Well, here we are. This fifth post in a series about how to establish a journal habit and regime that sticks.
At its inception, My Neighbor Totoro, (1985), directed by Hayao Miyazaki, was just a little pencil sketch, perhaps similar to the one below. How did it gained traction as an animated film concept?
The beginning story line thread for My Neighbor Totoro grew from the proportional relationship between the large, plumpish Totoro against the small leaf shape on its head. Furthermore, there is the contrasting relationship of the small figure holding an umbrella next to the over-sized Totoro.
These characters, staged against the drizzly evening, make for an intriguing, dream-like image that poses many possible directions for a set of surrounding circumstances, social interaction, and dramatic tension.
The entire story was born out of that first sketch. I can only speculate how Miyazaki came to put these shapes together in such a way. It is such an interesting juxtaposition of shapes and ideas.
What are the ways to bring to the pages of our journal unusual graphic relationships to tease our mind and trigger new story ideas?
Each one of your journal pages has qualities from a particular space and time when you were working on it. Those pages you worked on this Winter… try putting together a few elements from those pages with a few page elements from last Summer. It can be a magical way to stimulate your thinking about a completely new story direction.
Secret #5: Spread Good Ideas Around
Migrate favorite designs from one page to other pages. In other words, redraw one of your favorite designs or doodles from one page and incorporate it somewhere into another journal page. Spread your good ideas around. Why are we doing this, exactly? We are recombining elements from different journal pages in new side-by-side relationships. It’s the new proximity between them that often alludes to completely new and different story themes and ideas.
But you have to be open to seeing and imagining new stories.
The general strategy: Make it easy to get started and sustain momentum in journal keeping.
A Throw Together Worth $100 million (so far).
My Neighbor Totoro, (1985), directed by Hayao Miyazaki, is still popular and sales are strong. It is interesting to note that this animated film was not adapted from a book. There was no written story. It’s a story that emerged on the drawing board. Some industry writers referred to it as a ‘throw together’.
Great stories can be crafted either way - verbally or non-verbally - but neither can achieve mastery if the fundamentals (such as proportion and juxtaposition) are not put to good use.
We all have 'rules' for what a journal should be like. Here is a common description: A journal is a chronological progression of notes and sketches documenting personal experiences, places, and activities.
Many journal keepers have the idea that before you start the next page, you need to complete the page you've already started. Those are the rules.
The next time you go out to the coffee shop, bring your journal. If your journal is like mine, it's 'loose leaf', no binding. Maybe you have thirty, forty, or fifty sheets. One side of the paper is blank ...Pencil lines are smudged and scrawled on the other. There's no order. It's just a stack of journal pages that you've been working on over the last several weeks. Some pages are almost finished. Some are barely started.
Flip through the stack and find a page that has a shape or doodle that catches your interest. Begin there. Erase a bunch of lines. Strengthen a few. Sip coffee. Erase a few more. One thing leads to another.
What matters is that you are building a consistent habit of using your imagination to experiment with lines and shapes. When we get the rules out of the way, we begin to see what is truly needed: Practice.
It's the consistent practice routine that makes you more resourceful at creating visual assets and story ideas. Nonlinear, loose-leaf journaling facilitates practice. That's the secret.
A journal does not have to be linear. For artists, it is better that a journal has no beginning and no ending. Keep working. Keep practicing. It will begin to show up on your pages.
Preview this book here!
How can everyday creative journaling become the foundation beneath your studio work? Here is the third post in a five part series.
Here's the thing about people who do creative work on a daily basis: They don't wait to be inspired. It's a practice. It's a habit. It's a ritual. If you play the piano or go to the gym, chances are you start off your session with some warm-up exercises. And when it comes to journaling, I start my warm-up ritual with swirlies.
Swirlies. (See video below.) Yes, I draw swirlies. It's part of the same studio warm-up routine that I learned in design school more than forty years ago. Swirlies are a great gesture drawing exercise to sort of calibrate the eye/mind/body. But that's not the point.
The point is: Start off your everyday journal session with a warm-up routine. Swirlies are good. Or, practice drawing perfect circles. Or straight lines. Make a bunch of little compositions with just squares, triangles, and circles. There's all sorts of little practice exercises. Pick one.
And here's secret #3: One thing leads to another. The act of putting marks on paper will activate your mind, stir up memories, and churn thoughts and ideas. You will find yourself making a natural transition to sketching more complex designs. Now that your imagination is awake, all sorts of things begin to emerge on paper. And so it goes. You're off to having an inspired, creative journaling session.
Here is the second installment of a five part series: How daily creative journaling can be the foundation for advancing your studio work.
Recently, I watched the 2018 documentary, Never-Ending Man: Hayao Miyazaki, by Kaku Arakawa. The film, of course, is about Miyazaki, the Japanese master animation director. His work has earned prestigious awards at international animation and film festivals for five decades. (See the trailer for this film here.)
At one point in Never-Ending Man, there is a shot of a large cardboard box (see photo below) next to Miyazaki's work table. Obviously, the box contains dozens and dozens of discarded drawings and storyboard pages. Not trash. Not mistakes. These are outtakes (to be carefully filed away at some point).
As animation director at Studio Ghibli, Miyazaki needs to do a lot of experimentation. He needs to try things out. A lot of stuff does not work very well. This is normal. Even for the master. It's simply the nature of ideas, imagination, and drawing. There are a lot of outtakes.
The martial arts film actor, Jackie Chan, shows us outtakes that are quite different. He shows them to us because they are dangerous stunts that nobody should try.
Let's face it. Drawing in a journal or sketchbook isn't so risky. What's at stake? Realistically, it's just a sheet of paper.
So here is secret #2:
Don't use a bound journal or sketchbook. I recommend using what we might call a loose-leaf journal. In other words, cheap copy paper (See below). Why? It is so easy to discard outtakes. It makes journaling feel very safe. I believe you will be more apt to try stuff and experiment. Because it's just a sheet of paper.
Because it's just a sheet of paper.
Here is the first in a series of five posts that aim to show you how creative journaling as a daily habit can become the foundation of your creative work!
Are you one of us or one of them? When we look up, we see a mama whale and her calf swimming across the sky. They see clouds. When we look down, we see an ant carrying his fishing pole. They see a bug. We see five happy turtles having a picnic. They see some rocks.
For us, everything is alive. Everything is symbolic. Everything is a story. People like us carry our journal everywhere we go. Waiting at the dentist office, you will see us scribbling away. At the coffee shop, you find us busy with our journal notes and doodles.
Here's the secret. It's easy to make journaling an everyday habit because that's what people like us do. We need to belong and feel connected to our community, our tribe, our culture of journals and sketchbooks.
In the overwhelming avalanche of life circumstances, sometimes, who we are gets muddled-up. But once we get it clear again, we have this very comfortable feeling of belonging and fitting in with our tribe that embraces journaling as an everyday practice.
Once we get back on track with our journal, the unexpected happens. There is an eclectic collision and mix-up of lines and forms that begin to emerge through a jumble of smudges and a superimposed layer of notes. What used to be a messy juxtaposition of disassociated scribbles, doodles, and text, now, somehow relate. It is clearly suggestive of a story begging to be told. It is the whale in the clouds that has come to the surface of the page to stir the juices of our imagination.
For more about the psychology of 'people like us', read Seth Godin's article People Like Us.
Hi, Chris here. I’m the author of the Artist's Kayak blog. Besides Artist's Kayak, I have several other authoring and publishing ventures going. To see what other things I'm up to, check out my hub site here.
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