Let me begin by saying that an Art Journal is not a simple sketchbook (even though you can definitely sketch in it), it is rather a creative way of keeping a diary. And that’s the beauty of it. No one will ever see it, unless you decide to share it. You can do whatever you want in it, trust it with your biggest secrets, try any idea, let go of your fears and anxieties. And no, you don’t need to consider yourself a creative person to keep an art journal, in fact, it is a perfect way for anyone to become a creative thinker, and, if you already are one, then it is an even better way to keep your creative juices flowing and explore new ways of expressing yourself. It’s a judgment free space to create and develop you creativity, exercise your visual thinking, without having to complete an academically correct drawing or thinking f whether anyone would like it. It’s your own personal space to think creatively.
Why everyone needs an art journal!
And by ‘everyone’ I literally do mean EVERYONE! Let me explain why.
We all know how our brain works. We have two hemispheres where left one controls analytical thinking, verbalizing, drawing logical conclusions, counting, marking time, planning, in other words, performing all of our daily tasks. The right one, highly underestimated and overlooked, is responsible for our creative thinking, visual imagery, intuition, dreaming. And why did I say that the right side of the brain is highly underestimated? Well, there is one interesting fact to it. While the left hemisphere helps us in making rational and logical decisions, the right hemisphere helps us in seeing the subject as a whole and how it exists in space, we can transcend our thinking and look at things from different perspectives letting our intuition lead us to the new complex ideas which could not be reached by simple logical order.
The left hemisphere analyzes over time, whereas the right hemisphere synthesizes over space.Jerre Levy “Psychobiological Implications of Bilateral Asymmetry” 1974.
Sounds confusing, but stay with me because this is where it gets interesting. We all know how everyone considers artists as weirdos and out-of-space creatures that come up with all the crazy ideas and paint these hard-to-understand abstract artworks that our left hemispheres struggle to analyze and put into any category. Well, these are the people that ‘think’ with their right hemispheres, that’s why their ideas are hard to explain with the actual words or logical connections. They paint their visions of political and social issues giving us a whole new perspective on seeing things existing in space in a whole different way. And we sometimes just think “Wow, how did he/she even think of this?”.
If I could say in it words, there would be no reason to paint.Edward Hopper
That is what the right hemisphere does, it helps you reach the ideas that you never knew existed and find solutions to problems that seemed impossible to resolve. It’s what the Thinking Outside The Box is all about. But it’s often overlooked as a simple nice addition to our brains that helps people draw. Betty Edwards in her book Drawing on the Right Ride of the Brain says “Most of our educational system has been designed to cultivate the verbal, rational, on-time, left hemisphere, while half of the brain of every student is virtually neglected.” We often assume that only the chosen ones, the artists or geniuses, get to use their right hemisphere to the full potential and forget to teach our young generation that their access to the right hemisphere could be trained on demand by anyone. We hear big and small corporations looking for creative thinkers, “outside of the box” solutions, at the interviews people are being asked to answer not just the questions on the subject, but also find abstract and creative answers to complex and sometimes silly questions. For example, “Define a service that would allow you to travel to the future.” You can find quite a lot of amusing questions scrolling though the list of Google’s Interview Question. And do you know why Google is on top of their game? Because they hire creative thinkers.
But who are these geniuses? And what’s their secret? They are simply the people who hacked their access to the right hemisphere on demand. Left hemisphere is a dominant one, and it has some control issues. Left side of our brain is not that easy to shut down, it always gets in a way. It always thinks it knows better. When in an art school we were asked to draw a portrait from a picture, we first all panicked because we didn’t know how to draw a portrait at that time, or so we thought, because our left hemispheres concluded that this is a human face which is hard to draw and so we can’t do it. And so with shaking hands we drew a cartoonish looking disproportional heads with big eyes.
So how do you hack your access to the right hemisphere?
Simply by giving your brain a task that left hemisphere is unable to help you with. Flipping the image of the face upside down significantly improved the outcome of the drawing. You know how? Our brains had no other solution but to give into the creative thinking with the right hemisphere, we had to trust what we were seeing, not what we thought it was. We saw lines, shapes, forms and connections between them. We though of things how they existed in space and worked together as a whole. And to our surprise, we all produced pretty decent portraits. And another reason why we had success was because left hemisphere was quiet the whole time, we didn’t check the time, we didn’t compare ourselves to others, we stopped our rational thinking, we simply let the right, intuitive and creative, hemisphere take over.
