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Brooke Berman: A Collector of Images

Jul 28, 2010

by brookeberman

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Brooke_bio.jpgBrooke Berman is an award-winning playwright, whose work has been produced across the United States and London. She recently published her personal story, No Place Like Home, A Memoir in 39 Apartments, which follows young Brooke through New York as she tries to make ends meet and make her dreams of a life in theater come true. She currently lives in Los Angeles with her fiancé and boxes full of sourcebooks — her means of collecting inspiration for work, and life.

“The function of art is to do more than tell it like it is — it’s to imagine what’s possible.” — Bell Hooks

When I was a college freshman, the red-haired, bohemian teacher of “Theater One” gave an assignment. (Note: to a 19-year-old from the Midwest, “bohemian” just meant mismatched socks and a walk-on role in Desperately Seeking Susan.) She asked us to buy a blank book — any size, any format — and to “Imagine yourself a collector of images. Put something in the book every day.” She didn’t tell us how to use the images or what we’d do with the books. The “sourcebooks” were meant to be personal, a visual conversation between the outside world and our own inner lives.

I immediately went out and bought a medium-sized hardcover blank book and started filling its pages. I colored, wrote, watercolored and pasted things into the book. It became my favorite pastime. And I have kept it going — now a series of books — for 20 years. During that time, I’ve also moved 39 times, and these sourcebooks are heavy! Last week, when my fiancé moved the contents of our storage space into a “pod” to be shipped to L.A., he noted the number of boxes marked “JOURNALS” and remarked, “For a girl who’s moved 39 times, she sure has a lot of journals.”

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So why keep them? Certainly not for nostalgia, that’s not my thing. But as a visual record, so that I can refer back to them, mine their pages for projects and honor the process of making something from nothing. The sourcebooks are a key part of how I understand the creative process, teach myself new skills and summon new writing. They give me a workshop, a laboratory, in which to make concoctions — to mix whatever catches my eye: color, image, style, or found pictures with pieces of writing. The books are also places to collect wisdom from others and stuff that I find — fortune cookie papers, candy
wrappers, the business cards of strangers. I keep track of performances and exhibits, too.

I take notes for work that I hope someday to form into a play. I cover whole pages with pictures, collages, and questions while writing plays — sometimes to imagine the “world” of the play, sometimes to help visualize a character. When I’m not working on a specific project, I update the books anyway, cataloguing and pasting together anything that captivates, intrigues or even freaks me out. The books keep my creative process alive no matter where I’m living, what I’m working on, or what else is happening. They are how I receive and digest information. Keeping them is my favorite thing to do.

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These books aren’t just for “artists,” anyone can benefit from this process of visual mapping. Making a collage can help you formulate what you want to create in your life, how you’d like to revamp your fall wardrobe or even repaint your kitchen. You can investigate design ideas. You can explore fashion the way that designers and stylists do, with “lookbooks” or idea boards. You can use a sourcebook to create stories for children (or help them make up their own). Recently, I started keeping a book for my wedding — I had no idea how to plan a wedding, but I did know how to make a good collage and start to brainstorm creatively. So I cut out pictures of what I wanted and what I imagined mattering… and eventually discovered that I want to elope. (But what a beautiful elopement it will be!)

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Making collages for my creative life and theater projects has also translated well to my daily life. As someone who faces a menu tormented over what to eat, the ease of making choices while working in the book has an instructive quality. I can draw from the experience of knowing what I want to look at (or write about), and thus, I can summon that same presence of mind when faced with more mundane decision-making. The point is, collecting images has a payoff — you’re able to show yourself, very tangibly, the world that you want to live in and create. And then, you can go about making it happen.

How do you collect inspiration? Tell us in the comments below.

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98 comments

  • objetpetita

    objetpetita said 7 years ago

    Love the idea of that - like a roaming collage. Just might try one!

  • ikabags

    ikabags said 7 years ago

    Wonderful ! Love it !

