“Nothing’s Sacred!”

Well, actually, I think pretty much everything is sacred. But, even sacred things can evolve, develop and transform. So your journal pages certainly can!

In fact, if you don’t transform certain journal pages, they become the journal equivalent of that mysterious plastic container at the back of the refrigerator. The one that you know you’d better throw away without even opening, because it’s been back there long enough to have spawned an entirely new life form. And not one you want to meet.

To nurture creativity, you have to be bold and take risks and experiment freely. Being free and spontaneous is the pathway to the unexpected. And creativity thrives on the surprising and unexpected.

But being free and spontaneous also means there are going to be some spectacular duds!

That’s okay. You’ll still learn something. And, sometimes the pages that bug you contain an amazing gift!

[Read—or skip—all the way to the end of this post to see a wonderful example of a pair of problem pages that gave me a brand-new technique I can’t wait to use! Then you can have the fun of trying to spot it in action this winter and spring over on my Dragonfly Spirit Studio page. I have plans! And you can impress your friends with your insider knowledge. You’re welcome!]

In the meantime, if you just leave these annoying pages sitting in your journal, they start growing “psychic mold”.  The last thing you need when you’re trying to nurture your creative spirit is a stinky mess of leftovers. It just makes me grumpy!

These grumpy-making pages need to be dealt with!

What to do with a page like that?

Tear it out!

I’m putting this first, because it’s generally my first impulse if the page really, really bugs me. But I’d also encourage you to treat this as a last resort, and give some of the other options a good try first.

But if the paper is starting to fall apart or glue itself to the next page, tearing it out may be the best option.

If you have a spiral-bound journal, no problem.  However, if you have a hard-bound journal don’t just tear the page out at the spine! Each page is really one half of a folded sheet, so tearing out one page leaves the other half unsecured (or not secured enough).

Leave a small stub at the spine. Cut the page a quarter- to half-inch away from the binding. This way, the other page of the pair is still sewn into the binding and won’t fall out.

This has a second benefit: you can now add a page to your journal by gluing something to the stub. This is a great place to create a fold-out page or put in a page of special paper.

Cover it up or mute it with a veil of color.

If you want to paint over the entire page, you can cover it with black ink or dark paint and use it as the basis for an exploration of light-on-dark (see The Lovely Dark for ideas about that).

Mandala partially covered up with black ink.
I liked this idea for making mandalas, but I did a fast and sloppy job here, so this page was bugging me.

Or cover it with opaque white (I find titanium white acrylic or acrylic gesso, casein or gouache best for this) or other solid color. It may take several coats to completely cover the page, but sometimes just having the “offending” parts of the page softened by a veil of color is all you need.

Things you can use for covering up all or part of the page: titanium white acrylic or gouache, black or white ink, tissue and collage papers.
Things you can use for covering up all or part of the page: titanium white acrylic or gouache, black or white ink, tissue and collage papers.

Not every pen or pencil will write on dried acrylic, and watercolor won’t stick to dried acrylic, so you might need to do some experimenting to see what media you have that will work. Permanent markers and gel pens do work, although they may take a little longer to dry.

You can also glue down another sheet of opaque paper on top of the page you don’t like, or otherwise collage over it. But really, a complete coverup is not much different from tearing out the page.

What about trying to work with what you have?

Partial cover-ups.

One way to soften or “veil” a page without completely covering it up is to glue down plain or colored tissue paper over it. This can also be a way to introduce large areas of color quickly. (A description of how to do this with scraps of torn tissue is described in Personalizing Your Journal Cover, Part 2.)

Acrylic inkjet transfer of bee on aster.
I used this page to demonstrate transferring an inkjet printout using acrylics, but never did anything with it after that. I feel like I should do something more with it, but I’m not inspired. So, I’ll use it to experiment with tissue paper collage.
Inkjet transfer with tissue paper collaged over it.
Here, I’ve collaged some torn scraps of green and yellow tissue over the white areas and even over the image, to see if I like it better with a unifying glow of yellow. Hmmm . . . not sure yet. I also did a little black outlining, mostly so I could still see the outlines of the image that I might want to keep.
Acrylic inkjet transfer with tissue paper collaged over and some areas emphasized with acrylic paint and ink.
I went over some areas with a translucent layer of acrylic, just to deepen the color and re-state some parts of the picture that got lost.