Now, to clarify my point, you don’t need to flip everything upside down to find a solution, though it does help even with business decision making. My point is that the access to the right hemisphere is easily trainable by giving your brain tasks that the left hemisphere is unable to perform, basically to shut it down and end its dictatorship! And the easiest way to do it is through the visual tasks or, in other words, keeping an art journal.
Another important reason for keeping an Art Journal is simply its therapeutic abilities. We all know about the power of art therapy and the advantages of keeping a diary. Artistic activities not only help you access your creative thinking through the right side of the brain, shutting down the left side of the brain gives you a chance to rest. We are all familiar with that feeling of being “in the zone” when we lose track of time, forget about our problems, sort of drift away from reality and simply relax.
We need something that takes us far out of ourselves that we forget to eat, forget to pee, forget to mow the lawn, forget to resent our enemies, forget to brood over our insecurities.Elizabeth Gilbert.
And accessing your right hemisphere does just that. Also, we are all familiar with the benefits of keeping a diary. You record your thoughts and feeling, becoming more aware of them and acknowledging your state of mind. Often times, letting something out on a page can ease your mood as if you were discussing it with your closest friend. It helps you clear your thoughts and get better at expressing yourself. You will have to think of a structure for what you are trying to say and what is the best way of expressing it.
Keeping a personal journal a daily in-depth analysis and evaluation of your experiences is a high-leverage activity that increases self-awareness and enhances all the endowments and the synergy among them.Stephen R.Covey
And that is what makes and Art Journal so special – the ability to combine an experience of art therapy and personal diary in one place without much effort because both things are easily accessible on a daily basis.
Why an Art Journal and not a Sketchbook?
The advantage of an art journal simply lies in our close familiarity with the concept of a journal or a diary. It is a safe place for you to express yourself. We tend to think of a sketchbook as a place to perform a certain drawing or painting task, focusing rather on our drawing skills than the purpose of drawing. Art journal can be flimsy, raw, childish if you wish, with doodles, collages, safe techniques or brave experiments. It’s an extension of your mind, a place for it to expand its horizons and transcend into an intuitive way of thinking. I don’t ask you take any drawing classes, buy any expensive art supplies (well maybe just a journal itself). The purpose is not in improving your artistic abilities. The purpose is to build a bridge to the place of unlimited possibilities of your right hemisphere. It just happened that the easiest way to achieve it is through a mild amount of messing around with some art supplies. Therefore, people tend to be more open with their art journals, trust their instincts, be less self conscious, more daring to explore, having more honest conversations with their subconscious.
So what are some of the things that you can do with your Art Journal?
The possibilities are absolutely limitless. But for someone who never tried Art Journaling before, I will list a few ideas just to get you started. You can also go on Pinterest and get inspired by what other people are doing. Jut remember that there is no pressure to be ‘good’, in fact, there is no ‘good’, there’s only you!
Collage! This is probably the easiest way to get started because no art supplies are required and also if you feel hesitant to try drawing, this is a good method to ease your way into more artistic techniques. All you need is to get some scissors, old or new magazines, various color papers and a glue stick. You can do it in many different ways. For example you can find the images that you like that are on the same subject, or have the same color palette and see how they work together, how they can be arranged on the pages of your journal to create an interesting effect. You can try different textures, get a piece of fabric, or a textured tape, a few different textures of paper, any feathers, leaves, etc. Experiment with what you have. Rip off a piece of news paper and arrange letters and images separately or together, write something on top. Create an image of a subject out of random pieces of paper.
Keep a few interesting pictures or pieces of paper in a small improvised pocket inside the journal, for the times when you don’t have any magazines at hand. Do something that doesn’t make sense to your brain, and this way you will explore a new and more abstract way of thinking. Soon you will notice an improvement in your daily thinking process, you will be involuntarily picking up different pieces of information and finding interesting connections without much effort.