  • candacejean

    candacejean said 7 years ago

    This is so wonderful! I love seeing other people's thoughts in written form. I used to have this SAME sort of book in High School; I had it just because I wanted one and filled it full of thoughts, saved paper scraps, clipped photos and other snippets. I still have that old book.. it's so neat to go back and look through. Today I have an "idea" book that, in the tiniest handwriting I can muster, I jot down ideas that pop into my head and complete the thought with a thumbnail drawing. It contains names I hear that I like, ideas for series of paintings if (/when!;) I get into galleries someday, and the names of animals and plants I find intriguing and don't want to forget to include in a painting eventually. I had to go back and turn my art room upside down to re-collect all my old notes and doodles on lose scraps of paper from years past so I could keep them together in my "idea" book and all in one place. It’s a giant collage and menagerie of messy thoughts. I love it. I love the idea of adding an idea to your book every single day! Thank you so much for sharing this!

  • Slowshirts

    Slowshirts said 7 years ago

    It really is the perfect way to remember experiences, thoughts and moments from your life. Dream journals are also fun to keep. GREAT POST!!!!!

  • RainyPenguinVintage

    RainyPenguinVintage said 7 years ago

    Brooke, This is my favorite Storque blog post yet! I've been keeping similar journals for several years--sometimes I add to them daily, sometimes a lot less, but it's always a satisfying experience and a wonderful way to record my creative thoughts. The process also inspires me and always keeps me thinking. Thanks so much for this article. It makes me want to go home and put something down in my book right now! Happy Wednesday! Jeanne RainyPenguinVintage

  • AZCreativeStudio

    AZCreativeStudio said 7 years ago

    Very interesting! Love it!

  • junkyardglitter

    junkyardglitter said 7 years ago

    This is the coolest idea! I am stealing it

  • polkadotmagpie

    polkadotmagpie said 7 years ago

    Beautiful story. I am going to check out Brooke's book. I too tape things into my sketch book with notes. Nice to see someone's process.

  • Krystyna81

    Krystyna81 said 7 years ago

    love, love love the quote... "to imagine what's possible" Thank you for your story! How wonderful to have these tactile (visual!) reminders of a journey. I kept diary thru HS, but then switched to sketchbooks, now I tend to blog. I miss the tactile experience sometimes. Perhaps it is time, inspired by your story, to get back to creating a visual diary!

  • LuRuUniques

    LuRuUniques said 7 years ago

    I have notes about things scattered from here to there. I going to start putting them in there place, NOW. Thanks for the idea.

  • aynart

    aynart said 7 years ago

    collage! collage! collage!

  • SimpleJoysPaperie

    SimpleJoysPaperie said 7 years ago

    I have a few 3 ring binders (with clear pages) filled with pages and pages from magazines ~ inspirations and ideas for my dream home... and for the home I currently live in. :)

  • jewellerytreasures

    jewellerytreasures said 7 years ago

    very interesting read! i thought i had moved house a lot!

  • williamsportcharms

    williamsportcharms said 7 years ago

    Very cool.

  • ArtifactsAndRelics

    ArtifactsAndRelics said 7 years ago

    I love that you have moved 39 times and have it and your life documented. Bravo! I collect objects and images from places I visit and those end up in jars or small drawers, and I've kept a writing journal on and off for years. I have used inspiration binders too. It really helps me clarify what I like.

  • erinelizabeth

    erinelizabeth said 7 years ago

    What a great idea! I'm forever ripping pages out of magazines or newspapers, but the inevitably get misplaced. I saw a story on TV once about a man with a huge pile of spare parts in his yard. He called it his "Library of Visual Solutions." I think that will be the title of my journal.

  • acornalley

    acornalley said 7 years ago

    I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who does this! I have been collecting images and hand/typewritten notes since having Nikki Giovanni as a writing professor in college. I love your images! Mine are pasted in the pages of old New Yorker magazines...

  • DanaLaymon

    DanaLaymon said 7 years ago

    I fell in love with this idea when a book came out called the Journey is the Destination. Love this idea and it is so inspiring!

  • Texangypsy

    Texangypsy said 7 years ago

    LOVE this! Doin it.

