2021: A bullet journal year

The 9 months of 2020 spent under varying degrees of lockdown, here in our state (and still ongoing) went by both too quickly and too slowly. Time passed in both a blur and in slow motion. Speaking with a friend last week, we talked about how to reframe the stresses of lockdown as signs (however small) of our relative safety. In his 60s, he told me that the repetition of daily tasks, as monotonous as they can feel, can be taken as a sign that we’re safe, at home, have resources, and are at least some degree of physically well. Reflecting on my own days, I resolved to be a bit more mindful in my daily life, moving forward — to cultivate more awareness and gratitude for the good things.

Enter bullet journaling. I’m quite late to the BUJO party, but am slowly discovering the joy and practical benefits of it during this time. As a beginner, I haven’t yet invented any complex or detailed notation systems. For now, I’m exploring it as a creative space, and a tool where I can track certain things (like mood, books to read/recommended to me, albums to listen to, blog post ideas, painting ideas, and the like). Using the journal in this way for the first 2 weeks of January has been helping me find a space of calm and agency in the midst of…things (so many things in this collective moment we’re in). Specifically, journaling is helping me to:

  • become more aware of where my time goes and provide a record of what I did
  • discover patterns in mood, focus, and energy so that I can work in ways that (as much as possible) align with my capacity
  • set small, concrete goals
  • recognize and acknowledge the things done (I don’t do that enough)
  • keep track of exercise + regulate sleep, and
  • create a space where new ideas and drawings can roam free (and inspire future projects)

By the end of the year, I hope to have a record that I can look back on. Time need not feel lost.

The Week

As a beginner, my building block is the week. The week has become the semi-colon in my punctuation of time. It’s not the end of the sentence, not the full stop (would that be the month, the year?). But it’s a breath. It affords pause, review, and reflection. My conversations with friends have revealed that one of the great challenges of staying and/or working from home (an affordance we are lucky for) is differentiating time. It’s hard moving into a state of focused work when ‘work’ used to be a place to go, not just a thing to do. The bullet journal is helping me to break up the feeling of all that time into parts — and in ways that don’t feel coldly managerial, but creative. Visually, I’ve started to give each week and its days a theme — something small to enjoy. For this week’s theme, I drew flowers and mushrooms with a Venus-Fly-Trap-inspired palette (which I love, and which will definitely be used for a later project). It felt like doodling in my trusty sketchbook, but with a practical end product. 🙂 I hope they make you smile.

As for the full page, I’m discovering that I like logging things in long ‘column’ form. I use a dotted notebook which allows for the design of different boxes and grids. The vertical columns allow me enough space to, say, make a simple To Do list at the top, then schedule chunks of time for specific items below. I also leave a space below or beside the days of the week to remind myself of other general things to remember — a quote, a deadline coming up, a birthday. I pair this weekly calendar + tracking with a general wall calendar for the big things (such as the wonderful printable 2021 Beastie calendar!) and am organizationally set. 🙂

This week’s page. Click to zoom.

Well, that is my first foray into the BuJo world. Bullet journaling is very much my response to having lived most of my recent years in unstructured time, and wanting to find a new way to plan and be intentional! I’ll plan to share some of my favourite journal pages in upcoming posts, and hope that I can stick with this practice throughout 2021. Feel free to share your own organization practices in the comments. I’d love to hear them!

Until next time. 📓 ✏️

A studio of one’s own

Welcome 2021! I hope this finds you well. 🙂

I wanted my first post of the year to set the stage for good things to come, and also illustrate a little of what I’ve been up to these days. I returned to painting, December; I was missing the way that painting allows you to flood a space, however tiny, with fields of colour and create little dwelling places for the eye, especially during these colour-starved winter months.

I was looking at Matisse’s The Red Studio, and enjoying the way his paintings create spaces and interiors. With all of the time spent at home, this past year has made me think about indoor space — and how changing the way I use a familiar room can help to create a shift, however subtle, that brings a sense of much-needed newness with it. So, I drafted a “studio” scene of my own: in it, it is 4:30 pm, the light is yielding to dusk, moonlight, and Chicago flurries. I’ve queued up a playlist, plugged in the speakers, and it’s the painting hour. My dining room is doubling as the studio at the moment — a unusual space to scatter brushes and paint tubes and things, but something about picture-making and cooking in the same room feels like a truthful reflection on the things that sustain. Also, proximity to tea helps.

A relative who saw this picture early on said: “It is a happy picture painted with love.” I hope to continue 2021 in that spirit.

Completing this picture also led me to generate an artist prompt for the days when the muse needs a hand. Maybe it will come in handy in the future?

Artist Prompt:

Create a picture of happiness. Put yourself inside.

Until next time.

Robert Henri on the song within

Hi, folks. We’re on the cusp of another year, and bringing some hope and lightness to this passage feels more necessary to me than usual. Today, I’m reposting a 2018 reflection; I’m revisiting it because I find myself seeking out an affirming and ‘art teacherly’ voice — some guidance and inspiration for what I hope to be a new phase of embracing creativity. My past thoughts on Robert Henri’s text, The Art Spirit, have been helping me remember some things. SO, whatever your medium, I hope this offers a creative uplift.

