Category: Visual Journals

These posts deal with my visual journals, also known as altered books. My start in the art education world aligned with my start in visual journals. It became an integral part of my high school art curriculum, and I continue to teach it today. Once a week my students have the opportunity to work in their visual journals, and so do it. They offer a chance for the students to experiment, try new materials, and express themselves independently.

To create my journals I reuse old hardback books and collage, draw, paint, and more in them. Every page has an important connection to my daily life as well as major events. I love sharing the inspiration for these pages as well as the techniques used to create them.

Do you do visual journals in your classroom? Do you have techniques you would like to share? E-mail me at [email protected] to team up for a guest post.

Visual Journal Page 28: The Sound of Trains

Learn the inspiration behind this visual journal page as well as the supplies and steps I took to create it. Learn how to start your own visual journal by reading about mine. This particular post focuses on a memory/sensory tie I experienced with the sound of trains. Read more here.

There is something about the sound of trains.

It first started on trips to visit my grandparents. They lived in a small town, it’s biggest claim to fame being their proximity to another small town, known only for their major, annual golf tournament. They were on the South Carolina side of the Georgia, South Carolina border. A place full of ya’lls and yes ma’ams.

I remember driving down the small town roads, turning onto their street, finding it odd they didn’t live in a traditional neighborhood. Commercial areas transitioned into residences without the signage and dead end streets of the neighborhoods I was so accustomed to. This was reminiscent of a different era, which was reflected in so many ways in their home. From the split level, ranch style house, that lived on a non-neighborhood street, to the objects it held within it’s walls.

This was the house my mother grew up in, and it felt like home.

I remember lying in bed, full of “grandmommy macaroni and cheese,” dreaming about the animal shaped pancakes that would surely be waiting for me the next morning, hearing a train whistle in the background.

I feel asleep to that sound many times as a child and the memory traveled with me into adulthood. The funny thing about memories associated with senses is you often don’t realize they are tied together until you experience it.

At twenty-three it had been years since I spent the night at my grandparents house and I had just bought my own house. My new husband and I moved into our sweet 1940’s Atlanta bungalow our first year of marriage. In the days and weeks that followed, we unpacked and settled in. I distinctly remember slowly drifting off to sleep one night when I suddenly heard the sound of a train.

I was immediately thrust back into my grandparent’s house, sleeping next to my sister, looking out the window of the only slightly second story. My new house didn’t quite feel like home yet, but in that moment it began to.

Eight years later I am still living in my adorable house, listening to train whistles, fully feeling like this is my home. My adult home, with the train whistles of my childhood, with my babies now falling asleep to the same sounds in a different town.

SUPPLIES

  • Visual journal
  • Rubber cement or another type of adhesive
  • Scissors
  • White paper
  • Magazines
  • Watercolors
  • Paintbrushes
  • Water
  • Gesso
  • Pencil

HOW TO

For this visual journal page, I knew I wanted to focus on a train. After searching for an image of a train, I came up empty handed. I couldn’t find the exact angle or size that I wanted and needed to fill the two pages of the book. After brainstorming. I finally decided to paint the train myself using watercolor.

I sketched out the body of the train, referencing images online to plan out the design and colors. Once I had a base sketch, I began filling it in with watercolor. I started light and slowly added in the shadows. If you go too dark too quickly with watercolor it is difficult to add highlights back in. It’s best to work light to dark and plan ahead. Once the paint dried, I cut it out.

Once the train was finished I decided to create a background using magazine images. I liked the contrast between the realistic imagery and painterly train as well as the difference in the shiny texture of the magazine and the matte finish of the paper. I knew I wanted to create a color fade in the background to create a feeling of dusk. As I flipped through magazines I kept my eyes peeled for any large sections of black, dark blue, purple, yellow, and green fields and grass. Anything I thought could work, I ripped out.

Once I had a sizable stack of magazine pages, I began ripping them up. I love the look of collaging with ripped pages. The soft, organic edges create a more interesting pattern than cut edges. I separated the ripped up pieces into piles according to color. Because I wanted it to look like night was pushing out day, I began layering the lightest colors first. As I moved from the middle of my visual journal page up, I overlapped the dark colors over the light colors until I had black at the top of the page. Check out a post that details the process of creating a magazine fade here and here as well as a Youtube video here.

Next, I worked from the middle of the visual journal down. I used fields as the background of the landscape and worked my way forward to grassy patterns. As I glued the foreground down, I kept checking the placement of the train until it was positioned the way I wanted it. I glued the train down, than continued overlapping the grass over the bottom of the train and continued to move towards the bottom of the page.

