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Processing: How Journal Entries Become Artwork

"Flight," a painting of a young woman with an owl flying from her hand.

"Flight," 18x24 pastel and mixed media on gatorfoam

For the new body of work in my current show, Becoming Ourselves, I incorporated old journal entries into the background of each piece to serve as visual texture and lend the work a personal, autobiographical feel. I used journal pages from a different period of my life for each one: childhood (first and second grade), adolescence (eighth through tenth grade) and young adulthood (senior year of college and my first year living on my own--that's "Flight," the piece above). With the text and paintings together, each piece is a layered self-portrait that speaks to a different part in my life.

A lot of people have been interested in how I combined journal entries with pastel paintings, so I thought I'd share a bit about my process.

A hand places pieces of paper together that have handwriting on them.

Laying out reversed text to prepare for the transfer process.

When I got started on this project, I had the idea for it but wasn't sure how to make it happen. After doing some research, I discovered that acrylic medium (basically, clear acrylic paint) can be used to transfer images and text from paper to another surface. The ink adheres to the wet acrylic medium, becoming part of it as it dries. The paper can then be removed, leaving a mirror image behind.

This process seemed perfect. It meant my text background would be one solid surface, rather than a pieced collage of paper (I love collage, but didn't want to do that here). It would also allow me to paint clear pastel medium over the text to create the kind of toothy surface I like for drawing.

Once I had this plan, I pulled my boxes of old journals from the attic and started reading through them. This was an entire experience unto itself.

A pile of notebooks.

Some high school journals with collaged covers.

I revisited memories I hadn't thought about for years. Found passages that were surprisingly insightful. Had a strong urge to hug that young girl trying to figure herself out. And I found things that once rang true for me but no longer do. Lines of utterly cringe-worthy writing that I probably thought were profound or poetic at the time. It was a smorgasbord of thoughts and feelings from my past.

As I read, I bookmarked the pages that I wanted to use. I had high standards to start with (hoping to select only the most interesting, revealing, and meaningful passages), but as I continued to read, I got the the point where I decided that as long as I wouldn't be completely mortified if someone else were to read it, it was okay!

After processing all these old emotions and taking plenty of breaks to come back to my grown-up life, I sat down to scan all the pages I bookmarked. Why scan them? Two reasons: one is that I didn't want to destroy my journals in the process, and the other is that the acrylic transfer process results in mirrored images, which meant I had to flip my text in Photoshop before using it.

Close-up of pages of handwritten text.

Once I had everything scanned, flipped, and printed, it was time to cut and arrange the text--and then the transfer process could begin!

Pieces of paper layered together in an artist's studio.

My initial arrangement of journal entries, ready to be taped together and flipped over.

I used gatorfoam as my substrate because it is sturdy yet lightweight, and works with a variety of media. I brushed a layer of acrylic medium onto the gatorfoam, then started laying down the paper.

Once the paper was in place, I let the medium dry overnight. The next day, I removed the paper to leave just the ink behind. This was the fun part, because I got to see how everything turned out!

An orange cat and a sculpture of a woman on a table in an artist's studio.

A very helpful cat hanging out as I start removing the excess, loose paper.

Removing all the paper took several passes rubbing with my fingers and a damp sponge, but once I did, I was able to add thin layers of acrylic to color the background, then brush on clear pastel medium and start working on the pastel painting--making all the work worth it!

A purple painting in an artist's studio.
Detail of "Flight," showing a close-up of the owl in the painting.

Detail from "Flight."

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