which are made with soft Japanese paper. I have at least four of them and not one of them has anything written or drawn in it. I just don't dare! Another category of journal I can't resist, are those with pretty covers. They are available everywhere. They're put out on counters for people like me who somehow believe that just one more beautiful notebook will turn me into a genius-writer and inspire words and images of profound meaning. When I lived in California I bought a very nice notebook which I was going to dedicate to our garden, at that time under construction and quite large. I began with a plan drawing of the space. I never got any further! Now the notebook sits on my shelf in the French countryside, with labels from Californian plants we bought and which I stuck into the back blank pages. Here is my current "everything" notebook, which sits on my desk. I write down things we need, to-do lists, phone numbers, reflections, ideas, quotes, complaints, questions. Of course, as you can see I really tend to do all that on random scraps of paper that come to hand at the moment and if and when they actually get transfered into the real book remains a mystery. I have made several journals myself. The little one was a design from Gail Rieke. It works very well in your purse, for example. You can bind in little folded strips of paper with an elastic or rubber band, take notes and then remove them and add more paper as you like. It's like a little portfolio. The bigger journal is made with gorgeous handmade paper and one of my favorite fabric designs. The pages can not be removed, and that's what intimidates me about it. I began it as a journal of my life in the woods when I first came to France. I made my title page and begun my writing, but it is a big book and I never got too far. Now we've moved, so the book will have to find another use. This little beauty is a really great journal which is friendly enough to allow you to go ahead and use it, but sexy enough that you are inspired to put something worthwhile in it. It's available from Lee Valley Tools,46113 I used mine for a travel journal. I even pasted copies of my photos into it. It is a nice record of several of our summer European trips. My Italian journal is perfect bound with book fabric and covered in exquisite handmade paper. The flowers are dotted with gold ink. It's one of my most scrumptious books, but I've already made drawings and written entries in it which don't seem worthy of it. What to do? I really enjoyed following through with "The Artist's Way", by Julia Cameron. A lot of free-association writing. Anything to make myself sit down and draw and write. I don't tend to take my sketchbook out, as I know I should, and just draw en plein aire everyday. Oh to have a sketchbook like Delacroix! But I don't seem to have the knack for making my pages look so randomly but beautifully arranged. I tend to develop my drawings on tissue paper, transfer them onto my etching plates and then throw away the drawings. Sketch books are an end in themselves. I admire people who seem to fit all that into life. My current kit includes my fully-lined fabric pencil pouch which I bought at Kazana in Paris for about 4€. I keep jelly pens in several colors along with my black drawing pens. I also have a white out pen (which I use to draw highlights) and a gold and silver pen for the fun of it. My daughter Emily gave me the most remarkable little notebook with colored pages. You wet them with a tiny drop of water on the included brush, and you have instant water colors. So neat and tidy and no need for a palette of any kind. And since they aren't too wet, the color goes on, but doesn't wrinkle the paper. The moleskine journals, very popular in France, come in every size, shape and design. The paper is just gorgeous and takes ink without bleeding through to the other side. They work well for both writing and drawing and the handy little elastic strap keeps them closed in your purse.


  1. Hi Nancy !
    I came on your blog through the post you left on WetCanvas on the printmaking board. I do the same as you regarding noting interesting combinations of food in restaurants. Anytime it's creative, I take notes to have more ideas for my own meals. By the way, I'm French and I live in Jura departement, in Lons-le-Saunier.

  2. Amazing, wonderful and so warm and delicate passion ! I really understand now why we became friend ... even if I am not so organized in my copy books and journals, I am like you, Nancy : I love small ones and I am always on the verge of starting a "work" but very often only some pages are used ... I don't usually draw but I write words in different languages in order to learn them (hum, hum !), my dreams, beautiful sentences from books I read and loved, journeys and so ... I think a ral challenge now for me is to find the one you didn't get yet !

  3. Hey Nancy
    You know, I have the same problem.

    With all of those notebooks I have in my bookshelves - most purchased in France - I'm just waiting for that inspiration, that idea, those stunning words that will make my scratches within the pages worthy.

    Then I discovered that my throw-away journal with all the ho-hum ideas and half thoughts and scribbles has somehow transformed itself into something interesting. Through a transformation all of its own.

    And I still can't bring myself to start on those 'special' ones.

    Great post. Keep having fun.

  4. What a delight to see these wonderful books filled with a handwriting I know so well. Heather recently gave me two tiny moleskin notebooks with pink covers. Have you seen the tiny letterpress books on flickr?