Keeping a Trip Book- Our Approach to Visual Journaling

11 March 2012

We do a lot of travelling during the warmer months, much of it as a family. On every trip we take along an empty journal- a book to be filled by all of us. We have been keeping “trip books” for years now and have a shelf full of them. The advantage of a trip book over a regular photo album is in the additional content- you have written journal entries explaining the photos, drawings and paintings to go along with them, other “artifacts” glued in (maps, receipts, parts of museum brochures, and so on), all in the context of one single journey. One book becomes a group journal, travelogue, sketch book, water color canvas, scrap book, and photo album.

Choosing a Book Style and Format
We make our own journals; we have a format worked out that fits our journaling style well. Over the years we have used many different styles of books: Medieval leather journals, basic Coptic style journals, codex style, pamphlet stitch, Japanese stab, and accordion fold. Our current favorite is the Medieval leather longstitch journal. Our covers are soft leather and inside we use a variety of papers including Mohawk, Arches, and Stonehenge, each having different qualities and thickness. Differing the pages throughout allows us to use pastels, watercolors, gouache, pencil, or glue in artifacts or photos from our trips. Our page size allows for two photos vertically or one horizontal. We also use accordion fold journals on some trips. Both of these styles allow for glueing in lots of photos. Since most of our trips are at least a couple of weeks in length, we often end up with 60 or 80 photos to go in the book, so it is important to have a book style that will accept a stack of photos 3/4 of an inch thick!

Another style of book we use specifically for backpacking is what I call a Backpack Journal. It is essentially a single signature from a codex style journal covered in Tyvek. (A signature is simply a number of sheets of paper folded in half.) The signature and its cover are held together by a simple stitch pattern. When enough of these are filled they are then stitched into a leather cover, along with empty signatures in between each one for photos relating to the backpack trips. A detailed explanation of the Backpack Journal can be found in a Desert Explorer blog post from April, 2009.

Various travel journals in different formats and book styles.

Keeping a trip book requires discipline. On our trips, each of us writes or sketches or paints in the book every day. If this doesn’t happen, the book eventually has “gaps” in it that detract from the story of our journey. We add to the book whenever one of us feels like it, but usually it is in the mornings and evenings. On river trips, sitting on the river’s edge with a cup of tea, watching the sun rise over the desert is a very motivating scene, and always easy to capture in words, sketches, or paintings. Evenings on the river, at a campsite, or in a hotel are another time we work on our books, and then often as a family.

Just as important as adding content to the book daily is finishing the book once you get home. Choosing photos and having them printed needs to be done as soon as possible. We dug out an unfinished book recently from a river trip two years back. The photos were missing. The book is nearly done now, but it took much longer to finish after the fact.

Accordion fold journal with extra pages stitched in.

Accordion fold journal with extra pages stitched in.

What We Record
We write, draw, paint, glue and otherwise add to the journal in whatever way strikes us along our journey. We all write notes nearly every day, sometimes just a page, sometimes many pages each day. Our son Nicolai likes to draw; he fills many pages of our books with his sketches and paintings, often in panoramic views across multiple pages. We all make lists: we keep track of our campsites and travel times on river trips or drives, the weather, plants or birds or animals we have spotted, and even meals we have made. Each of these can include photos as well. Often we add decorative borders to a page as a highlight. There is a series of books carried at Two Hands Paperie called Zentangle, introducing various forms of “doodling” that can make a page jump out.

As we fill a book we leave empty pages for photographs. We always note in pencil “photo”, so no one else will use our page. Others pages will have more specific notes: “photo of cairn on top of Bowknot Ridge” for example.

Some of the foods we ate on our trip.

Some of the foods we ate on our trip to Utah.

Art Materials We Carry
Depending on the trip and how we get to where we are going- driving, flying, floating, or walking, we might take along a sampling of every different medium available in our travel kit, or nothing more than a pencil, eraser, and a single .5 black Micron pen. On most trips other than a backpack we carry at least a selection of Faber Pitt Pens, a set of watercolor pencils, a set of Micron pens- colors, and all five sizes in black, a set of graphite pencils, and a set of gouache half pans. Those are our basic tools, and along with them goes brushes, eraser, pencil sharpener, glue stick, a roll or two of Washi tape, small pair of scissors, and stamp pad with date stamp. We also have a new addition: a Polaroid POGO printer. It makes small, sticker-backed prints that are great for sticking in amongst the pages. A full review of the POGO will be in an upcoming post. Even on days when we are feeling not-too-artisitc, with a kit like that at our disposal, it’s easy to add something to the book.

Photograph with associated watercolor and text.

Photograph with associated watercolor and text.

More Information
There are many books available these days on visual journaling and related journaling techniques. Our favorite is called The Illustrated Life by Danny Gregory. If you are wondering exactly what a visual journal looks like, take a look at Gregory’s book. You’ll be ready to start your own on the spot. For basic book structures and bookbinding techniques, we recommend Cover to Cover by Shereen LaPlantz. It discusses and has directions for all of the book styles mentioned in this post. Both of these titles, along with the Zentangle series and many other motivating works, are available at Two Hands Paperie. For those in the Boulder area, we still have classes on many of the book styles, as well as classes on visual journaling, scheduled over the next couple of months. Visit the Two Hands Paperie website for more information.

