Catching Thoughts on Paper

The Journal

Because I am ever interested in illustration and storytelling,  I tend toward drawing.  And keeping journals.  So I often doodle and record thoughts on paper.  Like so many folks,  journals became a big a part of my creative life.  But I could never  make them useful as thought catchers, for my new work.   They became objects in themselves and I hardly noticed how limiting that was.  The following thoughts are drawn from older blog posts (2010)  when I began reinventing my methods for catching thoughts on paper.   We must decide what's useful, it's personal really.   And it needs to change with us.


The Loose (Real) Journal



Let's Get Real

All my life I have kept notebooks. Visual journals filled with sketches and clippings and sources of inspiration.  Plans.  So many plans. Then,  a while back, I began what I called the real journal project.  A series of shared pages on the blog.  The sharing made them useful within the context of the day and the blogging  freed them from the books they were in.  They became Loose Pages.  The biggest change, though,  has been  the random record keeping style that evolved,  just notes in a shoebox  (or a bowl or a basket or even in a pocket),  raw and unrefined rather than arranged artistically in page form.   At any moment a few of those random notes might collide and form a new order.   This has been a step in the right direction for me.  This has helped me understand context as a component for my making.  But really what I am trying to express here goes beyond that.  It has to do with hoarding ideas.  And how useless that became for me over time.  It is, for me,  a form of entrapment .  An illusion of creative potential.  And at times, even a fashionable artistic facade.


I am not against the book as an expressive form. Or doodling as a meditative and useful activity.  Or collecting and scrap booking as a tool.  Or a hobby.

I just think.........have thought......... am now much more sure.........

that acting on an idea in its original form,  is the only way for me to absorb it, digest it, turn it into some personal and useful form.  A way to  transform my  thought process and evolve.  So yes, I have pages and pages, but I no longer find myself referring back to them in any formal way. If  a thought meant anything at all, it is probably right there in the pages of my mind.

It is the act of catching thought, in real-time,  and using it,   acting on it...recording it... but not the record itself that allows my work to grow.  I now prefer the Loose format because it has more potential for change.

Lately I find myself  ripping those pages into smaller pieces.  To get them back to their original form.






Breaking it down.

Loose Thoughts are more like seeds.

For me, smaller gets me closer to the thought.  And not finishing brings me closer to the truth.

Audio- seeds





  1. Deb V

    In addition to cloth, I also work with clay (or really “play” with clay). My clay instructor is always coaxing us to use the small journals she has provided to keep track of what glaze we used, or method, clay body, etc. I don’t even pretend to follow this advice. I want to see what comes next, not repeat verbatim what I’ve done before. I guess if it were my profession and I needed to reproduce in quantity it would make more sense. I’ve tried journaling without much success – now I have a paper tablet handy to doodle because its relaxing or to collect thoughts/quotes that capture ideas that resonate. Physically writing things down helps me put them to memory. And I feel like there is some idea, or philosophy, related to what I make that I am trying to capture, something related to what it all means to me. Or maybe its just finding those kindred, shared thoughts that help me feel less weird – a kind of scratching a mental itch.

    • jude

      I find jotting things down in a free way allows the thoughts to play out somehow and i agree that thhey are better remembered in a sort of integrated way.

  2. Claire

    I’ve shamed myself and been shamed for my loose notekeeping style. It hasn’t served me well (the shame, not the loose format). Thank you for the affirmation.

  3. Pamela Körner

    I don’t sketch, I can’t keep up with journaling. When I feel like journaling (for me something like self reflection?) I grab in my scraps, take randomly a handful out and I notice that, putting them on an old handkerchief (thriftstore!), ideas are starting to build up. I add or take away and let my instinct lead me. Most of the time something shows where I would conciously never have thought about. But those small cloths are the best to make. Working on them is so being in tune with myself and the room in my head and heart.

  4. wow I just had so many pings on this page. I have journals from the 70s. and letters. Letters from my mother who was a hobo. I put them in a drawer with out reading most of them and some I sealed in wax in my art. and then I have a batch that my grandmother gave me from my mother from when she was a young married artist – before she became a hobo- trying to be normal. so sixty years of letters and what to do with them? I am in my sixties now and I was thinking maybe I wll use them in an altered book loose pages kind of thing. I am the connection. sending love.