Do Abstract Sketches. Surprisingly, abstract art tends to be a very complicated technique to try. Mainly because our left hemisphere cannot make sense of it. We are left to respond to it with our feelings and emotions that abstract art evokes. Therefore, this is another great way to reach your right side of the brain. Simply begin by putting colors next to each other, you can get inspired by the colors you see around you or experiment with some new color combinations, do something that feels right to you at the moment. At first, you will feel very confused by what you see because your left side of the brain will be working hard to make something out of it, give it a category, telling you that it has to be something! Make something out of it, an apple, a tree, anything! But don’t listen to that voice and keep it simple, only colors, lines and shapes, and most importantly your feelings, because as your right hemisphere will be taking over, you will start experiencing your intuitive thinking. This is another great way that will change your daily thinking. You will learn to see simple shapes, strip away all the unnecessary information and focus better on the main points, the core of the problem.
Experiment with drawing or coloring. Don’t think right away that you can’t draw. The point here is not in drawing a realistic still-life, the point is in accessing your creative thinking. Just pick up a pencil and draw something, a line, a simple flower, your cup of coffee, imaginary creatures, whatever comes to your mind. No one will see it, it’s your personal diary. If you feel like drawing a mermaid and you never drew it before, do it. If you like what someone else drew, copy it (just don’t later claim it as yours). Draw something that happened to you that day, or write it in a short essay and illustrate it.
For the days when you don’t feel like drawing, pick up a coloring book, cut out a few pages and stick them into your art journal so you can pick it up at any time and color in (this also can be used as a “warp up” exercise, after coloring in you might want to draw something of your own).
Remember! No one cares about the accuracy or the final result. This is your daily exercise to train your creative thinking. So don’t take it too hard on yourself. If you have a fear of a blank page, write down a quote and simply doodle around it.
If something really doesn’t look the way you wanted it to, get some gouache paint and simply paint over it. I like to paint over mishaps with a black paint. It challenges me to give that page a different perspective. If on a white page something didn’t happen, then let’s do a total opposite. Again, it’s all about training your brain to think in new interesting ways.
Don’t spend a fortune on art supplies! In fact, I would challenge you to get the cheapest markers or pencils to start with. Having nice supplies often times prevents people from even starting, because they are afraid they will mess them up or the outcome won’t be as good as they imagined it. Having cheaper art supplies lowers the expectations and helps you to loosen up. If you really want to treat yourself, I would suggest getting a good notebook, something with thicker paper that would hold moisture better, because cheap notebooks can’t even handle the glue stick and start buckling. I recommend using Moleskine Art sketchbook.
But if you want something on a budget, a Canson XL multimedia is a great choice.
I suggest keeping your supplies to a minimum at the beginning. Get a pencil pouch, throw in a few markers, a few gel pens, a few pencils, stickers or colorful tapes and take your journal with you anywhere you go. Relax on a lunch break and doddle for a little bit. Write down something on a train, or on a bus, keep it accessible so that whenever the inspiration comes, you can express it on a page.
I love my pocket size Moleskine sketchbook and how it fits right into my pencil pouch. I can throw it in my purse or in my backpack and sketch something even while I’m waiting for my appointment. Now I can’t go even on a smallest trip without my journaling supplies. There’s really no excuse not to grab them with you.
Just give it a try!
Don’t overthink it too much, don’t ask yourself whether you can or cannot draw, don’t ask yourself whether you have time or the means. Just give it a try! Creative thinking is a trainable skill and anyone can develop it and expand its horizons. Enrich your life with a new perspective on things, discover ideas you never knew were possible to think of. Feel the freedom of thinking “outside the box”. I wish there was a higher emphasis on the importance of the right hemisphere in schools and I wish our young generations gave it as much attention as they give to their mathematical and analytical thinking. Simple art journaling is such an easy and accessible tool to use with such a great impact on our daily and professional lives. Just give it a try!
If you are interested in starting drawing and advancing your drawing skills, I have a post for you 🙂
I hope you found this post interesting and informative. I am happy to hear your thoughts and ideas on this matter, just leave a comment and let’s keep this conversation going!
Here’s an additional list of supplies and resources you might find useful:
- Moleskine Art sketchbook.
- Canson XL multimedia.
- Pocket size Moleskine sketchbook.
- Gell pens.
- Gouache paints.
- Faber Castell Black ink pens.
- Color pencils.
Books and journals for inspiration:
This is just a small list of ideas to help you get started. The internet is full of resources and inspiration. You can also check out my review of the book “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert which I found to be life-changing for the way I treat my creativity.
p.s. If you shop at Blick Art Materials, please you my affiliate link.
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