Drawing in a journal - a memory keeper.


Painting is just another way of keeping a diary.

—Pablo Picasso, Spanish Cubist painter (1881-1973)

This blog post from July 2015, my first year as an online artist, explains the importance of keeping a visual diary.

I never thought of the importance of sketching or keeping an artist journal until after I had completed the first sketch of my dad's lunch pail, a rather crooked drawing of it anyway.

Dad's lunchpail in watercolourNot long after Dad retired from working at the local paper mill in 1995, he offered the lunch pail to me.

I was happy to have it. Dad had suggested I use it for my own lunches, but that would not have been practical for the little space all employees had in the fridge at work.

Repurposing the lunch pail.

At one time, I thought of placing little pots of flowers or herbs in the lunch pail and using it as a decorative piece somewhere outdoors. However, it might have rusted and I didn't want that to happen.

Then came the idea of using it to store old family pictures. There is no way that the lunch pail could possibly contain a lifetime of photos.

As the years went by, the lunch pail was relegated to my craft room, where it stayed unnoticed.

elena ferrer image
A lifetime of memories (photo by elena ferrer at unsplash).

When I retired and started sketching and painting, I thought of all the family treasures I had in my house, and the lunch pail came to mind.

As a beginner working in a journal, the best way to start sketching is to find an object with which you have an emotional connection.

In my case, I found  the lunch pail, and a baptism robe, and then a Singer sewing machine to get me started on my journey.

Flashbacks while drawing in a journal.

As I outline and paint the lunchbox, memories come flooding back. And this is one of the most important benefits of a journal: it acts as a memory keeper in ways that taking a snapshot will not. I figure the motion of the pencil or pen on paper, the time it takes to focus on the object, the pure zen of it all contribute to dredging up long lost memories.

The lunch box story: 1957-1995

I can still see the lunchbox on the kitchen counter in our modest family bungalow. It was left there to be washed at the end of each shift. Then, it was refilled again for its daily journey to the mill.

The interior of the lunchbox still smells wood chips from the paper mill plant. Or am I imagining this? I think of the sandwiches made each day (how many would that be in a lifetime?).

There were odd shifts where the sandwiches weren't eaten.

On rare occasions, the men ordered Chinese food. If a fire broke out early in the shift, the men would order out as they worked overtime.

Also, the sandwiches probably came back on days Dad wasn't feeling well. Since he had very few sick days back then, he went to work anyway. It was very rare that he took time off for illness.

One day followed the next, day shift, graveyard shift, in the extreme heat and cold, he went to that mill for a whole lifetime.

Mostly, I think of the hardships of manual labour as Dad aged in that small town paper plant.

The days, months, years of physical work helped to pay the family home, the car trips across Canada and the USA with fighting kids in the back seat and tent trailer in tow. More memories stored away in a youthful brain to resurface much later in life.

Moreover, as I work on the lunch pail, I relive particular moments and replay overheard conversations of dreams, hopes, disillusionments, etc.

The calming effect of drawing in a journal.

The quiet movement of the pencil on paper, followed by the washes of watercolour has a calming effect on me.

I relax and try not to worry too much about errors in the drawing. My second attempt is better than the first, but perfection never really is the goal in a journal.

From this session, I learn that satisfaction comes from the remembered slice of life events. They are more important to me than creating the perfect reproduction.

Those memories bring me back to another place and time when life was lived, moment by simple moment, for me as a child.

That, I believe, is the true value of sketches in an art journal.

One of many family trips we took to various parts of Canada and the USA. Here we are in front of the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa, Canada.


Update on The Miners Lunch Box.

Since publishing this post in 2015, the company has had a rebirth in 2021. Visit L. May Mfg. to view new models in vivid pink, blue, green...and to view the appearance of the lunch box on Dragon's Den.

February 25, 2022:  Visit The Miners Lunch Box on facebook where this story was reprinted.

Here is the link to the Dragon's Den appearance by Mr. May's daughter.

Sudbury Ontario author, Danielle Daniel, featured the lunch box in her recent novel Forever Birchwood.

Does your family have a memento that will be passed on to the next generation such as the Miners Lunch Box? Or maybe you have this lunch box in your home?  Share your lunch box stories below!

What treasured moments have you remembered as you painted in your sketchbook? I would love to hear about them. Drop me a line below...

2 Responses

  • My Father Reginald Palmer had the sane type of lunch pail that he took to work at the Ford Motor company in Oakville, Ontario. He was a spray painter. Mom would make his lunch the evening before because Dad was picked up early for the ride to the plant 30 minutes away. He never drove or got his licence and put in 35 plus years at Ford. He was a hard working man that provided for his wife and 6 kids.

    • Thank you Dianne for sharing your story with us. I think those lunch pails are a symbol of hard working Canadians who supported their families with jobs in car manufacturing, paper mills, mines, construction etc.

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