Creating things can be messy. Sometimes I just need a space to putter and play, a space that no one else sees (usually), a space where I can cut and paste and doodle and color and comment and just be me. Over the years I have had notebooks that I intended to be just such a place, but often I find that the pristine pages are daunting. I feel I have to create something that is worthy of filling those spotless slices of snowy paper. It’s almost as if the blankness of the page makes me feel that I’m obligated to create “art” instead of just trying out some new markers. So a few years ago I started using funny old books for my artistic play space. I am particularly fond of weathered books related to childhood. They seem to give me permission to use, draw, or write anything I like. So, I am pleased to introduce you to The Everything Book by Eleanor Graham Vance (Golden Press, 1974). (A fitting title, don’t you think?) While this book is now considered vintage and sells for $15-$20 on various websites, I found it hiding in the children’s corner of a thrift shop and took it home for less than a dollar. It reminds me of my childhood when I traced and colored paper doll clothes and doodled in the margins of all my school notebooks (much to the dismay of my teachers who would have preferred to read papers without borders filled with scribbled swirls, strange creatures, and alien flowers).
One of the first things I do to a doodle book (as I like to call it) is personalize it. Here, I used a razor blade knife and cut out part of the cover art to create a frame for a photo and quote. The edges were a little rough, so I covered them with ribbon and decorated the corners with butterfly stickers. This photo seemed fitting since it was taken on my birthday just a few days before I started this book.The back cover is decorated with a piece of clip art I colored and some flower/butterfly stickers that seem to blend into the printed floral border.
The first couple of pages of my books almost always include poems or quotes that inspire me. For example, on the left is the text of “Curiosity” by Alastair Reid which reminds me to take a chance in life and art. On the right is the text to “Pied Beauty” by Gerard Manly Hopkins which reminds me that imperfection is beautiful. Of course, I have some whimsical touches like the Chinese take-out page with fortune cookie messages that I always manage to save. (Yes, I gather them during meals with family and friends and then carry them around in my purse for awhile before they eventually make their way into my stash of found objects.)
The next page (left photo) has the text of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 29 (“When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes”) which reminds me that no matter what I do or don’t create, no matter how my job, my business, or my artwork is going, I always have Lochinvar.
After adding a few favorites, I venture into my own creations (right photo). Here I have a poem written on a napkin during a lunch meeting along with some cutouts and a picture of Emily Dickinson (who only had two of her poems published during her lifetime).
The book then becomes a mishmosh of doodles, pictures from magazines, quotes, snippets of writings, or anything I can pull out of my stash that inspires me. These pages are meant to just let me play with ideas which I might later turn into something more serious (or not). At the end of a particularly stressful day of work, I find that an hour of cutting, pasting, and contemplating can really change my outlook on life.
Some pages become a repository for drawing practices because I just can’t bear to toss them out when I’m done.
Other pages become all about the color and the words. Here I have used pieces of the pictures in the book along with highlighting key words about art and creativity and freedom of expression.
These are future doodle pages in this book. It takes quite awhile for me to fill up a book of this size because I save it for days when inspiration is running dry. Usually, after a play with a couple of layouts, I realize an idea for a drawing or crafty creation has crept into my head.
If you find your creativity needs a pick-me-up, try picking up an old book and just decorating it in some way. Maybe the pages will give you inspiration. At the very least, they will give you permission to play in a judgment-free zone.