There are dozens of ways to approach the subject matter for your journals. You can have just one, or several going at the same time for different things.
I have just one that I call my Artist’s Journal, but have other sketchbooks on the go for other things such as working out ideas for a painting or trying out colour mixes, and I also have a few tiny ones to use in places where I would feel self-conscious or encumbered using a larger format, and bigger ones for when I want to spread out.
However, I have found that the Artist’s Journal per se is the one that is most used and most loved because it is a diary, and I date everything that goes in it so that I can see how often I use it and when certain things happened. It is the book that accompanies me everywhere; it is the book I use for anything that catches my eye or that I wish to record on any given day, anything from my breakfast – I usually draw in the mornings so breakfast features strongly! – to a record of something seen on my walks or drives, to concerts and restaurants, a favourite tree, a series of cloud formations, travels abroad, studies of light, colour, shape – anything at all. It ends up looking appealingly dog-eared and scruffy –a true friend.
The point for me is that it keeps me observing and recording the world, and the daily practice is sharpening up my powers of observation and my drawing skills as a result. I stick things in occasionally, but concentrate largely on drawing and painting. Collage is good too, a very exciting art form.
Here are a few ideas you might like to consider:
A general every day diary…
…of anything that catches your eye, which is what I do. And what does catch your eye? You will know when you begin looking at everything. Every now and then, something will stand out and give you a little frisson of pleasure and make you look again. It may be the way the light falls on something, a particular shape silhouetted against the sky, a combination of colours, something that revives a childhood memory. Whatever it is, you will know when you have seen it and that is the moment to stop, observe and begin drawing. Even one minute spent on something like this is a record of what it is that truly interests YOU, and is the beginning of personal style and subject matter.
Some people add shopping lists and books to read in their journals, so that everything in their life is in one place, but that is up to you. I sometimes add quotes and sometimes they have an illustration attached.
Booklists/websites/movies/music/exhibitions etc. I put on the back pages, all grist to the mill of an artist. I also stick an envelope inside the back cover to hold bits and bobs to stick in later.
Journals on a theme or a progression
A Nature Journal – details of plants and wildlife you see in every season, with landscapes thrown in.
A Travel Journal – a different one for every trip if you want.
A record of a baby’s first weeks – the rapid progression from 0-3 months is a fascinating subject.
A record of sporting events – make it even more personal if your friends or family are participating in the events such as “Susan trains for the marathon”.
A record of every concert you attend – quickfire sketches of moving musicians and rapt audiences – which could include stick-ins of tickets and brochures.
A book which is just about art exhibitions you went to and what you learnt there, with your copies of the masterworks, plus tickets and postcards.
A visual history of your home town – the architecture, local events, well-known characters, special features, newspaper cuttings.
Trees, tractors, dogs, flowers, my orchids, vintage cars or clothes, meals I have eaten (with recipes!), doorways of Spain – any subject which fascinates you enough to make a special visual collection in one designated book. Or you could decide to explore one single area of your artistic education, such as different ways to make marks, or a single landscape seen in different weathers and different seasons using every medium you can possibly think of to portray the feeling of what you see.
Whatever subject or method you choose, just make sure it is fascinating to you and that you are passionate enough about it to draw in your Journal every day.
If you are already making Artist’s Journals, do tell me what your special subjects are, and if you have just one or several going at once.