I recently picked up a copy of Pages, the Creative Guide for Art Journaling & Bookmaking. Illustrated journaling is one of my hobbies, and I was drawn to the project on the magazine’s cover (“mini ZINES create your own!”) At the end of the magazine, I found the article “Gathering Your Story Elements,” by Jeanne Oliver and excerpted from her book The Painted Art Journal.
Oliver begins “Each of our stories is so different, lovely and broken in its way…Over the years, I have found that by gathering and then intentionally sifting through the bits that I have collected that I have come to understand myself better.”
These words reminded me of my now years-long process of trying, and failing, to write a memoir. Over these years, I’ve collected stamps, photographs, notes, index cards, letters, and other memorabilia. Before I read Oliver’s article, however, I hadn’t thought about their potential as a springboard for the project. What would happen, I wondered, if I made a visual representation of the story elements I want to explore and put it where I would see it every day?
Oliver suggests making your storyboard from “colors, textures, images, art, magazine pages, objects, travel, architecture, history, family, vintage ephemera, fabrics, and online searches regarding people or places.” I decided to make a storyboard out of the things I’d gathered as well as new images. I pulled out some old magazines, papers I’d saved, old photographs, and other bits and pieces.
In a short while, I had a pile. I selected items from the pile and taped them, more or less at random, to a piece of poster board. When I was finished, I saw that I had placed a photo of my father from 1957 next to the word “Stay” in the upper right-hand corner.
In the opposite corner, I had taped a photo of my German grandparents’ house in Mexico City below to the word “bones.” Above that, the words “a beautiful life” and “lost.” In the middle of the collage, I placed a picture of Little Red Riding Hood facing the wolf.
Other things on the storyboard include a page from To Kill a Mockingbird, the words “dreams & theories,” photographs of my grandparents, a forest scene, and a piece of handmade paper.
The next step in this process is to explore those connections through writing. Oliver: “Is there something in your past or present that you never considered incorporating into your art? Could there be new inspiration right in front of you?” From this exercise, I’m able to ask myself what connections there might be between a house in 1936 Mexico City, Little Red Riding Hood, and a conversation between Jem, Scout and Dill in front of Boo Radley’s house.
“I find the gathering part of this exercise extremely relaxing and meditative,” Oliver writes. I enjoyed the hunter-gatherer aspect as well, paging through my notebooks, ripping pictures from magazines, and adding the odd bits I’ve collected over the years.
I especially like that this project is physical, and not something that lives, unseen, on the computer. I look forward finding inspiration as I add new things to the storyboard.