On my mind constantly of late: notebooks, sketchbooks, art journals, and combinations thereof. Conversations are swirling in several of my circles—
• at Sketchbook Skool there is always lots of chatter about what people prefer to draw on and with;
• over at Wisteria & Sunshine, Lesley has been revisiting the topic of daybooks (especially handmade ones);
• Kortney is posting wonderfully enticing things about right-brain planning;
• Amy Ludwig Vanderwater is hosting a summer “Sharing Our Notebooks” project that I plan to participate in, soon as I get a chance…
Once a week I meet a small group of teenaged girls (one of them my Beanie) at a coffee shop to discuss literature while their younger siblings take piano lessons in the studio upstairs. This is hands-down one of the best hours of my week: meaty stories; lively analysis; word-collection; chitchat. A couple of weeks ago we ran off on a tangent of comparing one another’s notebooks. The conversation coincided with a similar thread at Wisteria & Sunshine, so I was primed. I’ve been using graph-style spiral-bound steno pads for the past year or so, with a modified bullet-journal method. (Chiefly the use of an index page at the front of each notebook—that was a game-changer for me.) But I was hankering after something less utilitarian-looking, and one of my lit girls had a new kraft-brown Moleskine that set me swooning. Back at home, I looked it up and it was exactly what I wanted. Slim paperback in the size I favor (Moleskine calls it “large” but it’s only 5×8), and—this was crucial—they offer a “squared” (graph-style) version.
I’ve used Moleskines before but mostly the Volant model with the bright solid-colored covers. So pretty on my shelf but you can’t really fold them back on themselves, and I don’t like writing on a double-page spread. That’s why I’ve mostly sighed and made do with spirals. But Moleskine’s Cahier model with a heavy paper cover is flexible enough for me to fold back. And I love the pocket in the back, such a nice touch.
Kraft paper is one of my favorite surfaces for decorating, so of course the cover cried out for some decoration. I started on the back in case I messed up. Still haven’t decided what I want to do on the front.
gridded steno notebook, kraft brown Moleskine Cahier journal, Canson Mixed Media Sketchbook
I love a skinny notebook not only because it fits easily in my bag, but because it fills up faster. I am mad for the fresh start. I had a few pages left in my May steno book but I craved a clean slate for June, so I’ve been using up the steno pages with hand-lettering practice.
I use my daily notebook for list-making, idea-sorting, story-outlining, note-taking…basically anything that involves words. Words + doodles, really: my “work” pages are always margined with crosshatching and basketweave and spirals and mushrooms…whatever. I used to try to keep things compartmentalized: one notebook for current book-in-progress; one for medical & insurance notes (I always seem to have volumes of these); one for quotes/commonplace book entries; one for to-do lists…but they always wound up melded together, and then I’d have three or four mishmash notebooks going at once, which was ridiculous. So I gave up and embraced my brain’s clear need to dump itself onto a page, melting-pot style, and now I let all those channels of thought intermingle. (Messily, much like the mingling of metaphors in that sentence.)
And these days my word-notebooks are overrun with drawings, too. I have a separate sketchbook—two, actually; a smaller (5×8) hardcover Moleskine that fits in my bag, and a larger (7×10) Canson mixed-media sketchbook that is my place to experiment with drawing techniques and paint. That’s where I do my Sketchbook Skool assignments—it’s my it’s okay to screw up place. Consequently, it sees way more action than the Moleskine sketchbook, which I pretty much only use when I’m 1) away from home and 2) feeling unobtrusive enough to draw in public. I don’t mind kids looking over my shoulder but I’m way too shy about my work to want adults eyeballing it in progress.