  • lindaketelhut

    lindaketelhut said 7 years ago

    Your memoir sounds like a wonderful read. I like the idea of these collections as sourcebooks. I also love the visual nature of of these books - expressing a day in our life, our dreams... not just with language, but through scraps of paper, sketches, magazine clippings...

  • PrimaryRedux

    PrimaryRedux said 7 years ago

    Excellent quote by Bell Hooks! Such a great post full of inspiration to work, make, create...and record. Brings to mind Warhol's boxes. and how many of us keep these journals in many different forms. I started putting some of my odds and ends and clippings and writings in packages, but recently moving to journal form. I was talking with someone about random things, places I had lived, that I was an artist. Then they said, "that's why you've moved so many times, artists seem to move a lot" I had never thought about it until then.

  • CherryVanVintage

    CherryVanVintage said 7 years ago

    Can't wait to go out and get a journal - I have collected bits and pieces of paper, cards, torn pages of magazines, feathers, etc. for sooooo many years. I come across them stuck in drawers, boxes, baskets - and I wonder what to do with them. Now I know. Thanks so much. Maybe this will help me figure out what "my style" is and help define who I am.

  • NanLawson

    NanLawson said 7 years ago

    wow - i just drew a portrait of you! how funny to see your face here! i also have a notebook from my college years that reminds me of your "source books" but it's mostly a concert journal. they are so creative and beautiful!

  • mialareine

    mialareine said 7 years ago

    I have always LOVED this kind of journal...I do the same thing and I can honestly say that they are my most treasured posessions. For a visual person, a collection of images can evoke the same memories as a written record of events.

  • TrueOrganics

    TrueOrganics said 7 years ago

    I like the idea. I used to do something like this when I was a teenager more writing than pictures but plenty of collages. Its fun to look back at what I created. I think I'll start this up again..... I've got to find a focus first... will it be living a natural life, our new life with our new baby, or all and everything in between? Thank you for sharing this with us.

  • Adictaaloscomplemnts

    Adictaaloscomplemnts said 7 years ago

    love it!

  • sillythekid

    sillythekid said 7 years ago

    Brooke this is really inspirational! I might incorporate this to my work space...

  • blueskyclouds

    blueskyclouds said 7 years ago

    What a fantastic idea! I am taken by all things visual, but don't know what to do with these things...be them typography or otherwise. I might just have to start my own!!!

  • tzsekwan

    tzsekwan said 7 years ago

    i hav done this in high school for bk lessons!!

  • sbeever

    sbeever said 7 years ago

    awesome I love memory books. I once met a lady who carried with her felt tip pens everywhere she went - and she went everywhere1 - and drew a picture. It was such an amazing way to see the world and it can bring new life even to familiar places.

  • rarebeasts

    rarebeasts said 7 years ago

    I do something like this, but my books are full of drawings and ideas with electronic circuits added.

  • f18wife

    f18wife said 7 years ago

    This is a great practice for anybody with creative energies! I've been doing this for about 5 years with fashion collages. Now, I never leave the house to shop for clothing or fabric for sewing without first looking through at least one of those journals. This ensures that I only acquire clothing that defines who I am.

  • Yvonne4eyes

    Yvonne4eyes said 7 years ago

    Brooke, I always dreamed of living in NY even to this day. Thanks for the glimpse into your visual records. I must get your book so that I can continue...

  • rowenamurillo

    rowenamurillo said 7 years ago

    Journaling, in art and writing, has been such a valuable thing for me. Both as a person and as an artist, I would not be the same without them.

  • phiavintage

    phiavintage said 7 years ago

    Nice images! thanks for the post!

  • backyardcolorado

    backyardcolorado said 7 years ago

    So inspiring and thought provoking!

  • emarie

    emarie said 7 years ago

    Great article! As someone who is lousy at keeping a written journal, I've always found a visual journal much more fun. It's a catalog of influences for me.

  • AntoinettesWhims

    AntoinettesWhims said 7 years ago

    Love the advice of that teacher! Thank you for sharing your journals, though I feel like a voyeur into such a personal area.

  • crimsonfirestudios

    crimsonfirestudios said 7 years ago

    What a cool way to do journals. Now I need to go out and buy a blank book and fill it with my imagination!

