” Visual journals are created in a secret language of symbols. Intentional or not,they are private maps only their makers can follow. No one else can look at a page and understand the specific meaning of a punching bag or a set of arrows. And no one else can remember the moment of its making. Joni Mitchell blaring on the stereo. Sage wafting in a hidden garden. The discomforting echo of last night’s argument.
That said, visual journals may provide stronger records of the cultural milieu in which they were created than their purely written counterparts. Rather than describing the stuff of the day, they are often made from it. Anyone who has used primary source materials for research knows this. The difference between reading about someone’s life and opening old, yellowed letters is startling. When pressed flowers and handwritten recipes escape from a tattered envelope, one can almost see hollyhocks growing in the garden and smell bread baking in the oven. Worn newspaper articles give a stronger sense of the day’s values than any historian-digested primer can.
Because of its largeness of purpose , a journal can include anything AND the kitchen sink. Serving as a collection point for life’s contradictions, moments of intense feeling, and factoids that compel but seem without obvious use is one of the jounral’s greatest virtues. In The Writer’s Journal: 40 Contemporary Writers and Their Journals by Sheila Bender , Naomi Shihab Nye remarks, “I’ve heard someone say that notebooks are the kitchen drawers into which we place all the little scraps of things – bits of string, ragged recipes, nails and screws, half-used birthday candles, coupons. Where is it? Oh, it must be in there. Where else would it be? Or as illustrator John Clapp says of his journals , they ” are a collection of things I’m curious about, like the Smithsonian, ‘ the attic of mankind’. ”
from Drawing From Life – The Journal as Art by Jennifer New