After the page was finally filled up, I added the steam coming from the train. I decided this was a perfect space to incorporate text in a way that blended with the image. I used gesso and a paintbrush to loosely add the steam, then painted the letters in a similar way so they would blend in with the steam. Once the gesso dried, I used pencil to emphasize the text a little more.

CHALLENGE

Create a visual journal page about a memory/sensory tie you have experienced.

Thanks for taking the time to read about my visual journal and check out my blog. You can find an image of my grandmother in a recent post here. She unknowingly became the subject matter for a printmaking project. Don’t forget to save this project for later by pinning it, or saving it on your social network site of choice. Thanks for stopping by!

Interested in teaching a visual journal lesson in your classroom? Check out my teaching resources here and my magazine fade visual journal handout here.

Learn the inspiration behind this visual journal page as well as the supplies and steps I took to create it. Learn how to start your own visual journal by reading about mine. This particular post focuses on a memory/sensory tie I experienced with the sound of trains. Read more here.

Visual Journal Pages 26 and 27: At Least Pretend You Care…

During this period in my life, my visual journal pages often focused on my discontent with the school I was teaching at. After three years, I felt like I was becoming a bit jaded. I didn’t feel like the art program was recognized as an important part of a well rounded education. I rarely saw my administrators. I would show up for work, do my job, and felt like no one really cared if I was there or what I was doing.

Although my administrators let me down over the years, my students rarely did. I did not like my enormous class sizes (35 students per Introduction to Art class), but I loved all of my students. I especially loved my Intro to Art course, because many of the students signed up to check the “fine arts credit” box in order to graduate from high school, but many of them ended up loving, or at least having an appreciation for, art. There is something incredibly special about seeing the moment that it clicks for a student. They find the subject matter or material they like best, they feel encouraged by the way their artwork is developing, and they suddenly put in the time and effort to their project because they truly care about it.

With 35 students per class, it was nearly impossible for me to display every project for every student in the school. Instead, I would select the top examples from the class. Although this may have singled out some, I felt it gave recognition to the students who worked for it and deserved it.

Every year, one of the major  projects my students create is a portrait drawing of their personal hero. It can be a celebrity, family member, politician, the choice is theirs. Every year, many of the students are overwhelmed by the prospect of having to draw a person realistically, but every year I am blown away by the results. This year was proving to be no different, and I selected 8 drawings to display outside of the school library.

The following day, one of the students whose work was displayed came into class with a concerned look on his face. His drawing was no longer hanging in the hall. I assumed it had fallen off the wall, had been picked up by a teacher, and taken to a safe place. But after trying to track it down, I began to realize someone had taken it. This student had worked incredibly hard on this piece. He was so proud of the end result, his work was selected to be displayed, and instead of creating a sense of pride, he was let down. His artwork was gone.

I immediately went to my administrators. Items were stolen regularly, the school had cameras, they could often track things down. But instead of finding help and encouragement I was told there wasn’t anything they could do. There was no point in screening the cameras, it seemed like they didn’t even care.

I felt completely helpless. I had a devastated student, an unsupportive administration, and an unfair theft. I was fed up but I could do nothing about it. My sweet student accepted the fact that his drawing was not coming back, and he moved on. But I know how much he cared.

Even if you can’t do anything… at least pretend you care…

SUPPLIES

  • Visual journal
  • Scissors
  • Printed pages with text
  • Watercolor paint
  • Brushes
  • Salt
  • Printed images
  • Black paper
  • Magazines
  • Rubber cement
  • Xacto knife

HOW TO

When I began working on this visual journal page, I decided fairly early on to create two spreads that tied together through a cut out. That would show two sides of the story. the missing artwork and my ever growing discontent with my administrators.

I started with the artwork display. I printed out a few sheets of paper with the text “even if you can’t do anything… at least pretend you care…” I then added a hint of color using watercolor. While the watercolor was still wet on the paper, I sprinkled some salt on top. The salt absorbs the water, which pulls the watercolor pigment around the salt grains. After the paper dries, you wipe the salt off, and it leaves a speckled pattern. This was done in an effort to create a cinderblock look. I then cut up the paper into rectangles and glued them into my book, leaving a small space between each “cinderblock.”

Next, I printed the actual artwork that was on display. I cut them out, glued them to a black sheet of paper, then cut them out again leaving a thin black edge around the artwork. This mimicked the look of mounted drawings. I placed the artwork in the same formation as the display, leaving a blank black rectangle for the one that went missing. I then used an Xacto knife to cut out the rectangle to tie to the next page.