I still don’t like the way the page looks, but I learned some things that I can use to good advantage in other places. And the page doesn’t bug me anymore. Even though I don’t like the image any more than before, it now serves as a reference for a technique that I do like.

Cover up the “nonoffensive” part of the page.

This is counterintuitive, but it often works, because sometimes the problem is just a lot of stark white space creating too much contrast with a small beginning.

In Wonky Wobblies and Directed Doodles, we did some blind contour drawing, in which you let the pen or pencil record the movement of your eye as you slowly follow contours (perceived edges) in a scene or object without looking at your drawing at all.

This is form of meditative drawing. The point is to really see deeply. But, unless you have much better eye-hand coordination than I do AND take the time to follow all of the important contours that make the object recognizable, the finished “drawing” is not really much of a drawing.

Blind contour drawing of houseplant.
Blind contour drawing of one of my houseplants. You can see some of the shapes but it isn’t really a recognizable drawing.

Most of the time, I do not spend the time to follow enough contours to really capture the entire scene or object, and sometimes, this “unfinished” look starts to bug me. I don’t usually feel like going back and “finishing” or “fixing” a blind contour drawing as a realistic drawing.

I used this page as an example when we were exploring light and dark (see The Lovely Dark), covering up part of the blank paper and leaving the contour drawing visible.  I chose what to cover more or less at random, but once I saw the result, I got the idea to make this a drawing about light falling through a doorway and casting shadows.

I had no idea I would head in this direction when I started out. It came out of the seemingly backwards solution of covering up blank parts of the page instead of the drawing that was bugging me.

Ink drawing of potted plant with shadow.
In this case, I added some black ink and additional drawing and painting over a blind contour drawing to play with a “shadow” theme. The faint slivery lines of the pot in the darkness are graphite pencil.

Use some of the shapes, change the colors (or vice versa).

Here’s a page that was a crayon conversation.  It was a fun conversation, but the colors are almost painfully bright. See the little red spiral towards the middle of the right page? Keep your eye on that little guy—he’s going to spawn a lot of the changes on these pages!

a page that bugs me (crayon)
Wow! That bright chartreuse together with the reds, purples and hot pinks. Owww!

This is where I pull out my acrylics. Gouache or tempera paint also work, and have a matte finish which can be nicer to work on later. I just happen to have a lot of acrylic paint on hand.

You could also use pastels or oil pastels to do this sort of modification, but if you do, you may want to spray the pages with a fixative afterward to prevent smudging.

Transforming the crayon conversation, step 1.
Transforming the crayon conversation, step 1.

I don’t really have any sort of plan here. I’m just fiddling around, using the original drawing as the basis for some of my shapes and getting rid of some of the super-bright colors.

In the photo below, notice that I’ve slipped a sheet of freezer paper under each page to keep the wet acrylic from running between this page and the pages below. Acrylic paint acts as a glue, and I don’t want the pages glued together at the edge!

crayon convo transform 2
After a bit more work.

I also slide some freezer paper (plastic side towards the work) between the pages until the acrylic is fully cured so that the facing pages don’t glue themselves to each other when the book is closed. I usually leave it there for at least a week. (This is not necessary with gouache or tempera paint.)

crayon convo transform 3
I started to see some sort of underwater creatures.
crayon convo transform 4
One thing leads to another: I liked the spiral shape in the previous step, so I added a bunch more of them.
crayon convo transform 5
The current state of the page. Quite different from where I started, but I’m guessing I’ll work on it some more someday. Now it feels like there’s more to do, but the page inspires me instead of bugging me.

This series of photos was taken over the space of several weeks. In my usual journaling, it might take much longer to get here. So don’t feel you have to make this sort of dramatic change in a short period of time.

My goal is just to get the page to the point where the “ugh!” reaction is changed to something else. Possibly “Oooh, I like it!” but “Hmm. It has possibilities . . . ” is good enough.

