Keeping a studio journal

Art Journal page working out a wash of colors

I’ve been a journaler since I was a teenager. Back then it was diaries with a little lock and key. At the time, I believed my thoughts needed to be under lock and key, especially if my parents wanted to read it. I hid it in my room, changing the hiding place often. Ah, the innocence of childhood!

I keep many journals organized by subject matter: sketchbook, travel, workshop notes, quotes and things I read. But my biggest – and most interesting – journal is the one I keep in the studio. It is 11″ x 14″, hardbound, with heavy paper. In addition to sketches and ideas for paintings, I keep notes on paintings as they move through the various stages.

My work is known for its bright colors and texture. My studio journal is a place to work out color issues. There is nothing more frustrating than looking at a painting, loving one of the colors and not knowing how to reproduce it, or stopping work on a painting for some reason and not knowing how to get going again.

To solve that problem I keep color formulas in the journal as well. If I mix a

Art Journal page

color I like or don’t like, I write down the paints I used to create it and how much of each I used. If I created the color by layering washes, I paint a sample in the journal so I know what goes down first and all the steps in between. I add variations to the formulas as I figure them out. Sometimes I lay down three or four colors and just play with them to see what I come up with.

My studio journal doesn’t look very pretty, and the pages will never lay flat because I actually paint in it, but it contains valuable information. If I need a color just like I used in one painting, I can look it up and recreate it. I enjoy going back and reading it, too, because I write down my opinions, loves and hates in it.

Color formulas

I keep a second, “Color Formula,” studio journal of nothing but color formulas. These are my experiments in mixing various colors to see what I end up with. There is very little text but a lot of beautiful colors that I can reproduce.

Keeping a studio journal is like a textbook you are writing for yourself on your way to being a better artist. It’s a resource to look back on and to use over and over. How do you journal?

Happy painting!

Susan L Stewart

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