Category Archives: Inspiration

Open Letter to the AJ Ning Community

Hi Everyone,

Change is inevitable but we are a fortunate group. Ning, the company we use to host Art Journaling has raised it’s prices but we are paid for the next year so we are good on Ning until June 2017.  another group I am a member of cannot afford the price hike and is shuttering at the end of October.

This is the second major price hike, where the group went from free to a reasonable price, to expensive (and why we run a yearly fundraiser) to now absolutely outrageous. The price went from $239/year to $588/year, more than doubling for next year. My frustration with this price hike has much to do with the fact that Ning has made little to no improvements in the years since the last price hike, so we are getting double the cost with zero improvements. Ning made plenty of promises after the last price hike, and lost many groups, particularly those like AJ Ning, but we persevered.
While we have a year to decide the fate of Art Journaling, right now I feel that the best choice is to move the site to a new host and using a new software. I’m leaning toward WordPress social media site but I’m open to other ideas, so long as it is less expensive than $588/year. I do not want to make a HUGE change like this without your input, as always because this is a community site, movement matters little if it is not done without YOUR thoughts, ideas, and feelings taken into account.

Please head to the site and join the group “Movement and Change” to discuss the option and feelings around this potential change.

I have a  little heart ache over the idea of moving from Ning, but I also feel like together we can make AJ Ning continue to be amazing and a resource for all the new and old art journalers alike. Again, even if you decide not to head over to AJ Ning (I really hope you do) I appreciate all the input, ideas, and art we’ve shared over the years. Please join in on the discussion and share your thoughts.


Leslie aka ComfortableShoes

Just a Pencil

Some of the heat that has been received over these posts has amounted to a minimizing and invalidating shout of, “It’s just a pencil!” Now I detailed my issues with the BWV and BW marketing over here so I’m not going to get into that. Instead i’m going to write about the statement, “It’s just a pencil.”

A Dixon HB #2 is just a pencil, as is the Casemate’s yellow HB #2, as is the Casemate’s Premium HB #2. These  three pencils and so many others are “just” pencils. There is nothing special about them, they don’t even have any remarkable marketing. They are just pencils. Graphite, wood, glue, paint, aluminum, and an eraser. They’ve been given no life beyond their aesthetic appeal, simply pencils.

Just pencils.

A photo posted by LC Harper (@originallcharper) on

The Blackwing Volumes  in complete opposition are not just pencils. Each has a story attributing it’s finish to someone. They are given a story. These are commemorative pencils, a tribute to the particular person they are designed around. These pencils are all about the story, not the pencil. The pencil is secondary to the story. The story is what sells the pencil. The pencil is just a pencil without the story. With out the story the 725 is the sunburst, the 211 is unfinished, the 1138 is gray scale, 24 is blackout, and 56 is pinstriped. Without the story these are pretty boring, yet expensive, pencils.

Pencils with stories attached. i.e. NOT just pencils.

A photo posted by LC Harper (@originallcharper) on

See now you can come back at me and tell me that Field Notes are just notebooks, because, let’s face it Draplin divorced the story from specific people and made them about things and the process of making the notebooks- night sky, beer, winter, etc. concepts and process not people or even specific things. That makes the FN just notebooks, whereas it’s much harder to tell me that the BWV are “just” pencils. They aren’t because BW decided to make them about the story.* Because for them, the story is what sells the pencil, never mind some of us have to actively divorce the story from the otherwise cool pencil to enjoy it. 

The other end of the battle cry of, “It’s just a pencil,” is that we’ve pissed in the sandbox because we focused our thinking around women and people of color. We’ve now been told that we’ve “ruined something that was once great.” Apparently suggesting that the party include women and POC ruins everything and holy shit, we brought women and POC to the party, well it’s completely ruined now. Might as well set fire to its corpse.

This “What do you think the next BWV will be? You know what would be cool?” literally occurs before EVERY single release, but for some reason this time it pissed people off. The only reason I can find for this anger, and this is supported by the comments section on Andy, Dee, and Johnny’s blogs is that we wrote about women and POC.

