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!