The words are on the page, but for Jennifer Joanou that is just the first step. In fact, by the time her creative process is done the words may no longer be visible. But they will be there, a foundational layer that informed, or rather invented everything that came next.

Ms. Joanou began her career as a fashion designer, then moved into photography. Her medium now is visual journaling, an artistic tunneling that starts with writing and then lets the words light the way to her unconscious. Each page of a completed journal is another chapter in her mind, captured at a particular moment through the layering of paint and images in a process as precise as it is free form.

Her Chilmark studio is a study in neatness. On her desk are several coffee mugs filled with clean paintbrushes, sharpened pencils, spotless rulers. Nearby is a sewing machine and several bright orange external hardrives. In the closet are stacks of clear storage bins, each labeled and within reach at a moment’s notice: maps, glitter, postcards, matchboxes, wire, playing cards.

Words and images combine in the medium of visual journaling. — Jeanna Shepard

Ms. Joanou reads her journal one more time then begins painting over the words in white acrylic paint, occasionally adding water to the paint so in some places a few words remain visible beneath the nearly translucent white layer.

“Sometimes a phrase will pop out as I’m working,” she says, “and that will be my theme.”

For this, her 16th book, she has been wrestling with the theme “layers of truth.”

“We present one part of ourselves to the public but we have so many layers,” she says.

She reaches for an image, a photograph taken of her when she was two years old, wearing a white dress. She scans the image, switches it to black and white on the computer and prints it on transparent paper.

“I like maps,” she says and chooses the storage box labeled maps. She rummages through the papers while the printer hums and the acrylic paint dries. She finds a large map of Martha’s Vineyard, examines it then decides on a smaller, older map of the Vineyard. She scans it and on the computer zooms in closer and closer until just a small swatch of Chilmark is visible.

A map of Chilmark is placed under a transparency of the artist at age two. — Jeanna Shepard

There is another image near her desk, a medical portrait of a man’s head and neck, with the musculature and network of veins and arteries visible. She does not reach for this image yet.

“I always throw in something dark and creepy,” she says. “Some days are really dark and I’m not interested in processing my happiness.”

She places the close-up of Chilmark beneath the black and white transparency of her as a child. The image of the man’s head seems to guide the moment as the roads and streams of the neighborhood nearby instantly map themselves onto the child’s face and body like scars — Tabor House Road runs across her forehead stretching to her ear where it finds Middle Road and leads down to her neck where it intersects with Fulling Mill Book and cuts across her heart.

She ponders the effect. “Is it layers of me or layers of truth?”

She looks at the image of the man’s head and places it on the scanner. On the computer she shrinks and lightens the image, prints it out on transparent paper and places it between the girl and the map. From a few feet away the girl’s likeness is prominent, but up close the man takes over, his closed eyes just a shade to the right of the girl’s dark pupils.

For her 16th book, Ms. Joanou is dealing with the theme "layers of truth." — Jeanna Shepard

Ms. Joanou takes a breath but will continue to work with the images. This will be the eighth page in her latest journal, which will comprise 13 pages when finished. So far she has been willing to part with only one journal. To make her art available to the public she continually has to ask the question: “How do I get it on the wall and share it with people.”

The answer is in creating individual prints of the pages. Onto these enlarged prints she adds new details — with paint, additional images and layers, or even embroidery, reaching back in time to her fashion design days.

“For one I hand embroidered images on each silhouette,” she says.

But that moment is still far off in the distance. Outside the leaves rustle in the wind, a dog barks, a lawn mower whines and the sky grows darker. These sounds and images are not lost on Jennifer Joanou as she continues to stare at the page in front of her, waiting for a sign of where to turn next.

Jennifer Joanou’s work is represented by the A Gallery, located at 510 State Road in West Tisbury. For more information, visit or