Maybe what we need to set fire to is the fragile little egos of those who complain at the suggestion that maybe some of us would like to see women and POC memorialized, perhaps because we are women or people of color, or maybe our loved ones are women or POC, maybe our families are made up of POC? Maybe I look to heroes that aren’t like yours?
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Tribute Pencils: Buffy Edition

I’m a huge Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan. I remember when the movie came out but didn’t watch the show until it was no longer on the air. I’ve made up for lost time by watching the entire season when I can’t figure out what I want to watch. Needless to say, with all this talk of commemorative pencils I started to thinking, “What would a BtVS tribute pencil look like?”

Would it be a #2 Faber Castell American, like what she used to slay the vamp while studying? Or would it look like a stake?

For this pencil modification I chose the stake route.

Materials were as follows:

  1. General’s Cedar Pointe #1
  2. L.A. Looks Endless red fingernail polish

I removed the erasers from the pencils and brushed on a generous coating of the polish. At the end I put a large dollop of polish on one facet and allowed it to run down the side of the pencil. Then I stuck it into a box so it stood up and could dry overnight.IMG_0143

I searched for a nail polish called “Harlot” but could not find one, however I think Endlessfits the bill and is the right blood red color.IMG_0144

Why the blood red? “Cause it’s always got to be blood….  blood is life.” IMG_0146

Anyway, this is my BtVS tribute pencil.

Pencils for Heros

Yesterday’s post, and the responses to it across the other 2 blogs and the Erasable community got me thinking. I wondered, “What currently produced pencils would I assign to each of these people or things that I feel embodies them?” If I think about my pencil collection and each of these people/things, which pencils match up? This list is my imagination and doesn’t take into account what the person would have or does actually use. I base this list off my readings of the person listed and out of my imagination.

With the old in with the new. #pencil #penaddict #stationery

A photo posted by LC Harper (@originallcharper) on

Lois Lane. I think Lane would use a tough, serviceable pencil like the USA Gold. Not the natural but the old fashioned yellow, made in the USA, USA Gold. It’s a smooth, tough core that lasts and lasts. I think she’d need that for writing in her reporter notebooks.

Hannah Hoch. This was an easy one. Hoch is the Staedtler Norcia, black with a white eraser. A hint of goth but it’s too cool for that. It’s got a hint of controversy too. Perfect pencil for this brilliant artist.

Sojourner Truth. Ticonderoga Renew. It’s got that renewable thing going for it, raw wood, smooth core with the occasional scratchiness. It’s remade into something awesome, and if there is one person on this list that is awesome, It’s Truth.

Audre Lorde. General’s Cedar Pointe #1, Raw, tough, serviceable, signs of use are easily visible as the sweat of one’s labor stains the barrel.

Softball. Eberhard Faber EcoWriter. A pencil that took years of work and research to create, but wasn’t around long enough  and is now gone, gone, gone.

Ellen. Nataraj Pop or Ticonderoga Stripes. Both pencils embody her bright, cheerful and positive attitude. The Pops sold out here in the States and the Tic Stripes on well on their way to being a best seller.

If you were to honor someone you admire with a pencil that is already on the market, who would it be, and what pencil would represent them?

Diversity? Schmercity

I haven’t subscribed to the Blackwing Volumes. There are so many reasons why, but after I let my Field Notes sub lapse I thought a lot about what it means to me to subscribe to something. I forced myself very carefully to examine my want vs need internal meter and each time I am faced with that WANT feeling, I carefully examine it.


For the most part, the Volumes don’t hit home for me. I like Dylan but uh, it’s a little before my time. The 211 was nice and hit all the buttons for me- except for the core. I don’t like the 602. Then we had the 1138 which I just don’t care about. The 24 is really nice but I have to actively divorce the Steinbeck association away from the pencil.* Finally we have the 56, the Dimaggio edition over a 602 core. Meh. Of the 5 editions only 1 really spoke to me.

Part of my disdain of the majority of the BWV is the heavy handed marketing by BW, the corporate atmosphere surrounding the editions, that they won’t release numbers produced** but also, the majority of the stuff memorialized is before my time. I’m not their target demographic- which is apparently older white dudes.

Mellissa in the Erasables group put up an interesting post pointing out that all of the editions have memorialized dead white guys and a music festival. Not one woman. Not one person of color. We could probably explore the myriad of reason for this, but I’ll leave it alone.