I look forward to seeing the incredible projects that 2021 has in store for you, and wish you another year, as Henri wrote, of “great happiness in creation.”

-Shirley


I’ve been enjoying The Art Spirit, by painter and portraitist Robert HenriOriginally published in 1923, The Art Spirit is a collection of Henri’s notes, letters and lectures to his pupils and proteges on the creative life. For the devoted student of painting, there’s lots to sink one’s technical teeth into: painterly lessons on colour theory, composition, the importance of keeping a clean palette (I always lapsed there), avoiding the overuse of ‘white’ to convey value (I did that), and cultivating the powers of visual memory.

the art spirit.jpg

But this little collection shines most brightly in how the fragments come together to convey a message on the ‘art spirit’: the joyful cultivation of vision and imagination. For Henri, art (a term which the book does not take too seriously) comes from enchantment with life. Part of the labour of making, he suggests, lies in developing self-knowledge through experience, the senses, and the imagination — allowing ourselves to be touched and moved by the things around us, and finding exuberance and discovery in our own unique worlds of feeling. Several times in the text, he suggests that the object is not to ‘make art,’ but to live — and to trace the lines of that living through the things that we make.

school of life 1
Image source: The School of Life’s The Dangers of Being Dutiful 

This is a familiar message. But I enjoy how Henri expresses the idea, in different ways, with his own mix of wonder, warmth, and the ardent desire that budding artists learn, beyond technique, to recognize, value, and find tremendous joy in their intuition — what he calls the “inner sense.” For Henri, painting is not merely a technical skill; it is a way of being alive and in full relation to oneself and the world. Henri uses a particular metaphor for this relationship: creative joy is like finding and singing your song with all of your heart — a scary proposition, when I think of it, but The Art Spirit suggests that we give our throats “a chance to sing.”

You’ll find some of The Art Spirit moments that I found interesting below.


The real study of an art student is more a development of that sensitive nature and appreciative imagination with which she was so fully endowed when a child, and which, unfortunately in almost all cases, the contact with the grown-ups shames out of her before she has passed into what is understood as real life. 

On the experience of creative insight (on safeguarding your “song”):

At such times, there is a song going on within us, a song to which we listen. It fills us with surprise. We marvel at it. We would continue to hear it. But few are capable of holding themselves in the state of listening to their own song. Intellectuality steps in and as the song within us is of the utmost sensitiveness, it retires in the presence of the cold material intellect… yet we live in the memory of these songs… They are the pinnacles of our experience and it is the desire to express these intimate sensations, this song from within, which motivates the masters of all art. 

Cherish your own emotions and never under-value them. We are not here to do what has already been done.

Find out what you really like if you can. Find out what is really important to you. Then sing your song. You will have something to sing about and your whole heart will be in the singing.

From Henri’s letter to a student:

Your education must be self-education. Self-education is an effort to free one’s course so that a full growth may be attained. One need not be afraid of what this full growth may become. Give your throat a chance to sing its song. All the knowledge in the world to which you have access is yours to use…Don’t bother about your originality, set yourself just as free as you can and your originality will take care of you. It will be as much a surprise to you as to anyone else.

The end will be what it will be. The object is intense living, fulfillment; the great happiness in creation.

And one last one, for now, from a painting critique Henri wrote to a student (something which I think all evolving artists need to hear):

“I like your work and have only to ask you to go on your own interesting way with all the courage you can muster.”

Holiday paper craft, pt. 2: Cards

Season’s Greetings, all! And it is Christmas Eve; the time has really flown.

With the extra hours spent at home, I was able to enjoy making some Christmas cards this year, and thought to share a few of them. The cards came together in a quick combo of marker pens, fineliner, and colour pencils. For some reason, I seem to have really enjoyed drawing pine needles this year (I have since been sketching pine needle-things on my journal and calendar).

click images for gallery view

There were other cards in the mix, but those were sent out before I had the chance to do some scanning. 🙂

Ok. Wishing you and yours a Happy Holidays — and hoping the rest of your week is full of candle-light, comfort and creativity! Until then. 🎄

Holiday paper craft, pt. 1: Notebooks

Witness messy desk in action. Holidays are always a great time of year for messy desk! I’ve tried to beautify messy desk for you, here. At its height, there are things of all kinds flying around — lists under pencils under ribbon under yarn. And that is how I like it — a sign that things are happening.

Recently, I’ve started making a few little handmade notebooks. I’m not sure why. But I love the idea of putting pages together (“binding”), then giving them a colourful cover. The books are tiny — small enough to fit in a hand or a purse, and perfect for jotting down wayward, passing, and therefore precious things. I simply use spare printer paper, cut it to size, add a cardstock cover, then fold and staple it all in the center. I apply a bit of masking tape to the spine to reinforce things and add a handsome blue edge.

Then my favourite part: designing a notebook cover. After doodling, I settled on these flowers using colour pencils. I never tire of the colours which, together, make me feel a little lighter — the drawing showcases flowers and colours at their most comedic, I think. So, a few notebooks and a card later…

Other than these notebooks, I have otherwise been busy making cards, cards, cards. I’ll look forward to a post on those soon. Until next time, happy making to you!

Earth laughs in flowers.

Ralph Waldo Emerson