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What is an Extreme Visual Journal?
-  by Juliana Coles

What is the difference between diaries, art journals, travel journals, scrapbooking and memory making, sketchbooks, altered books, artist books, and Extreme Visual Journals?  Some of these terms are very specific and have their own definitions, while others can be used interchangeably.  I have a unique definition for the process I have developed and teach, and use the term Extreme Visual Journals as the container for that process.  An Extreme Visual Journal is a blank book, sketchbook, altered book, scroll, used scrapbook, antique photo album, classical record set, a well traveled atlas, a worn wallet with pages stapled in, antique handkerchiefs sewn together, or any other form that might be considered or used as a book.  These Extreme Visual Journals come in all shapes and sizes with rice paper, Bristol paper, watercolor paper, old ledger paper, graph paper, notebook paper, glittery paper, painted paper, whatever anyone can imagine.

What makes these books Extreme Visual Journals is the act of combining journal writing assignments such as non-dominant handwriting, letter writing, Declarations of Independence, lists, dreams, word associations, etc. with art making assignments such as collage, drawing and painting, old photos, rubber stamping,  totem/fetish creating, and various mixed media techniques to create a unique book of self expression.  In an Extreme Visual Journal, we are after the rich interior.  We are concerned with our own and unique inner, ancient wisdom.  We want to find our voice, our style, and our flair for life by documenting our past, present and future in a book.  We are NOT concerned with making art.  We are NOT concerned with a product or pretty picture.  We want to know how to unfold and in that moment, there is remarkable beauty on the page we did not know we possessed.

For Your Eyes Only

An Extreme Visual Journal is, in fact, a journal.  So if your book is something you show to all your friends to prove what a great artist you are, itís probably not an Extreme Visual Journal.  Your book houses your vulnerability and it is not safe with everyone.  You should feel a tinge of uncertainty like, ďyes you can look at that but donít read this part or no, wait a minute, maybe not that page...ď  You should feel protective of your bookís incomplete images, meanderings, ramblings, highs, lows, angry scribbles, elated paintings and just plain ugly pages like it is your own child.  It is.  We are talking about the awakening or birth of your authentic self.  Our Extreme Visual Journal is her safe house. You donít have to wear make up, the right outfit, or impress your imaginary audience. Your book is your witness protection program where you can go and truly be yourself. This is the book that doesnít need no damn embellishment or perfection.  It is perfect in its natural state. It is the one place we can go that no one else needs to know about, see or get.  This is our private place. A soul filling place.

I read recently that the artist Jean Dubuffet said not to speak unkindly in front of your paintings.  They are little children, and your harsh words hurt them deeply.  This is the same attitude we must have for our journals.  They ask for our compassion as we reach into this internal primordial ooze and pull out signs of life so that we may tell our stories through words and images.

Rites of Passage: A personal Mythology

The book as container is an integral part of the Extreme Visual Journaling process. It is important to develop this series of self in order to tell the tale of our existence: our own personal mythology.  And contrary to any beliefs you may hold about yourself, what is dormant or hiding inside you is as meaningful as the stories the ancients told, as powerful as Homerís Odyssey or the abduction of Persephone.  The heroineís journey, the journey to the underworld and back, are all paths of initiation. The Extreme Visual Journal allows us to document these initiatory rites of passage and growth and give name and meaning to them by deciphering their clues and symbols, just like learning to understand ancient myths, fairytales, or fables.

Choosing A Book

To get started, youíll need to find a book...Think of some things that could be used to house your art and words in a book formatÖDonít worry, you can always start another, and another...

 *Michelle loves old scrapbooks, photo albums and baby books from thrift stores and garage sales.  The paper is so old and brittle and just disintegrates while sheís working on it.  She loves the painstaking process of taping all the black pages back together with black electrical tape- it reclaims the book as her own.  Itís her way of developing an intimate relationship with her book.

*Christel took an issue of her favorite magazine and redecorated it with her favorite things, complete with a table of contents to make her own magazine about all the things she loves.

