Creativity

Journal spotlight: Art journal

I’m going to start simply by saying that an art journal can be anything you want it to be, really.

In its most simple sense, an art journal is any kind of journal where you express yourself visually. Often art journals are mixed media – that is, a combination of elements such as collage, acrylic or watercolour paint, gouache, pencil, crayon, stamps, inks, etc.

I’ve spent the past two years trying to figure out exactly what an art journal is, at least for me. I’ve seen the beautiful works of people like Tamara Laport, the simple but touching pieces by Nicole Rae, the messy and inspiring sketchbooks of Lisa Sonora, and the gorgeous and striking works by people like Alena Hennessy and Hali Karla.

I’ve worked in sketchbooks, gluebooks, journals, binders, altered books… I’ve collaged, stamped, painted, drawn, written, sprayed, taped, watercoloured, lettered… and still I have struggled to define exactly what art journaling is.

I’ve struggled to find my own style and really claim my own art journaling approach.

Then, a dear friend of mine pointed out that I do have my own style – I just wasn’t acknowledging it.

You see, I had always thought that art journaling was not the same thing as visual journaling. In fact, here is an awesome video that discusses this point quite nicely.

So while I’ve been journaling visually for some time – in a similar sketchbook style to Lisa Sonora (if I may be so bold as to suggest that), I haven’t felt as though I have been art journaling, really, at all. Sure I was incorporating art techniques into my visual journaling, but it certainly wasn’t art.

Perhaps it’s the word ‘art’ in the name art journal – I mean, no pressure, right?!

I much prefer the term visual journal, or creative journal.

For a while, I saw an ‘art journal’ as more focused on particular techniques and creating a specific, visually pleasing outcome, and the term ‘visual journal’ as more about the process and self expression. Now… I’m not so sure.

When I saw Lisa Sonora had blown up images from her sketchbooks to put up onto the walls of her studio, a little thought crept into my head: maybe, just maybe, this could also be art? She says,

They’re not art…but they are artifacts of a creative journey. It’s like meditation, but with art supplies.

I don’t know. Seeing them up on the wall like that, they sure look like art to me. Surely they can be both?

As for my own messy journals – I may not have found a style that looks anything like the work of Tamara, or Alena, but I’ve got my own visual approach. Who’s to say it’s not art, in some form? And it will continue to evolve over time, as I do. I figure as long as I’m expressing myself visually, well, that’s all that matters.

My advice to anyone who wants to start an art journal: grab some art supplies you like (acrylic paint is a good one, as are stamps) and play. That’s it. I was going to give some lengthy list of instructions but really, you don’t need them and they would only serve to confuse or intimidate someone starting out. Find an artist you love and copy their style for a bit, then copy the work of someone else. Do this many times over and you will start to find your own style. Give yourself permission, try to get past the fear of creating, and practice being imperfect. You don’t have to show anyone, or you can join 15 Facebook groups and show the world. There is no right or wrong way.

Do you keep an art journal? How do you define art journal? Do you see art journaling and visual journaling as different things? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments.

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Creativity

Practice makes imperfect

If you’ve read anything else on this blog, you will likely know that I have a bit of an issue with perfectionism – I struggle when things are imperfect.

Actually, I think a lot of people do. I think it’s symptomatic of an age of airbrushing and increasingly ridiculous expectations.

Nowhere is my need for perfection more apparent than in my creative work – my creative journaling, my painting, my writing.

Visual journaling is a real challenge for me because it’s supposed to be about letting go, playing, exploring and expressing yourself. It makes sense that the outcome of this process is not always pretty. In fact, I feel like visual or creative journaling is more about the process than the outcome – just like regular written journaling.

I don’t sit down to write a journal entry so I have a pretty page of words, I write because it helps me to process things and is healing. Visual journaling should be the same.

It’s been a real conscious process for me with my perfectionism in my art. I have to regularly remind myself that it doesn’t have to be perfect, that it’s ok to make a mess and not know where it is going. It is a very uncomfortable feeling, playing with my paints and not knowing how it will turn out. I have to deliberately sit with that uncomfortable feeling.

But I’ve discovered that the best way to get past this is practice. And I don’t mean practice so that I get better artistically, I mean practice being ok with not being perfect. Practice being in that state of discomfort. Practice being imperfect.

The more I can work in my journal and actively continue despite feeling uncomfortable and even fearful of what will happen, the more I start to become desensitized to that feeling. The less power it has over me. The more I can create freely.

Someone once told me that discomfort is a sign that we are challenging ourselves, that we are growing.

So the feeling of discomfort, as unpleasant as it may be, is actually a sign that we are doing something good for us. I like this. It means that when I sit down to work in my creative journal and I feel uncomfortable with not knowing how it will turn out, with making mistakes, that I’m actually growing.

