Art Journal Secret No.1-and-a-half

We got slammed by another Winter storm last Thursday. I was caught unawares (without champagne) because I didn’t believe all that hype about a “monster storm” coming our way — February has a way of dulling one’s sense of drama.  (This is Candy and Butter, two of my backyard-in-the-basement cats testing out the new snowfall. It turns out that Butter likes diving head first into snow over his head.)

So Top Cat and I slogged out in the slush on Friday to gather up some provisions (champagne). We also went to our new favorite grocery store, Western Beef. Western Beef is a grocery store on literally the wrong side of the tracks here on Long Island. The signs inside the store tell you which side of the tracks you are on: the ethnic side.

It actualy says that in the store. There are big signs to point you to the aisles for the Ethnic Meats, and the Ethnic Cookie are. I love this place.

Q: What’s the difference between Ethnic food and Gourmet food?

A: Anything that comes from poor countries is Ethnic.

So I got me some Ethnic cookies:

The Goya waffers are from Brazil, the Galettas are from Spain, and the Marco Polo  brand Tea Biscuits are from Turkey.  Is it just me, or is Marco Polo a curious choice to reference a tea biscuit to?  When you drink tea, do you want to feel like a 14th century prisoner of the Ghengis Khan?

But I digress.

Today I want to talk about putting text and illustrations on a page. In other words: Lay Out.

Lay Out is important in an art journal because you must control the composition of your text and your art work or else it will look like a sixth grade crafts project. Now, some people might call the free-spirited flinging of impetuous words upon spontaneous doodles as “Getting In Touch With Your Muse” (or “Your Inner Sixth Grader”, or whatever is currently more self-mythologizing) but that would be wrong. Muses and inner children are messy, and inconsiderate of your reader.

Again, let me clarify that I am talking about work that you want to make public. I am not talking about your private diaries and sketchbooks and journals. Do whatever you want in your private space. But when you invite others to look at your work, you have to show some consideration to your viewers and readers. We are not here to witness the inner workings of your psyche and to parse what is behind your ramblings and blood-colored ink blots; that’s what you pay a therapist for. We, your readers and viewers, are here to be instructed, informed, entertained, and/or enlightened by the very best language and art that you can muster.

When you invite a person in for a cup of tea, you don’t make her slurp your leftovers out of a saucepot, do you? No: you set the table, you get out your nicest china, you use a tablecloth, you make sure the tea is brewed just right.

So, when you invite someone into your world via your art journal, you should take as much pains to prepare for a mutually pleasant experience as you would if you were making a tea party. Except if you are a genius. Then you can serve your work up as if you are The Mad Hatter and it’s your tea party and the rest of us will just have to keep up with you the best we can.

However, the chances that you are a genius are very, very slim. So until proven otherwise, it’s best to assume that you have to make tea like the rest of us.

So, about Lay Out. It starts with raw material. Like ideas that you have, images and impressions, that are floating around in your head. You jot some of them down in a sketchbook:


Yes, that’s my sketchbook. And that’s a 2P coin (about the size of a quarter) to show you that these sketches are not grandiose visions from my unfettered inner goddess. No, ma’ams: these are the fettered notes from my hyper-critical, skeptical, working-class literalistic (yet still imaginative) self. The 2P coin is my way of saying  Hi to all you who drop in from the UK. Yo! I have readers in the UK!!

So there I was, with ideas that have no place to go,  because I didn’t  know how to get them on the page. That’s when I started looking around to see how other art journalists have used the page-space to present their words and pictures.

Here’s my Secret 1-and-a-half tip: Don’t look at other art journals. Look at the professionals. The highly-pain designers who know all the tricks to getting words and pictures to mesh luciosuly on a page — look at magazines and catalogs that have been composed by  really good art directors. I get inspired by Vanity Fair (not all the pages, just the ones in the front of the book — the Regular Features pages) and I love the art direction of O Magazine.  Old copies of Mary Englebreit’s Home Companion  have beautiful art direction, and although I loathe their clothes and their damn Open Door policy, Anthropologie has a wonderfully coherent esthetic in their catalogs that is very appealing andowrht copying. I would love to go on and show you clips from each of these sources, but I am going to trust you to look into that on your own (or come to my art journal class on Long Island ha ha!) because we are running out of time here and I must show you something that a friend sent me when I was researching the best ways to get art and text to work together on a page when I was writing When Wanderers Cease to Roam. She sent me a little book, translated from the French, called The Merchant of Marvels.

