Art Journaling Addiction: Finding Truth Beneath My Fingernails

I don’t know why it’s taking me so long to blog about this, except maybe that I’m still making sense of it myself.

Making sense of how I could miss something I’ve never experienced.

Making sense of how it brings tears to my eyes to think of myself doing it, to recognize it in myself, to finally have given myself “permission to art”.

Making sense of how it’s drawing me closer to a dead father, a man whose artistic ability I never really knew while he was alive.

Making sense of how it’s bringing words – my ingrained and ever-ready art – to life with colors and lines and images.

There are so many of you out there to whom art or art journaling is already a part of your life. And so many more of you who ache for it in the way I ached for it, hungry for an outlet that maybe feels beyond reach. Many of you will understand why I’m feeling so deeply moved and some of you may think I’m just weirdly pre-menstrual to be attaching so much emotion to this experience.

I would’ve agreed if this experience hadn’t been doing this to me all along.

It was my beautiful friend, Heather, that introduced me to art journaling in October.

We had spent a gorgeous week with her and her family in North Carolina, and it wasn’t until the very last night that I asked to sneak a peek at her journal.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

No idea what it even WAS I was asking to see – I had just overheard a mention of it and was curious.

Looking back I can recognize that was the twanging of inspiration vibrating in my ear. And when she pulled out her altered books, my heart broke open with the resonance of it. I want to cry right now thinking of it. How that one friend on that one night put me on a new course.

So she gave me a book, one that I wouldn’t mind destroying, and she gave me some tips to get started and we plopped down on her living room floor and I began to run my fingers through my heart and soul and smear it across the page. {I won’t even show you those first few pages. They are ugly and personal. They are all breakthrough and permission to fuck it up and space to just allow. Less self-expression and more cutting through the barriers that held me back from dipping my fingers in the paint and wipe it across a page.}

I haven’t stopped since that night.

The longest I’ve gone with my hands in my journal was 4 days – 4 long and uncomfortable days with an ache under my ribcage. The stint ended when I realized why I ached and found my way back to the page.

What has art journaling become to me?

It’s become a part of Digging Deep for me, a way to touch and see the places I’ve been holding, the barriers I’ve been hiding behind. Process, examine, heal…to get the Truth of it under my fingernails or up to my elbows or wiped across my nose by accident. To spend time with the intangible, the ethereal in a way that I can smell, with texture and color.

Sometimes the places within us don’t come with words and in those times I use to bang my head against the desk and growl at the sky wanting to know why I couldn’t access that thing that was just beyond the use of my tongue and the scribble of my pen.

But now I know. I get it, in ways I thought I understood about you “arty folk” before but really grasp within my own self now.

There are things that even us word junkies have no words for.

And that’s when the colors get to speak.

Art journaling has also been my permission slip.

Permission to try, permission to mess up, to scribble, to be imperfect, to play around…Permission to fail. Permission to express. Permission to discover more of myself. Permission to be an “artist” in the more traditional sense of the word.

All the things I logically knew have always been there but never really embraced for myself.

I never even realized I too had fallen victim to the public school art teacher and the rules and should’s and fear of messing it up so often unknowingly taught. I never realized I was keeping art out of my Realm of Possibilities, in the same way traveling was once outside that Realm, in the same way dreads or a shaved head or being in love was outside that Realm.

I was “a writer, not an artist”.

But now I know that’s bullshit.

I know it’s bullshit by the ache in my chest that I would ignore whenever I said those words.

I know it’s bullshit by the smudges of paint across my dining room table.

I know it’s bullshit by the tears in my eyes as I write.

I know it’s bullshit by the way my heart skipped a beat when a beautiful woman at the restaurant saw my doodling and asked if I was an artist, and the way my breath caught in my throat when I tried to answer through my smile and we ended up talking for 20 minutes about art journals and techniques and deep-in-your-bones joy.

And there’s one other thing I know.

This is mine.

Only mine. Not something I feel drawn to share. Not something I feel drawn to turn into a business or even use within my work now. {In fact that idea makes my skin crawl. Like a dirty betrayal to what my spirit is telling me she’s here for now. I’m not the beautiful artist who shares her work with the world. I’m the beautiful artist who shares her soul with the page.}

I feel at peace with it being only for me, a whispered secret I pull out of my cabinet and curl up on the couch with and hold my very heart within. A spiritual practice of Connection and stillness and depth and healing. A prayer to the Universe, the one that lies within me and around me.