Part two is forthcoming: more about art materials and techniques.

Rattlesnakes and Snakebite, and Wolves in Utah

7 March 2012

I recently received an email from Marc of asking about some of my Dirty Devil River writings. We have exchanged a few emails at this point and I am certain there will be more. One of Marc’s comments had to do with the Desert Explorer pages on rattlesnakes. Marc has done extensive research on venomous snakes in the US and has published it all on his website. He has actually found an expert that would answer his questions honestly and clearly, and not beat around the bush. I had serious problems getting straight answers to the questions I asked, especially the question of what to do if you are bitten way out in the bush.

Some of Marc’s email to me on venomous snakes is so important, confirming a lot of what I ultimately did find out, that I have to quote it here. For one thing, Marc’s source states he feels that

“99.5% of all medical doctors… do not understand snakebites. He went on to explain that snake venom develops to kill what they eat, and they don’t eat humans. He explained that most snakebite deaths are caused by anaphylactic shock rather than from venom poisoning. He told me at about 25-30,000 people per year in the US are bitten by venomous snakes and that only about 15-25% are envenomated. In a really bad year 8 or 9 people in the US die from snakebites and in an average year the number is 2-3 deaths, usually in very young or very old people with weaker immune systems.

He also explained that most adult snakes do not envenomate humans because they have learned to control their venom releases. They need the venom to kill what they eat, and they have a limited supply, so using venom on something they cannot eat may cause them to starve to death. Baby snakes, on the other hand, have not yet learned to control venom releases, and so they usually give you a full dose. That is why some people falsely believe that baby snakes are deadlier than adult snakes. It is technically untrue. All snakebites have equal venom potency, and the real end result is determined by human physiology and general health conditions.”

Marc goes on to comment on the Sawyer Extractor and field treatment stating that he and his source talked about

“the Sawyer and he told me that it has one major problem – it acts just like a tourniquet – it traps venom in a localized area causing severe dermal necrosis. When used according to directions it may actually cause far more damage than from allowing the venom to carry through and be diluted by body mass. He also said that once the venom goes subcutaneous there is little chance of getting it back out. Luckily, most snakes have very short fangs and they do not penetrate deeply most of the time, especially if the skin is tough. In fact, they are also very brittle and they break off easily. In some cases a pair of fairly new blue jeans may prevent a snakebite, and any kind of leather shoe or boot is impenetrable. He said that rather than using the time needed to dig out the Sawyer and use it, just place your hands in a circle around a bite area, press hard and move them toward the bite marks pushing the venom back to the surface. It will be a yellowish-clear liquid. Try not to touch it with your bare skin, but rather wipe it off with a clean sanitary wipe of some kind, safely dispose of it (I prefer burning) and then clean the wound with Betadine and a loose bandage to prevent bacterial infection. If you don’t get the venom out really quickly, then any effort is worthless, and you will never get most of it, but unlike that one doctor told you, you most likely will NOT die! That is a statement made in total ignorance.”

The last part of what Marc wrote is the most important to me, that I am not likely to die if bitten by a rattlesnake and do not receive medical attention. Of course the truth is that I want to hear that I won’t die if I am bitten. But aside from that, I do know that it would be best to seek medical attention if possible. I also know that there are different species and subspecies of venomous snakes, different types of venom and levels of envenomation, and each individual will have a different physical reaction. The question I explicitly asked the Poison Control Center people on all of my calls to them was “what do you do if you are out in the bush and cannot get to help?” No one wanted to answer that question. Well, they did, but the answer was “seek medical attention.” So I phrased it differently, asking “what have people done who have survived venomous snakebite without getting medical attention?”  Same answer, “seek medical attention.” And so on. But Marc’s source did answer that question for him. And his answer confirmed my suspicions that you are not necessarily condemned to death if bitten.

For more information on rattlesnakes, snakebite data, and first aid, please visit the Desert Explorer Rattlesnakes and Snakebite page. And be sure to visit the Southwest Paddler Snakebite Information page for even more data on all species of venomous snakes in the US as well as recommended first aid for snakebite. Please note that all information contained in this post and on the above mentioned pages is for informational purposes only. I am not an expert on any of these topics, I am not a doctor or a herpetologist. Please use the information as a catalyst for your own research and to help reach your own conclusions.

Wolves in Central Utah?
The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources has reported sightings of wolves or wolf-dog hybrids near Springville. For reference, this is about 130 miles northwest of Arches National Park, as the crow flies . They have plans to track and capture the animals in the next few days, taking advantage of a coming snowstorm. After capture, the animals will have their DNA tested, the only way to confirm if they are in fact wolves. For more on this sighting, and the state of Utah’s wolf policy, visit the Utah DWR website.