Rules Don’t Apply

Get an exciting sneak preview of Cathy Johnson’s Artist’s Journal Workshop, where she explains that sometimes the rules just don’t apply. To paraphrase Pirates of the Caribbean, “They’re more like guidelines, anyway.”

Rules Don’t Apply
All too often someone will make a sweeping statement about what you “should” do in the pages of your journal: “Don’t erase.” “Draw in ink without any preliminary pencil sketching.” “Do something every single day, whether you feel like it or not.” “Draw big.” “Add notes to your pages.” “Don’t add notes to your pages.”

In the end, all these things are suggestions and opinions. Whatever works best for you is what you should do. Don’t let yourself feel guilty or pressured. That will suck the joy out of the enterprise faster than anything. Sure, it’s sometimes more exciting to see a line redrawn instead of erasing what you think of as a mistake. As I’ve said, that line makes an interesting vibration and can also help you learn. But are you’re happier erasing the line you don’t like and having a cleaner image? Then go for it! Do what satisfies you. Of course it’s good to have daily practice, but if you just can’t—if life gets in the way, if you’re pressured with a dozen other things, if you flat out don’t feel like it—don’t beat yourself up! Tomorrow is a new day.

Moving Model


Sometimes your model will move—a lot. You can see that in this situation I just kept adjusting my lines and shapes as the cat changed positions. It gives this spread a lively, kinetic feel.

Examine Your Rules
Sometimes you don’t really think the rules you work under or examine the “why” behind them. Try writing about that in your journal. Does giving yourself permission to erase set you free? Does a quick pencil sketch under your ink or watercolor give you a safe feeling just from knowing that guideline is in place? Do you like the downhill-skiing excitement of jumping right in with ink? Do you delight in happy accidents, considering them doorways to discovery, or do they just tick you off?

Stop and think about these things. Write down your thoughts. The more you understand what you like and why, as well as what makes you uncomfortable, the more you can tailor your journaling to become a truly satisfying experience.

Satisfying Page

This page exemplifies many of the things I like to do—using ink with watercolor applied loosely on top, spending time being quiet and experimenting with new tools or materials, like the Japanese twig brush I used for the word, “Cabin.”

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