*One student has volumes and volumes of those black speckled notebooks with lined paper.  She has them all on a shelf: volume 3, volume 15, on and on.  The consistency of book form en masse is quite a sight.

*Mary keeps a dream journal, Carol works in two books:  her night book- with black pages and those images more suitable for the dark, and her day book- those images and ideas more easily shown in the light.

*Kim keeps a Punk Rock journal of the posters of all the concerts she goes to and then covers everything in packing tape

*Amy used a large Atlas to house her visions- the title was All Roads Lead to the Center.  *Sri found a very large art table book on Buddhism at a local library sale to tell her story by going boldly into a book that others might hesitate to work in. 

*What about CD plastic covers glued together, a scroll, all your junk mail sewn together, wow! Itís really endless how many book forms we can come up with...

Your book is an extension of YOU.  Pick it up.  How does it feel?  Put your hands around it, touch the pages- it must feel right - like an old friend, or a new one you instantly fall in love with.  Will it be leather bound-do you imagine your story to be an Out of Africa or an Indiana Jones Discovery Book?  Should you alter Grandmaís old cookbook, or even your own baby book?  Should it be brand new, pristine, a clean slate to begin your journey fresh?  Only you can decide.

Developing a Relationship with the Self

The Extreme Visual Journal allows us to develop a relationship with the self through the development of a relationship with our books. So it really doesnít matter what form the book takes or what kind of paper it is made with or how thick or how thin.  It is important that you choose the book that seems to choose you, for whatever reason.  And then learn to work within that divine framework, and persevere in solving the problems that arise.  Your book is asking something of you. And the problems it sets up for you, or the problems you have while working in it, are actually important steps you need to take to get to know yourself better.

The Extreme Visual Journal is a metaphor for self. By combining journal writing with artwork, we are simultaneously accessing both the left and right hemispheres of our brain for deeper introspection. By encouraging discourse between our intellectual self and our animal or visual self, we are creating a dialogue between our conscious self and the unconscious, shadow, psyche, or soul.  When they meet on the page, and begin to talk about their worlds, a unique thing occurs: the medicine or salve for transformation presents itself. Working in this compassionate way is where we find the healing. In the safety of our pages, nothing is to be rejected.  The Extreme Visual Journal makes space for all our beauty and beast. And there, shining up at us from the light of the page, we welcome and forgive all aspects of the self to encourage harmony.

Intimate Relationships with Books

Historically, we have always had precious relationships with books. It is in this way, working in this intimate manner, that we develop a preciousness of self. There is a ritualistic aspect to opening and closing a book: opening a book says I am here, I am ready to receive, and takes us into its world of unknowns where all sense of time disappears.  Closing the book says I am ready to return to the known world.

Turning the Page

The constant page turning inherent in Extreme Visual Journalism allows us to know what comes next.  This enables the unconscious to participate in our pages and help to bring our signs and symbols forth, like dream material. It is important NOT to create separate pages and then bind them later.  Judgment and critic have all ready entered the picture. Oh this one looks better here or that one needs more work. The inner self needs boundaries, safety, and consistency.  Working in a stable book format helps create that.  This inner self knows far more than it lets on to you and its chronological wisdom needs to be respected as well as protected.

 Extreme Visual Journaling is active meditation

Protect your journals from those who would harm its vision.

Juleís Journal Rules: 

1.  Date everything including year.

 2. Donít tear anything out -otherwise you are responding to your critic- bad art- not good enough and that kind of attitude does not create safety for the self we are trying to welcome.  Our journal is like a dream- it has symbols for us to decode.  Give your image some time and then have a dialogue with it- such why are you so uncomfortable in it- you can even ask it why itís ugly.  And then you can always paint over it.  An Extreme Visual Journal is more concerned with gathering information- not creating great art or writing something profound- save that for your artist books. And you will be surprised at what happens when you arenít even trying.

 3.  I like to sign everything and give it a title- that kind of sums it all up for me and creates closure.

 Welcome, to the Revolution

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