Friday, June 17, 2011

Indiana Jones and My Own Personal Grail Diary

As a kid, my dad made sure I got the proper cinematic education.
One of my favourite movies was Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. What fascinated me most about the movie was the Grail Diary that Henry Jones (played by Sean Connery), Indi's father, kept as a treasure map of sorts to the Holy Grail. I found the diary completely riveting with its diagrams drawn from ancient medieval texts, illustrations from visited places, and texts copied and pieced together from riddles and literature.

I've always been extremely interested in Art History, so when I had the opportunity to study art in Italy a few years ago, I was beyond thrilled. I spent 6 months in Tuscany, in a little town called Orvieto, living in a convent that was hundreds of years old with 3 nuns. Among the cobblestone streets lined with windows and baskets of flowers was a tiny little shop; I bought two pocket-sized books, and carried them with me to all the cities we would visit.

At the beginning of every sketchbook I start, on the very first page, I write, "Do Not Be Afraid"; it is a reminder to myself that this space is for reflection, experimentation, and making mistakes. It is to remind myself that I must continue to make work, even if I am afraid of making a mistake; that in doing so, I will have learned something I did not know before.

Sometimes the things I saw during my time abroad simply could not be put into words. When words lacked (as they often did), I often simply did mastercopies of what I saw. As I have written here, "Words can't make that; and that's why I love art."

One of the things I loved about Italy was all the script typography everywhere. I often documented key phrases and words etched out with beautiful script. The tag in this page is from the first bottle of wine my friends and I bought and enjoyed on our terraza (the terrace of the convent in which we stayed - we lived in the very same rooms that were once lived in by sisters hundreds of years ago) The gold stamp is a gold-leafed picture of the Orvietani Duomo that was in the center of town. The city was saved from bombing during WWII because of the value of the frescoes inside the Duomo, and because of the artwork, the city of Orvieto and its authentic history is still standing, much the same as it was hundreds of years ago.

During my time in Italy, we traveled to a different city every weekend as a class. These drawings are master-copied from ancient medieval hymnals with gorgeous illuminated manuscripts, hand-painted by monks. The peacock is a master copy from a lesser-known fresco in the Vatican, and the quote I found painted onto an anonymous tomb in another cathedral. The quote says, "I was once what you are now, and you will be as I am now,": a reminder of life's fleeting nature, but also of its sanctity.

Even now that I am living back in the States, I still keep visual diaries and sketchbooks (I think my sketchbooks over the last few years number in the 30's) of quotes I love, thoughts I want to remember, and things I see that influence my art, and my own personal perspective.

Do you keep a visual diary? 
Or journal? (come on now, if Sean Connery can call it a diary, then it's still totally cool)
If you do, I encourage you to share on your blog as I have done, and then comment here and link me (and others) to it! We'll call it "Diary Friday" lol.


  1. I like! I've started keeping visual journals, but never seem to be able to finish one! Good idea, though, I will post some pictures on my blog over the next few days or so & link back here when I'm done.

    Very envious of your calligraphy skills, by the way!

    Zenobia Southcombe

  2. I've kept a visual journal before, but I got kind of lazy and gave up on it. XD I just keep a few sketchbooks now. Then there was also that little 365 project that I gave up on...

    Italy is so fascinating, and I would love to go there on vacation. :) I had to study a lot about ancient Italy and some intro about the art because I take Latin.

    Lovely journal, by the way. I have a friend who is very talented at calligraphy. She tried to teach me once and I ultimately failed.

  3. Wowowow, lovely!
    I am very interested to visit Italy now that I have seen some of your visual diary!
    I don't actually keep one, but I am definitely going to start!

  4. Zenobia - Hah, yea there was so much imagery in Italy, I could barely sketch fast enough! I'd love to see what you post up - please do link back! :) And thanks - my typography prof in undergrad was a calligrapher, so we did a lot of pen and ink exercises, as opposed to all digital work ;)

    Zhenya - Hey thanks so much! And thanks for stopping by!

