Studio Notes – The things I am learning

It is a wee while since I have written my studio notes here on the blog but I have still been writing regularly in my ‘end of the studio day’ journal. These pages are becoming an increasingly valuable part of my studio day and I have been thinking about why that might be.

I have two different notebooks for writing – one for Daily Pages and one for Studio Notes and each has a very different purpose and outcome. My favourite books are the large soft moleskine lined journals and I always use the same ballpoint pen (a Sheaffer if you are curious – I like the familiarity). I am not one to embellish my journals in any way. They are purely plain and functional for me. Not even a sketch or a scribble interrupts the continuous lines of hand-writing. This is not planned – it is just how they have always been.

Daily/Morning Writing

I write Daily Pages most mornings and these are definitely where I witter on about nothing of any consequence. I write three pages a day in scribbled, untidy long hand that is an unedited stream of thoughts with no pauses or second guessing. I enter my day with what seems like repetitive rounds of to-do lists, doubts, regrets about how fast the days go by and how much more time I would like to dedicate to studio time and creating art. This is also where I bash out insecurities, moments of procrastination and dips in momentum.  They are at times whiny, at times hopeful and 90% repetition of what I have written a hundred times before. Sometimes I wonder what the point of them is, but mostly I trust that they are serving a purpose and I carry on regardless. I sit down to write them most days even when I could quite happily break the habit in an instant. That is a sure sign that I see some value to them underneath it all.

I began writing Daily Pages consistently  having been inspired by reading The Artists Way by Julia Cameron. I can honestly say that despite the fact that I mostly feel I am writing about nothing, they have helped me feel more prepared for each day. They cut through all the crap that often clogs up my thoughts. There is so much fog in my brain and it can hinder my belief that I can do anything of value – not just creatively but in all areas of my life.  I am notoriously bad at sticking to habits or schedules but those three pages give me hope and a belief that I can stick to something. Thinking about my process I find that most days the first two pages are the usual repetitive drivel but on the third and final page something magical often happens. Even when I feel I have nothing to write about (which is every day) by the third page a shift occurs. A clarity of thought descends and an eagerness to solve a problem or hit my day running and they act as preparation for  the day ahead.

Studio Notes

My Studio Notes in contrast are written whilst at the studio and at the end of the day and are to my mind altogether more interesting. These pages are where I write down ideas as they occur whilst working. I have learned over a long period of time that even the best idea can be lost in an instant if I don’t write it down straight away. There are many ‘genius’ thoughts of mine that have drifted away never to be recalled despite my best efforts. There have been frustrating moments when remnants linger but they are too sparse or confusing to make any sense of once the moment has passed.  Nowadays I will often hop from my easel to my desk when in the silent act of painting, a glimpse of possibility appears.

Very often these sparks of unexpected energy are entirely unrelated to the piece on my easel. They can seem to come from nowhere and most often when I am thinking about nothing at all. Sometimes I am listening to music or audio books when I am painting but usually I work in silence and I feel lost in the process. It is almost like a meditation. Perhaps that is the key. My mind is so utterly focused on one thing and somehow that seems to create space for surprising occurrences. Sometimes the revelations relate to a recently completed work or thoughts start gathering for ideas for future work. Often they relate to something I have read or some inspiration I would like to research or work I dream about creating. Sometimes it might be just a few words – other times it can lead me down the rabbit hole – one thought leading me to another and before I know it I am recording all manner of possible ideas for the future. Dreaming of the artist I hope to be even if I have doubts that I will ever get there.

The notes that appear whilst painting are followed by my sitting down at the end of day to gather my thoughts. These are somewhat rushed as I am always, always late home for dinner but I do try to write something at the end of every studio day before I leave. Perhaps because I am always leaving later than intended they are more concise and vary in length from one paragraph to a full-page or two depending on how focused I am. This is where I write about how my day has actually gone at the easel. It is where I write thoughts that have occurred about the particular piece I might be working on – revelations, struggles, breakthrough moments. Perhaps a note about what I wish to focus on next time I am there. It is a lovely way to round off the day and acts as a kind of clocking off card that proves I have once again successfully made it to the easel – despite all the doubts and fears that would have me avoiding it if I let them.

Current work in progress

The Studio Notes were a habit I began incorporating into my studio days a few months ago. They came from a frustration and a fear that most of what I was writing in my Daily Pages was a record of all the things I felt like I was not achieving – the things I was avoiding or struggling with. This often left me feeling a bit disheartened before my day had even really got going. By the end of the day my perspective had changed. Usually (but not always) later on,  I can see the progress I am making and this is when I can reflect on the ideas that come to me or I can think about what steps to take next. These pages are entirely related to my creative practice and through them I can record progress, struggles and my dreams for the direction I wish my art to go in. This is where I have fanciful thoughts about the grand paintings I feel I have within me and the work I aspire to create.  It is where I begin to believe I can some day get out of my own way in order for that work to happen.

It is amazing what a little bit of writing can do! I didn’t realise I had so much to say about this daily practice of mine.

I have shared some Studio Notes in previous blog posts – You can find them here, here and here.

I would love to know – Do you write regularly? Has it helped you in any way? Can you see an impact on your creative practice?

Comments 6

  1. Nordljus

    A have a very similar practice, I write in my journal daily, and I try to do it in the morning, as I find it’s the best time to gather my thoughts. They are a bit more conscious than Cameron’s Morning Pages, though, or maybe a mix of both. I’ve been doing it for two years now, after having been inspired by a book I’ve read, but sometimes wonder what the point of it is, as nothing really seems to change (unlike in the book…). Or maybe it is, really, just very very slowly. So I think that actually, they are helpful.
    I’ve started keeping a separate studio journal a few months ago, but the sparse entries are a sad reminder of how little time I have spent in my studio these past months. Apart from general thoughts about the work, I also note down the colours I’ve used for my works in progress, which, with such long gaps in between, has definitely been very helpful. I hope to be spending much more time in my studio, and so hopefully the pages of my studio journal will get filled too. I guess the more you work, the more ideas you get to write down, and the more ideas you get, the more you will work….

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      Gillian Lee Smith

      Thank you for sharing Katja. I too find myself repeating myself over and over again but I think that is ok. Even whilst we are repeating the same old, same old, I think there are both subtle and bigger changes that are happening within, almost without us realising it. I love the thought of a studio journal being a record of all that we are doing (even with limited time). Every moment of creativity counts for sure.

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  2. Vicki Lee

    Gillian, I loved reading about your writing practice. I’ve tried “morning pages” several times and have never stuck to it. Too many interruptions in the morning to keep from being distracted. Recently, however, I’ve been doing “evening pages”. I have a lot of trouble sleeping but I’ve found that getting my thoughts out of my head and onto the pages before bed is helping somehow. Since this is very personal writing, I usually paint over the writing the next day. That way I feel free to purge fully without fear of someone reading it.

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