  5. I love all of these comments. I really LOVE all the scraps and the ability to see life in this very freeing way. I grew up in a world and time when everything had to have its “proper” place, and heaven forbid that it should get out of place. Perhaps it was a latent response of parents to the reality of the past WWII chaos, but I know I don’t want to live in that mindset ever. It’s funny, but I am intentionally disorganized in a sense. It is not disorganized the way we normally think of it, but I allow everything I have to move around freely, change places with other things, and to be torn apart to make room for yet another thought that will share its place. I like this; it allows me to see my things in a context that is outside of organized thought. It gives me freedom in my creativity to do things that to some folks don’t make sense, and I have never been disappointed in one piece of art created in this way. I used to have a basket hanging on my fence called my “living art basket.” When I went for walks, I would pick up things that caught my eye along the way. I lived near the ocean, so sometimes they included things that the ocean washed up. There was always a story or a mystery in that. I would rearrange the basket every time I came home with something new that I found. It was some of the best creativity I have known. Anything I looked at became an art object. This sharing so fits with all of that. Thank you so kindly.

  6. I found journals don’t work for me. Often I put something in a journal, and then forget all about it. I just go on working with my cloth and when I remember I was keeping a journal I just find that there are all kinds of ideas that I collected and well I didn’t use them at all, and as I see those journal entries, I think well, that might have been nice but I wouldn’t have worked in the actual work.

  7. Irene

    While I was working, I started keeping reference notebooks full of inspiration photos, quotes, interesting words, notes, etc. Nothing pretty, just stuff stuck down onto the page. This process was very validating, especially as I often had little time to devote to my art projects. Now that I’m retired, I have time to look through those pages and see what still works for me. Some references no longer have their original power for me…others have sustained the test of time and still motivate me to make specific art.

  8. grace

    i already said some of this on the blog but….the writing, on any thing, works for me to Place self, find out
    where I am in any moment. Drawings are of feelings. I took out the pile of Things in that storage tub in the
    back room yesterday. TOOK the TIME to sit long with old Cloths in there. 7 in particular. These are what
    hold what i want to keep, an idea, a way to express something. And HOLDING them, feeling the
    substance of them, their weight, touching a meeting point of scrap unto scrap, finger following a line of
    stitches, the way the sometimes seemingly disparate pieces become such a Beauty Full Whole, And
    i’m thinking….hanging them with push pins on a wall is one thing, but i’m going to keep these Loose. Out.
    Next to me here, where i work and maybe begin each day holding them, together and then separately , notice
    their relation to eachOther. Let the new one i’m working on join them, rest with them.

    I am SO beyond glad you are doing this the way you’re doing it….it has inspired me to TAKE TIME, really
    consider. Really rethink, think new. and the pace of it is perfect, with days inbetween and to read all
    the so great comments here from all of Us….it’s just Joy

  9. debgorr

    I read all this last night, wrote one comment and erased it. Read again this morning, wrote one comment and then erased it again. I have lots of thoughts about this topic, my mind wandering off in lots of directions. I am constantly editing and I guess that’s my real thought about this. Editing is constantly a part of process for me.

    • jude

      editing is a kind of design mending. a comment can be patchwork. I like that you so aware of that aspect of process. That it is not a straight line.

  10. Alison

    Cutting it frees it , changes it, releases the energy. Allows new possibilities.
    Like Navajo believe the edge should be loose , open, even a pathway out. Or a small hole to climb into or out of . To be free

  11. June Trezise

    Thank you for that Jude, I think I needed to be given permission ‘to do it a different way’. I seem to have always been encouraged to do ‘a sketchbook’ with my ideas but can never relate what I do in my sketchbook to ‘my work’ because, as Jean just said, its about what happens when two pieces of fabric meet. Love the idea of having random piles.

  12. Suzanne

    It sounds cliche & I really wish I had a clever new slant on it, but really what it comes down to is a healthy balance, with this and every other aspect of my life. I have several art journals going at a time, some with sketches, some with ideas or clippings of images from magazines,etc .My goal is to not make these books precious, even though they are very personal.Their main purpose is to be a vehicle (or springboard) to an idea I might want to express later. Whether I ever actually use that idea later is irrelevant, but pulling the sketchbooks out and looking at my creations in them brings me great pleasure. However, I do fall into the pit of idea-gathering overload – magazines, books, online searches, Pinterest, Instagram, blogs – where I get stuck in the seek/gather mode instead of simply getting busy making my own creations.

    • jude

      I guess I use my daydreams as the springboard, and then I often search or research in relationship to that, but not as often anymore. I look but don’t save, I just dream on… trying to dig deeper into my own experience as a filter for it all.

  13. Hey…I’m almost gone but I’ll be back in a week. Your voice is so calming to me…and the idea of loose seems just right. Change is the one constant fact and cooperating with it constitutes sanity by my way of thinking,

  14. Every sketch book I’ve ever had has turned into a journal. I write. Doodling? never really did that. And I feel that when trying to create, especially when I see what you can do if you know how to draw. I can draw, I mean I have ability in some ways, but it’s nothing I’ve ever practiced and gotten better at.