    Nugget - Oh, what were you attempting for a 365 project? I've always been too scared to tackle one lol. Yea, Italy's absolutely gorgeous - I hope you get a chance to visit one day!

    Millabones - Thanks so much! :) Hope you get a chance too! Florence was my favourite city - wonderful place! Good luck with the visual diary!

  5. I've started to work more in pen now too, instead of pencil / charcoal for drawing - I like it cos you can't make a 'mistake'. You may already know about this, but if you haven't, there's a world sketchbook tour project - I think you and some of your readers may enjoy participating in it:

    Millabones & Nugget - this would be a great way to get started / motivated, too!

  6. You must have had the trip of a lifetime in Italy, especially in that little town. I love the way you documented everything in your notepad too.

    Your posts get more interesting each time I visit!

  7. Zenobia - Yea, I like working in ballpoint pen sometimes. It loosens me up to know I have to embrace my mistakes! And WOW, that Sketchbook Tour looks amazing! I'm really, really tempted to try it out and participate - thanks for sharing!

    Sabrina - Hey girl! I did... oh my gosh, I LOVED Italy. I miss it so much! And thank you for the kind words! I've really been trying to plan out content and do some cool stuff with my blog lately - glad it makes for a good read! :)

  8. I just found your post through craftgawker, and so happy I did! I love your visual journal. I think travel journals are my favorite, as they're often so full of life and excitement, and are beautiful reminders of a trip. They're the best kind of souvenir.

    I was also fascinated with that book in the Last Crusade. I wanted to see more of it. It needed more scenes, in my opinion.

    I am actually running a little series on fearless art/visual journals on my blog, if you're interested.

  9. These are lovely. I was equally fascinated with the Grail Diary in that much fun!

    I'm curious about this program you were studying at...was it through a school? I'm currently in Castilgion Fiorentino, not too far from Orvieto... still working on my own little sketch diary of sorts, ie still working on the same sketchbook I started when I started this adventure a year ago :)

  10. Jessica - I'm glad you found my blog through Craftgawker, too! I totally agree - journals are the best souvenirs - I collected little prayer cards from every cathedral and church we went too, and taped them in my book :) I checked out your blog - I love your fearlessness with your art prompts. I'm your newest follower! :) Thanks for linking up. :)

    Chelsea - Thank you! It's cool to know I'm not the old art history nerd out there who was intrigued by the Grail Diary (or maybe it was just Mr. Connery? Lol)

    My program was through a "brother school" to my college - Gordon College. I never got a chance to check out Castilgion Fiorentino - is it small? That's why I loved Orvieto - it was a very intimate experience, as opposed to the stereotypical "American Studies Abroad in Rome" type deal. You've been there for a year? That's awesome! (Are you fluent yet?) I literally just spent a good 20 minutes drooling over your posts - especially your architectural drawings! It's definitely not one of my artistic fortes, but I admire it so much when others can really do it well! I'm your newest follower! Thanks so much for stopping by!

  11. Ha! No, there are plenty of us art history nerds out there...and I will admit, I'm glad to have Mr. Connery among our numbers!

    Castiglion Fiorentino is very tiny! Yet somehow a destination spot during the summer for the medieval festival and Palio race, then for one of the music venues during the fall/winter. Strange combo, but like Orvieto, I think it helps to have a small town to call your home and be able to return to after a long week of studying in Rome or travelling. It's hard not to get attached to this place within the first few days of arrival!

    Not fluent yet, but doing nearly everything I can to get there asap! Thanks for the checking out the blog! Consider yourself followed as well! And I love your jewelry...your flower designs are some my favorite I've come across :)

  12. Wow your drawings are absolutely amazing! They make me want to try again (because i do have several sketchbooks, but i never seem to have the discipline to make something every day. I'm trying though)


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