Words are my thing. Reading, writing, breathing them. I work with words all day for money, then I expect my brain to create something magic and new out of those 26 letters in the evening.
Lately, it’s not been happening easily. This summer, I gathered together everything I’ve ever written in one Scrivener project, and now I’ve got 400,000 words haunting me. Unfinished fragments of autobiography, stories, novels.
I’m ready to try new things to find the courage get those fragments shaped into forms ready to share with the world. Or perhaps start again from scratch.
One of the new things I decided to do was engage a completely different part of my brain and try visual journalling. Combining colour and imagery with words was something I became interested in when running a creative writing after school club for children. They do it so naturally and quickly became absorbed in my collaging and map drawing workshops.
Nearby, in a cosy barn filled with craft materials, mugs stacked high and the smell of freshly baked chocolate brownies, Jolene Payne runs a creative journaling group. I’ve been twice now.
It is not a comfortable feeling for me. Being there, surrounded by paint, bits of fabric, buttons and glue. I am drawn to the box of old books in the corner. I want to sit down on the comfy sofa and read Vita Sackville West’s letters to Virginia Woolf. But instead, I remember what I’m there for and tear out a page to use later.
We start with pictures of boats and Jolene asks us to think of a mood or atmosphere. I don’t want to say, in case my work doesn’t evoke the feeling in the end. She encourages us to commit, and I write the word despair on a piece of paper under peaceful, misty morning, ghostly.
Then, I paint the pages of my book with Gesso, to make the paper stronger and stop the paint soaking in. I can do this bit. Painting white over white. Lovely.
Next, I have to decide what to do with my picture of a boat and some paint. I look at my white pages some more, I dry them off, I make coffee, I eat brownies and look at what other people are doing.
I commit to colours as I squeeze acrylic paints onto a palette with as much despair as I can muster. Other people are messing up their pictures of boats, so I start to cut mine up. I realise I’m still quite neat though as I cut even rectangles.
Visual or creative journaling is all about layers, so I start to stick on bits of boat and paint over them with green, blue, mustard and mixtures of all three. Jolene is there to share techniques, guide and encourage every step of the way, whenever she notices me stopping.
Finally, Jolene suggests it’s time for me to add some words (yay!). I paint white clouds, draw wiggly lines on top and in-between them, I slowly and deliberately write the words that come.
They are words informed by the feelings on the page and it feels good to get them down. But they wouldn’t be the same on their own, without the process that took me there.
It is not an easy process for me; I have not yet reached the stage of being able to play without thinking. But it felt important, as if it really did unblock something as the first thing I wanted to do when I came home was write about it.