Maybe one day there will even come a time when I can play without fear of what will happen. Maybe, with practice.

Creativity

The problem with creative shoulds

Completing the 30 Life Lessons last month was full-on. It took a lot out of me, and while I didn’t plan on taking the following month off from blogging, I found myself delighted to have some time free just for me again.

I dove headfirst into multiple creative projects. So many that I started to get overwhelmed and disoriented. Before long, my free time started to feel a little crowded.

During July, I was involved in or contemplating these projects:

Not to mention I’ve been doing my own written journaling, thinking about the blog and newsletter, brainstorming ideas for creating my own online courses, thinking about making a bucket list journal, and mulling over novel ideas. Oh yes, and working and building a house too.

This is not the first time this has happened to me.

In an attempt to combat this next stepsoverwhelm, I made a list of all the things on my creative radar. I divided this list up into three categories:

  • Groups/courses
  • Blog
  • Personal

This way I could clearly make sense of all the directions I was feeling pulled.

Then I prioritised each item on the list in terms of what was urgent (for example, a live course that was running now only, or a membership that was about to expire) and what could wait.

Great, I thought. Now I know what to focus on and what to put aside for later.

I had created a sense of creative direction for myself. It was foolproof. If only I could have ignored the fact that the priorities I had selected were of no interest to me at that time, then it would have been perfect.

It was my own fault, really. I took a totally left-brain, logical, rational approach to an entirely creative and intuitive problem.

You see, the issue wasn’t that I had too much going on. The issue was that I felt like I should be doing something else, rather than listening to my creative intuition.

I felt like I should be making the most of a course I had signed up for.

I felt like I should be finishing off a set of prompts I had already begun.

I felt like I should complete one journal before beginning another.

I felt like I should try to get the most out of a course before it was over.

I felt like I should finish one course before doing another.

If I had just stopped to ask myself, inner compasswhat do I really really want to do? then I would have had my answer: paint. I want to paint, in journals. I want to fill journals with paint.

I see creativity like this: it is all over the place. Some days I want to write in my journal for hours, others I want to carve stamps. Some days I want to watch YouTube videos of my favourite painters at work, others I want to read about journal writing. Some days I want to play with paper and glue, others I want to write. Some days I want to do a bunch of prompts from a course, others I want to play with watercolours.

Each and every creative activity nourishes us as we need it to, when we need it to. The act of listening to our creative intuition in each moment allows us to do what is most important to us in that moment.

I have learnt that sometimes I am incredibly focused on one thing to the point of obsession. But it is these short bursts of creative focus that allow me to get things done.

Other times, I am a creative butterfly, hopping from one project to the next, not really finishing much but loving the variety.

Accepting this and allowing myself to follow my creative intuition has been incredibly freeing. Trusting that I will find the focus I need when I need it, I can enjoy the pull to new things for now.

The problem only really comes about when we insist that things be done a certain way – when we let our shoulds interfere.

I invite you to consider the following prompts in your journal:

What are your creative shoulds?

How do they limit you?

How can you give yourself more creative freedom?

What would happen if you followed your creative intuition and released the shoulds?

How can you put more trust in your creative process?

Creativity, Self Empowerment

Journal prompts: Vulnerability

Since embarking on my creative journey, I’ve been very interested in fear and courage. I had never really given vulnerability much thought, until I stumbled across the work of Brené Brown and her talk The Power of Vulnerability.

Our culture places a high value on having it all together, being strong and not being seen as weak. But I’ve found that allowing myself to be vulnerable, and sharing that vulnerability with others, has changed the way I approach my life.

Instead of feeling fearful and letting vulnerabilitythat stop me from doing things, I can acknowledge the fear and accept that it’s ok to feel that way. Instead of trying to make things perfect and get everything right, I accept making mistakes and feeling a bit uncomfortable about that.

Why?

Because with vulnerability comes growth. Vulnerability comes when we take a risk, dare to do something, and push ourselves out of our comfort zone.

And, vulnerability leads to real connections with people. It is the act of opening ourselves up to be seen, as we really are, that allows others to connect with and love us as we really are.

It is not a sign of weakness in any sense – how can taking a risk and daring to make a mistake be a sign of weakness?

As Brené Brown says:

Vulnerability is about having the courage to show up and be seen.

One thing about our imperfections is that we often try to hide them from others – we feel vulnerable when they are exposed. I have found it incredibly empowering to share my imperfections with others – especially on my blog and through my art. It allows me to take control of who I am, and embrace all parts of me. And, it helps others to see their imperfections are perfectly ok, and when they reach out to tell me that seeing me be vulnerable has helped them, well that makes it all worthwhile.

