Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Warts and All, My Journal
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: http://elvafieldnotes.blogspot.com/2011/02/thoughts-on-keeping-journal.html
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.
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.