There’s been plenty of research in sociology and psychology that people tend to see people like themselves as their heroes. So when it comes to portraying heroes we usually see white dudes as those heroes. So I started to think about if I were to do a tribute pencil what would it look like and who would it be?

The Lois Lane Edition, 1938 She first appeared in the comics in 1938,m sure she was the love interest for Superman, but she was also a “tough broad” who held her own- a difficult thing in the newsroom back in ‘38. It’s be black, because Lois has black hair (most of the time) and a blue eraser, to match her eyes. The core? The extra-firm of the 24.

The Hannah Hoch Edition, Dada No numbers for this one, the Dada movement would insist. Hoch is often overlooked in favor of the male Dadaists, but she was no joke. Some of her art is astounding and stand up to this day. Call her the godmother of creepy teenage collages with oversized eyeballs. The pencil would be paperwhite, with a silver ferrule, and a black eraser because most of her work was done in black and white.

The Sojourner Truth Edition, 1851. She ran to freedom with her infant daughter in 1826 Changed her name in 1843. And gave her famous “Ain’t I a Woman” speech in 1851. The pencil would be dark blue for the Union Army’s Uniform, silver ferrule for lead shot, with a red eraser for blood lost.

The Audre Lorde Edition. 1984, For the year she published, “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House” an amazing read that every person should read. The pencil would be the grey of a well used tool handle, the ferrule rust colored, and the eraser, white to denote it’s the master’s tool.

The Softball Edition, 2012, Softball was removed from the list of olympic sports in 2012. But it’s played all over the world by millions of girls and women. Go figure. The pencil would be red for the stitches on a baseball, it’s have a gold ferrule for the gold medals that’ll never be won, and a brown eraser for the color of the infield. The core would be an MMX, because no one buys those.

The Ellen Edition, 1997. Ellen DeGeneres was the first openly gay woman on TV and had the first character to come out. The importance of this cannot be minimized. For years lesbians had to pretend that other female characters were “like” them and suddenly, there she was on the screen. It’d be a god damn rainbow.

Interested in reading more posts like this? Check out Johnny’s post and Andy’s post.

Please be aware there are no accusations leveled here, simply ideas for things I think would hit my demographic just about right.

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Using the Stockpile of Materials

As a response to my series of posts related to the Erasable group discussion I wondered how do we get people to actually use their stockpiled materials. I alluded to teaching art in my previous post and how one tool is to get students testing out their various pencils, pens, and brushes. Once acquainted with how they feel, students tend to favor one over another and begin to experiment. This enjoyment of experimentation is one of the tools I use to motivate myself into using my acquired stockpile of tools. It is also what gave birth to my reviews as well as my review philosophy.

I think that people would be happier and the world would be a better place if everyone owned a copy of these two books:

How to be an Explorer of the World by Keri Smith (HtbaEotW)
The Creative LIcense by Danny Gregory

(Yes, those are affiliate links to the ‘zon.*)

Why these two books? First, you might know Smith’s name from her rather well know, and  lesser book, “Wreck This Journal.” Don’t get me wrong. WTJ is a great tool, but HtbaEotW is superior. On page 5 it gives a list of 13 ways a person can be an explorer of the world, this list is amazingly compact and delicious when used to direct journaling and experiences. Number 8 on this list, DOCUMENT your findings (field notes) in a variety of ways is key for anyone starting out in journaling. What I especially like about this book is that it treats self exploration and exploration of your surroundings in the same way- just another thing to look at and consider. Basically, HtbaEotW is a guide for mindful journaling, it strips away the self conscious aspect of self exploration and makes the reader consider it as if their life and thoughts are scientific discovery. For my friends/readers who are therapist- this it the idiot’s guide to arts based research, but minus the self important grandiosity that I associate with some of our “leaders.”

Also, it seems as if it is aimed at children, but ignore that, get yourself a copy, if only for page 5. Heck print off page 5 from this NPR interview and keep it in your journal.

Why Gregory’s book? It’s an inspirational how to for visual journaling. I find Gregory’s anti-pencil/pro-pen stance a little… meh. But the rest of his information is inspirational and interesting as well as useful to get people using their tools. It’s both visual but writing inspiration. He gives a fantastic list of reasons to journal.