Interestingly, the Canson Mixed Media Sketchbook is the one that got a thumbs-down from Roz Stendahl (THE source of in-the-field info on all things art supply), and when I read her review I had a major light-bulb moment: Ohhhh, so you mean the paper isn’t supposed to buckle when I paint? This Canson (I’m in my second one now) is the only sketchbook I’ve ever painted in, so I thought that’s just how it went, unless you bought one with watercolor paper. Roz’s report clued me in to the possibility that the book I picked (entirely because it was on sale at Michael’s) may not perform as satisfactorily as other brands. I’m nearing the end of this one (you guys!!! I’ve filled two whole sketchbooks with drawings!!) and may take Roz’s recommendation and try a Strathmore Journal Series’ Mixed Media book next time. Does Michael’s sell them, I wonder? Got another coupon burning a hole…
bad phone photo; can’t be bothered to scan
Okay, so I was saying that in theory I have the sketchbook(s) for, well, sketching, and the notebook for all the word things, but the truth is that ever since I started working on my drawing skills last fall, I’ve got rough sketches running wild all over my word-notebooks. Again, this is something I’ve just decided to be at peace with. So much of my work involves a rigorous process of polishing and structure, and I think perhaps my mind really needs a place to be messy and unfiltered, a place to set itself down in raw form. It’s like a test kitchen for my thoughts, I guess. This is where the index is so invaluable: it allows me to quickly locate the notes from that Very Important Phone Call without having to hunt through pages of nonsense. I try to update the index at least once a week—just a mild leaf-through to note down the page numbers on which I have recorded important information. I number the pages of my notebooks in the bottom right corner, about ten pages at a time. I like to write my to-do lists on a Post-It that can travel from page to page. As each task is crossed off, I jot it down in the notebook for a record of what I’ve done.
Since the ugly steno books all look the same on the shelf, I would run a highlighter down the sides of the pages, a different color for each new book. But so far the kraft Moleskine is serving beautifully, and I doubt I’ll go back to the steno grids. I might use a bit of Washi tape on the spine to differentiate the Moleskines on the shelf, once they’re filled.
Back to my coffee-shop girls. We had so much fun that day, comparing notebook preferences, that we decided to all bring our sketchbooks the following week. Which was truly delightful—what a treasure, this look at the outpouring of creativity from these girls. Beautiful design work (I mean really breathtaking, some of it), whimsical drawings (much more skilled than mine), and illustrated quotes, and just so much wonder, so much evidence of curious minds sifting the world. I felt really honored to have this work shared with me. We are nearing the end of the topics we charted for our class, but the girls begged me to keep going through the summer. So we’re thinking of spending a few weeks on sketching and notebooking. I have all sorts of ideas for things we can do together—heavily Lynda Barry-influenced, naturally, because who better to guide you through an exploration of all the things a sheet of paper can become?
So, I don't know about all y'all, but I've not been sleeping well.
(There are a few voices calling from the aether - they are saying...
JOIN THE FRICKIN' CLUB!
Aether voices, I salute you.)
Anyhoozle, the weirdest and random dreams have been plaguing my subconscious. Like one time I dreamed of storm clouds that went roaring by, sort of like those old Disney movies where it films the clouds in fast-forward, and seconds later a veritable tidal wave flooded the landscape. This happened twice. It felt quite portentous.
Another time I dreamed someone had been falsely accused of murder, and there was a frantic rush while we rushed the accused to safety, and it was very Bourne/Narnia. I know, right. Weird.
Another time, the dream started IN prison, one of those old antique prisons, and the nice little prisoner very cleverly found a way out of the prison, picking up a random hairy stranger on the way, and at the end of the dream the nice little prisoner gets hurt and the hairy stranger (who apparently magically sheds his extreme hairiness) has to protect him.
Anyway, I mention dreams because I had one where nightmares and bad dreams are different from each other, in that bad dreams are essentially that - BAD dreams - and nightmares are the conscience that can steer a bad dream back to good dreams.
That's cool, folks.
I mention THAT because I feel like an oft forgotten necessity for writers is to always keep a notebook by their beds. You never know when an idea will attack you while you sleep. You have to be ready for it, ready to pounce
Yep. I just posted a writerly blog post!! CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?!?!?!