Obviously, there is a time and a place to be vulnerable. Pouring your heart out to your boss or the guy who makes your coffee simply because you want to be vulnerable is probably not the best idea. You need to consider who you can be vulnerable with, especially to begin with. Think carefully about who you trust to support you as you share a little more of yourself.

How can you practice vulnerability?

  • Try saying no to something when that’s what you really want
  • Tell someone how you really feel
  • Let another person see a talent or skill you have
  • Share an embarrassing story of yours
  • Tell someone what you are afraid of
  • Share your biggest dreams and hopes with someone

>>> Prompts:

What does the word ‘vulnerability’ mean to you? What does vulnerability feel like or look like to you? Does it have any negative associations? Write about this.

Write about a time that you have felt vulnerable.

How could you see vulnerability being a strength? Why might you want to include more of it in your life? Explore this idea. (If you’re stuck on this one, I really recommend Brené Brown’s work.)

In what ways would you like to (safely) allow yourself to be more vulnerable? Who could support you in this?

Note: this post was originally part of a series of 30 life lessons and journal prompts for my 30th birthday. You can access the rest of the lessons and prompts here.

Creativity, Self Empowerment

Journal prompts: What lights you up?

We all get bogged down by the necessities of daily life – working to pay the bills and put food on the table, sitting in traffic, arguing with others, catching up on sleep, and trying to find time to exercise, and so on.

But what about finding time for the things that you really love?

If you’re exceptionally lucky, then you are one of few the people who manages to make a living doing what you love – you get to do it every day. But I would guess that most of us don’t fall into that category.

So it comes down to making time whenever possible (every day?) to do the things we love – be it knitting, meditation, learning a language, painting, hiking – whatever.

Sometimes, though, after doing all the necessary tasks of the day, we just don’t have the time/energy/resources to do these wonderful things.

I lived this way for years. I had an lesson 15interest in writing, in being creative in some form, and sharing that creativity with others. But I got so bogged down with working full time (or more, if you consider teachers also work on their weekends and evenings) and so exhausted that I could do little other than work. Sure, teachers get regular ‘holidays’, but after working non-stop for ten weeks, all I could do was sleep and try to rest (when I wasn’t marking piles of essays).

Perhaps it’s my own fault for going into teaching. I guess it doesn’t matter what I was doing, all that matters is that I wasn’t exploring the things I loved, the things I felt most pulled to.

I carried on this way for years. Slowly I became more negative, more depressed, more bitter and more cynical about life. I was disillusioned and felt that growing up sucked, basically. I felt like there was no joy in my life, nothing I was doing just for me.

Since taking Susannah Conway’s Journal Your Life course where we were encouraged to journal every day, I started to learn about what was missing from my life. I got back in touch with myself and reconnected with the parts of me that had been ignored. Mostly, that was my creativity.

But then I hit another road block: fear and resistance. It became abundantly clear through my daily journaling what I wanted to do – to write, to paint, to create, to share my work. I got back in touch with these desires, but for a while didn’t do much with them.

Why? Because I was afraid. I didn’t really believe I could start a blog, that was terrifying. And painting? I had no formal training, who was I to attempt painting, let alone share it with others?

It took a lot of hard work, mostly by working through it in my journal, but I found a way to feel the fear and create anyway. I found a way to admit what I really wanted and start taking steps towards it. I reasoned that the fear of taking these creative risks could be no worse than the terrible feelings of ignoring these desires.

Now my life looks a lot different. I have a regular daily creative practice that ensures I remain creatively fulfilled, and a regular journaling practice that means I know when I start to feel like something is missing from my life.

>>> Prompts:

What lights you up? List or brainstorm everything that absolutely makes your heart sing with joy. Are there some things you are afraid to write down? Why?

How often do you do the things on your list? Are there some that you don’t allow yourself to think of, or that you actively avoid? Why?

How can you make more time for the things on your list?

Fun bonus prompt: If you won the lottery and never had to work again, how would you ideally like to spend your days? Describe what a day would look like (after you did all the fun stuff, like shopping, travelling etc – what would your daily life look like?)

Note: this post was originally part of a series of 30 life lessons and journal prompts for my 30th birthday. You can access the rest of the lessons and prompts here.

Creativity

Journal prompts: Not having all the answers

I recently turned 30.

Like most people (I think!), I spent most of my twenties trying to get it all ‘figured out’.

At 21 I left university, ready to start my ‘real’ life when I got my first job. I can’t describe the crushing disappointment that followed when my first ‘real’ job turned out to be the most mind-numbingly boring thing I’ve ever done, and I had to quit a few months later to work in retail while I figured out my next move. So much for starting my ‘real’ career.

