The Decorated Page:
Journals, Scrapbooks & Albums Made Simply Beautiful

by Gwen Diehn

Lark Books, 2003. ISBN 1579905129.
Reviewed by Mary Ann Moore
Posted on 01/29/2007

Nonfiction: Creative Life

The sub-title of this inspiring book has an interesting play on words. The full-colour illustrations are indeed beautiful and the author/artist illustrates, in simple steps, how journals can contain pages "that sing and weep, inform and beguile, transport, soothe, and excite". I am enthralled by this book, but I don't recommend it as bedtime reading. It will keep you awake with ideas!

Gwen Diehn uses her own journal pages as well as examples from many other contributing artists to guide readers through basic materials, art supplies, techniques, layouts (proportioning and balancing of elements) and applications. Before I read any of the words, I was intrigued and inspired by the variety of inventive approaches to daily journaling.

My travel journals are full of drawings, mementoes, photos and ephemera but now I've realized the same can be done in my daily journal. Visual elements can enhance the written word. Or, in some cases, the visual becomes an easier way to explain something. Diehn sometimes uses "a small set of watercolours to paint a color swatch of the feeling of each day." She has found that keeping a journal with both written and visual elements opens up "new processes of thinking, feeling, observing, focusing, and experiencing life." What to call such an approach to journaling? Hannah Hinchman, a nature journalist featured in the book, uses the term "the illuminated journal." Bruce Kremer calls it "the textured diary." Some of his journal pages are also included in the book.

Even the photos of art supplies are artistic, such as an array of pens and bottles of ink. But then I'm a big fan of art supplies. Diehn really encourages experimentation. You don't have to follow the steps exactly, and she particularly steers people away from cliche. By that she means, for instance, paper with a repeated pattern or inlaid flowers. She says, change it in some way so that "parts lose their individual identities" and disappear into the overall design you have created.

Collage is a favourite pastime for many of us, and journals can become full of collections of tickets, receipts, notes, napkin sketches, wrapping paper, sugar packets, seed packages, labels, magazine and newspaper clippings, pressed flowers, stamps, fortune cookie fortunes. The ephemera can be used as the base of designs, in patterns or as the starting point of a drawing. Be inspired by one piece you have glued on a page and continue the pattern by drawing it with ink or colour. (You can also stitch collage elements to a page and that way add fold-outs, small booklets and envelopes.)

Ever since reading the book, I've been collecting wine corks as Diehn shows how you can carve shapes into them to make your own small relief printing stamps. And I've been inspired to assemble a travel supply kit so if I'm going on my favourite walk through the rain forest and along the seashore, I'll have tools, along with my journal, to draw my impressions.

There's even some advice on writing in an article called "Writing Small" by Ann Turkle. Make lists, she suggests, describe, witness and listen. "An unintended payoff of paying attention is that we simply begin to take pleasure in our noticing, and suddenly, the collecting notebook becomes a 'pleasure journal', the repository for unexpected moments of delight."

There are many applications for a visual journal or "textured diary". "Information gathering" for instance, can be recording what you see around you while on a walk. Back at home, you can reflect further on the experience. "Storytelling", "lists and collections", "patterns and motifs", "bird's eye view", "decision making", "memory books", "spilling", and "reflections" are among the various approaches, each of which has detailed, visual examples.

I found "decision making" a particularly useful approach. The author believes "it's important to go beyond rational and logical thoughts when making decisions". When trying to decide which house to buy, Diehn used watercolours to depict each house. There were just two of them, so she had two pages with blocks of colour, not drawings, that represented what she remembered about each house. When the pages were dry, she made lists of attributes for each of the houses. She then did a sort of analysis of the paintings with their lists. Over time, with her journal open, Diehn gravitated towards her yellow and brown images and the house they represented.

Gwen Diehn teaches drawing, printmaking, and artists' books in the Art Department at Warren Wilson College near Asheville, North Carolina. She includes journaling and sketching in the courses she teaches and has developed many activities to help novices learn to make both verbal and visual records of their experiences.

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