    I have found I have the most fun when I am not trying to come up with a theme or convey a message or a thought. I call that work “random.” Maybe you would call it “just going?” It’s the most fun. Conveying thoughts through the fabric and stitching…I’m really lost there.

    I did get a really good laugh when I read that one scrap…”I used to be an asshole.” Me too!!! 🙂

  15. Kathryn Albrycht

    Jude, you asked about the wrong subject. . . it’s not as long as it appears, (ha)

    Lost my mom 2 years ago. She was an “accumulator”. If we were out, anywhere near a bookstore, she would always bring one or more home. I would score too and I grew up equating a good day/outing with getting something, usually a book. We were/are a family of readers. She would receive over 30+ magazines/month via subscription and would clip pages or in later years, keep the entire magazine, refusing to get rid of any. It took me a while to realize that in essence, she was a hoarder. It started with netsuke, antique porcelain service, capodimonte and cut glass. But how many oyster plates does one person need??? After their retirement, my parents hit every antique auction & estate sale that had “quality” items. Now my dad is left with a house-FULL of ceramics, books, porcelain, glass, silver, ivory, oils, watercolors, magazines and even a pipe organ – really. My sister and I in response, donate or give away anything and everything in our homes, subconsciously I guess trying to avoid following mom down that path. Now don’t get me wrong, a house full of books is a wonderful place to grow up/raise a child. My child too is a bibliophile & finds solace in the written word which translated into her love of writing. Teachers recognized her talent and she was/is awarded for fiction, poetry, short story & even spoken word, since elementary through this her 2nd year of college. (sorry, proud mom, gotta brag) I think, I hope, I kept it to a healthy level.

    I keep a number of different journals and sketch books, organized based on content. I don’t find myself using them either for the purpose that I believed it was worth taking the time to write in. I’m trying to get away from the little pieces of paper that I scribble on quickly, planning to later transfer to the correct journal (leaving me with numerous piles of these not yet transferred pieces). I keep thinking that once I get “ORGANIZED”, I will use them more effectively.

    But I’ve compounded my disorganization with a need to read every craft/design print magazine (stitch, quilt, embroidery, multi-media, fine art, metal work, jewelry, stained glass, decor, architecture, couture embellishment, blah, blah) available, lest I might miss that one product, technique or design method that holds the key to the difficulty I have now translating my ideas. I know that the answer won’t be found in any beautifully shot spread, but out of habit or genetics, I keep looking and ripping, and filling plastic pages in binders, trying to keep all these pages with notes & ideas organized as they might hold the key to regaining my direction. But as we age I realize, our bodies and brains change, not always for the better. I must learn to work with those “changed” areas in my brain, (3) of which I’ve named. I am realizing that the stacks of magazines are just that, stacks, piling up, reminding me of my mom and her things & are definitely now effecting my mood. I am working thru this, whether stemming from nature or nurture, or probably a little of both. I still have artistic ideas or so I’m told. I just have to get comfortable with their new path, listen closely and thoughtfully and stop drowning myself, searching for an answer in the art of others. I will continue to journal, sketching thoughts or scribbling definitions of unknown words more to overcome memory issues, but limiting my magazines to a choice few faves, sending the others to schools to be cut up, in creation of those wonderful collages (or ransom notes) that every family has hanging in their study, fading with years, yet always visible after each rearrangement of the room. Jude, your subject today hit dead center into an issue I’ve been working thru since January. Sorry I unleashed such a diatribe but this was actually very cathartic, offering these thoughts for view by other eyes, not just bouncing around in my head. Feels like a confirmation & decision after a long debate with myself. I know what to do now. I wasn’t sure, but I am now. Thanks . . .

  16. Debra

    The best thing I ever did for myself was to put 45 years worth of journals into the compost bin. I felt unshackled afterward and had the best crop of tomatoes ever. Now, I make temporary lists. They go on handmade paper I’ve recycled – and after a few days, the things I have gotten to on the list are part of the past while the things I haven’t gotten to don’t matter anymore…at which point they get torn up and turned back into pulp. Every once in a while, a small scrap will become part of my personal history – but that is very seldom.
    (Apologies if my wording is incoherent…just got home from the dentist. Whoever said that Novocain wouldn’t make me loopy is just plain wrong…higher than a kite right now)

  17. Jean

    This gives me much to think about, thank you. I have never been successful at keeping a journal and have felt somewhat deficient in not writing/drawing ideas. I do like the simple accidents that happen when two or more pieces of fabric end up together in the pile and I feel drawn to their potential connection(s).

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