Two Years of Daily Journaling

This week I celebrated two years of daily journaling. While I’ve been keeping journals for years, until the last two years I’ve only done so sporadically. Journaling was something that I did only when things got really rough, to keep myself going, or when I was travelling, to preserve the memories of my trip. I used pocket notebooks for my sporadic journals, as it was more important for me to capture things than to reflect on them. It was a utilitarian process, not an enjoyable one. I knew that once I decided to really start a journaling habit, that would have to change.

These are all the journals which I’ve used during the past two years.

So the first thing I did was pick a notebook that I knew I’d want to use, and use daily. The only rules were that it had to make me happy, and that it had to be large enough for me to be able to actually write in it, not just jot things down. I wasn’t looking for the best notebook with the best paper in the best format (I don’t think that exists, actually, but for us stationery geeks the search is always on), just a good enough notebook for me.

My notebooks of choice.

I also decided very early on that I couldn’t use a fountain pen for this, because I wanted a pen that I could write with even not under the most ideal circumstances. I was also planning for both the notebook and the pen to bash around freely in my bag. These were going to be used and look used.

Can you see how bloated these notebooks are? Moleskine makes them sturdy enough to take a beating. 

I chose Moleskine large ruled hardcover notebooks as my notebook of choice, and the uni-ball Signo RT 0.5 gel ink pen as my pen/refill (UMR-85N) of choice. I wanted a sturdy lined notebook that I’d enjoy using and looking at once it was done, and after years of neglecting the Moleskine for other notebooks I came back to it because of some of their limited edition designs. I knew that I was going to use the uni-ball Signo RT 0.5 as my pen or refill of choice (inside a BigiDesign Ti Arto or Ti Arto EDC), so I didn’t need fountain pen friendly paper. I had decided to pick up the steady journaling habit by starting with a travel journal, which I already had some experience with, and then carrying on from there. On the first evening of a trip to London I happened to walk by the Moleskine store in Covent Garden, and I decided to go in and check out what they had. There was a beautifully designed Batman limited edition notebook in exactly the kind of format I was looking for, and it was only available for sale at the Moleskine stores. I bought it, unwrapped and stamped it with the Moleskine Covent Garden stamps, and I haven’t looked back.

That pen and notebook combo has hardly changed over the years. What has changed is the format I use to journal, and the amount of daily journaling I do. When I started out I was used to only jotting a few lines down here and there when I journaled, so I knew I couldn’t expect to write 4-5 pages per day right from day one. Starting with just a paragraph to half a page a day, I pretty quickly moved to one page per day of just writing.

Then I saw a Neistat Brothers video on Youtube and realized that I could use my journal as a visual capturing device as well, and anything could go in it, so long as it made me remember a moment or a place.

Limited Edition Cola Zero tab created for the 2019 Eurovision song contest in Tel Aviv. I don’t even drink Cola Zero, but this little piece of metal is still totally evocative to me.

That’s when the notebooks really started to get bloated. From clothing labels to business cards and ticket stubs, if I can put glue on it and it’s visually appealing or evocative, it goes in. I almost always also write a little note for future me, to remind myself what I’m looking at and why it’s there. That change really made these notebooks a kind of personal artifact for me, and I can’t say how precious they’ve all become.

A bit of cat themed washi tape and a Uniqlo shirt label. Sometimes things go in because I find them visually appealing or they make me smile.

At a certain point I started getting ambitious, moving from writing one page a day to two pages, then four pages, then six. That’s when I had to take a step back and make sure that I wasn’t burning out on journaling for all the wrong reasons. I enjoy writing and I enjoy journaling, but I’m also trying to write fiction, and my journal can’t become something that consumes that, an excuse for not writing. It’s also easy to get carried away and want to finish the notebook as fast as possible just so you can open a fresh one, or brag (even if it’s only to yourself) that you’ve finished a notebook. Nowadays I write one or two pages a day for most days, moving up to more pages only if I really have something special to write about.

Doodling seasonal fruit in the margins.

Life also happens, and oftentimes it’s scary and ugly, a black hole that threatens to consume all that is good in your life, including journaling. My mom got unexpectedly and very seriously ill last year, and we’ve been struggling with her disease ever since. When she was in hospital I couldn’t bring myself to journal. I backlogged those (thankfully few) dark days, and I realized that I would have to accept that as much as journaling is important to me, family comes first, so backlogging is going to have to become acceptable. I try to backlog as little as possible, but some days just demand that.

If I want to remember a good meal I’ll sometimes draw it.

