Journal Fresh: Betsy Cañas Garmon

An Art Journal Q&A by Dawn DeVries Sokol

This month, Dawn interviews Betsy Cañas Garmon, an artist from Atlanta, Georgia.

Why art journaling?

I want to capture every aspect of my life. As a matter of fact, I feel compelled to document life—especially the “macro moments” that define any given situation. I describe my workshops and my journals as a grand collision. A collision not only between text and visuals, but between art and life and between how and why. I believe that if you answer the question “why?” the “how?” eventually falls into place. Often we get caught up in how to do something and we lose sight of our deepest whys. An art journal is the perfect medium for both discovering and capturing.

What inspired you to start art journaling?

I started keeping journals when I was in college—mostly text and lists, with a quote thrown in now and again. The content was written in black ink or pencil with an occasional doodle or blue pen for color and interest. I was a biology major, trying to figure out how to take more literature classes, and then made a shift to art when my then-boyfriend-now-husband challenged me on my dormant creativity. I gave up a full biology scholarship to become an art major and started carrying around a sketchbook with my notebooks. In my art history studies, I became fascinated with the sketches and inventions of Leonardo da Vinci. I loved how they combined text and art; I loved how line quality and elegance wrapped around the birth of an idea. But, back then, I felt a huge gap between myself as a student and lofty “real artists.”

A shift into a season of motherhood, forced the sketchbooks and supplies into boxes—literally on a shelf. Then, somewhere in the ‘90s, post-college and in the middle of small children, I got invited to a scrapbooking party. For many reasons, scrapbooking wasn’t a match for me, but I did discover the world of beautiful paper and tape runners. The 12 x 12 page layout was in it’s own category and required space in my life that I didn’t have. While I didn’t embrace scrapbooking, those supplies eventually found their way onto my diary pages. The kids called my early books “scournaling” and they saw it all transpire, since it happened at the kitchen table in and amongst our homeschooling.

Still, I had never seen any “art journal” pages until I stumbled on Paula Bogdan’s photostream on Flickr a couple of years ago. I desperately wanted to figure out what she was so boldly and bravely doing. (I was stunned and moved by the candor of her pages posted for the world to see.)

Shortly thereafter, I found Gwen Diehn’s book, The Decorated Page and my outlook shifted again. A simple Google search turned up all sorts of real live people doing what I was fumbling around with. After a short season of embarrassment over my sad little pages, I began to experiment and decorate and eventually share at my blog, which up until that point was a photography-driven site, with short, written observations and collections for friends and family.

What art journalers are your faves? Other artists you look to for inspiration?

I confess that my Google Reader is full of wonderful blogs, most of which aren’t on my blog roll for some reason . . . Here are a few:

Sabrina Ward Harrison for freedom and movement with supplies and content and lack of perfect.

Leslie Herger for her New England sensibility about supplies and fine art design core.

Connie Hozvicka for artwork and classes that are full of intuition and heart. Every time I look at Connie’s work, I think I might like color more than I realize. :) Her Fearless Painting course stretched me in wonderful ways.

Zom Osborne for her haunting, lovely treatment of the human form and gorgeous pages.

Janice Lowry’s body of work is breathtaking. I’m inspired by the collection of daily moments and art work

Photographer Zack Arias is not only a friend but an amazing example of using what you have at hand and being humble, yet unapologetic about talent. If you’re into photography look him up. You’re welcome.

What important bit of advice can you give to those wanting to start art journaling?

Make room for UGLY and don’t worry about your handwriting. I see more people stop journaling over those two issues, and really, they’re non-issues. Set aside large expectations. Don’t cast aside dreaming, or being a visionary, but rather those places where ideals are so huge that we paralyze ourselves. (Like me thinking that every page of my sketchbook fell short because it didn’t look like DaVinci’s sepia drawings.) Honor every part of your life. Including the challenging parts and the learning curve. I am so much more open and creative than even last year because I stopped crossing things out and worrying about mistakes. Keep it all in one place for a while. When I first encountered the powerful beautiful images that are out there on the web, I stalled often because I wasn’t creating a work of art on every double page spread. Pages were still sorted and classified (like my life). I had a calendar/planner, diaries—words only, sketchbooks—drawings only and art journals that were mixed-media works of art on every spread. When I left the house, I had at least four books in tow. In 2010, I started keeping everything in one book and gained a tremendous amount of peace and flow. Without a doubt, perfectionism will destroy inspiration and creative motion. Stop worrying about what goes where. Get ONE book and visit it consistently.

Tell us a little about your process. What mediums do you like to use?

I love to create depth on my pages. Sometimes I’ll have 12 or 15 layers. There’s almost always a combination of acrylic, watercolor, crayon, graphite, papers, textiles, inks and ephemera in various sequences.

Currently, I love office supplies, fruit stickers, gesso, tape and origami paper and my most favorite new supply is Postal Pix photos of my Instagram photos. Since I take daily iPhone photos, getting prints easily has been wonderful for my journaling practice. In the last couple of days, they’ve added a 5 x 5 option that works for both pages and framing. They’ve also got metallic prints that I’m incorporating into my mixed-media pieces. (Zero compensation from Postal Pix—I’m just a fan of the product and they graciously let me check it out early.)

Do you also have other ways you like to create, and if so, what are they?

At my Twitter site, I call myself a Renaissance chick with Nikons, Macs and Moleskines because I do have varied creative interests. I write poetry and the occasional magazine article or guest blog post. And I adore photography. As a matter of fact, it was a camera that brought me back to life creatively. Ironically enough, I was teaching drawing, painting and design, but I wasn’t actively creating much myself. I was frustrated by how rusty my drawing skills had gotten and felt like it was more trouble than it was worth to get paints out at the kitchen table only to put everything up to feed my young family. But my husband bought me a digital camera and pushed me out the door kicking and screaming. I’m so glad he did. The photos had a huge ripple effect in my life. The daily practice of photography, became the daily practice of writing and eventually birthed drawing and painting again. I have a nice “Big Girl” camera that I am in love with, but I also have an iPhone 4 in my hand daily. Actually, it’s a bit of an addiction. I post often at the wild thyme creative facebook page and daily at Instagram (wildthyme). I’ve even started posting journal prompts in photo form on Instagram under #wtjournalprompt. Plus, the two oldest boys and I post food photos at a Facebook page called Daily Garmon Food Photo. It’s a mix of beautiful restaurant food and our home and garden. Cooking is another creative outlet for me. A beautiful table and gathering family is good for the soul.

Oh, and my most favorite other way that I’m creating these days is songwriting with two of my sons. They’re 20 and 22 and found out that I used to write lyrics for musician friends in college. When a Dove-award-winning songwriter took a couple of my workshops, things grew into songwriting together and putting our songs out in the atmosphere. It’s like when I walked out the door with a camera I threw a stone into a pool of creativity and the ripples are still forming.


To visit Betsy’s blog, click here.

Dawn DeVries Sokol is the author of 1,000 Artist Journal PagesClick here to follow Dawn on her blog.


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