Fucking. Breathtaking. this practice I’m discovering.

Heart-wrenching and tear-inducing in the very best of ways.

Like a long lost twin I unconsciously always knew was out there, finally come home to squeeze me.

Or an entire segment of myself that had been missing, had left a gaping hole – I could feel the wind whistling through it but hadn’t a clue it didn’t have to be that way.

Okay, Okay, The Practical Bits To Answer Your Qs

I’ve had a lot of questions lately about how to get started. What to use. How to use it.

The short answer: I haven’t a clue. Just dive in and figure it out. That’s part of the joy.

But I know how answers like that get received. Flatly and with that voice that says “I can’t” drowning out the permission slip.

So I’ll tell you what I did and what you might do too:

  • Get “permission” from a friend: It’s always easier to step into something new with a sister to guide us the first few steps. Call your girl, invite her over, make plans to be messy. There is a special place in my heart forever to Heather for showing me how to open this door.
  • Grab a hardcover book: One that you don’t hate – you won’t want to look at those words every time you crack it open…or maybe the healing will be in destroying them? – but one you don’t mind upgrading. {My little cousin just about shit a brick when she saw I had “destroyed a book”. But I take pride in breaking silly rules.}
  • You’ll want gesso: If there is one thing I’ve found it’s that gesso is on the Most Used Supplies of every art journaler out there. It preps your page and covers those words if you don’t want them showing through.
  • Stop overthinking it: Just get your hands in there. No way to make a mistake; if you really don’t like it you can pull the page out or cover it up or call it an expression of frustration. Permission to art, people.
  • Learn to forgive yourself: This is one the journal has taught me. I will mess it up. It won’t turn out like my head envisions. I have no idea any techniques and even if I did, my mind is on a whole ‘nother plane than my hands. That’s okay. I can forgive myself the outcome and still love up on the attempt.

Things I’ve found I love:

  • I usually do some regular journaling or Digging Deep first. I get to the core of what’s happening with words still; that’s Who I Am and how I work. But I work through that core now with the art journal. So the Digging Deep is my examination and my journal prompt, and the art is my release, my affirmation, my breakthrough, and my healing.
  • I love acrylic and watercolor and doodles the most so far. I’m drawn by the complexity and frustration of mixed media. I have no idea what I’m doing in any of those but I keep trying anyway.
  • I like dark and rich colors that contrast. I like simple designs. {Maybe that’ll change as I learn more complex techniques.} I like trying to put images to my words.

My inspiration:

  • Pinterest is king and queen of inspiration for me. It’s like Art Journal Foreplay for me. All I do is meander through, pin what grabs me and then set off to create something similar or completely different. Almost 400 pins in 7 weeks. Boom.
  • Instagram is also great, although I can’t easily save the inspiration for later. But it is where I share my images (the ones I care to share publicly). And anytime I see an image that inspires me, I just pick the Instagrammers brain on how they did it. ;)
  • Some inspiration I’ve enjoyed: One Minute Muse // Balzer Designs {especially here, here, here, and this recent one} // Art Journaling on Ning // Doodle Diem // @EmilyLagore // But mostly it’s Pinterest and a healthy dose of putting on blinders to anything but my own page and my own messy, unpredictable process.

Seriously though? If this is something that piques yours interest?

Be all like Nike and just do that shit.

Use cardboard and bind your own book. Use the children’s book your toddler has already taken upon themselves to liberate with crayon. Break out the old scrapbooking kit and go to town. Try paint-by-numbers, for goodness sakes. Just do it.

There’s a reason you’re aching for it. A reason you’re mildly interested. A reason why you think you can’t that deserves to be shown otherwise.

Stop judging yourself. Stop limiting yourself.

You make the rules.

You don’t get permission from anyone but yourself. Just grab an old book (or pick one up for .50 at the library) and give yourself authority to scribble out a page. To give your school librarian hives, and your old art teacher who always told you what you were doing wrong the middle finger.

To give yourself the space to play and the means to touch and smell and see what you don’t have words for.

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