I also draw a little in my notebook, tiny thumbnails of things that I want to remember later, or that I just feel like drawing. These are usually food doodles, as I don’t really like to photograph my food.

I still use my journal in trips, and ticket stubs and bit and bobs like these make it more interesting.

If you’re looking for some journaling tips, I wrote two posts on that subject here and here. If there’s one thing I can leave you with it’s that if you want to journal, you need to figure out a way to it make it work for you, and be ready to adapt as your life changes over time. There is no perfect journaling system, or perfect journaling notebook, there’s only what works for you.

Go write.

Two Years of Daily Journaling

How I Use Pencils in Watercolour Portraits

Continuing my “how I use the stuff I haveposts, I thought that I’d show how I use pencils when I’m working on a series of portraits of the same person.

Since I work in watercolour which is notoriously not great for correcting and changing your mind mid painting, when there’s a face that I know that I’ll want to explore I usually create a “construction” sketch which I transfer to paper several times. I can then paint the portrait in different tones, or focus on a certain aspect that interests me, or take it to really wild places without spending too much time on the technicalities of the preliminary sketch.

I start the “construction” sketch on newsprint paper. It’s much more detailed and “searching” than it needs to be, but that doesn’t matter much. Ultimately only the lines that will help me construct the face and note where the major light and dark transitions are will remain. I draw this with a Faber Castell 9000 2B or 3B pencil that’s sharpened with a pocket knife to allow me to use it without having to pause for sharpening. Newsprint paper is pretty transparent and also generally too fragile for regular erasers, so I use a kneaded eraser to lift off unnecessary lines, or simply ignore them.

Once I’m done with that, I flip the page to the other side and scribble on it with a Faber Castell 9000 6B or Palomino Blackwing MMX. These are again sharpened with a pocket knife, and the point is to get as much coverage as possible. If I’m doing a lot of transfers then I might have to repeat this process, adding more graphite to the back of the sketch.

I then transfer the most important lines in my sketch on to a piece of watercolour paper. This is done by placing the newsprint paper with the sketch over the watercolour paper and going over the lines in the sketch with a 2H pencil (I use a Faber Castell 9000 2H, but this isn’t that important). The pencil needs to be a hard pencil for the lines to transfer to the paper below, but it can’t be too hard or too sharp or it will rip the newsprint paper. It’s also important to put just enough pressure when you’re tracing so the graphite on the underside of the sketch transfers to the paper, but not too much to bruise the watercolour paper. Using a 300 gsm watercolour paper helps protect it, but it’s mostly a matter of practice. When you’re done you get something like this:

The lines are pretty faint, which is great when working with watercolour, because they don’t distract too much from the figure once you start working.

I created about five watercolour portraits of Dame Judi Dench from this sketch so far, and there’s a good chance that I’ll go explore her some more in the future.

How I Use Pencils in Watercolour Portraits

Moleskine Basquiat Limited Edition Notebook Review

It is rare that I start using a notebook the moment I unwrap it, but the Basquiat Moleskine limited edition had that effect on me even though I originally didn’t plan to buy it.

The colour of the cover is what drew me to this notebook. It’s a purplish blue that contrasts beautifully with the orange elastic closure. I didn’t even pause to take a picture of notebook when it was still wrapped. That periwinkle cover makes Basquiat’s handwriting and art just pop. You can see the character in each line and it really does inspire you to grab a pen and write and draw and doodle.

The back cover (a little smudged from my enthusiastic use, but nothing that a wet-wipe can’t remove) is understated, with just the Basquiat signature. I think that I’d prefer the Moleskine logo to just be debossed in, like they did in several other recent editions, but it’s not a dealbreaker for me that it’s boldly there.

The front endpage echoes the front cover, with the addition of a pretty fitting Basquiat quote. I had already filled in the “In case of loss” details, so I hid them.

Look at that back endpaper. Is it not well designed? I like that they let the piece “breath”.

Unlike most Moleskine limited editions that come in lined paper, this notebook comes with blank pages. I like the choice, as it frees you to do whatever you want with the notebook: drawings and words will feel equally welcome here. Also, there’s an orange ribbon bookmark. What’s not to love about that?

The stickers are a bit of a disappointment in my opinion in terms of colour choice. I would have liked it better if they kept to the orange and periwinkle colour theme. As it is, they clash a bit with the rest of the notebook.

The B-Side of the paper band gives a little background on Basquiat, who he was and how he worked. It’s a nice little add on.

