This month, Dawn interviews Missy Hammond Dunaway, an artist from Annapolis, MD.
Why do you art journal?
I used to keep a diary because articulating my feelings on paper helped me gain a deeper understanding of why a significant day, memory, or dream affected me so deeply. But after the catharsis of writing out my thoughts I rarely felt compelled to paint—especially when it came to painting in my art journal. Art journals require perpetual work, so they naturally take on the role of a diary. Once I have vented my emotions in one artistic form, I have no desire or need to do it again in any other form. So I cut out writing in my diary, and now, when I feel stirred by something, I paint about it in my journal instead. Sometimes my paintings are literal depictions of my memories, but most often I use unrelated images that indirectly evoke the tone of my thoughts.
However, I don’t like to wait around for an introspective mood to strike me with inspiration for a painting. When I feel numb or tired, I still paint. At these times I don’t create great work, but at least I get ideas rolling and keep my technical skills sharp.
What inspired you to start art journaling?
I was told by an art teacher in high school to keep a sketchbook because portfolio reviewers for college like to flip through them to get a sense of my conceptual process. In college I was required to keep one as a brainstorming tool. But I really didn’t like using a sketchbook for brainstorming. I didn’t like using it as a tool at all. All sketchbookers and art journalers have experienced the heartbreak of making a beautiful drawing and resigning to the idea that because it is in a sketchbook and not on a canvas it is only ‘a sketch’ and not a work of art. This happened to me so often I just threw out that whole idea of a sketchbook. I began to think of my sketchbook as a single work of art, and not as a tool for preparing bigger projects. Once I started to say, “No, this isn’t an idea for later, this is the piece itself,” I invested more time and care in the book and it slowly became what it is to me now: an indivisible work of art of which I am very proud.
What art journalers are your favorites? Other artists you look to for inspiration?
Favorite art journalers:
- Dan Eldon, The Journey is the Destination: The Journals of Dan Eldon
- Carl Jung, The Red Book
- Nick Bantock, The Extraordinary Correspondence of Griffin & Sabine
- William Blake
- William Morris
- Walton Ford
These three artists pair conceptual depth with aesthetic beauty perfectly. They give extraordinary care to composition, color, and technical execution. I especially love the interdisciplinary aspect of their work. Blake’s work draws allusions from mythology and literature. Morris’s work promotes the philosophy of the Arts & Crafts Movement. Ford’s work satires nature field guides from the mid-nineteenth century.
Tell us a little about your process. What mediums do you like to use?
My rule is that a page is not finished until it is my favorite in the book. If I don’t like a page, I lay it under a thin tint of color and push it into the background of a new painting. Sometimes I cover it completely with an opaque color and start fresh. It’s difficult, but I always force myself to let go of unsatisfactory work and start over. Putting hours into a page is no excuse to keep it around when it compromises the integrity of the entire book. Almost every page of mine has two or three paintings beneath it. But I’m never heartbroken to let an old drawing go. I’m more than happy to paint something new right on top. It’s really beautiful when old layers peek through the top layers. They add depth and texture.
I take breaks frequently. Problems and solutions are always illuminated to me after I return from a break with “fresh eyes.”
I paint with ink because it is so versatile. It can be tightly controlled with a pen and nib, or it can work into water, do it’s own thing, and turn out beautifully without any assistance. Colors made from natural pigments are viscous and transparent. They absorb into paper and work like a stain or tint. Artificial colors are heavy and lay on top of paper. When dry, they make a hard surface. Daler Rowney’s FW Artist Inks are my favorites and I keep a number of Winsor & Newton inks on hand as well.
Moleskine offers a sketchbook specifically designed for paint, but I’ve never used one because I am more than satisfied with how ink behaves in the Moleskine drawing sketchbook. The paper is smooth and flat—perfect for a pen and nib. But it’s also strong enough to accommodate heavy layers of ink. That’s something I love about my art journals that is unfortunately lost through photo-documentation. The pages are very thick—a single page is heavier than a postcard.
Do you also have other ways you like to create, and if so, what are they?
I’m a professional painter, so I always have a few projects in the works. My time is divided evenly between my art journals and my other painting projects, which are usually made with ink on large spreads of Arches paper.
I’m also a blogger. I’d say 60% of my posts are of my art journal pages, 30% are of other painting projects, and the final 10% are factual essays about my subject matter. That last bit has been especially nice since I don’t have many outlets for writing—now more than ever since I’ve given up keeping a diary. Blogging has certainly scratched my itch for professional writing.
What important bit of advice can you give to those wanting to start art journaling?
Working in a sketchbook is conducive to experimentation. Ideas and brushwork naturally loosen up when working on a small scale because you don’t worry about wasting time, materials, and money. So take advantage of this. Don’t hold back and never, ever apologize for your work. If you think a painting is mediocre, don’t get frustrated or embarrassed. Just get rid of it and do it again. The first painting you do will not be as good as your tenth. The first idea you have will not be as interesting as your tenth.
Can you please tell us a little about your current project with the postcards and what inspired you to do that?
My love of letter writing began with my boyfriend. We’re in a long-distance relationship and writing letters is a fun alternative to talking on the phone. I always paint an image of a fantastic delivery service on the back of his envelopes—hot air balloons have delivered his letters, as well as antelope and dragonflies. Once I graduated college, my friends were scattered all over the country. All of a sudden I was sending off seven painted envelopes in a single batch instead of just the one. I began photo-documenting the letters and posting them to my blog.
A re-occurring frustration with letter writing has come with the current state of the mail service. It has been exceptionally unreliable. Sometimes it takes three days for a letter to be delivered, other times it takes two weeks. After all the trouble, I decided to do a little investigation. I reviewed the quarterly statistics reports on the USPS website. They record everything sent through the mail, including letters, flat parcels, postcards and—for a while—telegrams. According to these reports, the number of sent pieces in both standard and first-class mail drops by a thousand pieces a year. I posted my mini-research project to my blog and proposed that if anyone sent me their mailing address to my project website, firstname.lastname@example.org, I’d send them a painted envelope. The reason for my project is pretty simple: I want us all to enjoy postal mail while we still have it. And in doing so, put beautiful, lovingly created art in the hands of anyone who wants it. Two lovely ideas wrapped up in one project.
And just as I had hoped, it’s been a hit. The project has been up for a month and so far I’ve received about 50 requests. My letters have been sent as far as the United Arab Emirates, Australia, and the UK. And I’m still open to accepting more. I’ll quit when USPS quits!
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