The page doesn’t have to be “finished”. I don’t have to know where I’m going with it. Just not “ugh!”

Small changes are usually enough!

Whew! Many of the above examples involve fairly extensive cover-ups and alterations. I’m usually not that industrious! And I don’t have to be.

Here’s a page from the post on Geometric “Self-Portraits” that was bugging me every time I flipped past it. The color combination wasn’t pleasing, and the page felt like it needed something, but I didn’t know what it needed.

I didn't draw too many shapes before I got excited and started adding color. I'll probably add more shapes on top of this It's more of a Creative Seed at this point.
I didn’t draw too many shapes before I got excited and started adding color. I’ll probably add more shapes on top of this It’s more of a Creative Seed at this point.

As usual, when I don’t know what to do with a page, I ask myself, “If I were only allowed 3 minutes to make a change, what would I do?”In this case, the answer was, “Put some turquoise somewhere.”

So I added some turquoise.  Then, once I was in the creative flow, I started adding curved lines to the upper portion of the drawing.

Previous (mostly geometric) image with curved lines added.
I added some turquoise, and then, without really thinking about it, I started making a series of curved lines with the warm colors.

Immediately, the bottleneck was broken! Again, I don’t exactly like the page at this point, but instead of bugging and baffling me, now I feel drawn to keep working on it, and I know what sort of thing I want to add.

And that was my goal.

Make it worse on purpose.

If you have no clue what to do with a page, then do something you’re pretty sure will make the situation even worse. It’s amazing how often that gets you going. Often the real reason you are hesitating is that you don’t hate it completely, so you’re afraid you’ll lose whatever small redeeming value it has now. Deliberately messing it up gets you past that.

Use one of your signature moves.

Turquoise is one of my favorite colors, so when I’m stuck, my default solution is “add turquoise”.  “Add yellow” also seems to work this way for me.  As does “add spirals” or “add circles”.

If there is water-soluble media on the page, misting it with a spray bottle or sponging it with a damp sponge to make things run and bleed sometimes gets me unstuck.

Picking up a fine tip black pen and doodling on top of what I have is another way to get myself started when I’m stuck.

As you work, you’ll find some things that are your “signature moves”. If you are completely stuck on what to do with a page, use an old standby.  You can even keep a page in your journal where you make a list of these favorite things to do when you can’t think of anything to do.

I don’t have to transform the pages into something I love. I just need to get rid of the “ugh!” feeling

That could happen because the page taught me something and becomes a technical reference (as in the bee example). Or, I might not like the page, but there might now be something about it that intrigues me and makes me want to work on it further. And sometimes, I’m lucky, and I get a real gem out of it!

Learn to see problem pages as a gift!

Remember this Creative Seed? I sort of liked the “eye” shape I was seeing on the left, and I sort of liked the “fish” shape I was seeing on the right, but I didn’t like the yellow (go figure) and I had no idea how to develop either page that wouldn’t wind up being in conflict with the facing page.

This pair of pages bugged me enormously!

Blue and green "jungle" mask with underwater scene and fish on facing page.
This was a creative seed in which I painted shapes in watercolor on two facing pages and smushed them together while they were wet. The left side looked like an eye to me, and the right side looked sort of like a fish, so I developed the left side into a mask and the right into a fantasy “underwater” scene. Are they related? I don’t know yet.

So one day, I did something drastic. I started developing each side in the direction I felt it needed to go, and periodically, while the paint was wet, I closed my journal “inkblot style” to transfer color between the two pages.

The end result is one of my favorite images on the blog, not to mention the genesis of a technique I really like.

Green and blue "jungle face" mask, with fish and underwater image on facing page.
Watercolor mask drawing based on an earlier creative seed.

I’ve done plenty of “inkblot” starts, but until I faced the problem of these two pages that seemed to want to diverge, I never thought of using over and over it as a way to develop two pages in different directions and still maintain a connection between them.

I know I’ll be mining this idea in some of my other artwork, and I never would have thought of it without this pair of pages that bugged me. I’m so glad I didn’t tear either of them out!