Journal Making: Memory, Ideas, and a Soul Movie

My first recipe journal. . .

My first recipe journal. . . so worn it needs a
rubber band to hold it together!

Two things I’ve loved since I was very young; boxes (a story for another time) and journals.  I fell in love with the plain brown paper wrapper and red bindings on Chinese blank books on a trip to Chinatown; not knowing what I would do with them, I bought several at $.69/each.

I started using the first as a recipe book.  I hand-copied favorite recipes in them to cook for my first live-in lover, and meticulously noted changed I made to remember later.  Within a year I noticed I liked the process of writing good recipes down more than I liked trying the new recipes.  I was still in school studying architecture, and never even questioned my passion to copy a recipe into my journal late at night in the dark of our little Rafael Soriano apartment (now bulldozed, the bastards) when I was so tired I couldn’t see straight!  I turned great cookbooks into journals by writing in them, too, all around the recipes and crossing items out and who ate what when.   Also, buddhist books: in the early years I had no sangha so I argued with Suzuki Roshi, Watts, Kapleau and Trungpa in the margins of my now-dogeared favorites.

I copied recipes, when my handwriting was still legible!

I copied recipes, when my handwriting was still legible!

I discovered gridded journals, a slice of heaven.  I LOVE grids.  I drew endlessly at lectures on design concepts, other architects, and then began to past copied articles from the Italian magazines I couldn’t afford.  If I ever find the box with my architectural past, I will post the architectural journals.

Eventually I dumped the two-timing architectural lover and his lying-ass love letters,  but I never threw out my journals!

When I went to Europe for several months to live, I kept a post-card journal by sending notes to my mom.  It was there I began to write about what was really going on inside me too.  I had never taken the time to think about what I wanted out of life.  I didn’t want architecture.  My life was changing; I was changing.  Architecture was a job, and I was good at it, but it was not my passion.  All this I wrote about in gridded blank pages onto which I used to write design notes.  I needed to move, and if not France (I tried it), then where?

I found a better journal and did eventually move.  These red Okina journals had grids at the top and tight lines, which, when I was really angry or exuberant were too tight and I took two lines at a time, like a kid just learning their script!  It had a envelope tab to keep them closed and a folded place to tuck memories away.  I bought a case.  At the same time I also found plain blank journals in black of the same design, and bought them too, though I had not yet turned to my artist self.  But I knew I had to have these journals.

I wrote daily in my red journal, driving down the from my tree-top home to Blue Mountain Coffee (or where ever I was if snow made me house-bound) and writing for at least 30 minutes on whatever was on my mind, stream-of-consciousness.  And I learned something: If I wanted to remember anything I had to write it down.  My memory seemed to be connected through my hand, black-pen-to-paper.  Thinking was marked by hundreds of star doodles, and sometimes I covered inches while writing.  Those red journals (I still have a few blanks left) became daily journals or study journals for tonglen and lojong, and now, sutras or Shatideva’s teachings.

I am almost sorry the personal computer came along, except that it is easier to share ideas.  However, I still grease the wheel by journaling.

I was mediatating a lot, and so I drew that; and picked up an art book in his library on the Aztecs, and that too found its way into my sketching, stylized.

I was mediatating a lot, and so I drew that; and picked up an art book in his library on the Aztecs, and that too found its way into my sketching, stylized.

At a Brugh Joy retreat I sketched for the first time in a blank Canson journal he handed out.  In order to listen I had to move pen to paper, and I wasn’t interested in writing down someone else’s dreams or problems, so I started sketching: participants, goddesses, critter visitors, small statues around the room, whatever Brugh was talking about, my images all-made-up.  I hated the Canson book he offered, it would not fold back or lay flat without busting the spine.  From then on I brought my own Okina black blank-paged book, and knew why I had bought them, in case I met Brugh!  The book folds completely back as I don’t want to see a previous sketch when I am working on a new one.

In some ways, Brugh’s retreats attached me to to sketching.  However, when I am painting on an easel, I don’t sketch nearly as much — until an idea becomes just right, then I am off to paint.

I journal less, and write less in a self-absorbed way now, possibly because I’ve worked through so many issues, love my husband, and am basically happy.  Now I blog more, my thoughts are much more public and organized, and my journals are art journals, sketches of things I might like to paint or trying new techniques in art.   This is very important when I can’t have my studio set up comfortably or I am very busy in our business, as it keeps my hand in my art.  This year I am recommitting to art journaling.

Most sketches still go into a journal, but I think the idea of journaling can take other forms too.  One such form are the storybook sketches, such as shown below, and written about here: HONU BOOK-CARD, A SOUL FOOD LESSON.


I made several blanks so that I can pick one up any time I feel a need and sketch for 30 minutes.  They are turning from cute cards (honu) for friends to small storybooks, a moment in time, an idea that is unconscious (woman and religion.)

Finally, while I was writing this, serendipity struck.  Cathy Johnson from the Artists Journal Workshop shared this wonderful Vimeo with me on Paulus Berensohn’s amazing journal-making workshop.   I would love to take his workshop, and be in that wet paint and hear his voice first hand.  I might never feel comfortable working in a journal that precious, however, I am going to make one here soon so we shall see.

The title, Soul’s Kitchen, describes the relationship I have with journals, and why I keep them!


My images/blog posts can be reposted as long there is a link back to zenkatwrites.

About dkatiepowellart

hollywood baby turned beach gurl turned steel&glass city gurl turned cowgurl turned herb gurl turned green city gurl. . . artist writer photographer. . . cat lover but misses our big dogs, gone to heaven. . . buddhist and interested in the study of spiritual traditions. . . foodie, organic, lover of all things mik, partner in conservation business mpfconservation, consummate blogger, making a dream happen, insomniac who is either reading buddhist teachings or not-so-bloody mysteries or autobio journal thangs early in the morning when i can't sleep
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