  • squid21r

    squid21r said 7 years ago

    This makes me want to collage so bad.

  • withachanceof

    withachanceof said 7 years ago

    What a great way to be creative everyday, I may need to start doing this. thank you for sharing this!

  • Parachute425

    Parachute425 said 7 years ago

    the voyeur in me says thank you.

  • lorenabr

    lorenabr said 7 years ago

    Lovely idea :) takes me back when I was doing it :)

  • Pixiidark

    Pixiidark said 7 years ago

    Well is sounds as though i was never as loyal to it as you, but I also use this to help me refocus myself and keep track of my tohughts

  • littleloveblue

    littleloveblue said 7 years ago

    i used to do this all the time, and wish i had kept it up. i have a terrible memory and it was a good way for me to remember thoughts and ideas. it is often a surprise when i go back and read them. i must start again.

  • polkadotshop

    polkadotshop said 7 years ago

    This is brilliant! Manifesting a wonderful life through the images and words in your journals. I need to live by this.

  • GoodGriefGlass

    GoodGriefGlass said 7 years ago

    Your journals sound much more interesting than my trail of post-it notes...

  • NaturesCubbyhole

    NaturesCubbyhole said 7 years ago

    What an interesting idea; make your own portable, personal, and completely unique record of your life during that particular journal's time. Fabulous, thank you for sharing!

  • AlternativeJournals

    AlternativeJournals said 7 years ago

    I do the same.. it's very relaxing.

  • themarketintheglen

    themarketintheglen said 7 years ago

    I love the idea of this! I couldn't do it on a daily basis, but I can definitely see how this would make decision making easier. You can start to see patterns and learn things about yourself that you might not otherwise be able to do. I love to write, but I like that it's visual too. It works both sides of the brain! Thanks for sharing and have a great elopement!

  • GooseyGirlDesigns

    GooseyGirlDesigns said 7 years ago

    Very cool idea! I'm going to try to do this. What a great treasure to leave for my kids as well.

  • beevintageredux

    beevintageredux said 7 years ago

    This is too awesome!

  • tatimaia

    tatimaia said 7 years ago

    Oh, thank you VERY MUCH for sharing your books! That's what I really need to do! I use to write my diary since I was teenager, but nowadays it's not diary anymore. Maybe I should call it "monthly", instead. And I have the ridiculous mania of keeping all paper I've found everywhere and magazines that I know I'll never read again. So, nothing better than creating books like yours! Hugs, Tati

  • SassySisterVintage

    SassySisterVintage said 7 years ago

    I'm inspired! One of my favorite blogs in a while ;)

  • LeafandInk

    LeafandInk said 7 years ago

    Awe...Brooke has painted a beautiful portrait to share with us all! Blessings Brooke! Come visit our blog, become part of our family and live out life with us here at LeafandInk! http://leafandink.wordpress.com/

  • obsequies

    obsequies said 7 years ago

    I do this too :) It's an amazing thing that I think everyone should definately try ^_^ So expressive :)

  • Emmamaha

    Emmamaha said 7 years ago

    This is a very cool idea. I have always been into 'inspiration boards' and this is similar to what I've been doing since I was a teenager: cutting up pics from misc. magazines or sketching something and taping them to my wall (my mom hated it!!) until I ran out of space. Thanks for sharing yours. Definitely inspired me to return to this habit but this time, I'm using your idea of putting it into a book:)

  • MavisandFrank

    MavisandFrank said 7 years ago

    VERY IMPORTANT - bell hooks spells her name in lower case, ALWAYS. Someone best change it quick smart!!! Otherwise a lovely post, thank you x

  • jcisco112

    jcisco112 said 7 years ago

    Great Idea. I do something similar to this to preserve our family memories.

  • jargonhead

    jargonhead said 7 years ago

    Great article! I used to do source books like this in college, but now I have a magnetic board instead. It saves time and fits right next to my easel!

  • fullcircleimages

    fullcircleimages said 7 years ago

    how inspirational! It's great to see an artist taking such meaning and inspiration from everyday images. Great work!

