An Introduction to the Imperfect Journal

The Imperfect Journal is a innovative and simple way of journaling that combines the freedom and fun of art journaling with the record-keeping and thought-processing aspects of traditional written diaries. Using a few easy techniques we can create a journal "home" where anything is possible.  Relax, play, let go of the inner critic! Using this simple and quick method, anyone can succeed at a journaling practice and almost immediately see and feel the results of playing, dreaming and dancing among the images and elements of our daily lives. 

The idea of the Imperfect Journal came to me after twenty years of struggling to maintain a journal practice. Although all my instincts indicated I would benefit from writing or drawing every day, time after time I found myself unable to keep up the practice.  I'd buy an new journal, fall in love with the perfectly lined pages, choose a free-flowing pen and begin. In fact I began again and again. And time and again I failed. 

Most of these beautiful books are still on my shelves--each containing only a few pages of discouraging introspection. After a few weeks, I invariably found myself hating my handwriting, hating my sentences, even hating my thoughts. If I tried a sketch journal I hated my drawings, clumsy and misshapen. Rather than increasing my creativity, my attempts made me more and more sure that I had nothing creative to offer and often stifled my creative instincts. 

The desire for an examined life was strong. I loved the journals I read from history. I wished my grandmothers and great grandmothers had recorded their thoughts and feelings to help me through my life. Over the years I tried the Progoff Journal Workshop, dream journals, reading journals and idea journals, as well asndaily planners and notated sketchbooks. It was not until the last few years, as I found myself in a time of intense change, battling health issues and the shock of approaching 60 and struggling with various personal crises that I finally created for myself a workable and exciting journal practice. I developed a simple method incorporating all the elements I needed and easy enough to allow me to keep up even when I was ill or tired or depressed.

Inspired by Brene Brown's work on vulnerability and perfectionism, I completed her course on Oprah's website. I watched dozens of YouTube videos on art journaling, and sorted through hundreds of options for types of journals as well as art and writing products to find the best quality giving the most bang for my limited budget buck. Initially most of the information and techniques I found online involved the creation of individual art journal "pages" with inspirational sayings. While very pretty, these art journals didn't meet my need to keep a record of my life and to process (and often re-process!) problems, experiences and ideas. When at last I hit on a combination of techniques that worked for me--it really began to work on every aspect of my life! 

The process of keeping the "Imperfect Journal" involves setting a goal of moving forward and not tearing any pages out and setting an internal intention to uncover my most authentic self by letting go of my inner perfectionist and replacing my critical inner guest panel of judges with supportive and inspiring inner mentors. I use all kinds of art supplies and techniques and I write, mark and scrawl. I even found ways to get around my dislike of my own handwriting--a common hurdle for new journalers.

My process involves creating quick beautiful backgrounds and then messing them up with my thoughts. Oddly enough, once I've made an appealing mess on a page, I lose my inhibitions about marking it up. As these messy and colorful pages accrue, I find that I develop an affection for them and for my life in general.  That acceptance and appreciation goes a long way towards healing the wounds inflicted over the years by the inner critic. 

My process goes something like this:

1. Create a background -- using collage, paints, inks, sprays and layers to create a writable surface. This can take as little as two minutes or evolve into an hour of meditation. 

2. Decorate the background to suit my mood applying stamps, stencils, collage, glitter, drips, sprays, and pasting in my own ephemera and souvenirs of the day....whatever pleases me. The process of choosing, pleasing only one's self, is the first step to recognizing and claiming a personal style.

3. Write --sometimes in bright contrast and be easily readable and other times in colors and layers nearly invisible even to myself. Legible or illegible, the very act of writing is a statement of acceptance and power. Every time you write something down and mark the page you begin to manifest real things in the real world.


4. Work ahead --I use leftover pigments to begin pages further on in the journal and finish them in later weeks and months. This way I don't waste anything and always have a messed up page where I can start next time I pick up the journal. Sometimes these start out pretty ugly, but usually they turn into surprisingly beautiful starting points. If I don't like what I get, I gesso over the page and the gently bleed-through of the first layer makes a rich starting point for a new entry.

5. Time layers--I go back and forth in time, adding and noting on earlier pages as new ideas and conclusions emerge and letting a few words or images distill on mostly empty pages until it feels right to fill them out. This loosening of the harsh grip of a timeline allows larger themes to emerge over time, which in turn, keeps me interested as new patterns in my own thinking are revealed. 

6.  Some pages don't need words. Just the colors make me happy.

7. Incorporate my other practices of prayer, gratitude or study into this journal home. Whatever I'm doing at the time: travel, Christmas baking, yoga, meditation or the latest thriller I'm reading-- all are fodder for my journal. I learned to make a regular practice of printing the photos off my phone to add a special and personal dimension that makes reviewing past work a great pleasure and reminds me in a very personal way how much there is to love in my life as is is right now.

8. Journaling as mindless relaxation--ten or fifteen quiet minutes of pasting and painting is a great way to detach from the stresses of the day, but many times for me it is those evenings on Netflix that become the most productive time. With the TV going, my journal in my lap and a pot of glue--journaling no longer seems a serious endeavor and I use time that would've been "wasted" anyway. The sound of the TV gets me into a non-thinking zone. Perhaps my intellect watches TV and my right brain destroys journal pages in the most wonderful ways.  Watching TV and journaling has become a peaceful retreat for me, although it IS impossible to read subtitles!

8.. Add in personal ephemera. While you can purchase pretty stickers and papers, don't forget the beauty of the scraps of your own life. Gold foil from a chocolate bar, scraps of gift wrap, ticket stubs, catalogue photos, the pretty wrapping from a bar of soap, letters, take-out menus, postcards and greeting cards, even torn pieces of bills become fodder for my pages. Any art attempts I'm dissatisfied with I tear into pretty little pieces for collage. I keep a ziplock bag full of little goodies and add them in as I go. Don't forget to copy in a quote or poems from current reading, recipes and news articles.  You can glue them in or leave yourself a little present in a hidden envelop or pocket. If in doubt about whether a scarp is pretty enough, ask yourself  how you'd feel now about seeing your great-grandmother's telephone bill or grocery list--it would be priceless!


I plan to document in this blog my adventures as I go further in finding my creative voice. I'll provide a multitude of tips and tricks discovered over the last two years. After sifting through hundred of videos, books and blogs I will link those most useful. I'll review the standout products among the ever-expanding market of  fabulous art supplies, many created especially for art journaling and help you find out which are the most versatile and budget friendly. I will cover the basics you need to start your own imperfect journal and recommend books, websites, artists, classes, and other fun extras that can keep the creative juices flowing over time, renewing your creativity and finding your own strong voice.  Together we will  explore all kinds of research into creativity and productivity and interview talented fellow explorers.  As I find my way, I hope I can offer some short cuts and some encouragement as you navigate the mysteries of  your own imperfectly exquisite life.

a plain background with writing hidden by a parchment flap. Pen embellishment, acrylic stenciling

a plain background with writing hidden by a parchment flap. Pen embellishment, acrylic stenciling



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