On the next page, I decided to create a very dark look. I found magazine pages with black and grays and ripped them up into smaller pieces. I then glued the pieces down, going from dark on the left page to light on the right page, using rubber cement.

I then printed a larger version of the text, “even though you can’t do anything… at least pretend you care…” I did the same watercolor and salt treatment to the paper, then cut it into a strip once it dried. I glued the text to the page so the “at least pretend you care” text overlapped the lightest section of the background.

CHALLENGE

Create a visual journal page that utilized two spreads in your book (a spread is two facing pages).

Need more inspiration? Check out cut out pages about book oddities, furniture, and fortune cookies.

Thanks for taking the time to check out my blog! Help me spread the work about visual journals, art, and crafts by sharing on your social media website of choice. Thanks for stopping by!

Visual Journal Page 24: They Are Finally Complete

This visual journal page is one of many that focuses on my furniture. As I have said many times in the past, I believe all furniture has a personality. I carefully select the pieces I include in my house, and I will wait until I find the perfect piece before I purchase something.

This requirement to find something unique, special, and that speaks to me is the reason our beautiful, blue, Crate & Barrel chairs sat awkwardly in the corner of our kitchen for months. I had a vision of a black, round table to finish our breakfast nook space in our kitchen. I searched and searched, but I couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for.

One day, after exhausting the many antique stores around me, I decided to try a new one I had heard good things about. However, the store was on the other side of the city from me, in Marietta, GA. To top it off Nick happened to be out of town that weekend, and with me in my Mini Cooper if I wanted to purchase a table I would have to commit to driving his truck, which terrified me.

Enough was enough, it was time to complete our kitchen. I climbed into his truck, and headed to the downtown connector to make my way to find a table.

I survived the drive, despite feeling like I was driving a bus after being used to the mini size car I drove on a daily basis. I walked into the store full of confidence, did a quick walk around, and didn’t see my black, round table. I decided I need to do one more loop, and look more carefully under the piles of items on display.

Suddenly, I saw it. It was not black, but it was round, white, and had some beautiful detail in the legs. It was the perfect size, and the white was better than the black would’ve ever been. I immediately purchased it, loaded it into the truck, and made my way home.

I survived the way back, but realized once I pulled into the driveway that Nick was out of town. I couldn’t leave a wooden table in the bed of the truck for the weekend. Now I had to figure out how to get it into the house, me vs. the table.

It took some serious muscles, and some serious breaks, to get it to my front door. While balancing the table on it’s side, on our tiny porch, I managed to open the door, keep our two dogs in, while I angled and reangled until I found a way to slide it into our living room.

I collapsed on the floor out of breath, took a moment, and moved it into our nook. It was perfect. Our kitchen was complete.

This blog post is the end of the story to this blog post. I also made a point to visually tie the two visual journal pages together. See below for more details about how this page was made.

SUPPLIES

  • Visual journal
  • Xacto knife
  • Packaging tape
  • Laser printed image
  • Old book page
  • Colored pencil
  • Glue

HOW TO

To create this visual journal page I took advantage of an odd page in my book and inspiration from the first blue chairs page I made.

A few pages in my visual journal book weren’t cut correctly. The paper was connected on the edge, rather than being cut, which created a loop. I already experienced this odd oversight in this visual journal page, and now I had run across it again.

I decided to once again take advantage of it. Rather than remove the page, or slice the edge, I used an Xacto knife to cut a rectangle out of the left side page. This created a space on the page it was connected to, it was a unique way to highlight my image.

I used inspiration from my blue chairs page to create the background strip, which reflected my kitchen. I cut a strip of paper from an old book, then used colored pencil to add details, as if I were looking into my kitchen. I glued it inside the space I just created, then continued it on the right page. The right page offered a great space to write text, I used colored pencil for this.

To create a sense of unity and visually tie to my other chair page, I opted to also draw the table and chairs using colored pencil. I drew each piece on a separate sheet of paper, then cut them out, collaged them, and glued them down using rubber cement.

Since I had this rectangle cut out of the book page, overlapping another page, I decided to turn it into a picture frame. I printed a black and white image of a picture frame, the exact size of the space I wanted to frame, on a laser printer. I then placed packaging tape sticky side down on the front of the printed frame image. I cut the frame out, then ran it under water until the paper started to peel away. I continued to rub the paper off until all that was left was the printer ink stuck to the tape. All the white areas of the image were now transparent, since the white washed off with the paper.

