Carly Swenson • Intuitive Artist

2020: semblance of normalcy art journal

Semblance of Normalcy Visual Journal Artist Statement: Life is super weird right now. Art journaling has been a way to get lost in art and forget momentarily that everything is terrifying.


I started art journaling when I was 19, at 36 I still return to this creative outlet almost annually. During times of personal change or heightened emotion, I’m always drawn back to art journaling. It’s grounding. Taking time for myself, to get lost in a creative endeavor and focusing solely on intuitively creating (without worrying about the end result, or any sort of expectations, or a preconceived concept of success). In those moments, I am able to get beautifully lost.

2020 was a strange and intense year. The pandemic affected every aspect of our lives; adjusting and readjusting to an ever-changing “new normal” was mentally and emotionally taxing in a way I’ve never experienced before. Art has always been one of the few things in my life that comes easy and naturally to me. Art feels like home. So as the year, and the world around me became less and less recognizable, it made sense to return to the comfort I find in creating. Every now and then, in rare moments I could almost forget everything else happening around me and feel a slight sense of normalcy. Working at my studio desk through quarantine, spikes in COVID, peaceful protests, rioting, political unrest, and a rise in crime and homelessness throughout the Twin Cities, I found brief moments of much needed inner peace. 

(I’d be remiss to not acknowledge that those are all very serious, relevant, and nuanced issues that shouldn’t be ignored. I recognize that everyone needs to be engaged, work to educate themselves, and think critically about the world around us. However, for my own self-preservation, I occasionally need to step away from everything to regain a healthy headspace, in order to once again try to move forward and be a positive influence in the world.)

Like everyone, my life became more isolated and contained within the walls of my studio apartment. While life evolved into a surreal version of itself by working from home, wearing masks in public, socially distancing, and an increasing number of computer-based meetings, continuing to create art helped me adjust because at least that felt normal. Art is what I’ve always done. Art journaling became my healthy version of escapism, when everything else felt too overwhelming.  

This journal helped my mind finally slow down. I could focus on what was still okay, instead of allowing my thoughts to continue spiraling out of control with fear and anxiety over the terrifying list of what-ifs that grew daily. Journaling reminded me that at this moment, I was okay. And it was okay to slow down. I could ground myself enough to remember I’m not alone. Everyone is struggling and adjusting. None of us knew what to do, or how to fix things. Journaling helped remind me that I wasn’t alone in feeling scared, restless, and confused. Ultimately, I wasn’t alone in feeling alone. 

These were small comforts, but I was learning in times of uncertainty, it’s important to take comfort where you can, even when it’s small–even when it would have likely gone completely unnoticed under normal circumstances. Working through this journal was also a steady reminder to be gentle with myself. 

As a journal, these pages range from expressing isolation and nervousness, to hope and playfulness. I love to include texture with stencils and various mediums, like thick-bodied acrylic paint, matte gel, modeling paste, and even a gloss gel with little beads in it. The subtle repeated use of paper punched leaves, birds, and butterflies created a sense of unity throughout the journal pages. I added a lot more drawings, doodles, design elements, and hand-written text in these pages than I have in many of my previous art journals. I like to use Faber-Castell’s PITT India Ink pens because they are waterproof, and last quite a while. They also have different tip widths available for a nice variation in line thickness. 

Found objects and ephemera like old photos, vintage postcards and stamps, retro paperback covers and children’s book imagery add a unique timeless quality. As if each piece has its own story and history it’s bringing to my newly constructed narrative. I love layering. Tissue paper and translucent scrapbooking papers add an interesting dimension to the pages, because they allow me to add patterns on top of images I’ve already placed on my pages.  


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