Oh, and if you are ever feeling "dried up" creatively, think about buying one of these suckers:
I "impulse bought" one at Barnes and Noble the last time I was down there, and it is incredibly soothing and freeing. You just use a little water and the water "paints" on the canvas. It's non-permanent, and you wouldn't believe how fun it is to just draw
knowing nothing will be permanent. I love it. I want a big one. I bought the mini, which fits in my purse, but I want the big one now.
This is the Cat, leaving you with THAT whisker of wisdom.
Cheers and God Bless!
In January I wrote about the joys of giving children notebooks and letting them run riot with their story ideas. Since then I have met many teachers and parents who have done just this. They have told me how wonderful it is to see this space being used. The freedom to write or draw whatever the child wants has fed into stories she or he has often then gone on to polish in class in structured writing time. (This has not, of course, always been a direct result of my post – many teachers and parents were already giving their children the chance to explore their writing in this way.)
I would not be blogging about this again, were it not for something I witnessed on a long train journey last week; something which had me thinking again about how constraining we can be in our approach to our children’s education and the damage that can be done when pleasure is forsaken in favour of ticking boxes and getting things ‘right’. And, perhaps more importantly, when this approach leaks into home life.
A mum got on the train with her two small daughters, whom I guessed to be about five and six, and her son, who, I thought, looked about eight. They settled into their seats and the mother brought out some pens and pencils, paper and notebooks.
The little girls immediately clamoured, ‘I want my notebook!’ ‘I am going to write you a story!’ How lovely! I thought. What a great way to spend a few hours on the train. ‘Yes,’ said the mother. ‘You each have twenty minutes to write a beautiful story, and then I will read it and check it. Now – remember I want to see “wow” words, good punctuation, proper spelling, neat handwriting and lots of interesting verbs and adjectives—’ The boy groaned loudly (or was it me?) and put his head in his hands. ‘I don’t WANT to write a story!’ he complained. ‘I don’t like writing stories and I am no good at them.’ His mother placated him with promises of chocolate biscuits if he would only ‘be good like the girls and write for twenty minutes without making a fuss’. His sisters were indeed already scribbling away and reading aloud what they had written, eager to share it with their mother. She praised them and told them to keep going for the full twenty minutes. What is it with this twenty minutes thing? I thought. Maybe she is desperate for a bit of peace and quiet. Don’t judge! You were in this situation not so long ago yourself: long train journeys with young children are tiresome and they have to have things to do otherwise you go crazy and so do they.
The boy then handed over his story. His mother, glancing at it, said, ‘Well, that’s not very interesting, is it? You haven’t used good connectives, there are no “wow” words, your handwriting is messy and you just haven’t made an effort.’
Then came the killer blow. ‘You really have got to start making an effort with your writing, you know,’ the mother went on. ‘Next year you will have to write for twenty minutes and put all these things into your stories. You have been on holiday for a week already and you have done no writing. You must promise you’ll concentrate on this for another twenty minutes, or you will be no good at this next year.’
I must confess that, at the time, I wanted to lean across and engage the boy in conversation. I wanted to ask him if he liked reading and, if so, what kind of stories did he like best? What about his favourite films? I wanted to get him chatting about his likes and dislikes and encourage him to scribble them down, to use this precious ‘writing time’ as a chance to let his brain go wild. I wanted to tell him that it was OK to do that, and that afterwards he could go back over his story and concentrate on the connectives and the punctuation and the neat handwriting. I wanted to say that all those things his mother was talking about were indeed important, but that perhaps the reason he hated writing so much was that he was struggling with remembering the rules; that if he could forget the rules to start with, he would then perhaps find he loved writing stories, and that he had piles and piles of them to tell. I might perhaps have added that, as a published writer, I would be paralysed if I had to write a clean first draft from the off which obeyed all the rules of Standard English . . .