Both of the examples I give are inspirational for journaling. I’m biased toward journaling as a use for my tools because it is how I use most of mine (that and school)  and think it is a wonderful way to begin journaling. Also, it is probably important for me to define what I call “journaling.” Journaling is the use of a notebook (or sketchbook) to record anything of interest. Those things of interest can include simple to do lists, entries about your day, gratitude journaling, storytelling, fiction writing, recording of life, receipts, and other assorted items- either writing or art based.

In this definition, writing prompts can also be useful. I found a number of sites that had useful and interesting writing prompts. I’m not big on using prompts but I’ve found a few that are useful. The more interesting sites that I found are as follows:

I’d also include the book  How to Make a Journal of Your Life by Dan Price, but it is out of print and a little hard to find**. It’s also one of those love it or hate it books. Price is better known as the Hobo Artist and the man behind Moonlight Chronicles (sadly, now defunct) and this slim volume details the process he used to create his journals which became the Moonlight Chronicles. The advice is solid and combines both visual and creative writing. The ideas are sound for a variety of people. I love it but I have read reviews where people despise the book and Price* himself.

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I’ve been toying with the idea of adding reviews of my other other passion, coffee to this blog for awhile. I haven’t gotten around to doing it, but the idea is still sound. Of all of the things that come and go in my studio, coffee is a constant.  I cannot remember a time I did not create with out a good cup of coffee somewhere nearby.

Over the last few years I’ve had to cut back on my coffee consumption. I was a full  pot a day kinda woman, only I found that it was making me jittery and was interfering with my sleep. I’ve cut back to 1 or 2 cups of good coffee a day. Occasionally when pulling a late night study session I will have an additional cup. But most days I’m down to one cup.

Because I cut back so much I decided that I wanted to drink even better coffee than I was before. I began exploring higher end coffees and micro roasts. Though I spend more per pound of coffee I’m spending less than I was before because I’m drinking less. I’m also enjoying it more. I’ve also gotten very picky about the brews I’ll drink. I could tell you stories about the undrinkable swill I bought at a Starbucks on the Maine Turnpike or the delightful cups I’ve purchased near school.

Basically, I like coffee a lot and I’ve spent the last few years learning about different brewing methods and good coffee, maybe I should write about that. Maybe not. Maybe this stuff should go on a whole new blog, but I kinda feel like coffee and art go together like peanut butter and chocolate.

Out of Touch, Yet Perfectly Valid

As I’ve delved further into my graduate work I’ve felt more and more out of touch with the world of online art teaching, specifically the teaching of art journaling. Part of this is that I’ve deliberately distanced myself from all the hoopla and brouhaha that surrounds the opening of new classes. The marketing and commercialism turns me off. I get that these classes bring in new people to the joy of art journaling but I can’t help that I just don’t like some of the things I’ve seen. I don’t begrudge the creators of these classes their fat paychecks**. But to me, art journaling when done for healing is a private thing.

This sort of uneasy feeling was cemented when earlier this week I met with a client who isn’t an artist, would likely say she’s not interested in art, but was willing to try out visual journaling. As we sat together and she learned about the materials and expressed herself visually I realized that these sorts of moments- true expression and exploration are what got me interested in art journaling in the first place.

What hooked me wasn’t pictures of big eyes girls, or classes, or even making pretty pages. What hooked me was the authentic expression I found within the pages of my journal.

What I was so very privileged to share in this woman’s experience was pure unadulterated authentic expression using only the most basic of art materials.

When was the last time you used something basic in your art journal? Cheap markers? Oil pastels? Crayons? Prang watercolors?

This was the first time in a year where I’ve felt connected to visual journaling in the same way I did 10 years ago. I was able to see the connection to the journal form and the pure expression of her art build. I witnessed something special.

I haven’t felt that online in ages.

This isn’t to say that the mega classes aren’t fun, I’m sure they are, but they aren’t what I think of when I think “art journaling.”

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Ideas and Content

As I move further into my professional development as an art therapist and licensed mental health counselor* I find myself wanting to integrate some of my new interests into the blog. Partially as a resource, both for myself, but also to my readers. Well, with training in art therapy comes a lot of ideas of therapeutic interventions as well as a shit load of reading on the various topics. I’m also doing a fair amount of research for my papers and internship.

