Recently, an artist showed me how important it is to keep a painting journal. The concept is so simple, I can't believe I worked without one for years. I mean, I've kept writing journals since I was 13, why not a painting journal?
I think what stymied me was the notion that you can't put oil paint on paper. Wrong. You can. Just a little dab of a paint mixture in my journal dries quickly, and I can jot down notes about the colors used and other stuff. This is really useful when I have five or six paintings going at one time, and I can't remember when I worked on each one, what medium I used last, or even the color mixtures.
For example, look at the right-hand side of my journal above. You can see the date 9-26-06 and the name of the painting I was working on, White Iris. Below it you can see all the paint mixtures I used that day. Below each mixture is my note on how I mixed the color.
For example, the first dab is a pale, creamy yellow, one of the main tones in the petals. My note says this mixture was made from TW (Titanium White) and CY (Cadmium Yellow).
Now look at the next dab, it is a smoky pale blue, used for shadow areas in the petals. My note says this was mixed from TW (Titanium White), CB (Cobalt Blue) and CR (Cadmium Red).
And so on, recording every mixture I used that day. When I return to a painting after a week or so and I need to re-mix the exact same colors, I just look them up in my painting journal.
If you look at the bottom of the left-hand side of the journal, you can see the date 9-21-06 and the name of the painting I was working on, Power and Grace. Again, the mixtures I used that day were noted.
If you scroll around in the journal image, you can also see my notes from daily paintings. That way I have a record of when I did them!
Here's another page. Top left-hand side is another entry on 9-24-06 when I worked on Power and Grace. On the right is an entry on 9-26-06 when I worked on Release. This is a hands painting, and I had a lot of flesh mixtures. Since I'm learning how to mix flesh, I like to be able to go back and see what mixtures I used in a particular painting. Plus, whenever I come up with an absolutely fantastic mixture, I can always replicate it later.
If you look closely at this journal page, you can see that my work on Release went on for several days.
Note, this journal is just a little cheapy Jack Richeson Sketch book, with pages that measure 5-1/2" x 8-1/2". I can make notes on both sides of each page, and the dabs of oil paint don't bleed through. They dry in about 20 minutes, so I can easily flip pages during a painting session.
Another helpful tip is to get used to abbreviations for the colors you use, for example CYP is always Cadmium Yellow Pale, AC is always Aliziran Crimson, CSc is always Cadmium Scarlet, COG is always Chromium Oxide Green, and so on.
With this journal, I can measure my success. Often I look back a couple of months and see how much I've learned and grown. It's a great tool and one I couldn't work without.
Have fun keeping a painting journal!