Journalling and Art

For as long as I've been making art, I've also kept journals.

Ellen Sherman's Journals

These written snapshots have evolved from the gilded pages of my 4th grade diary; filled with scrawly notes on lunchroom drama, to the wirebound journals from college; mostly schedules, lists and to dos, to my current books; noting ideas for new paintings and chronicling our adventures around the globe. 

I never regarded the practice of keeping a journal as anything terribly important, it was just something I did. However, as I have found myself looking back through my substantial collection (seriously, I use these babies as a night stand now... there's too many to fit in the bookshelf!) I noticed some really interesting trends that never occurred to me as I wrote. 

My journals generally predicted the course of my art.

And that was pretty cool, also more than a little weird. I'd write bits of interesting research, scribble bits from books or games that inspired me, and then weeks later these would turn up in my work. I never made the connection.

My journals served as better artists statements than my actual statement.

Granted, they were much longer - but every time I explained (essentially to myself) what I was making and why, those few paragraphs distilled my thoughts and intent far better than the vetted statement I was using at the time. Looking through my previous entries has given me the vocabulary I was searching for when it comes to writing the statement.

Being able to harness that connection with the written self and having a text record from which to glean some truly personal inspiration has been an indispensable resource for my work.

Ellen Sherman's Journals


Why should YOU keep a journal?
  1. If you are anything like me, it puts you in a different mindset when it comes to creating. Words take the place of paint, and it becomes an exercise for an entirely different part of my consciousness.
  2.  As I wrote above, patterns and inspiration can be uncovered from previous passages... it can be a treasure trove when an artist is in a rut.
  3. Artist. Statement. (see above)
  4. When it comes to travel journalling, I love that I can go back to my books from those trips and re-read the scents, the smells, the adventure. It is like a portal through time.
  5. It's fun. Also reading into years prior can be a very humbling experience... certain passages are just so cringe-y. (I'm looking at you 6th grade Ellen....) It's great.
Ellen Sherman's travel journals
Tips on Keeping a Journal

I know, I know, its so easy to talk about journalling - but committing to keeping one is an entirely different monster. I go through periods where I just don't want to write - and I think that's fine. It only works for me if it's not forced, when I've got something I want to say. But will make use of a few jump starts if I feel like I'm getting too far behind. Maybe some of these might help if you feel you want to start, but don't know how.

  • Set a time to write. 10 mins in the morning, 10 mins at night. I'll write about the day ahead, or funny dreams in the morning, and then sum everything up at night, or write about the day to come.
  • Carry your journal with you. Here in Miami, traffic will occasionally come to a dead stop on the highways. I've sat with my car off for 2 hours (once for 3!) just waiting for an accident to clear. No better time to whip out my little book and scribble away.
  • Use prompts. The internet is a gold-mine for all sorts of writing prompts, ranging from the thought-provoking and introspective to the absurd and silly, and everywhere in between.
  • Write out the lyrics to your favorite songs. I use this a lot if I feel particularly drawn to a song, and I generally include notes about what has hooked me so. (Lyrics, the singer's voice, the drums...etc)
  • Tape in things. If I want to just use up a few pages, or I've got some bits of paper I want to keep (ticket stubs, paint chips, palettes I want to play with) I'll devote a few pages just to my trusty glossy tape and create a sort of 'in-journal mood board'. These are great when traveling too. (Just don't accidentally tape your immigration papers in when you get past a checkpoint. I thought it was just a receipt!!!!)

What about you? Have any journalling tips to share? Leave a comment below!