Book Reviews: An Illustrated Life

Marijke's First Shoes, 2004 ©
Khadi Watercolour Journal, Assorted Watercolours

When I entered the Internet world more than ten years ago, I went looking for groups talking about subjects I was familiar with and loved. One of those subjects was tarot, and one of the first groups I joined was Comparative Tarot. Frequently one of the members would make reference to artist journals.

Well, I've always had a notebook, and I can't remember not having a sketchbook, but rarely did the notebook and sketchbook share any common space. The idea of an art journal had my head spinning but I soon found myself checking the reference out and became a member of the artist journals group.

Over the years the group seems to have lived the life of a phoenix in yahoo-land, with many ups and downs, new moderators and various levels of participation. But during the height of the group's life, some interesting projects and fabulous exchanges took place.

It was at the artist journals group that I was introduced to Roz Stendahl and her work, Danny Gregory, Gwen Diehn, Ru Temple, Red Dog Scott, among others. My relationship with each of these talented artists ranges from good friend to distant acquaintance, but my exposure to their work, thoughts and exchanges have been and remain invaluable.

Danny Gregory came on board almost at the end of one burning in 2004, and shortly thereafter started his own now extraordinarily successful yahoo group, named after his first book, Everyday Matters. During these five years, Danny has written several other books.

In a two book splurge, I bought his latest book, "An Illustrated Life."

I just started to read it, word for word, soaking in the enthusiasm that Mr. Gregory exudes in his introduction.

And like his introduction states, the journals and sketchbooks included in the book are as varied as one can imagine.

The Illustrated Life significantly differs from one of my favourites, Gwen Diehn's The Decorated Journal, in that the voices of the sketchers, journal keepers, are as strong, and in some cases, stronger than their visuals.

When I received the book, I sat down immediately at my rosewood dining room table and started to read. Some of the participants' words caught me off guard, not in a negative way, but in that "got ya" kind of way as each contributor shared, not a secret, but a personal revelation or understanding of the why and how they keep their illustrated life.

Some of those thoughts that truly resonated and I paraphrase:

  • I don't want a book that is too precious
  • I have one book where my "better" work goes, and another for the quick sketches
  • Paper is important to me
  • My journals are scattered all around my house
  • I love to have my journal close to me
  • There is something different about putting pen (pencil) to paper
  • I use a fountain pen, pencil, charcoal, watercolour, markers
  • I use my sketches to meditate
  • I journal to put down my ideas not to create a good piece of art
  • I journal to capture the moments and the drawings provide the record

I haven't finished reading each participant's pages, yet, as I am savouring them all, stopping to absorb the words, and with new eyes see the drawings.

I am trying to become the recorder of images I had hoped I'd become back in 2000, unabashedly unashamed of doodles, outlines, scratches on a blank page and a keeper of memories.

Perhaps by listening to Roz' words on journal superstitions, absorbing Danny Gregory refreshing "Illustrated Life" and a constant refresher course of Gwen's "Decorated Page," I'll succeed.

But whether I personally succeed in achieving an illustrated life or not, Danny Gregory's book is one I highly recommend any journal keeper, or recorder of facts or doodles, adds to their library.

Danny Gregory's introduction to the book here:

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