Book Review: Drawing from Life - The Journal as Art by Jennifer New

By Jodi Wiley

Visual diaries are often associated with artists and written journals with writers. But, of course, many creative endeavors are aided by keeping some kind of record book.

I have kept a journal of one kind or another for most of my life so I was very excited to discover this book. Drawing from Life by Jennifer New is distinctive because it features a range of people from wildly different professions: illustrators and artists, yes, but also a psychiatrist, a geologist, a performing artist, a photographer, an engineer, a furniture designer and a quilter, among many others.

What they all have in common is their propensity to record their thinking in a book made of paper (I wonder how rare this activity is becoming given the rise of electronic organisers?). The book is divided into four sections: observation, reflection, exploration and creation depending on the way the person mainly uses their journal.

Each visual journal spread comes with a description of the particular approach its author takes, their reason for journaling, frequency of entries as well as any predilections for book types (lined or unlined paper etc).

The big draw-card of this book, though, is the voyeuristic opportunity to peek into all of these journals. There are illustrator, Maira Kalman's, observational sketches from life and artist Christopher Leitch's meticulous recording (in words and pictures) of his every dream.

Frenchwoman Sophie Binder bicycled her way around the world and her travel sketches are amazing. Cartoonist Lynda Barry writes with an Asian-style brush to slow down her thought-process and uncover more 'back-of-the-mind' images.

Designer Erica Bohanon covers her pages with drawings of chairs, tables and lamps. Quilt-maker Denyse Schmidt creates graphic diagrams of her quilt designs but also uses her journal to muse about life, paste in quotes and admonish herself for biting her fingernails.

This is what I love most about journals: the organic way in which they evolve, revealing the creation process, but also saying so much about the creator themselves.

In her introduction New says of Drawing from Life, '...while this is not intended as a how-to - most of these books are much too personal and pragmatic for replication - there are certainly many creative seeds to inspire readers'. That's for sure. I know I learn something new every time I open this collection and am inspired once again to continue journaling myself.

Drawing from Life: The Journal as Art is Published by Princeton Architectural Press

Jodi Wiley is an artist, writer, teacher and blogger. She has written freelance articles and book reviews for magazines and newspapers, as well as education curriculum. She has won awards for her artwork and been a finalist for several art and illustration prizes. Jodi is currently on maternity leave from high school teaching and is on a (quite frankly deranged) quest to update her blog daily: