Exercises for the Illuminated Journal

(This is a recovered post from 2013~It has been edited to take out broken links. I have tried to replace the pics as well!~S)

vase and lamp

I often ignore the fact that it’s a book… just pretend the middle crease isn’t there and draw on..

Now that you know some reasons for keeping a journal, and a little about my personal journal, you may be wondering what exactly to put into your journal.

It can be difficult to get started. This is why I have pulled out my old copy of Hannah Hinchman’s book A Life in Hand: Creating the Illuminated Journal. The book is all about helping you get into the habit of keeping up an illuminated journal.

Hannah Hinchman suggests FIVE ICE-BREAKING EXERCISES to help you. Whenever I can’t come up with a prompt on my own, these are the things I fall back on. I am going to discuss each exercise separately (and do the exercises) for you to see in the coming week or two, but you don’t have to wait for me! Here are Hinchman’s Ice-Breaking Exercises and a brief description of how to do them:

  • Field Observation:  Go to a comfortable place for both writing and drawing. Now take a few moments to look around. You are looking for an “unarranged still life”… Now pick something from the scene and draw an outline of it. Make a quick little map of things around it. No more than ten minutes. Set a timer if you find that you get too bogged down with this part. If you don’t want to draw something, leave it out! Then for fifteen minutes fill in your map with as much detail as you wish but nothing too fancy. You want it to be SIMPLE because it was quick. After this step, look at your picture. Did you notice something in drawing the scene that you didn’t notice when you first looked at it? For instance, a shadow that looks like a triangle or where the wrinkles in that dirty sock look like a smiley face. Now find a piece of white space around your drawing somewhere and write a very lean description of what you just drew. Like one sentence. Do not spend more than three minutes on this if you have a tendency to be wordy. Now in another part do one more description totally different from the first. Short, no more than three minutes.
  • Memory Walking: This is best on two adjacent pages of your journal. Imagine a place from your childhood. Close your eyes and imagine that place. Now “walk” there in your mind. What do you remember? A door knob? a Chair? The hedge out front? When you have a bunch of details in your mind it is time to draw a “map”.. but not a real map from place-to-place, this will be a map from detail-to-detail. When you first come to this place what do you see? If it’s a hedge by the sidewalk, make a mark on the map and doodle the hedge..then put a description there. Not what you would call it as an adult, though. What you’d note about it as a kid. “The place where that lizard lives…” Then draw a curvy dotted line to the next thing you remember and doodle that, and put a brief description (“the doorknob looked like a face”). Be the kid you were then. Stop whenever you feel like it.
  • Meditative Sketching: Choose something that is really complex to draw. Make a little outline of the big areas of the scene or item, then pic one area and work on it until you get the blacks and grays JUST RIGHT. Not the whole drawing! Just that ONE PART. Focus on the angles, folds, light, dark. While your hands and eyes are busy trying to get the detail down, let your mind wander. When your mind hits on something, make a note below your picture. (“remember to buy milk/ Need shoes for my blue dress/ birds are noisy today…”) The comments do not need to be connected, just whatever you think needs noting. When you feel it’s time to stop drawing, it is now time to write. Write something reflective and coherent about whatever is on your mind. Don’t be general here. What are you thinking about that you would like to reflect on again in the future?
  • Capture the Day. At some point during the day, really make a study of a scene. Form notes in your mind about what you are seeing. Go for a walk and really notice something, either the sight of it, the smell of it or the sound of it. When you return to your journal, quickly draw something from the scene you have captured with your mind (if you bring back a leaf or rock, draw two views of that object). Now below that sketch, write “Day of: ” and make a list of things about the scene. (Day of: snoring dogs, *twit twit twit* of cardinals, banana bread cooking, laundry) Now write for 15 minutes about your walk or scene. Avoid going chronologically or what you see from left to right. Jump around between points of interest. (Drawing from memory is one of the more difficult tasks. However, it is also one that improves a whole lot over time!)
  • Listing. Make a list…ANY KIND OF LIST. I try to write three “blessings” every time I do something in my journal, even when I am about to unload rage onto the page. But for the purposes of this exercise, you should vary it up.  Watch a movie then pick ten things you liked, ten things you didn’t. Make a list of pet peeves. Or a list of places you remember from your childhood and refer back to the list for the first exercise! (Oh man, I’m a genius.)

Here are some things to remember,

  • Don’t take it too seriously or your journal will be full of “dull, careful entries, and pale safe drawings.” (Hannah Hinchman in A Life in Hand) Looking back at my old journals, the more spontaneous bits are the most rewarding to see… don’t worry about errors or grammar or quality.
  • Use your speaking voice and not your writing voice. The writing voice that we are taught in school is too formal for the purposes of journaling. Seriously. I have tried both my writing voice and my talking voice in my journals.The writing voice makes me cringe. This is not a writing journal for stories to be sent to a publisher. (Not that you can’t use your entries as a springboard for stories, of course!) This just for you.
  • Don’t worry about the drawing being perfect. The act of drawing is more important than the finished product. It’s NOT SUPPOSED to be perfect. This is different than an artist’s sketchbook where you work on technique or practice layouts. This is just for you. Your art will improve on its own, but that’s just gravy.
  • Generally speaking, use a pen when you are first starting out. It forces you to not be so particular about mistakes. In pen, if you make a mistake, you have to run with it! Also, it is easier to carry around a just a pen than a set of pencils and colors if you journal on-the-go. Of course, it’s whatever you feel comfortable with… if you decide to use a pencil, discourage yourself from using the eraser. You can “ink” over the good lines and ignore the bad ones later.

The image above is an actual page from my illuminated journal. See what I mean about not worrying about mess ups? Gladys’s nose ran off the page! I just used a ball point pen. If you are keeping track, I prefer the ones with gel ink, but for journaling purposes a cheap Bic will do just fine. If it skips and blobs, well that just gives my journal more character!

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