Of course I didn’t. I did not want to upset his mother – after all, it was none of my business. In any case, on reflection, it was not her behaviour with her children that upset me the most, rather the fact that she clearly felt anxious that her son was not up to scratch with his English. Indeed, she was so anxious that he improve that she was insisting he work on it over the summer holidays, and work on it in the exact same way he is required to at school. She was armed to the hilt with educational jargon and was turning this terrifying arsenal on her weary son. I was an editor before I was fortunate enough to develop my career as a writer. I know as well as anyone the importance of good grammar and correct punctuation. I appreciate clean, clear writing and a well-structured plot. I know good dialogue when I see it. My own children will roll their eyes and tell you that I am the first person to howl at the misuse of the apostrophe on a street sign or restaurant menu. Of course I can see why we have to teach these things and why parents should care about their children’s level of competence in English. However, it makes me extremely upset that an obsession with such technicalities has the potential to wreck a child’s love of their own language. When you are as young as that little lad, creative writing should be fun, shouldn’t it? Leaving aside the dubious value in making your child work over the summer holidays in such a joyless way, I found it heartbreaking that the mother seemed not to see the potential for fun in giving her son a notebook and letting him run riot with his imagination before giving him guidance and advice on how to hone his ideas. Even more heartbreaking, though, was the thought of how anxious the woman seemed to feel about her son attaining certain targets in the academic year to come. She cannot be alone in feeling this. I only hope that, come September, her son will find himself fortunate to have one of the many inspirational teachers we have in this country who are still in love enough with their subject to occasionally throw out the rulebook and teach from the heart instead.
I was watching or listening or reading something this week — I don’t remember what — but the message was: You can’t be a writer if you’re not a reader. True. (And probably the reason I don’t remember who said it since this little tid-bit is fairly common knowledge.) The person went on to say: [...]
Lately, I've been experimenting with making these spiral-bound notebooks (or journals, or sketchbooks). It's so much fun to have a new, FUNCTIONAL way to share my art work! I've always wanted
to have my art on note books and the like. So, while I work on finding a partner with larger manufacturing abilities than myself, with a wider distribution than I myself can provide, it's exciting to make it happen all by myself. I really love these books.
This one features bunches of pages of speckled paper alternating with bunches of pages of lavender paper. I also added several pages of 100# watercolor paper at the front of the book for extra variety! (Maybe I should add a lavender scent, too? Hmm...)
The cover and back are a very rigid, acid-free matte board in purple. On the front and back cover, I adhered my art prints, printed on an acid- free 100# fine invitation paper.
The place holder ribbon is recycled - cute, eh? I originally received it from my pet-art buddy Christine Throckmorton of I Heart Dogs Studio
. (We did a custom pet portrait trade awhile back, and I did her doggie Rosie. Check out all the process posts here
I've been using them and it is SO MUCH FUN for me. I'm a notebook-a-holic and sketch book-a-holic, and I have been wanting to make them for such a long time, so I can't get enough of them. I'm experimenting with different ways to add variety, embellishments, separators, and different papers within the books. I hope you like them! Once I have the time to really get into it, I will be creating some to sell in my Etsy shop. As always, if you feel so inclined, I'd love
to hear what you think. :)
(Because even when you have Freedom switched on there are always ways to procrastinate)
- The David Tennant Doctor Who figure is taller than the Matt Smith figure and for some reason I thought it would be the other way around. I should Google who is tallest. (To which the answer is a) yes David Tennant is taller and b) what an odd site and c) my Google-Fu found that in one click).
- Why have trays on your desk if you're not going to use them for anything sensible? And yes, labelling them WIP / Ideas / Guidelines / Writing Tips isn't much good if you're just going to throw everything into whatever tray you feel like.
- Making graphs is an awesome way to track your progress even if you're not making any progress because you're busy making graphs.
