Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Warts and All, My Journal

Here come the warts ..... if you don’t know what I’m talking about, I promised to scan some of my journal pages, warts and all, so those of you who are interested can see my working process. (see my last post: Question -- March 8, 2012). I apologize it has taken me so long to follow up on my promise. Life has been busy.

Many artist’s journals are works of art -- beautifully laid out, lovely drawings, and carefully worded . A few of my journal pages qualify, but the vast majority of my pages are scribbled notes and sketching. I try to put the entries in while they are happening, or as soon after as possible. I want to capture what has just inspired me, and not worry about wording it carefully or making a sloppy sketch. I call it a ‘working journal’. I’m not about to tell you that is the way to keep a journal, but, for me, it works.... and has worked for many years. I’m just about to finish Vol. 39. I have a wonderful record of things I want to remember that goes back over 30 years. Many of my paintings have their roots in one of my journal entries; I often refer to an old journal to remember when to expect natural events (when do skunk cabbage bloom, or elephant seals pup); I savor old memories; I even save a few recipes; and a treasured sketch or two by someone else. I only wish I had started sooner.

More more of my ideas on journaling go to my post, “Thoughts on Keeping a Journal” -- Feb 1, 2011:

And now for some pages......

First an old one, from Volume 6. I sketched this page over twenty years ago when we were in Grand Tetons National Park, yet the style is similar to my current journals.
The next six pages are in the order they fall in my journal. I intentionally picked pages I never got around to blogging about. The first page is the beginning of a four day trip to Burns, Oregon. The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is just to the south. The Malheur basin is host to a wonderful variety of birds. We stay in a little motel on the edge of town and spend our days photographing and sketching.

To get to Malheur from home we drove over the top of the Cascades, and see Mt. Thielson along the way.

The funny little squiggles at the top of this page is an attempt to record a Swainson’s thrush’s song visually. It does help me remember a bird song.

This page looks odd because three fourths is left blank. I know the paper in my journal is too thin, so I often leave the back side of some of the art blank .... so no writing shows through on the back side. The Mt. Thielson color sketch is on the other side.

Often while Dale drives the miles and miles of the open West I entertain myself with quick sketches. Here I focused on the variety of fence posts found in the thin, rocky soils of central Oregon. Part of being an interesting artist is knowing the variety a subject offers, not just the easy symbol. Fence posts offer a lot of variety.

If you bother to read the text you’ll find it quite jerky. Even with my words I’m not aiming for a polished product. That comes later. Far more useful to me to capture some good phrases and details that capture the moment, than worry about it flowing well. Words can always be edited.

The black spot on the right side bears mentioning. Before I added color to the red-winged blackbird I was sketching with water soluble ink in a fountain pen. I wanted more darks without adding any more lines, so I just scribbled off to the side and dipped by water brush into the scribble to pick up some ink.

Quick sketches ... probably drawn while Dale stopped to photograph ... The top two could have been drawn while he was driving. I can’t remember. The middle one is of huge bales of hay lined up in a row. The bottom one is an avocet.

I spotted the baby great horned owl as we drove by a small ranch. Most of the country is very open. Ranches usually have a few trees at the homesite .... and that is where the red-tailed hawks and the great horned owls nest. This owl was old enough to fly, but still covered with down. He was perched on the corral fencing. You can still see my pencil lines. Sometimes I pencil first. Sometimes I jump in with ink right away.

The pencil sketch in the lower left is a flop, so I didn’t bother adding ink. The drawing of the swallow was almost surely done from my laptop that evening.

In this instance I filled 6 pages in a 24 hour period. The number of pages I fill in a full day in the field varies a great deal, but seldom more than this. I try to do most of my writing on the spot or as soon after as possible.

One last sketch, from a different journal. Sometimes I tackle a much more detailed drawing in the field. While Dale spent two or three hours photographing the flickers excavating their nest hole, I had plenty of time to almost complete this drawing.

I just found a marvelous quote, so appropriate for this moment:
"There's only ONE way of Life, and that's YOUR OWN." ... THE LEVELLERS
Found at the end of "Drawing and Painting Birds" by Tim Wootton .... a nice book on bird art.


  1. Fabulous - thank you so much for sharing these pages. Couldn't agree more with the quote too!

  2. You hear that sigh?? A sigh of relief from me. I have mostly pages like these. I think these are great. Nice to see that not ever page is a masterpiece yet is a master piece in the making.

  3. I was privilaged to get to see some of these in person and they are a real treat to see. I loved how Elva saved leaves by taping them into the journals like it on the first page. I loved how you just put down the moment without worrying about having a perfect page. It really is the little moments that count, and I love the quote. I am going to write that down and remember it. Thank you again for letting me hold them in my hands in person to drool over. :))

  4. Thanks Elva, you have just made the rest of us 'normal' as I think we all have pages like this, but wonderful in their memories. And isn't that the purpose of journaling. Wow, 39 journals!!!!
    Sometime, please show us a few pages from your life in Wis.

  5. Elva, so glad you stayed up late to post this entry. It's another shared treasure from my favorite artist!

  6. this was so refreshing, I enjoyed this very much, I have just become a follower of your blog, visiting from a mutual blogging buddie.Your work is wonderful!

  7. Thanks Elve. Thanks for sharing something so precious. really an inspiration!

  8. Elva, this was a wonderful post. Thank you. The sketches are so nice.

  9. I find looking in other artists' sketchbooks so inspirational and reassuring at the same time. This whole series of posts that give us an inside look into your artistic practice has been really interesting. Thanks for sharing!

  10. Thank you, Elva. I, too, love seeing other people's sketchbooks and yours is lovely. No warts, as far as I'm concerned! Thank you for sharing it with us. May I ask how big your sketchbook is?

    1. Hi Debbie... my journals are 8 1/2 x 11 inches and hardbound, pretty ordinary paper. I sometimes tuck a smaller, spiral Aquabee in a pocket, but if the notes are any good at all, they are transferred into the journal where I can find them. I feel confined in a smaller sketchbook .... and this one is big enough to use as a table for many a lunch! After my working cover comes off (when a journal is full) I cover it with fabric ... a different fabric for each journal. Quite a rainbow on my shelf.

  11. I loved seeing the pages of your sketchbook. I am always interested in seeing other artists work...sketchbooks, for sure!! Yours are full of "life". Thanks! BJR

  12. WOW! I just found your blog, thanks to a mention on Cornell Lab Great Blue Heron Cam chat...I've only checked out a few items, and will take a more in-depth look later when i'm at home... I LOVE your style...and your artist journal!