It is a hardback, gift bookish book published by Chronicle, a 6 and 1/2 inch by 9 inch format with a mere 64 pages that is a whimsical story about a guy searching for the perfect gift for a woman named Alys. I think. I’ve never really read it (it’s very twee). But it is beautifully produced and quite visually inspiring:

You remember this from last Friday?  The accompanying text goes:

And then, in my collection of marvels, I have, carefully, cautiously placed upon cotton, a red, round, and rare egg which was given to me by the great-great-great-grandaughter of the Pampelune hatter, a tamer of flighty hats for his Majesty, the King of Navarre.  I must tell you, dear friend, that in those days, the flighty hate flew freely as air from ocean to ocean, port to port, from girl to girl.

(Now you see why I’ve never read the whole thing.)

Anyhoo. And however: the book is a delight to look at. Voila:






Do you see that (above)?    Do you see how he has used Triscuits here?? Isn’t that exciting?

Now, I can’t show you any specific page from my book that has a direct co-relation to the wonderfully playful pages of The Merchant of Marvels, but I can tell you that I was enlightened when I saw how many ways one could present adult material in a light-hearted way.

And this is important: There is a lot of white space on each page.

When an illustration takes up the entire page from edge to edge, that is called a bleed. I dislike bleeds. And here’s why: I, as a viewer, feel that there is no psychic spacefor me in a page that bleeds.  I feel pushed out by the self-referentialism of the artist, man-handled and overwhelmed by the ego of the illustrator.

If you are inviting a viewer into your world, into your art journal, you have to give that viewer her own space. You have to give her some breathing room, some respite from the power of your visual elements.  You have to give her white space.

Yes, white space. Color is not relaxing, color has its own connotations and messages and symbolism and clutter. And, also, your art work needs a “frame”, its own space in which to breathe as well. So don’t crowd your art journal. Back off, relax.

Unless you are a genius, and then you can do anything you want.

But the chances of you being a genius are slim, so (see above).

So: I hope you are getting ideas for opening up your art journal, for giving space and playfulness to your work and words.

On Friday, I want to discuss Dream Journals. For those of you who are illustrating your dreams, I have a wonderful fine artist I want to show you, a woman who has been an Art World superstar for 20 years who works with dream images in an art-journalistic way that you should know about. Because: When you steal ideas get inspired, you should steal  get inspired from the best.

8 comments to Art Journal Secret No.1-and-a-half

  • maryann

    Fantastic!! Wonderful!! So helpful, too! Thank you!

    LOVE the catz!!!! So funny/cute!!!

  • I AM currently getting inspired by the best – that’s why I visit here! And a 2P coin – wow, that was a surprise. You can’t buy many biscuits with it tho’, ethnic or otherwise.

  • How lucky you are to have “the World” right around you, in stores! Long Island.

    I love how you do the humor, common sense, no B.S. way of explaining things. love it love it…..

    And, those C A T S ..

  • Janet

    Thanks for such practical advice. To your list of things you do well, now you can add teacher. Your suggestion to treat a reader like a special guest sets the standard of being conscious of every word and every line.

  • Your cats seem to love snow! Our outdoor cat, Persnickety, would only walk in cleared paths. (She comes by her name honestly).

    Now I know why my watercolor background didn’t make sense (Art Journal Attempt #1). And I know why my drawing (Art Journal Attempt #2) didn’t work–there was no logical place for the text.

    Slowly it’s sinking in! Thanks for your mini-tutorials, helpful as always.

  • Barbara Lemme

    Oh, thank goodness. I am so tired of “journals” that are wild with color and words and pics all together on one page…and page after page. There’s truly no relief. White spaces are good. Thanks for sharing good examples.

  • Dovey Foster

    The Winchester Farmers Market in Memphis – really an international grocery store – is terrific. An amazing variety of fruits and vegetables including all the greens used in Asian cooking. Down to earth prices for “exotic” produce that costs a fortune at upscale stores. Best fishmarket in town. Choose a whole fish and they prep to order – since no one behind the counter speaks English you communicate by number. 1-head off, 2-cleaned and gutted etc. An international adventure without leaving town!

  • You are a generous genius. And because you are excited about what you do, the excitement oozes off these “pages.” I have, somewhere in my piles of magazines/catalogs, all of the good examples you mentioned. This has been a multiple inspiration week: among them — your blog and a gallery exhibit of watercolor landscapes.

    thank you, thank you.

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