What came next were a series of what I can only describe as life experiments: training as a secondary teacher for something to do while I figured out what I really wanted, loving then hating teaching so training as a life coach, quitting teaching to travel and study psychology, then back into teaching when that hit a dead end.

All the while I felt like such a failure, mainly because I didn’t really enjoy teaching but couldn’t quite figure out what else I wanted to do. I kept thinking, shouldn’t I have this sorted by now?

This was accompanied by lots of why my 20s were a bit of a messpartying and drinking as a way to escape (plus, aren’t your twenties supposed to be wild?) but that didn’t bring me much joy either.

And then I met my now-fiance. Finally, something going according to plan! But I watched as many people around me got married, had babies and got houses, while my boyfriend of 2, 3, 4 years still hadn’t so much as proposed.

What the hell was going on? I panicked as 30 loomed on the horizon, drawing nearer and nearer. I just wanted to have it sorted by my 30th. Surely by then I should have it figured out?

Well, yes and no. Sure, my boyfriend and I got engaged, bought property and are planning for our future. So I guess I can tick that one off. As for my career… well, I’m still in teaching, but since moving to part-time I’m enjoying it more.

And as for my ‘real’ career? Well, I don’t know. I’m passionate about creativity, journaling and writing, helping people, art… some of these skills get used as an English teacher but not all of them. I know I won’t be teaching forever, but I’ve yet to figure out what the next step will look like.

And you know what? That’s ok.

imageStrangely, I approached 30 with a genuine sense of contentment. Gone are the judgments towards myself about not figuring it all out, gone is the guilt at having ‘wasted’ my twenties (what does that even mean, anyway? I couldn’t possibly have gotten to this point without going through the experiences I have).

I’ve made peace with the fact that I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t have to. It must come from growing up, I guess – when you’re young, you see life as black and white, and you think it should be easy enough. (I once had a student of mine, about age 14, remark in surprise that I wasn’t married with kids by age 26. She declared that she certainly would be by then. Yes, I once thought that too, love.) But once you get mired in the mess of becoming an adult, you start to see it’s not that straightforward. I think the only reason this causes pain is because we cling to that childish notion of having everything figured out.

So, on my 30th birthday, I celebrated having made it through the bumbling, awkward, disappointing, exhilarating and confusing ten years that were my twenties. Here’s to not having it all figured out!

>>> Prompts:

Try to think back to the way you imagined your adult life would look as a child/teenager/young adult. Do you feel in any way that you have let yourself down?

What are some of the judgments you have about how your life is now? What do you think ‘should’ be different but isn’t? Why?

What are some ways you could show more acceptance and contentment towards your current life?

What are some expectations or judgments you need to let go of?

Bonus prompt for those over 30: List ten ways that your life has been better in your thirties than your twenties!

Note: this post was originally part of a series of 30 life lessons and journal prompts for my 30th birthday. You can access the rest of the lessons and prompts here.

Creativity, Self Empowerment

Journal prompts: Nobody expects me to be perfect but me

I think this should be the mantra of every perfectionist.

How did I get it into my head that I have to be perfect? Because when I stop to think about it, this lesson is so very true – no one else expects perfection from me, just as I don’t expect perfection from anyone else.

But when it comes to myself – my own work, my own appearance, my own life – I want it to look and be perfect. Of course, no one else looks at me with such high standards.

Unconsciously trying to be perfect is one of the things that stops me from even starting things.

When I look back now, I done somethingrealise there are so many things I’ve not done simply because I feared I couldn’t do them perfectly, even if that fear was unconscious at the time (as I think it often is). I’ve started novels, paintings, classes, careers, hobbies of all kinds, only to give up when it became clear that I wasn’t doing it perfectly.

Like my novel – I gave up because it didn’t seem good enough so it sort of felt like, what’s the point? But imagine if I’d finished it! I would have a complete novel by now if I’d kept going. It wouldn’t be perfect but it would be done.

Perfectionism is very limiting in my creativity but also in other areas of my life – how I look, speak, behave etc. I find I am often judging myself against some self-created, unreasonably high standards.

So I try to remind myself – the only person who expects perfection from me, is me. And if that’s the case, maybe I can change my expectations of myself?

>>> Prompt:

What does perfectionism mean to you? What would it mean to you if you were perfect? In what ways do you expect perfection of yourself? How attainable is this, really?

What have you put off, quit or not even attempted because of a fear of not doing it perfectly?

If you were to embrace the beauty of mess and mistakes, what could you do?

Note: this post was originally part of a series of 30 life lessons and journal prompts for my 30th birthday. You can access the rest of the lessons and prompts here.