Getting Back On Track After A Long Hiatus

Send to Kindle
"Seeing," from my Artist's Journal

“Seeing,” an image from an old journal of mine

For the last three years, I’ve been working on a memoir that I knew, if nothing else, would be the basis of healing a life I sometimes thought was terribly broken. In doing so I left my visual work in painting and collage on the sidelines so that I could concentrate on the writing.

The journals that I’ve been keeping for years became an important part of the writing process that pulled up old memories. As I wrote about my relationship with my mother, and went back into those notebooks I was surprised by the visual journal entries I had made and had an itch to do more of these colorful entries.

But the words I needed for my book flew thick and fast and I had little time to pull out the paint, the glue sticks, and the stack of old magazines and other stuff I needed to work with. Some of those things were still packed away from our move in 2010. It seemed too complicated to go looking for them.

When my memoir went to my copy editor, I decided to start painting again. But the thought of smearing paint on a large canvas was daunting. I was so out of practice, I had no idea where to start.

With the thought of a small visual journal on my mind I began puttering around, looking for the perfect notebook, opening up old jars of acrylic paint that were mostly dried up, and saving bits of interesting pieces of paper.

I began cutting out words and images from worn out books, magazines and junk mail. I bought new paint, retrieved the old hand stamps I’d carved eons ago, with their dried up ink pads. I found a variety of sketch pads that I liked and added some new pens of various colors. I cleared off a good sized section of my work table that was covered with stacks of papers that needed filing and moved the boxes of encaustic paints I’d been working with prior to deciding to write a book, over to the side.

I put out the new paint, the sketchpads, the scissors, and glue sticks. For weeks I just stared at it all, wondering which sketch pad to use and where to start. Suddenly I didn’t like the paint colors I’d bought and whenever I was struck with an idea that got me excited, something came up that needed my attention. Of course those enticing images in my head were swept away in the tide of work I thought I had to attend to before I could allow myself to play.

Desperate and needing help to get started, I signed up for Lisa Sonora’s, on-line video workshop, Dreaming on Paper. Because I am an artist I felt shame for not being able to get going on my own. In my head a smart-ass voice kept asking, “What happened? Did you forget how to make art, dumbhead? That’ll teach you to go off and write a stupid book!”

Turning my practical, structured, and sometimes intolerant left brain switch to off, I watched Lisa’s first video, put on some classical guitar music, sat down at my work table and began. Oh how freeing it was to just smear paint around on the pages of a sketch pad … and get this, at Lisa’s suggestion, I started in the middle of the pad, rather than at the beginning. I began flipping through a few magazines lying around and tore out words that resonated with me. They seemed to come out of nowhere, and the first ones fell together by themselves: Where My Heart Is. From there it was a piece of cake without all the rich, fattening calories. I let it sit for a few days, went back to it and played around some more. I started using my hand stamps and writing whatever came to mind.

And guess what? There it was!

IMG_1548 (1)

It is not be the most beautiful or astonishing piece of art I’ve ever put together, but I’m getting back on track. Lisa Sonora’s video series is artful, helpful, and inspiring. Hopefully, I’ll turn this work into a practice giving words and images their due together in journal form.

Have you ever put work aside that you had difficulty getting back to later? What did you do to begin again?


  1. Joan, I love your collage and what it represents–a return to the artist within. So glad you were able to give yourself permission to play. I experienced the same exhilaration when I took an art class during a writer’s conference with Montreal artist Cheryl Braganza. I blogged about it here: Sometimes we need to defer to the experts to tap into our own creative wells. Happy painting!

    • Joan Rough says:

      Thanks, Kathy. Yes, I remember that post and loved your art work. We do indeed sometimes need someone else to light our fires for us, especially when we’ve been away from our work for a long time.

  2. Joan — When you get “back on track,” you don’t kid around. From where I sit looking at your work of art, you clearly hit those tracks full steam ahead!

    • Joan Rough says:

      I appreciate your words, Laurie. When what we do is a passion, we do go full steam ahead.

  3. In our household, Cliff’s the artist and I’m the writer. We get the complete package in Joan Unleashed here. All I’d add is music to the mix. There is so much to admire about your initiative in a different medium, especially since you have barely put down the pen on your memoir.

    Since your are just beginning this video course, I imagine we’ll see more brilliant colors and contours on future posts. Bring them on; you can be sure I’ll be waiting in the wings for the next installment.

    • Joan Rough says:

      Marian, You will definitely be seeing more of these.

      Music is certainly an important part of our lives. I believe it is music that touches more people than any other art form. It is all around us. Simply listening to a symphony or the Beatles brings people out of their shell and helps them to feel their emotions. And learning to play an instrument is an inspiration unto itself.

  4. Besides writing, my “other art” is music, and they seem to alternate dominance over the course of my life. Lately I’ve felt called to try some visual art, something like this lovely interpretive piece you created. I think it would get a different part of my creative brain working. This online course sounds like it could be a way to start!

    • Joan Rough says:

      That is how it is for me too, Becca. It’s one art form at a time. I think Lisa Sonoma’s course is wonderful and highly recommend it. She encourages us to get into simply applying paint to a page and then letting ourselves go to create our own magic.

  5. Wow – this is looks terrific!
    Inspiration comes in all forms…. and it doesn’t matter how we take it in. Its how we express it that matters 🙂
    Let it go and let it flow Joan!

    • Joan Rough says:

      Thanks, Val, now that summer is coming to an end and it’s getting cooler, my flow is moving faster! I’m looking forward to the work.

  6. I too have difficulty in turning off that practical, rational, critical left brain. It looks like you have found a way to do it, congratulations. 🙂
    Perhaps I should try creating to music as you did – I always intend to, but forget when I get discouraged.

    • Joan Rough says:

      Linda, Ah, discouragement is curse. I know it well, but after living with it and my need for joy grows, I get tired of it and kick it out. Do whatever your heart tells you to do and music is one of the best things you can do.