I taped the tape transfer down, and my page was complete.

CHALLENGE

Create a visual journal page about something you recently completed. It could be a personal project, a work assignment, or a carton of ice cream.

Thanks for taking the time to check out my blog! Share it with others on your social media site of choice. Thanks for stopping by.

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Visual Journal Page 22: The Fall & Visual Journal Page 23: Ouch

This visual journal page was created to represent my clumsiness. Not only am I clumsy, but I also bruise easily, which means I am in a constant state of being covered with bumps, scratches, and lovely shades of purples, yellows, and blues. I don’t think I ever quite grew into myself, my limbs still feel like they are longer than they should be.

Specifically, this page is meant to represent a particular incident of clumsiness, a tumble down the stairs. When I move from point a to point b my goal is to move as quickly as possible without breaking into a run. My fast walking combined with my long legs makes it look like I’m always in a rush. The same is applied when I am going up and down stairs. I don’t take them one at a time, carefully watching my step, I generally jog up and jog down. I blame my need for speed on my father who was the type to wait in the car, with the car running, until everyone finally piled in to leave. I always felt rushed, and that has continued into my adult life.

95% of the time my jog up, jog down stair taking is successful. However, the remaining 5% of the time means I miss a step or slip on a step either falling up, or falling down the stairs. On this particular day I hit a step heading down, my foot slipped out from under me, and down I went.

Unfortunately, the slip happened towards the top of the stairs, so I had a long way to go to reach the bottom. It felt like a cartoon, my butt hit the next step, and there was no going back. I literally slide down the stairs until something stopped by downward fall, which happened to be the side table next to my front door.

My next visual journal page represents my husband’s point of view. He was sitting on our sofa, watching TV, minding his own business, when all of the sudden I came tumbling down. All he heard was bam, bam, bam, bam, as my various body parts hit step after step, followed by a final smash as I collided with our red side table. The commotion was followed by back and forth rock of the table as it tried to rebalance after my collision.

I had to lay there for just a minute to allow my brain to catch up to the events and my body to recover. My big toe made contact with the table first, and absorbed the weight that followed behind it. It caused a bruised toe and cracked nail. My right arm made the first, and only, attempt, and fail, to break my fall and stop the ensuing events. That resulted in a big bruise on my forearm. After the tumble and a moment of recovery, I couldn’t help but laugh at myself. I could be so careless and I had no one to blame but myself.

Despite the sequence of events you can still find me jogging up and down stairs and falling 5% of the time.

SUPPLIES

  • Visual Journal
  • Rubber cement
  • Pencil
  • Gesso
  • Paint brush
  • Water
  • Charcoal
  • Charcoal pencil
  • Pastels
  • Red acrylic paint
  • Book Pages
  • Laser printed images of table
  • Packaging tape
  • Scissors
  • Sharpie

HOW TO

To create these two visual journal pages I wanted to create two very different looks. I wanted the actual fall to look dark and more serious. For the aftermath, I wanted it to look as silly as I felt. I started with the fall page and decided early on to shade on top of a gesso base. Since gesso is a wet material, I opted to rip two pages from my book so I could work on them without the risk of the gesso bleeding through to other pages.

I sketched out the design first using pencil. My staircase at home is simple and straight, but I wanted to create a more dramatic effect so I opted to exaggerate the style. I sketched out the twisting staircase, and centered the final set of stairs between the two pages. To the left of the stairs I drew out my right hand and right foot, to show my injuries. Once I had the base sketches ready, I added water to my gesso, to make it more transparent, and filled in the shapes.

Once the gesso dried I began pulling out details using the charcoal pencil. I added purple and brown pastels to create shadows on the stairs and the bruise on my arm and toe. I added black charcoal around the staircase to make it pop. To create a blended look with the charcoal I colored more heavily at the edge of the stairs, then used my finger and a paper towel to blend the charcoal away from the steps and into the background. I continued to build up details with the charcoal pencil and push my shadows with the pastel and black charcoal.

Once I finished shading I painted my toe nails bright red using red acrylic paint. I liked the sudden pop of color and it created a great attention grabber. I used a thin brush and gesso to add the crack in my toenail.

Once the page was finished I sprayed it with fixative, to prevent the charcoal from smudging, and glued it on top of pages still attached in my visual journal book.

