Book Review: The Complete Decorated Journal

The Complete Decorated Journal (Cover)

The Complete Decorated Journal: A Compendium of Journaling Techniques by Gwen Diehn. New York: Lark Crafts, An Imprint of Sterling Company. ISBN 978-1-454-70203-0

The Complete Decorated Journal by Gwen Diehn, with contributions from over 70 artists, is chock-a-block full of ideas, comments, reflections, instructions, and examples of how diverse one's approach to journaling can be. In the introduction, Diehn shares some personal experiences with journaling—an evolution from traditional journal/diary making into one that includes both written and visual elements. It is difficult to express in words this process.

"What can we call the deeper kind of journal with the richly layered pages that integrates writing with visual elements? 'Visual-verbal' comes close, but sounds dry and academic. 'Annotated sketchbook' places the value of the visual elements above the written ones. 'Art journaling' misses the boat entirely, implying that the work in the journal is artwork, done with an audience in mind, rather than the personal, tentative, and unself-conscious work one does in a true journal. I prefer nature journalist Hannah Hinchman's use of the term 'illuminated journal' as well as Bruce Kremer's term 'the textured diary.'" (p. 7)

Local Pigmants page in The Complete Decorated Journal.

Local Pigmants page in The Complete Decorated Journal.

The Complete Decorated Journal is set up to take readers through the process of choosing materials and deciding what type of journal to make. The section Pages in Stages: Ways of Working provides the groundwork for beginning, middle, and end stages of page development. Today's journalist has so many choices: adhesives, papers, ephemera, art media (wet and dry), bindings. It could be easy to get lost in the vast array of options. But, Diehn suggests foregoing the commercialized pseudo-ephemera found at most craft supply stores and looking for materials that are both meaningful and personal to the artist. 

Left: Wallowing in the World by Linda Chaves. Images: Page from Algarve Travel Journal and (below left) Page from India Travel Journal; Right: Kelcey Loomer, 2000 in The Complete Decorated Journal.

Left: Wallowing in the World by Linda Chaves. Images: Page from Algarve Travel Journal and (below left) Page from India Travel Journal; Right: Kelcey Loomer, 2000 in The Complete Decorated Journal.

Interspersed throughout the book are short essays by working artists who provide some insight into journaling. They all have different reasons for taking up the practice: inspiration, working through ideas, because it is fun. These stories are reminders that journaling is supposed to be an expressive activity and whether or not the outcome is traditionally beautiful or finished is not the main purpose. Journalists use this process to learn, explore, discover, and document experiences in tactile and visual ways.

Left: Sample Page: Yoga Asanas (step-by-step lesson); Right: The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon in The Complete Decorated Journal.

Left: Sample Page: Yoga Asanas (step-by-step lesson); Right: The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon in The Complete Decorated Journal.

Whether you want your journal to represent the layered world, creative world, spiritual world, or other realms, The Complete Decorated Journal will be a useful guide to help you define what type of journalist you would like to be. Throughout the book, there is photographed and hand-drawn imagery to bring these ideas to life. One minor grouse is in the section on book binding, Diehn chose line-drawings to illustrate the process when, to my eye anyway, the instructions would have been clearer with actual photographs. But, like the topic itself, The Complete Decorated Journal is written and laid out in the spirit of the "textured diary" with pages jam-packed with information and imagery and the author's enthusiasm for the subject is evident on every page. I can easily recommend this book as a resource for journal making of all kinds.

Have you read this book? Tell me what I've got wrong (or right!).

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Cheers!--Janyce