  • LittleWrenPottery

    LittleWrenPottery said 7 years ago

    Great idea, reminds me of when I was in college and we did mood boards. I always found them quite effective : )

  • breadandroses

    breadandroses said 7 years ago

    So good!

  • PaperPicker

    PaperPicker said 7 years ago

    the collage clipboard is wonderful. vintage paper is my thing, hence the name Paper Picker.

  • PinkSenorita

    PinkSenorita said 7 years ago

    Thanks for sharing! I have a similar book/ journal in which I write quotes, thoughts, and paste news clippings into. It's fun to flip through the pages and see how you have evolved as a person as your interest and prespective on things change. :)

  • HeartfeltLetters

    HeartfeltLetters said 7 years ago

    I agree! Some people are more visual and other people are more verbal. Collecting images like writers collect smart quips is a great way to inspire the soul!

  • Adeleshop

    Adeleshop said 7 years ago

    It is kinda like my habits! I order fashion magazine and cut good design bag picturs. I have an album full of pictures of unique design bags. When I make my purse, I always look through my album to get inspirations!

  • bhangtiez

    bhangtiez said 7 years ago

    This is a fantastic idea....what a great summer keepsake for kids...or even all year long. I have a collage I made years ago folded up with my old pictures...it's fun to "find it" every now & then & remember the time I made it and the images & drawings I chose. Thanks for sharing your story! Very inspirational!

  • mm11lover

    mm11lover said 7 years ago

    Thanks for sharing!! I really think a lot of people would benefit form doing something like this. I always save images and things and don't know what to do with them, and now I have something new to try out. Thanks

  • jbeaudet

    jbeaudet said 7 years ago

    That's a cool idea! Thank you for sharing it!:)

  • jalinde

    jalinde said 7 years ago

    Reminds me of Dan Eldon's "The Journey is The Desitnation".

  • dearbitsy

    dearbitsy said 7 years ago

    I love this idea! I keep a box under my bed of ideas I find, pictures I like, and projects I can do later. A bit like this, but with more of an inner monologue. A friend of mine does something similar to this by decorating her french notebook throughout the year with different images she likes. Its got a few layers by the end of June.

  • habituate

    habituate said 7 years ago

    I love that you're writing about this. Having gone to art school and every professor telling you about the importance of keeping a sketchbook, I can definitely relate, and am trying to keep up one of my own. 1 in progress, many more to come!

  • littleteethshop

    littleteethshop said 7 years ago

    Great article. I keep journey like these as well. I paste whatever that I find interesting from magazines to newspaper. It becomes a great references for me.

  • LeftLane

    LeftLane said 7 years ago

    my daughter and i started our source books last night. an hour of sweet bonding. thank you for the inspiration.

  • Hayscrap

    Hayscrap said 7 years ago

    what a beautiful idea! Really want to make a collage now! going to buy a nice chunky notebook :) thanks for such an lovely post!

  • TuckamoreDesign

    TuckamoreDesign said 7 years ago

    I love this idea, and I've realized that I've been doing something similar for years. I have a collection of written journals, but I also have sketchbooks which I've kept since I was an architecture student. When I started printmaking, the two passions merged into a single book. I love to go back through them and find sketches, notes, and clippings from both parts of my life, side by side. The other night, I was searching for notes from an etching class that I took in 1997, and found random ideas about what I wanted my architectural career to be like in the future. It's a lovely record of your own thought processes and evolution as an artist.

  • WhisperandHush

    WhisperandHush said 7 years ago

    I have a dream house book just like this! Well, a few actually. My beach house, mountain home, country getaway... i've been dreaming up these homes for the last ten years. When I have the house to myself, instead of turning on the TV and take out my books and try to piece together a floor plan! I actually now have the land for the country getaway... if I can just nail down that dream floor plan.... glad to hear i'm not the only one who does this sort of thing... i get some crazy looks when i mention my "dream books". But how will it ever manifest if you don't plan it out, right??!!