For the second page I wanted a more playful look and I wanted to create a sense of movement in the table. I decided to create 5 packaging tape transfers of the same image of my side table, then overlap them to make it look like it was moving. To do this, I printed 5 copies of the table on a laser printer. I taped clear packaging tape to the front of the pictures, then cut out the table. I then ran the cut outs under water until the paper started to separate from the tape. I carefully rubbed the paper off using my fingertips until only the ink from the printed image was left on the tape. I dried it off using paper towels and set them aside.

I decided to use book pages from two different books to create a space for the table to sit in. I used the lighter, wider book pages first and glued them to the center of my visual journal page using rubber cement. I then layered two smaller, darker book pages in the center of the ones I just glued and also glued them down with rubber cement. Next, I placed my table packaging tape image transfers on the right side of the book spread. I used Elmer’s glue to glue them in place, the chemicals in rubber cement will cause the tape to ripple.

Next, I decided to add another thin bar of the light and dark book pages to the top and write “bam, bam, bam” in Sharpie across it. To balance the layout I added one small section of layered book pages to the right page below the table and wrote “ouch” in black Sharpie.

CHALLENGE

Create a visual journal page about an unfortunate accident.

Thanks for taking the time to check out my blog! Help me spread the word about visual journals and art in general by sharing with others. Thanks for stopping by!

Visual Journal Page 21: The Perfect Combination

I have said it many times, I have the sweet tooth of a 7 year old. My sugar palate never seemed to mature to the dark chocolates of my peers, I have always loved the 100% sugar, fruity varieties of candy that are marketed towards children. For many years, Skittles have been my reigning favorite, a fact that my hubby knows well.

Nick will periodically come home after a grocery trip with a share size Skittles bag. When we go see a movie, no questions asked, Skittles are the staple after popcorn. On road trips he will stop for gas, even if we don’t really need it, just to go get me a bag of Skittles.

Over the years, not only has Nick stored my favorite candy somewhere in his brain, he has also noted my favorite color combination: purple and red. I don’t know what it is about purple and red, it is the most perfect flavor combination out there. I don’t seek out purples or reds to eat individually, it is a combo deal, otherwise any color will do. I can’t even refer to them as their flavors, because a skittle flavor is unique to it’s color, and trust me, purple and red is it. As Nick and I snuggle up on the sofa to watch TV or sit in a movie theater, he will pass along Skittles to share. Without fail, if he ends up with a handful that has purples and reds, they come straight to me.

This is not something I ever made a point to tell him I needed. It was never a discussion, argument, or requirement. It was just something he noticed I liked and did for me unprompted. Moments like these define our marriage. It’s not the buying of houses or birthing of children, it’s the fact that I get every purple and red Skittle Nick comes across. The little things matter the most, because the little things add up to better days, weeks, months, years, and a continued growth together, not apart. The little things mean the other person is still paying attention, wants to know more, and do more to make you happy. Not because you are supposed to buy that house or procreate, they do things to make you happy just because they care enough to want to.

It’s scary how well you know me.

SUPPLIES:

  • Visual journal
  • Gesso
  • Paintbrush
  • Water
  • Pencil
  • Watercolor
  • Thin Sharpie
  • White colored pencil
  • Rubber cement

HOW TO

For this visual journal page, I decided to focus on the colors of the red and purple Skittles. I brainstormed different ways of including them, an avalanche of purples and reds, a Skittles package with nothing but purples and reds, but I ended up deciding that it isn’t the quantity that is important, it’s the combination of a single purple and a single red. Once I decided on just two skittles, I opted to draw hands cradling them, as if they were something delicate and special, not something I am about to chew up and digest.

To create the visual journal page, I started by ripping a page from my visual journal book. I did this because I wanted to make the arms and hands stand out against the page and decided to use watered down gesso to do that. Since gesso is liquidy, I didn’t want it to soak through the other pages of my book. I lightly sketched the outline of the arms and hands, then filled them in with gesso. Once dry, I added details and shading with a pencil. Gesso creates a nice, smooth surface to draw on top of.

After I finished my hands, on a separate sheet of paper I drew my skittles and filled them in with watercolor. I didn’t add much water to the pigment so I would end up with a nice, vibrant color. While waiting for the Skittles to dry, I moved onto my paint splatters. I added more water to the watercolor pigment, painted a thick line on a sheet of paper, and blew it at an angle to make the paint splatter. After the skittles and paint splatters dried, I cut them out.

I glued the skittles down first, then added a highlight and the “S” using a white colored pencil. Next, I alternated red and purple splatters around the hands, and glued them down with rubber cement. Last, I used an extra fine Sharpie to add the words on top of the paint splatters.

CHALLENGE

Dedicate a page to your favorite sweet.