Above: Tombow marker sketch in a 6-1/8 x 9-1/2 inch Fabriano Venezia Journal. I'm having trouble working at the size I usually work at in this book—using some of the tools I typically use. Read more below. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
One of the top five questions I'm asked (typically on a daily basis; and falling right below "What's your favorite paper?") is "What is your favorite journal size?"
I have written a bunch of posts addressing this topic. I laid out what I take into consideration when selecting a journal in "Choosing a Journal Size."
I encouraged people to try a variety of approaches and by examining their experience with each format and explained that they would come to find the journal size and format that best worked for them. (We are all different.)
I wrote about a very satisfying experience using a 12-inch square journal in my studio (it was too large to carry about with me).
It was useful for me to use that journal because at the time I was pushing myself to make some larger paintings.
Journaling Superstition #12: All Your Visual Journals Should Be the Same Size, was my way of addressing the limiting fiction that some new journal keepers are encouraged to believe: that their shelves should contain uniform volumes that stretch on and on; that they should always use one type of paper, one format for all their needs.
I believe that journaling needs to be more expansive than that. Just as the process is not always pretty, your shelves aren't always going to be pretty—but they are going to be filled with your experience of life if you select materials (and journals with paper and size and formatting) that suit and support your needs.
Right: On this journal spread, starting with the eye of the left page I got the size of the head pretty accurately, but the other eye fell right in the gutter. Very unpleasant from a page layout point of view. I had switched to a Faber-Castell Pitt Artist's Brush Pen for this trial sketch, to keep my lines more uniform. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
Sometimes you might have cravings for a certain type of paper or format. I believe you need to select a journal that will support your work. Ask yourself what are you going to be working on in the immediate future and how does your selection of your next journal support that choice? If you're going to be making a bunch of watercolor paintings that are relatively small, selecting a small watercolor journal in which to practice techniques would be ideal. Selecting a paper openly antagonistic to watercolor like a Moleskine sketchbook will leave you frustrated at the end of the day—not really in the mood to do your paintings or even sketch the next day in your journal.
Left: First, yes this person really did have a flat end of his nose—just saying. But here, the space between the eye and ear is too wide, and the forehead seems scrunched instead of tilted back. The gutter is clearly bothering me. If I had been working in one of the large Venezia Journals I could have done this entire portrait on one page and had the shoulder drip off the other page, leaving lots of negative space for journal writing. I used the Faber-Castell Pitt Artist's Calligraphy pen here because I can get a bold line with it, but a thinner range of lines than with the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen. This allows me to scale down and get the detail I want. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
You can also satisfy different journaling needs that you have at any given time by keeping more than one journal. I discuss this in "Keeping More than One Journal at at Time," and also discuss why I usually have a 9 x 12 inch Fabriano Venezia Journal going all the time in addition to whatever I carry with me on a daily basis in this post: "Keeping More than One Journal Simultaneously."
Today I'm revisiting this topic not because my thoughts have changed—I still believe you will find your favorite journal size through experience; I still believe that changing up the paper, size, and format of a journal now and then is a wonderful way to mix it up in your creative life; and I still believe that it's best to keep one journal for carrying always with you, but that you need to be flexible for in-studio work and other needs as they arise.
Instead, I'm returning to this topic because in December I had a wonderfully frustrating experience with journal size that is perfect to share with you.
I love the 9 x 12 inch Fabriano Venezia Journals for in-studio work. They are certainly too large for me to carry around on a regular basis, but when I'm in the studio and want to work I love grabbing it because the large pages afford me lots of space to try different approaches. The paper takes watercolor and gouache well. The books themselves are less expensive to purchase (locally there are often half-price sales and you can find such sales on the internet) than it would be for me to bind a book of that size.
I purchased a 6-1/8 x 9-1/2 inch Fabriano Venezia with the idea I would carry it around with me at some point, since I know I like the paper. However, it sat on the shelf for quite awhile. I really prefer my smaller books to be square and you're about to see why in a moment.
As the end of the year approached I realized that in 20 days I would not be able to finish a 9 x 12 inch journal but I could probably finish a journal with a smaller page size—it just seemed to me that I would work a little smaller but those sketches would be page filling so I would work through the pages more quickly.
