Living well through bad drawings


When some people see an illustrated journal, they say, “Wow, that’s great. I could never do that.” With some coaxing, they may be persuaded nonetheless to give it a try. Others say, “Wow, I’m going to do that.” And they start too. And quite a few say, “Huh, where do you find the time?” then use your journal as a coaster.
It’s comparatively easy to start. To bring yourself to draw your breakfast once or your coffee cup once and to keep it up for a couple of days. Ideally those first few days infect you with the fever and you’re compelled to carry a long series of journal books around with you for the rest of your days.
But more likely, your initial enthusiasm will wane. You’ll forget to do it one day, give in to resistance the next, then feel like you’ve broken the chain, the narrative is lost, a month’s gone by, and you drop it altogether. Why? Often it’s because you are disappointed with your drawings. You may say you don’t have the time, forgot your book, grew bored but it’s really because you aren’t that impressed with your drawing skill. You haven’t made something that looks like Art.
I don’t think that illustrated journaling is really about doing great drawings. You’re not out to make something that you could frame or give as an Xmas present. I’m not really into doing the sort of exercises on perspective and tone that you see in most drawing books, exercises that will move your skills to another level artistically. Not that you shouldn’t do them if they are fun or if you have some other goal in mind but I don’t think they are essential for the true purpose of illustrated journaling.
That purpose? To celebrate your life. No matter how small or mundane or redundant, each drawing and little essay you write to commemorate an event or an object or a place makes it all the more special. Celebrate your hairbrush and it will make you appreciate the intricacy of the bristles, the miracle of your lost hair, the beauty of you. Sounds sappy but it’s in there. Draw your lunch and it will be a very different experience from bolting down another tuna on rye. If you take your time (and we’re just talking maybe 10-20 minutes here, folks) and really study that sandwich, the nooks and valleys, the crinoline of the lettuce, the textures of the tuna, you will do a drawing that recognized the particularity of that sandwich,. That’s the point: to record this particular moment, this sandwich, not something generic. If you approach it with that attitude, you will create something as unique. reaching that place is just a matter of concentration and attention. A brief meditation and you will have a souvenir to jog your memory back to that a moment forever more. Imagine if you can keep doing that, keep dropping these little gems in your day, recognizing the incredible gift you are given each morning upon awakening. You will be a millionaire.
There’s a demon in your mind that will fight this, that will tell you your life is unworthy of acknowledgment, that today sucks through and through. It will tell you you have no time for this, that you are too harried, too stressed. Which brings me to Marybethd who wrote to me from Nebraska where she just had emergency eye surgery. For two weeks, she could only see the floor. She wasn’t sidelined though— she drew all of her visitor’s feet. She pulled art out of that tragedy, celebrated her visitors, created a positive memory that she will have to cherish long after her vision is back to normal. He nightmare became a lesson.
I have gone through my fair share of shit. My regret is that I didn’t celebrate all of it. I can’t say it often enough: life is short, art is long. Get the habit.

Inspiration Journal: Tony Forster

This guy is scarily good. Tony Forster’s watercolors depict his treks around the world, to the rain forests of Costa Rica, the volcanic island of Montserrat, Bolivia’s mile-high lakes, the slopes of the Sierra Nevada and the scorching desert of Death Valley. I first saw them in a froo-froo gallery, stopped dead in my tracks on Madison Avenue, thinking “Wait, wasn’t I supposed to have made these, y’know, in some parallel universe?” On the edges of his gorgeous landscapes paintings (he paints on sheets of watercolor paper, usually 22″x31″), he attaches little sample swatches, topographic maps, and then stencils, types, and hand writes notes. This softcover book of his work was published by the Frye Art Museum in 2000.

Inspirational Journal: Muriel Foster

This is one of my prized possessions. In fact, I prize it so much I repeatedly give it away and then go hunt for a new copy.
Muriel Foster(1884-1963) started keeping this diary in 1913 whenever she went fishing and, for the next thirty-five years, filled it with sketches, watercolors, observations and poetry. While she was a professional artist, this little diary was just for her and never intended to be shown. Her grand niece released it for publication as a facsimile decades after her death and it is the work for which she’ll always be known (if I have anything to do with it). You can find a copy or two of the book on but act quickly — I may snap it up first.

Helluva Town

nyjournal1A few years ago, we decided to take a vacation in New York. Yes, we live in New York but we’ve never been tourists here. So we went to the Whitney biennial and the Cooper Hewitt triennial, the Museum of Natural History, a Woody Guthrie show at the Museum of NYC, the Queens museum, the Hall of Science, the Bronx Zoo. We went to the top of the Empire State building and the Easter parade and heard music and ate in touristy restaurants.

What made it really special is that we kept a family travel journal. We recorded everywhere we went and how we felt about it. We took pictures and did drawings, we drew maps and made collages of souvenir stuff. The most avid journal-keeper was Jack and he was just five.
I’d like to write some more about travel journals in the future because I think they not only record your journey, they help to define it as you’re doing it.