There are times when a notebook just makes you want to start using it, start writing and scribbling in it, start creating. The Basquiat Moleskine did that for me, and it is a fantastic addition to the Moleskine limited edition lineup for the year, and definitely a notebook that I recommend that you try.

 

Moleskine Basquiat Limited Edition Notebook Review

This week’s long run: baby geese

I went for a long run yesterday, the first after a week an a half of hiatus due to muscle inflammation. It was good to be back, even if only for 8k, and even if this run was slower than my usual pace.

Caught the sun rising just over the river at ebb. The clouds made it particularly beautiful.

A little bittern and a night heron were fishing next to two fishermen as the sun rose:

I encountered a family of Egyptian geese both on my out and on my way back. The baby geese run out front and their parents follow, keeping an eye on them at a more sedentary pace:

The female is the lighter coloured goose, and the male is all decked out:

A little bittern was out hunting during the ebb tide:

Look at that sunrise. Is it not worth getting up early and going out for a run for that?

This week’s long run: baby geese

How I Use My Notebooks: Running Planner

The thing that you learn very quickly about running is that no matter which Couch to 5k plan you started with, if you want to have any hope of persisting with your running you are going to have to tailor make your own running plan.

I make a fresh plan every three months or so, and I always create it in my current Moleskine journal. In the spirit of showcasing notebooks in use, that are not created for Instagram, this is my latest running plan:

Things are penciled in with an H pencil, and I ink them in with gel ink pens as they happen. Green highlighted blocks show me where things went according to plan, and other blocks represent where things had to change due to injuries or circumstances.

I’ve been running for 8 years now, and I have around 6 years of running plans in all my previous notebooks, each one looking pretty much the same: messy and functional.

How I Use My Notebooks: Running Planner

How I use my notebooks: Tournament of Books tracking

Most stationery blog posts focus on reviewing products and less on how people actually use all the paper, pens and inks that they buy. I thought I’d try to write a bit more about how I use my stuff, and not just on how cool is all the stuff I have.

This is my latest Field Notes, the Campfire Night. I use a binder clip to keep it closed as it bashes around in my backpack. Without the clip the pages get crumpled and torn after a few days of use. The clip used to be nice and copper coloured but now is just nice and worn silver.

Apart from my day to day to do lists, this notebook currently hosts my Tournament of Books trackers. There’s a list of books that are participating in the contest, divided per round. Those that I’ve read are marked off with blue pencil. This is for my personal use, so you’ll not see any Instagram level calligraphy here. I wasn’t planning to photograph this and blog about it when I created these.

This is where I’m logging who I think should win each round. When the tournament starts I’m going to log who actually won each round on the opposite page.

Since doing this challenge means reading 18 books in a very short period, I’m tracking my reading progress in this notebook as well as in my reading journal, just to make sure that I’m on track (I won’t finish reading these in time, as I’ve started too late, but my goal is to finish reading them all by mid April).

That’s it.

How I use my notebooks: Tournament of Books tracking

A few journaling tips

Notebooks are meant to be used, and I use many of mine for journaling. Here are a few journaling tips that I’ve found useful over the years:

  • Don’t constrain yourself to pre-dated or restrictive formats, just pick a not too fancy lined or blank notebook (or dot grid or squared). The notebook just needs to be nice enough and special enough for you to want to crack it open and write in it, but not too nice to be intimidating.
  • Start with a title and a date. The title is a neat way to get yourself writing, and to help you search through previous entries later on.
  • Even lined notebooks can be doodled in.

  • Stick bits and pieces of things into your notebook to make it come to life. Business cards are great for this (restaurants usually make their cards extra interesting and colourful), as are ticket stubs, clothing tags, labels, etc. Write a little something about what you put in, or just let the graphics speak for themselves.
  • If you just feel like writing a line or a paragraph, then do it and don’t beat yourself up about it.
  • If you’re having an extra busy day that you want to remember but don’t have time to fully log, bullet points are your friend. You can always go back and flesh them out later if you feel like it.
  • Write 2-3 things as topics for each day to avoid describing your breakfast and what you did at work. Just document a few things that made the day memorable, special, interesting, fun, unique, or even just a thing or two that are on your mind right now and you want to hash out.
  • Did you see a TV show or movie you liked? Read a good book or went to a good restaurant? Write about it as a way to relive and capture your good experience.
  • Be kind to yourself and others. Put cringeworthy things elsewhere, or you won’t want to open that notebook again. I work through pain and loss in my journaling sometimes, but never anger. Obviously your milage may vary on this one, just be careful not to make yourself be afraid to open a pandora box that you created with your own writing.
A few journaling tips