Art Journal Jam: on "failed" pages

AJJbadgeHHI  love to see pages in other other people's art journals. And I love, love, love to learn new techniques. But  I also like to hear about what goes on in the making, don't you? The challenges, victories and defeats. The insights and learning. The laughs along the way.

That's what we jam about here.



Occasionally, I like to make lists in my art journal. For me, it’s kind of like doodling.  This time, I set out to list all the stuff that we humans create. I threw words down on the page with my black pen, one after the other.  The list kept going and going across the page.

I was surprised by all the items on the list that weren't actual things, and then it occurred to me that there were really two lists for what humans create: art and then everything else—we make up, we make friends, we make messes, we make experiences…

So I re-created two lists in color on different paper to glue back on top of the original inked page, continuing to add to the second set of lists as I thought of more additions (the ideas kept coming). I also thought the colorful text would look cool on the black and white page.

But it didn't. Suddenly the whole list idea seemed kind of dumb. Clearly, there's no end to what humans create.  Silly me, I thought, for trying to make a list in the first place.

And then I covered all of it up in paint.*

Which, visually, made the page even worse. What a disaster!

Failed Page


So I needed a little distance and perspective (okay, I stomped off).

But I came back a few hours later. And I realized I had failed to appreciate something. I had rejected the silly notion of making such lists and I tried to “fix” the page to be more artful (that sure didn't work!) But I totally overlooked what I gained from the process.

Being absorbed is a good thing.

In the beginning I was absorbed in making the lists (before the judgment set in). I was thinking about what I know about humans and creativity. And then I got to thinking about making lists in general. My mind wandered to all kinds of places. The thinking that happened during the making was in fact an entirely productive activity.


Having fun is a good thing.

Sometimes we’re so focused on making something “good”, striving to create a final product. And sure, it’s really important to me to create pages in my art journal that please me. When they don't work I'm. not. happy. I almost didn’t even post this page today because it just failed! But "good" or "bad" (bah! subjective and judgmental labels, I know), we sometimes forget to appreciate the experience of the making.

When I'm in the middle of an art journal page that I feel is working, I'm having fun. Afterwards, I think I'm as happy about the memory of the process as I am with the finished page.

And when I don't like it so much, like this one? I have to remind myself that for me one of the key elements of an art journal is permission to experiment and fail. And while experimenting, that's fun too. And often enlightening, regardless of the outcome.


The idea factor

Finally, I realized that what I also like about art-making—besides pure enjoyment—is that often my mind wanders into all kinds of cool territory on its own. Ideas come up out of the ether and I like that very much. It's that left brain right brain thing. Absorb the creative side of the brain and the rational side can go off unhindered on its own.


So I'll share some of what I was thinking while I made this awful journal page. In the end, it's the thinking that came out of the page that makes me happiest.

I think it's only appropriate that I make another list, don’t you?

1. We can make something different.

If nothing else, this attempt at making a list about all that humans create helped me see that we humans create everything in our world. And I don’t think we fully appreciate our own creative powers. We come here on this earth, which we did not make, but everything else? Look around you. From our structures and our art and our tools to our culture, our institutions, and our relationships—we make it all. I was reminded of something Steve Jobs said, that stuck with me: "…everything around you that you call life was made up by people.”

Once this idea really sinks in, the natural conclusion is that we can invent other things and other ways of doing things, or remake what isn’t working. Isn’t that a powerful thought? How often do people accept the status quo in their lives and in their communities when all it takes is to make something different?

2. We are all creative beings.

Who could ever think she isn't creative? For me, while maybe I’ve doubted my capacity for overcoming creative challenges now and then, I’ve always known at my core that I am creative. But some people really don’t think they are creative at all. I think that’s why Cameron’s The Artist’s Way resonates with so many people.  Once we encounter the truth of her words, we can’t deny it: we are all creative beings.

3. We should get more intentional.

We make stuff and we make stuff happen, but often unconsciously. What would happen if we got more intentional about what we create in our lives?  We have a full palette of choices in how we color our worlds.

4. List making is a creative tool.

I’ve always known that list making is an organizational tool. I organize my days around to-do lists. I organize my way around the grocery store with lists of food. My journals are full of lists of projects and ideas. But list making is a creative tool, too. I started thinking about the huge popularity of lists these days on the internet. Sometimes I think writers churn out lists they don't think about much. But lists can also generate ideas and tell stories if we let them.   And I often think I should do what James Altucher says to do: make lists every day on all kinds of topics. It expands the brain muscle and eventually a really good idea appears.

5. I'm going to play more with lists.

How about you?

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* I failed to document the making of this journal page so all I have for you is the final version. If you’re at all interested to see my lists, here’s most of what I came up with. But as I said, there’s so much more we create. I’m sure you can think of plenty more. And notice I didn’t even put “lists” on the list!

what humans create