- Scribbling short story titles and throwing them into the trays would be awesome if you used the right trays or maybe had a short story title tray. Ooh, see now I have another reason to procrastinate and then later on I could blog* about all the silly things I write short story titles on like fruit pastille wrappers and gift tags and whatnot. You'd think there were no notebooks in this room.
- If you count all the unused notebooks in your office, you may find they total 30 (at least).
*I won't really blog about that... Although, in the words of James Bond, never say never.
I wonder which James Bond figure is the tallest?
This weekend, I will be spending ample time with my four-year-old ballerina friend Solveig. I want to have plenty of fun creative things for us to do together, so I made this coloring book for her.
|inside front page (color print) and first coloring page|
I used a ballet theme for most of the inside coloring pages. Since the recipient takes ballet classes, I am pretty sure we will be "on the same page" with the theme!
|another coloring page|
|Something personaized is always extra-special|
Everyone likes to "see their name in lights", so to speak! I included the recipient's name in some of the printed pages. It is a small detail and I know she will be delighted!
For a few of the pieces of art on the coloring pages, I tried different colored outlines instead of brown, just to punch things up a bit... and what young lady doesn't love pink and purple?
I covered the front and back covers, both inside and outside, with art prints I already had lying around. I picked out a few that I thought were just rig
Last week I had a conversation with a middle school teacher who has spent her summer studying writing workshop and is excited to make writer’s notebooks the backbone of her writing instruction. This… Read More
There's a story here. Which one should I tell? Just a few choices:
1. How long it took me to gather all the ingredients this year, to dig up the jars from their basement banishment and wash them, and then how the actual making was (I always forget) a snap. An "inside" story, perhaps of lethargy or procrastination, or is it a wee bit of depression? Nah, it's something else... I could investigate.
2. Making Christmas in my new hometown of Atlanta, segueing into how much delight I'm finding in this holiday season, the first one in several years that I have enjoyed for just-itself, or as I wrote a friend this week, the first holiday in years that I have not been a) destitute, b) traveling, c) on deadline, or d) having my annual nervous breakdown. Nah... too wide. I want to focus on the granola.
Let me strive for one clear moment in time. I'll take a lesson from what I teach. Take one moment, beginning-middle-end. Write short. Use telling detail. Use your senses. Your feelings. Show us that moment in lovely (terrible, excruciating, hilarious, comforting, angry, amazing) bas relief. Let us live it with you. So. Try again. Why is this moment important to me?
3. The first time I made this granola, I made it with my son, Zach. He was almost three. The recipe has the date written on it: December 1984. I took it from an old Rodale cookbook that was falling apart by the time I moved to Atlanta, so I cut the recipe out of the cookbook and pasted it into the front of American Wholefoods Cuisine by Nikki and David Goldbeck.
But wait... I'm straying. I can add this in later if I want to, for texture and reference, when I revise.
I'm on to something. Let me grab my notebook. Scribble: making this granola with three-year-old Zach who is now almost 28. The way the day was so foggy and cold and damp, but inside the fire crackled and the young enthusiastic son stirred and tasted, stirred and tasted, standing on a chair at the table, wearing one of my aprons hiked up under his armpits, an enormous pot and a fat wooden spoon his companions, how he asked a million questions, how he wanted to gift the world with this granola, and how I learned he needed a funnel to fill the jars; how I wrote the recipe on homemade recipe cards, how he punched a hole in the corner of each, and how we, together, tied the recipe to the jar with a length of red yarn.
What else? How his eyes shined with his accomplishment. How we sang "Jingle Bells" as we worked. How he signed each card in green crayon with a crooked Z. How he said, like it was the most natural thing in the world to expect, "Let's do this again tomorrow." How flat-out happy I was... how young I was.
Yeah, let me write about that. Let's see: what happened first? I want a good lead. And what happened next? Let me capture this moment in time; let me preserve it forever.
3 Comments on early kitchen morning and memory, last added: 12/15/2009