Deb and Erica from IlloStories asked me to talk about my nature/trip journal process for their May workbook. If you don’t know about them, they orchestrate a wonderful community of illustrators and provide encouragement and tons of fun challenges and materials to help you develop as an illustrator. So, check them out on Instagram @illostories and they also moderate a closed Facebook group. They are so generous and supportive and I’ve really valued the community they have developed.
In this video I share with you one of my recent vacation journals that features many nature themes. I love illustrating anything that has to do with being outside and the curiosities of a place—the things that make that place unique. Keeping a journal while traveling or out in nature is a must for me. In my journals I document my experiences and interactions with a place and not necessarily what I see. I call this type of Journaling “free-association” Journaling and it’s just something that I do organically. I don’t think this is a unique approach and many people that keep journals already do this. This Journaling technique is a fun way to open up your mind and let your goofy and whimsical side shine.
I start a journal page by letting my mind wander and ask myself a bunch of questions. Does this place trigger a past memory? How do I feel right now about what I’m seeing? Can I link it to a previous experience or knowledge? Can I do a bit of research that will help me understand and process what I’m seeing and will bring more depth and meaning to the artwork? What are the things that make this place special? Did something unique happen when I was there, no matter how small, that will bring an extra layer of meaning to my art?
On a recent trip to Maine I knew that I wanted to make a page about the food I was having because the food was a big part of the experience. I started by drawing the pie I had for breakfast, which happens to be an icon of the place I was visiting. Over the course of the several days that I was there, I kept adding bits to this page, things that I saw, ate and experienced. Now I have this lovely and yummy visual food diary.
Another journal page was about a day hike. When I started to make this page I asked myself: What did I see, do, smell, touch? Who did I meet? What was special about this day? I have lots of beautiful photos of that day hike, and they are nice, but my journal tells me how I felt, and what I saw that I could not capture in a photo.
Other journal pages from that trip captured flowers found on a hike by the sea, my day spent at a museum, and a ride on a tall ship. On another day I saw wild turkeys and heard loons calling so a bird page came to be. A trip to the farmers market to buy our breakfast before a mountain climb yielded a “hunter’s market” for birds of prey, and the Wes Anderson “Moonrise Kingdom” (love this movie!) pages (we were in New England) were made in response to a visit to an antique store. You can take a closer look at some of my travel journal pages in my travel art section in this website.
When you are making a journal page about a holiday, a hike or an item in nature, give this “free association” technique a try. Be brave and toss in some silliness. It’ll make your journal pages more about your experience, and you’ll treasure them. I hope that my work and process inspire you to find your own way of working and to get outside and make some art.
Below you can see my work area for my Maine trip journal, some of the sites and some works in progress. Enjoy!
If you are interested…how I became an “illustrator”
Using the word “illustrator” to describe what I am and do, still feels very new and awkward to me. I feel like a total newbie, even though I am now getting paid illustration work. Illustrators come to their profession in many different ways. Some figure it out early and study in a university, or perhaps begin as fine artists and transition to commercial work or even flit between the two. And some, like me, travel a different path for over 30 years and then, by chance, figure out that “yes!” this is I want I need to do.
I began by starting to draw in early 2016. I felt the urge to give it a try. I’d always drawn a lot as a child and young person and I had been alright at it. So, maybe this was the thing that I felt was missing? The thing that would help me cope with my stressful job and business. The thing that would fill up my evenings now that my children were not needing me as much.
Before I started drawing I tried other creative outlets. I tried writing. I was very slow and it was painful to do. I tried photography. Loved that, but really wasn’t interested in learning about camera settings and f-stops. I tried being a docent at a local art gallery. That was fun, but the commitment was huge (5 years and one day a week!), and I knew that was just too much. I was working full time and running a business, so I needed something that would fit MY schedule. So drawing it would be.
I started slow and simple. Just drawing things. Teaching myself to draw again. To observe and record what I was seeing. To learn about shadow and light. To try out materials to find the ones that suited me. I was mostly working on nature inspired themes and imagery. Black and white at first, then slowly moved to color using my children’s art supplies. I could see improvement and growth every time I worked. I became obsessed and driven to get better. I started to think about whether I could be good at this. Whether anyone would “like” what I was doing. Whether anyone would pay me to make art. Pay ME to make art?!
I filled up sketchbook after sketchbook. My work was evolving, I could see that. I wanted to tell stories, develop characters, and make decorative artwork. I started to take some on-line illustration classes and get involved in illustrator community challenges. In those places I could see that I had a long, long way to go still. But, the more I worked, the more connected I became to my style and artistic voice.
I’m still making art everyday of my life. I’m still improving and learning new things all of the time. I’m so challenged and excited by the whole process and can’t imagine stopping. At this time I’m starting to weave illustration projects into my work day a bit and hope to make that my full time job one day soon. Until then, I’ll keep working on getting used to calling myself an illustrator.