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must you finish a journal?

“in the street of the sky night walks scattering poems”
E.E. Cummings

One of the behind-the-scenes things about blogging is responding to lots of reader emails. Some folks prefer to write privately rather than comment, and some folks have very specific questions. And it's dawned on me (in a slow, multi-year sort of way) that I should share some of the questions with you. Because if one person asks, maybe many people have been wondering too? And maybe together we can discuss in a meaningful way?

I try to respond to each one as best I can, but I don't usually know how well I've answered the question because only a very few write back and let me know. So. Here's a really good question about finishing journals. I responded a while back, but I have given this a lot more thought and wanted to share...


I know you don't always work in bound journals, but when you do, how do you know when your journal is finished? I recently reached the end of a journal I have been using since 2010 and every page has something on it, but many of them don't feel finished. Some have a watercolour wash on them, some have haf-finished drawings. Some I just plain hate. I'm torn between going back through the journal and working on the pages until I am happy with them or leaving them as a testament to the me of 2010, and the art I was making then. I like being able to flip through 2+ years of my life in chronological order, but I also want to journal on every page. Any suggestions? Or do I worry too much about all of this?


First, I think this is a very good question that gets to the heart of why we journal. Our journals are so important and close to us and we think a lot about what we put in them! 

I have some altered books that I last worked in 2 years ago. Inside, I see an earlier style/phase of my art journaling. Some pages are backgrounds or not journaled. If I worked chronologically, I'd leave them be. But I don't work in order, I flip around the moleskines, the altered books, nothing is chronological. So then what? If I had been working in the book on and off for two years, and I still felt like I "wanted" to develop it further, I would just keep going, adding collage or journaling to painted pages, etc. But if it seemed OK to let it go and move forward to something fresh and blank and new, that would be the way to go.

If you see it as a "phase" type of book that shows where you were at the time you worked in it... if you are ready to move on and start fresh ----> go for it and start a new journal.

If you see it as a continuing work, something you WANT to work in, you can gesso or layer over some of the pages you dislike ---> or leave them as documentation of your past art and work on adding to the pages you like.

What I am getting at, in my long-winded and inconcise way, is that THERE IS NO RIGHT ANSWER. There is no rule that says that you have to finish a journal. No rule that says you can't keep working in a journal for 5 years but not 6. No rule that says you have to finish every page before starting a fresh journal. 

I have a stack of loose pages which are not "finished" in this way. If the pages are loose, it is very straightforward - every so often I go through them. When I decide they are "finished" (which might just be a background), I put them in my archival boxes. Or maybe they are not finished but would be cool cut up for collage fodder. Or pitch. Or leave in the unfinished pile to be grabbed when I am doing collages and need a background. Bound journals are of course different.

So... what is your gut feel? Are you ready to start a fresh journal?

Here's another twist. You can actually just go ahead and start a fresh journal and revisit this on in a few months and decide whether to call it "done" at that time!


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Reader Comments (14)

I work chronologically, and I've never completely finished an art journal, except for one (which was hand-bound, ala Teesha Moore's videos, with Rives Printmaking paper). I think the only reason I finished that one was because it was only 16 pages (well, 32, if you count front and back). I get towards the end of a book/journal, and start itching for the next one (new size, new paper, new challenge). I also leave pages unfinished - if I'm just not feeling it, I'm just not feeling it. I let them go.

03.2.2012 | Unregistered CommenterKristina

My extreme Virgo-ness will only allow me to work chronologically. Which of course then means I get too anxious to start :-) Thanks so much for posting and answering reader questions. I appreciate the shared wisdom xx

Tammy: I have so many journals I work in at once. I don't think anyone should feel like there's a right or wrong way to journaling. That's the beauty: there are no rules. I have a 4X5 journal I bound the Teesha Moore way with Fabriano that I had filled the first signature with pencil doodles a few years ago. And I liked the format, but felt that maybe I should just go in and paint some backgrounds. So I painted over that first signature of pages. It's like starting over. And the doodles weren't really important to me. They were filled in with watercolor and very simple pages I had done when I started journaling. My point: if the pages really don't interest you and you don't like the look of them, work over them. It doesn't matter! Your journal is for YOU and you only... :) Great post!

Great topic. I have a really bad memory(can't remember what happened yesterday not to talk about last year) so I use bound journals and work in chronological order so I can refer back to a particular event, feeling, memory etc. I don't feel the need to finish one particular journal before I move on to another; I like to vary the format, paper, size etc so I look forward to the next journal; I have learned to go with journals with fewer pages so I can move on within a reasonable amount of time(few months??) but if I get tired of a particular journal, I will move on anyway. I don't think I could work in the same journal for a year and definitely not for two years. I always work in more than one at a time, although I have one MAIN journal and the rest are for catching paint, spray etc that I may then later convert into my main journal by actually journaling in it. Love this discussion.

03.2.2012 | Unregistered Commentertina

What is finished? I think my journal is just that, a journal. It is a record of how I feel at a certain moment or of my likes at a certain moment. True it also shows how my 'art' progresses through time, but I hardly ever go back to pages to work on them again. I'd rather start a new page work on it from my present state of mind.
I hope this makes any sence.

03.2.2012 | Unregistered CommenterLoes

Nope you really don't need to 'finish' - I have 4 or 5 journals on the go at once, I date each page and jump between journals as I create. It's not about 'finished' for me I'm just having fun playing!

03.2.2012 | Unregistered CommenterKate Palmer

I don't think I could have said it better than Dawn put it up there above me..."It doesn't matter! Your journal is for YOU and you only..." I am one of those all over the place art journalists, flipping from here to there within the same journal and doing pages as they strike my fancy. No order to the madness. I used to work chronologically, though. I just came to the realization that I had put "rules" on myself and my journaling where none belonged. Realizing and really being mindful that THERE ARE NO RULES is hard to do...the just letting go and not confining yourself with some self imposed rules is tough. It does pay off in the end. I say you do what feels right...because whatever you chose is right. :)
Peace & Love,

03.2.2012 | Unregistered CommenterBarb

I don't know that I have ever "finished" a journal... but then, I look at the process as a continuing process. I have at least a dozen of them, all sort of have their own style, and I work in one when I feel like it. The only one I have been pretty consistent about is one where I write letters never meant to be sent... very cathartic. Overall, I think we each come to find our process. Some will finish journals, some will never really feel as though they have finished, and there will be those who feel they are at every stage in between...

I agree with you that there is no "right" answer, nor is there a "wrong" answer... the best part of the joy of journaling is that it is YOUR adventure, and how you choose do it is totally up to you.

03.2.2012 | Unregistered CommenterACreativeDream

I keep a small datebook with illustrations and a few words per day to satisfy the linear/chronological documenter side of me. Otherwise, I have 6 (or maybe it's 8?) different sketchbooks and journals going at once. and a pile of loose papers that I may or may not add to an existing journal (or bind into yet another journal). It's seat-of-the-pants journaling and I try not to overthink it.

03.2.2012 | Unregistered Commenteriamrushmore

I agree with what you said wholeheartedly, though I don't follow that approach myself. I've only been art journaling for 2 months (loving. it.) after a solid 20 years of traditional pen-and-paper journaling. So keeping it chronological is just a habit to me, though I have had moments already where I've entertained the exact same question (huh, I don't like that page from last week so much. can I change it? or would that be a misrepresentation to my posterity of my Self of Last Week?). Like so many other things in life (parenting comes to mind), you have to do what feels right to YOU.

03.2.2012 | Unregistered Commenteramanda

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