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My Uniform

December 7, 2011

I am going to go out on a limb here and say that if you know somebody who is a Journaler (with a capital “J”) do NOT buy them a journal as a gift this holiday season.  I know.  You want them to know that you know them in a deep way and that you GET them.  You want to get them a gift that they will use and be happy with.  Don’t do it.  A journal to a Journaler is something so personal that any journal you buy them will seem like a foreign object they have no idea what to do with.

As someone who has kept a journal most of my life, many loved ones have attempted to give me journals as gifts over the years (thank you sweet family , friends, and acquaintances!).  Most of these journals have been attempts to reflect back to me my “artistic” personality.  I’ve gotten countless decorative journals—the ones you find in the corner of gift stores or Barnes and Noble.   Some were lined with famous quotes by women and wispy illustrations throughout; Some were like bookish versions of Stevie Nicks or Ziggy Stardust, covered in crushed red velvet, or purple sparkles, or worse, crushed red velvet and sparkles; more still were leather bound with onion skin paper, beautiful, but utterly useless to me.  I looked up at the smiling faces of those very well-intentioned gift givers, so pleased to at last have found something so intimate and useful to me, and felt a crushing feeling of responsibility.  Please don’t make me use this!

After years of trying out anything with pages in it: notebooks, spiral bound sketchbooks, lined journals, hardbound journals, softbound journals, I am very clear on not only what I like about a journal, but what I need.  It has become a science to me, or better yet, a UNIFORM of sorts that I have acquired: 8 ½” x 11″, black hardbound sketchbooks either by Canson, Cachet, or Utrecht. Unlike almost everyone in the Internet arty world, I am not a fan of the Molskine books.  I don’t like the tooth of the paper, they are WAY too expensive for what they are, and they just feel too UNSUBSTANTIAL.  You want to sip coffee in a cafe with a Moleskine.  I need a journal I can MOSH with.  I am hard on stuff–especially my journals.  The sketchbooks I use take on everything from ink and pencil to string, fabric, glue, food and beyond.  I’m sure they would handle cigarettes if I smoked.

Years ago, a friend of mine once wanted to treat me to a new journal and when she saw me pick out the plain black sketchbook she said, “No, I want to TREAT you!”  She motioned to all the very beautiful, ornate, and expensive blank books and sketchbooks that lined the shelves.  “This IS a treat!”  I tried to explain.   She was giving me PRECISELY what I wanted and needed.  How often does that happen?  Besides, one of my favorite things in the world is the feeling of starting a new blank journal–so FRESH with promise!  Thanks to the uniform, it’s never PRECIOUS with promise.  I wasn’t able to articulate this to my friend at the time, but thanks to simplicity and the strength of those journals I never feel they are “too good” to really USE them.  I think people who are just starting out journaling get DAUNTED by the SPECIALNESS of “A JOURNAL.” How can you whine for pages on end if all the pages are cream white and encased in red leather?  How can you LET LOOSE or even LEARN to let loose when the outside is just SO PRETTY and maybe your thoughts, pictures, ideas aren’t?  It’s too loaded to get something pricey and pretty.  That’s just my (cough) humble opinion. If you’re a Journaler (with a capital “J”) you already know what works for you and if you are a would-be Journaler, time will tell you.  If you are a loving and supportive friend, family member, or acquaintance of a Journaler, get them a gift certificate to an art store and say, “I know you well enough to know what you like–go pick it out yourself.”


  1. December 7, 2011 3:01 pm

    Oh my goodness- that’s SO true! Thank you for articulating it so delightfully 😉 I too have a collection of various empty notebooks and fancy journals that I’m not quite sure what to do with.

  2. December 7, 2011 3:40 pm

    I agree with most of this: when I choose my own journals I buy Canadian-made plain black journals, college-ruled white recycled paper. No spirals (I hate spirals because they catch on things — clothing, items in my backpack). I can and have used journals others have given me though — the main criteria for me are size and whether it opens flat: I don’t like little dinky journals. I’m doing The Sketchbook Project this year and I hate the journal they picked — the paper is too thin — colors bleed through — and it is just too small. Still, to me, even a bad journal is a better gift then some other useless thing (Decorations? Don’t even get me started). You can turn them into photo albums or collages or altered books or give them away to the first person who admires them.

  3. mumsyjr permalink
    December 7, 2011 7:31 pm

    YES I know exactly what you mean. Plain, cheap, composition notebooks (the black marbled ones) all through high school, and the very plain hardbound ones they used to have at Borders, when there was a Borders, later. Right now I am having a journal identity crisis so I am going to make a list of the ones you mentioned and the ones that get mentioned in these comments and see if one of them won’t fit me.

  4. Cindy a.k.a. crichardwriter permalink
    December 9, 2011 9:36 pm

    Okay, I am one of those arty people who like Moleskins. Not the small kind, but the ones that are bigger with blank pages and no wire binding (those get caught on too many things or unravel). I also like how I can store them and stick a label on the front so I know what is inside. I always have different artistic projects going on, so each one gets its own notebook. I agree with you about not trying to buy journalers a gift journal – I would also extend this to books; they are just too personal to pick. I always just tell my family to get me gift cards to Barnes and Noble – it may not be bright and shiny like everyone else’s packages, but I am happy as a pig in a slophouse when I open that little gift card box and start thinking about all of the things I can buy on my next visit.

  5. December 11, 2011 4:12 am

    Haha, I know what you mean. I have been an on-and-off journaler (small j) all my life. I am always a wanna-be though. I have a journal that is so cool, it was my Aunt’s from the 60’s. It is green and embossed on the outside. A pretty picture of a girl holding a flower. The inside is organized with each day of the year, Jan1, Jan 2 ect. So cool! But saying all that, I have been too scared to use it! What if I don’t finish through the year? What if nothing cool happens that year? This post makes me feel like I should just do it though, maybe this year? thanks!

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