In my final year of university one of the requirements of my course (I did a BA in Fine Arts) was that I had to keep what was called a Studio Journal.
What this basically meant was that I had to keep track of everything I worked on over a period of 1 year. That meant documenting everything: sketchbooks, studies, written notes and thoughts, the theoretical texts I read, the things I wrote about for my thesis, final drawings, paintings, photographs, artist references… all of it!
I had to take photographs or scans of all of that stuff and collate it into a ‘Journal’ that documented, chronologically, all my progress that year. The end result was two printed, A4-size, inch thick, spiral-bound booklets… that I could not wait to drop off at my supervisors office and never have to think about again.
I hated putting together that journal.
Largely (it has to be admitted) because I procrastinated horribly and ended up having to put it together retrospectively (it took a whole heap of detective work to figure out when I’d worked on each drawing / sketchbook / page of notes…).
But also because it seemed like such a pointless task. The course required us to produce these journals as proof that our work was all our own, and that it had developed through an extended process of research and refinement.
I resented having to put so much time and effort into something that existed merely as proof of my time and effort!
At the end of the assessment period the journals were returned to us, and I lugged mine home and dumped them on a shelf to gather dust.
I didn’t look at them for almost a year.
And then, one day, in the process of reorganising, I came across the journals. And for the first time since putting them together, I flicked through and took a look back over all the things I’d worked on.
It was crazy.
Up to that point I’d basically not worked on any personal projects since completing my degree. And here were these 2 volumes, containing page after page of creative work that I had poured my everything into.
Reading back over my own notes (pages and pages of all the thoughts I’d had, and ideas for future projects I wished to work on…) I suddenly remembered all the things I wanted to explore and to achieve with my own work. I never thought it would happen but I was suddenly so glad I’d been required to work on those records.
And so, at the beginning of 2016, I decided it was time to start a new ‘Studio Journal’.
For 3 consecutive years I attempted to document and keep a thorough record of everything I did, in terms of both visual and written work.
It was a lot of slogging to keep all the documentation up to date - every drawing, design, sketchbook page or sheet of notes - especially when I occasionally fell behind by a couple of weeks! But the effort, for me, was well worth the reward.
You see, before I started those 3 years I was at a time in my life when I felt pulled in different directions and unable to make progress in the areas that mattered most to me. I wanted to be working on creative personal projects, but I felt like I didn’t have time, and couldn’t make progress.
What the process of documentation allowed me to do was to see the accumulation of work that I could produce. It might only be a couple of drawings one day, a little bit of painting the next… seemingly not worth much on their own. But over the course of a week all those little pieces built up into something more… by the end of a month I had a hefty folder of content; by the end of the first year I had a mammoth vault of creative scraps.
And sure, not all of it was great work, but I could finally see the progress I was making - and the more progress I made, the more inspired I felt and the better work I was able to produce…
I could see myself learn and develop new skills, I had evidence of my progress, proof of how far I’d come over a period of months.
At the beginning of this year I decided it was time to change things up again, and I’ve stopped keeping a complete record, opting instead to document only key projects.
The important thing is how the process enabled me to grow and develop my own work and attitude to creating. It gave me the discipline and encouragement I needed to progress in areas where I may otherwise have become disheartened, and given up.
I don’t know what your personal goals or interests are, but maybe as you’ve been reading this you’ve started to imagine how a similar process could help you too…
Think about what it is you want to achieve, and ask yourself what visible progress would help you to stay motivated towards that goal. What would you need to track in order to capture evidence of that progress?