Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Staying Home? Make an Altered Journal!

© Honourableandbold / Dreamstime.com

It's springtime in Albuquerque and the streets are stunning right now: trees in full blossom, daffodils glowing golden-yellow in every yard, birds bustling in the branches, and hardly a car to be seen thanks to the sudden need to "self isolate" and keep a low profile. Many of us will be staying home more than usual, cancelling social activities and group meetings and doing our best to stay safe and sane. In other words, it's a perfect time to start (or to at least take a fresh look) at one of my favorite creative activities: journaling! 

Without a doubt journaling has been the single most valuable tool and practice of my writing and artistic life. Rarely a day has gone by that I haven't journaled in one way or another, whether it was to record my joy, work through my despair, or simply to find an inventive way to deal with plot-bunnies.

Although the majority of my journals fall into the category of hodge-podge grab bags, i.e., volumes of complaints, gratitude lists, poetry, and to-do lists all in one convenient spot, I've also written and created many journals dedicated to a single theme, e.g., nature, haiku, or travel. Over the coming weeks I thought it would be fun to share some of the different types of journals I've enjoyed best, starting with A, the Altered Journal.

In reality, "altered journaling" is a bit of a redundancy as any journal you work with is altered from the minute you fill in the first page! All that white paper quickly transforms into an individual form of expression that will never be matched again. But sometimes it's fun--and necessary--to go a step further beyond simply writing down your thoughts. That's where the altered journal comes into play, turning your words and ideas into a stand-alone work of art that can be enjoyed for the sheer beauty or individuality of the journal.
Starting an altered journal is easy, and relatively inexpensive. Most if not all of the materials you need are probably right in your house (great for when you can't leave home!). 

So, how to start?

- Begin with an old, possibly ruined book, one that's truly beyond its shelf life. Whether the subject is years out of date, the condition is poor, or it's just a book that never was, um, that well-written, choosing a hardback rather than a paperback to alter is often best. (Tip: unused, unloved cookbooks are an excellent choice. The size and paper weight is often larger and heavier than a novel or work of nonfiction, giving you plenty of room for writing and artwork.)

- Once you've got your book, I've learned from hard experience that it's imperative to not fall into the trap of journaling on every single page. In fact, unless you want to end up with an unwieldy, never-ending project that you will be sorely tempted to abandon halfway through (been there, done that) it's best to limit your page length. To make your journal easier to work with you can either remove a number of pages, or you can use thin coats of gesso to glue sections of pages together, leaving just as many surfaces to work on as you think you can comfortably handle. 

- If destroying books no matter how bad their quality breaks your heart, then how about using something like an old calendar? Once again, liquid gesso can be your best friend as you can use it to paint over any of the date pages or artwork you don't want while leaving a nice white (or any other color; a little acrylic paint mixed with the gesso works a treat) surface to work upon. 

- If you really want to keep things simple, try just altering the cover to any kind of blank composition book. Collage, paint, doodle--express yourself! 

- Another easy way to start an altered journal is to rework an old journal you already have, one that has served its purpose and you no longer want to re-read or keep. Collage or gesso over the existing pages, isolate certain passages to create found poetry, cut and tear the edges into interesting shapes and patterns. 

- For a super-simple altered journal, take a new or used greeting card and staple several folded blank or printed pages down the center. Consider using handmade, watercolor, construction, or even wrapping paper for your pages. 

- "Found" pages stapled or sewn together can create interesting journals in a wide variety of sizes. Recycle and combine old postcards, junk mail, and magazine cut-outs to create something unique and brand new! 

- How about making a journal out of used paper shopping bags? I have always loved drawing on what's called "bogus" or "kraft" paper, the same stuff they use to make brown paper grocery bags. Besides cutting down the bags into pages, you might like to fold one big piece of paper accordion-style or into a cube that opens into a series of smaller "pages."

Whatever you use for your altered journal, be sure to fill your pages with more than writing. Experiment with rubber stamping, glitter glue, ribbon and fabric, any kind of sticker, and your own artwork Most of all, enjoy the process and don't stress about the outcome. Whatever you make, I know it will be beautiful!

Tip of the Day: Currently it seems as if our daily lives and routines are being altered by the minute. It can be scary and for some people I am sure it has been deeply tragic. My sincere sympathies go out to those who have lost friends and loved ones. 

While we wait for things to improve, I believe it's truly important to stay active and to stay positive. Journaling in all its many forms is the best way I know to remain focused, involved, and engaged with your creative self no matter what may come. Wishing you all a safe and happy passage through these troubled times.