Many artists already use sketchbooks to explore ideas, try out new techniques, and record experiences which might influent their own work.
However I also strongly recommend using an Artist Journal when developing new projects. It’s a bit like a conversation with yourself about the work you are doing. Much as you probably already do but in your mind. The advantage is that with a Journal you actually get to hear your answers and get a chance to think properly about this.
I was introduced to Journaling when I read The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron which for me was a game changer and took me back to my art roots which had over the years been left behind. To say it changed my life would not be an exaggeration. Luckily life does bring these experiences from time to time. As the more recent Studio Journey with Nancy Hillis.
While doing my Degree and then my Masters, tutors were insistent on us documenting everything we did, saw or developed but there seemed to be less concern about the Art Journal as a reflective aid then as a form of documenting your progress. I remember it more as a record what we were doing than of an opportunity to discover and reflect on those AH-HA moments you frequently have while you are painting (and in all other creative activities) so I’m afraid to say I abandoned the journaling fairly quickly after completing my training.
With my photography, I have now gotten into the habit of at the end of any productive art day, photographing the days’s work and reflecting on this in the quiet of the evening. With this I have now again gone back to posting these in a Art Journal with my comments about what I’ve done, my feeling about this work and ideas of where to go next. I find this helps set up the next days work, clarifies issues I might need a few more days thinking on before return to work. And most importantly let’s your unconscious tell you about all those clever ideas that have come to you while you have been doing the laundry or waiting for a bus. The think is though to get them down quick…before they go.
Not really wanting to do into a lot of cut and paste by using a traditional diary, I now have a digital diary. With much exploration I’ve finalised on one called DIARO (available both from Apple apps and Google Play) which is not expensive, syncs cross platform – I can use it both on my Android phone and IPAD tablet and it allows me to post both multiple images as well as well my observations and then read and look at these side by side and add further comments if I wish. When I open it it gives me in text and thumbnail images a running progress of what I’ve been up to the last month and more. Very useful for reflecting back on progress.
Sometimes it is useful to be able to explore ideas away from the paint easel and I have found another app ART RAGE where you can import a painting you have been working on and then sample the colours to create the same palette and in this way explore possible directions without affecting the existing work. It is much easier to delete and re-done digitally than doing it for real.
By the by, if you don’t know how to use these apps, there are some excellent tutorials on YouTube to get you started….go for the ones on Painting in Oils as this normally involves importing and image to work on which is what you want to do, rather than start from scratch.