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At last I have been able to work in the garden; the soil is fit, the weeds have not yet overtaken me, and yet there is so much to reclaim from last year’s neglect. But my topic scheduled for this week is the importance of keeping records – not lists or charts or annotated plans, but diaries, journals and jotters. The former are of course vital, but when I came to sort mine from recent years, I realised that they in no way conveyed what I felt about the garden, my successes and failures; the feel of the seasons, the scents, colours and sounds of the garden. And good food enjoyed from produce we have grown ourselves.

An ordinary notebook transformed with acrylic paint, peper napkin motifs  and a white pen for the text.
An ordinary notebook transformed with acrylic paint, peper napkin motifs
and a white pen for the text.

I started keeping garden diaries many years ago; for a long while they were just words, but then I began to add photographs, and attempted to sketch as well. Somewhat laboured at first, yet confidence grew as I experimented with various materials and techniques. Notebooks proliferate; if I see a sketchbook that I like, I snatch it up. I rarely start on page one; it’s less intimidating to feel you have spoiled a new book because the title page didn’t quite work. All notebooks and sketchbooks have different surfaces and weights of paper; coloured paper removes the fear of sketching somehow.

An ongoing project: Spring colours in a hand-made journal
An ongoing project: Spring colours in a hand-made journal

Sometimes I create my own journals, as here, because then you can tailor the size you want, and sometimes even add relevant scrapbook papers. For this one, prepared in advance of days away in the caravan, I bought an inexpensive spiral bound sketchpad (A3-140gsm), ripped out a quantity of pages, spread them on my workroom table and smeared them with white poster paint, acrylics and colour spray. When dry, the pages were sealed with ‘Golden Fluid Matte Medium’, cut in half horizontally and then sheathed together loose, ready for adding text and illustrations. You need a waterproof pen to write on the glazed surface; those used for garden labels are fine.

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In spare moments, I experiment with effects so that when the time comes to work in a given book, I am confident that some ghastly disaster will not occur; though if it does, I can always superimpose another piece of work. This experimental page was to see what I could do if I stripped up and old book and worked over papers torn away from the spine. (Some people work direct in a cheap, second-hand book – known as ‘altered books’; I find it slightly restraining as you constantly have to interleave your work with baking parchment to protect the pages from glue and paint spattering, and in any case, I quite like to stitch into the page, and stitch around pairs of pages mounted back-to-back to make them stiffer.

Experimental page exploring materials and techniques

Experimental page exploring materials and techniques

This was the case with this second experimental page – a practice piece for a collaborative projects being undertaken by a group of local friends. The pages will be a collage of fabric, printed paper scraps and applied sketches; and because we are an embroidery group there will be quite a lot of hand- or machine-stitching. Our gardens inspire us, trigger our imagination. We will be working in A5 horizontal spiral-bound sketchbooks, so will mount fabric-based pieces with ‘Golden Regular Gel (matte)’ which secures pieces without damage to book or textile.

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Many of my finished pieces use old maps as a base – a strip is already pre-folded providing a zig-zag booklet all ready for journaling. Though first a prep the map surface with a light coat of white poster paint, just sufficient for the cartography to still be seen. I write direct onto the finished page using a sepia-coloured Artist’s Sketching Pen (it gives it a sort of antique appearance). Illustrations may be sketched coloured with water-soluble crayons (Neocolor I), or as here, a paper napkin motif applied to muslin or cheesecloth, trimmed and fused to the background with gel medium.



Up to the minute: a pocket-sized garden jotter
Up to the minute: a pocket-sized garden jotter

My latest project is also paper based; I designed some tiny packet-sized jotters that I could slip into my pocket when working in the garden, to record rough random notes. Very easy to write the text on the tough surface without sitting down; I left space for illustrations which were sketched during a gardening coffee break. To make something similar, take one sheet of 16”x12”  (40.6×30.5cm) 190gsm ‘cold-pressed/not’ watercolour paper. Cut the paper vertically into four equal strips,  and cut each of those strips in two. Fold and collate the pages and secure with a rubber band (though I used a small ponytail hairband.


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Is this really about gardening? Yes it is. Nearly all that I do creatively is inspired by our eco-friendly garden and orchard. Without the constant toil to keep the acre productive, the therapeutic benefits of journaling, sketching and book-making would cease to exist. And you could do it, too. Don’t be afraid to start – and for those who wish to find out more about my journals and technqiues used, you are welcome to visit my ‘Journaling the Journal’ blog. And in this post, click on any image to view it at a larger size.



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Technology allows us to share so much, but I should be back in the garden, or allotment. Sowing and planting is now in full swing; we need to take advantage of the better weather, and longer evenings. Visit Dobies’ website for all your gardening needs and requirements.




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