First I’m thinking of integrating a few book reviews into the blog, specifically those I’m finding inspirational and useful in my internship and papers. I’m reading a lot of really interesting stuff on art therapy, art as therapy, art used in therapy, and general therapy books. I’m less interested in reviewing therapy books as I am books that give specific ideas for Art Therapy. I’m not sure how this will work, or if it will work out. It’s something I’d like to do.

As for the therapeutic interventions. I almost feel like that needs to go on it’s own blog rather than here. But again, my personal philosophy of having the blog follow my personal interests and not having a set theme other than “Leslie’s Mental Whimsies,” is the only way I’m able to continue the blog without  burn out. Look at how different the blog is than it was at it’s inception back in 2000**. I’ve gone from just documenting my various bookbinding ideas and dabbling in art journaling to basically reviewing pencils, pens, and paper. Basically I’m at a loss as to exactly how I’m going to integrate this into my blog.

Those are the first two ideas I’d like to add to the old blog. I’m not sure how I’ll fit them in, or if I’ll even add them. Time is at a premium, and these kinda feel like I’m adding to my course load. I guess I’m also interested in how my readers feel about my ideas for new content. Clearly I haven’t’ been writing much about art journaling lately and my focus has really moved from art as an activity to art as a healing tool. As I make that shift in my head and my practice I’m really struggling with how I’m going to keep up my blogging practice*** I’ve been forced to cut back on blogging simply because I only have so  much time in a day and much of my time is taken up by studying and writing for my classes.

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Reflection: The BEST Pencil, EVER

After getting the weird bendy extruded pencils*** (by empire? eagle?) several years in a row I vowed that when I had control over my pencil purchasing power to buy better pencils. I was also older and used pens as much as I possibly could. That is a whole other story*. Anyway, I think it was 8th grade when I discovered the various colored Eberhard Faber Americans. They came in red, blue, and green. After years of messing around with crappy bendy nasty writing pencils I suddenly had pencils that sharpened and wrote well. It was a miracle to not struggle with my pencil.ECOwriterAs I entered my second year of high school I had been reading about ecology and recycling and though of myself as a budding tree hugger. That school year I purchased my first batch of Eberhard Faber ECOwriters and  the pulpy gray recycled paper that went along with them. The paper was a dull gray had green ruling and a little recycle logo in the bottom right corner. It was terrible paper for pencils, but was great for ballpoint pen. The ECOwriters were briefly available at my local drug store (I think back then it had changed from Welby’s to Rite-Aide) and I could pick up another 12-pack anytime I wanted them. When it wasn’t back to school time they were ridiculously expensive but I always splurged. **

I used the ECOwriters for a couple of years with much happiness. I bought one of my last packages in college and thought nothing more of them, until I ran out. I had squirreled away a few packages of them, but for the majority of college I used art pencils and roller ball pens or various art pens. It wasn’t until I was teaching that I had a need to get another pack of ECOwriters. I went to my local drug store, and found nothing. On a weekend I took a trip to the far away box office store, and found nothing. I went to box stores, nada. I looked for them on and off for a few months before I happened onto another package I can’t even remember where I found them, but I remember being confused, the pencils said “ECOwriter” but it was accompanied by the brand PaperMate.***

I got them home, tore into the package for instant sadness and disappointment. The core was gritty and not smooth. Sharpening them was a painful experience. Back then I sharpened with a knife 99% of the time and that was just an awful mess. My art sharpeners, even new sharpeners left a terrible mess on the pencils. It was as if the pencil that I had loved was crumbling before my eyes. I think I left these in my classroom for kids to steal rather than use them.

Enter eBay, the flea market for champions of 90s nostalgia. A seller on eBay has lots of these beauties, true vintage Eberhard Faber ECOwriters from the 90s! I was surprised to get a package from a friend containing a baker’s dozen true EF ECOwriters, in not only  the traditional yellow but also the color version. Best early birthday gift ever! I immediately sharpened one up and used it all day. It was rad. I’ll do a full review, remember it’s colored with nostalgia.

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