I don't have to end my journals (my daily-go-everywhere-with-me and my in-studio journals) by the last day of the year, but I do like it when that happens so I play a little game with myself about that.
So I took that 6-1/8 x 9-1/2 inch Fabriano Venezia and started sketching, doing my late night paintings in it, sketching from the television when I was watching, working out my painting plans, and so on.
Immediately I realized that size matters very much to me, much more so than in the 1990s for instance. I've been using the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen so much, and I've been using it on pages sizes 8 x 10 inches and larger with such frequency that my visual vocabulary with that brush is geared to the large stroke. Even my favorite Faber-Castell Pitt Artist's Calligraphy Pen was selected because I wanted something with a bolder line. I just don't work with fine pens on a small scale as much as I did at other times in my life. (Of course as soon as I write that sentence I realize I have been favoring the Staedtler Pigment Liner .1 on Folio paper all fall. We are all a bundle of contradictions. Just know your contradictions and make sure you have the appropriate pen!)
In the images shown in today's post you'll see that I am having difficulty measuring across the gutter with my drawings. I'm compensating too much and going wide, other times I might go narrow. I start at a point I would typically start on, the eye in a portrait for instance, and build out from there and before you know it, on this smaller page I end up in the gutter.
Now the immediate and obvious remedy is to go with a less bold stroke, a pen that can work more finely. But here's the difficulty, when I do that I have to work with pens that I may love on other papers, but which I don't enjoy on THIS paper.
For me, over time, certain pens take on a life of their own and somewhat dictate what size I am comfortable working in when I'm working with them.
I bring this up today because I have ample examples to share with you and because if you're new to visual journaling you might be frustrating yourself in a way that is easily remedied, simply by changing either the pen you use or the journal you are using.
Note: Another way to deal with the issue of some pens taking on a life of their own and dictating size is to change what you want in a drawing. If you want to work in a very small space with the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen and use the possibility of bold brush strokes then focus on shadow areas, squint more, look for less detail and don't try to capture it. That's good practice too.
Meanwhile, what do you do with the book at hand? Well I've written before that if a journal experience is really awful sometimes the best thing to do is walk away. Call the journal finished, and put it up on the shelf.
But that is an extreme situation, and I prefer in my own practice, and when encouraging others, to suggest that you finish the damn book as quickly as possible. Use every moment you have to test new pens in it, work out diagrams, and sketch and sketch—do your speed sketching warm ups if you have to; anything to get the book paper filled. Think before you start each drawing, work out what your attack plan is going to be, really make use of that paper to learn something, but get the drawing down quickly.
By working quickly but thoughtfully you will keep the problem you have with the paper or the format in the front of your mind. You will be trying to work around that problem, either by a shift of materials used (thereby finding a new favorite journal for certain media) or approach (thereby finding a new favorite journal for specific uses).
For 8 days I worked in that 6-1/8 x 9-1/2 inch Fabriano Venezia. Every time I sat down I picked it up. It helped that it was paper I liked, but it was frustrating that I was having difficulty sizing my sketches to fit that smaller format. I love portrait formats, but the books that I make are larger when portrait, or they contain paper in them on which I work with "finer tools" and so work smaller. (Nideggen is like that for me.)
As you move into the new year and get ready to select new journals for the work you hope to do in 2013 I would like you to consider the points raised in this post, and be encouraged to investigate what it is that appeals to you or doesn't appeal to you in every journal you work on during the year. In this way you'll be in a better position to pick a journal that supports your needs. And when you find yourself in a journal that fights against you, you'll immediately know why, will be able to adapt into testing mode, and get back on course more quickly.
I can't wish you a year full of perfect journals because that would mean wishing you would miss out on all the wonderful (and often frustrating) discoveries the really wretched journals or the almost-but-not-quite journals will hold for you.
I hope, therefore, that throughout the year you come across (or bind) several near perfect journals, but at the same time are challenged by other selections into pushing through your habits and preferences so that you find new expansive ways of expressing yourself visually.
This week I'll share more of my adventures while using this book, because I have a couple more points to make about dealing with page size issues and such—but right now you really should be sketching.