  • aileenrae

    aileenrae said 7 years ago

    This reminds me of my journals. I have these little books tucked all over the house. Some alongside the cookbooks in my kitchen others in the library and of course two or three on my nightstand. They're like mini scrapbook/collages of me. It's an artsy way to track where you've been and what you're experiencing in life. I will include everything from newspaper articles, my own thoughts and feelings, quotes and photographs. I think this is such a fun thing everyone should try it. Next entry for my closest of journals, "The function of art is to do more than tell it like it is — it’s to imagine what’s possible.” — Bell Hooks. Thanks for the quote and your story!

  • lauraprentice

    lauraprentice said 7 years ago

    I get bogged down with a written journal or a drawing journal. I love the freedom to just add whatever and write/paint whatever. So inspiring!

  • 111collagedesign

    111collagedesign said 7 years ago

    Great - I have been meaning to start a similar type of book myself - this was a great reminder :)

  • CarolsTagSale

    CarolsTagSale said 7 years ago

    Learned to keep journals for sewing & home decor projects. Love the look on life - like raw scrapbooking.

  • LilBeeDesigns

    LilBeeDesigns said 7 years ago

    It's nice to here that people make there living thruogh still make time to do artisitic things just to do them. I loved the idea that collecting images is a tangible way to help in creating the world you want to see.

  • TStyles

    TStyles said 7 years ago

    love it

  • TandRHandweaving

    TandRHandweaving said 7 years ago

    Hmmm, interesting.

  • cutcopycreate

    cutcopycreate said 7 years ago

    I could look at images of these books all day!

  • evertonterrace

    evertonterrace said 7 years ago

    Wonderful, simply wonderful. What a great teacher you had, who knew the influence she would have on the rest of your life and now on all of us. I had a small collage journal like this and it was lost in a move. I missed it for years and would love to see it again. I don't know why I've never done another one but now I'm feeling so inspired to do so! Really enjoyed this post.

  • quinncreative

    quinncreative said 7 years ago

    I once worked in a building scheduled to be torn down. I collaged one wall of my office. When we moved, I felt I had lost an important expression, and continued in journals. I now use journals to store ideas, ripped out images, words, pieces of articles I think are well-written. I go through them to create smaller, one-idea journals I make myself. You have inspired a lot of people--thank you!

  • JessiCowell

    JessiCowell said 7 years ago

    Very cool! I love that you've kept them all even thru so many moves over the years. It's great to be able to look back at the things that have inspired us!

  • JordanRou

    JordanRou said 7 years ago

    love, love, love, LOVE this!!! I have kept this sort of book since I was 13 years old, and it's amazing to look back at them for inspiration, to see how far I have come, andto relive important memories. Really enjoyed this post!

  • WayuuSusu

    WayuuSusu said 7 years ago

    mrkd

  • deepfried

    deepfried said 7 years ago

    I haven't kept a book like this since high school. This is so inspiring. Doing it.

  • bluepiedesigns

    bluepiedesigns said 7 years ago

    so glad I stumbled upon this article tonite! love the idea...i did this years algo but stopped - now i think i will try again...its a good way to dream! I have a ton of postcards too that I want to do something with and this will be a perfect place for them.. thanks!

  • molly4455

    molly4455 said 7 years ago

    This sounds like such a wonderful thing. I don't know where to start my life is pretty boring and humdrum but I'm looking for a new hobby. Maybe this is it. Now where to begin?

  • cre8evehot

    cre8evehot said 7 years ago

    I absolutely love this idea! I've kept journals for years with little hand-drawn pics of holiday family events, or eclipses and meteor showers, etc. but I like the idea of using other media. This opens up my view and I see a whole new opportunity to set the cre8eve spirit free. Thanks! I had a teacher who taught us to write by thinking of a subject and "free-writing" everything that came to mind before beginning an outline or structure of any kind...and I loved him for that. I still use that method. Thanks again for your inspiration!

  • DetectivBrunette

    DetectivBrunette said 7 years ago

    This is the perfect solution to my ever growing problem of wanting to keep all my ideas together before they fly away!!

  • Tirabaralla

    Tirabaralla said 6 years ago

    I do the same...and I thought I was strange :D

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