The point of writing in my art journal

Journal page white on black

Journal page in tribute to my mother by Suzanne Hollifield

I used to keep a written journal every day. In fact, I’ve got boxes of them taking up space in a closet. When I taught high school English, every class started with ten to fifteen minutes of the students free writing, which I never read. The point was to develop fluency, to support thinking in words instead of images, and to develop a writing practice that just might carry over to life after school.

At some point, however, I began to write less and less. It wasn’t that I had nothing to say, it was just that after I retired from teaching and especially after I stopped dating on a regular basis, I had less drama in my life and so less need to bare my soul on paper. 

When I began painting two years ago, I began to write again more regularly. At first, I only wanted to document my learning process, and then I started taking classes that encouraged self-reflection before picking up the brush. I used the prompts supplied to me by my teachers, initially by Kelly Rae Roberts in her Spirit Wings course to create mantras for the paintings and then by Effy Wild in Book of Days, a year long course that comes with a prompt for every day. The fact that I often painted over what I had written gave me a freedom to express myself without reservation.

Journal page

Journal page by Suzanne Hollifield

Over the last year, I’ve strayed from the prompts more as world events have challenged me to think about where I stand on certain issues. I often feel the stress of my values in conflict with those of people I love or care about, and although I am aware that nothing will make me stop caring for certain people, I wonder if we might become estranged by events if push comes to shove. 

I made a commitment several months ago to read the words of great leaders like Mohandas Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. when I get really upset with the way things are going in the world. I have also started listening to podcasts that either explain events or that offer a positive viewpoint. They help me stay rational and positive rather than reactive and fearful.

One podcast that is just back from hiatus is #ReikiRadio, which you can find on Blog Radio or on iTunes. It is hosted by Yolanda Williams. She spoke on a recent episode about how during the last year many people have been dealing with the Shadow, and she indicated that our country might also be dealing with its Shadow. I’ve been thinking about this ever since I heard it, and I’m sure it will provide days of fodder for my art journal. 

If you are wondering how that works for me, I usually write on the paper; then I either paint over it or glue collage piece over it. I have, on occasion, torn the writing and used it as collage pieces. (I’m thinking of doing this with some of those old journals.) in this way I get my feelings out, and then make something beautiful out of the pain or anger or frustration I’ve expressed. 

Another way to art journal is simply to make the writing a part of the page itself as in the two pieces here. Sometimes, I just use a poem or a quote that is meaningful to me. Recently, I’ve been using music as a jumping off point, thanks to a class I’m taking called Mixed Tape II.

This is not to say that I never save things I write anymore, but art journaling has given me a way to express the irrational and the confusing parts of my mind and heart without judgment. It is surprising to me how often simply doing that finds a resolution that all the self-analysis of previous years did not. Besides, I get to paint. 

13 thoughts on “The point of writing in my art journal

    • Suzanne H. Eller says:

      I so agree. Now that I’m getting older, I realize there are some things I don’t want to share after I’m dead, especially my rants, which are mostly irrational. This is a great way to dump my junk without fear of “discovery”.


  1. TheForgottenMuse says:

    I wish when I was in school, High School, even college that one of the teachers would have done this. I’m not even sure any of them gave it a thought to have us free write.
    I’ve started and stopped and started and stopped, started again with journaling over the years. Usually it was because someone couldn’t keep their noses out of my private space. Even now, even though I have a little bit more of a private space, I am afraid of someone reading what I write. When I journal, it’s to get out my frustrations, anger, fear without exploding. But then I can’t help being afraid of what if someone reads it.
    I do love how Effy blends the art and journaling together. I’m not there yet. I feel too vulnerable to do both and have someone see it. But maybe someday or at least depending what I am arting about.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Suzanne H. Eller says:

      Sometimes I asked them to choose something and revise it to turn in, but that was only occasionally and often for extra credit. I tried not to even give them prompts. They could write letters if they wanted, since I figured they would have written the same sort of thing anyway. I agree that we need to feel it is private. One of Effy’s techniques I like is to write across the page vertically and continue horizontally. It’s impossible to read and makes an appealing background.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. corinnebekker says:

    Thanks for your post; it resonates with me. So much. I used to work in academia. I left it for working for nonprofits. The past few years I’ve gone into art more. Seeing the state of the world recently has made me wonder whether I should return to earlier threads in my life. You’ve found a beautiful way to deal with that. Thanks for sharing it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Suzanne H. Eller says:

      Some of them tell me they still write. I used to have a quote in my room that said “unless you learn to think in words, you will always be a puppet on somebody else’s string.” I don’t remember who said it. I think it came from a newspaper editorial. The point was that I didn’t want them to be anyone’s puppet, no matter their class or IQ. If I could do that, my life had meaning.


      • corinnebekker says:

        I agree with Effy. Great that you’d promote that way of writing – you gave them a practice that will last them a life time, if they’re lucky. I write too – more since reading the book by Julia Cameron where she urges us to write morning pages. That’s what this assignment reminded me off, though your purpose was slightly different. Wonderful story. Thanks.

        Liked by 1 person

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