The Laws of Nature

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Visual Reflection Notebooks



I'm excited about this section of Chapter 1 in Ms. Richmond's book because it's so useful! She begins by writing "One of the most difficult and elusive phrases for an artist to complete is: 'My work is about..." The author designed this section of her book to help artists finish that sentence by utilizing the items piled up in our studios that helped us develop our art in the first place. These items include stored paintings, sketchbooks, postcards, article clippings, notes, and other things that we feel are important enough to hold onto. Here, we learn how to mine that resource and transform it into a form that is useful for future development.

So, Richmond explains how she "developed a technique for translating past work and influences into a form that can, as an entity in itself, shed light on this continuum." This is her visual reflection notebook. She begins by transforming images of her work into small, black-and-white photocopies that are the same size and glues them into a sketchbook. Looking through the notebook, she identifies recurrent patterns and themes that weren't previously apparent, and records new insights.

The reader is given the format for Richmond's notebooks. They are compiled in a number of ways to maximize their utility. First, she arranges and glues the black-and-white images in random order to help identify common themes and patterns. Next, she creates another set of images that's glued into the notebook in chronological order to understand her creative decisions. Additionally she analyzes why certain works failed, which adds clarity to understanding new directions taken. Her clever idea of making all the images b&w and scaled to the same reduced size is fundamental to the comparison process because it eliminates the distractions of color, texture, etc. Richmond also places images of her work next to images of the works of others who have influenced her in order to better understand how she can improve her work. She writes her insights and ideas throughout the notebook and uses them as a foundation for development. Additionally, Wendy (as Don and Stan know her) shares her notebooks with her students and encourages them to share their own as well. This is done because others are able to identify connections and patterns that might have been overlooked.

In conclusion, the author writes "the pages of these notebooks are juxtapositions of time, media, failure, success, opinion, and inspiration... the notebooks is not a retrospective, nor is it a diary or journal... instead, its aim is to discover underlying themes, directions, and patterns that you may be missing and that can inform your current and future work." It also enables artists to complete the sentence that begins with "My work is about ..."

Your thoughts?

14 comments:

-Don said...

Kathy, I got to admit I was so totally distracted by how wonderfully your works translated into black and white that I can't even tell you what I read. I think I'll go crash for a while and read this again in a few hours when I'm not punch drunk from a long, yet fruitful, 40th day of the Year of the Don. More to come...

-Don

Stan Kurth said...

This is a very interesting segment of Wendy's book. To me it is a very daunting task but I'm going to do it because it makes perfect sense. She she puts a lot of emphasis on juxtaposition and seeing your work compared to the work that influenced it. The daunting part to me is I have images of my own and others scattered in various forms all over the place. There are notebooks filled with slides and boxes with catalogs and invitations and on and on. All of these have to be translated into smaller black and whites (daunting) but I'm looking forward to this process and what it will reveal about my art. I mentioned in response to the last segment my wanting to do a series based on my childhood drawings. This just might be the launching pad for it.

Casey Klahn said...

All I can think of is "aargh." I recognized a few weeks ago that having the clutter of failed works posted with pins, tape or clamps all around my studio were draining my happy brain and causing me repeated failures (maybe).

So, there's my visual diary. But thrown up against the walls 360 degrees.

Gotta work on that...

I agree with Don on the B&W display - very nice!

Sheila said...

I agree with everyone else that your work translates beautifully in B&W. My fear that mine won't translate very well at all should give me plenty food for thought right now.
*sigh*

Carolina Moon Arts Studio said...

i have been a big fan of diaries, sketchbooks, journals and most recently art journals. This is a very unique way of organizing and evaluating your work! hmmm. more food for thought!

Kathy said...

Hi Don - I feel the same way and am beginning to think that my work looks better without color!! Maybe I should rethink the highly chromatic palette and tone it down. Hmmmm.. Get some rest.

Hi Stan - Like you, I want to use this method but feel like I'll need to set aside a large chunk of time. Where will I find that?? I do hope you'll start the series you mentioned. It would be so interesting to see.

Hi Casey - you're brave!! I keep most of my previous work hidden from sight, especially the failures. However, maybe I should revisit them and learn more from them.

Hi Sheila - before I finished a painting I would always photograph it and import it to Photoshop Pro on my computer. There, I turn it into grayscale and flip it around to see if the values are correct and the composition is balanced. It's a great tool. If I've got it wrong, I can quickly figure out what to do and make the corrections to the painting in my studio. These days, I can automatically picture grayscale in my head, so I don't need the computer so much.

Hi Carolyn - you're much more organized than I am!! I know I should do this, but don't want to spend the time. Oh, dear.

hwfarber said...

Carolyn's right--more food for thought. I always photograph paintings and convert them to b&w before declaring them finished. It helps.

Your paintings are fantastic in b&w.

Margaret Ryall said...

Very interesting post Kathy. Earlier in my career I created I giant file of photos, pages from magazines, papers, fabric scraps etc and kept it for almost 6 months. I would sort and resort it periodically and make notes. It really helped me move through where I was and to find out more about where I should go. I haven't done this lately but now I'm wondering if it would be helpful when I finish my current series. Have I missed something by not putting it all in black and white? I wonder.

Kathy said...

Hi Hallie - I like the way you work :-)

Hi Margaret - you are SO organized! I wish I were. I don't know if you've missed anything by not putting your work in b&w, but I can understand its utility from the way Richmond describes it. At least, for me, color is very distracting.

Dan Kent said...

Wonderful idea! And - ditto - I absolutely love your works in black and white!

Celeste Bergin said...

I also love how your paintings look in black and white. I saw this book today and sat down with a cup of coffee (at Starbucks in Barnes & Noble) to look through it. HMMM! I guess I wasn't in the mood--or what I read just seemed to analytical. I did not buy it. Luckily, however, I have this analytical blogging friend named Katharine A. Cartwright who will do this work and report back about if and how it is helpful! I'm interested, but I couldn't see myself wading through my old work to do this. Never say never--I'll wait to see how you progress!

-Don said...

OK, early this morning when I read this my first thought was, "too much work which would distract me from designing, painting, and marketing my work". After a few hours sleep and another busy day I sat down to read your wonderful post again... and I must say that I concur with my original thought. I like moving forward and fear this type of project would bog me down. That's not saying I think this is a bad idea. I just don't think it would work for me...

What I have done that does work for me is print out (in color) a copy of every one of my paintings on 8 1/2x 11 paper as soon as I finish them and shoot them. I then place the printouts in plastic sleeves in notebooks in chronological order. (My masks alone fill three 1.5" binders.) Periodically, I thumb thru them to see where I've been - like tonight, before I typed this response.

I must repeat how much I enjoyed seeing your work in black & white. BUT, I hope you never leave your highly chromatic palette behind. Especially after I saw what you are doing with the kelp yesterday.

-Don

Kathy said...

Hi Dan - well, I guess I need to start painting in black and white and throw out the colors! (ha ha)

Hi Celeste - I'd really like to try Richmond's form of notebooking, but need to wait until I have a large chunk of time. When, oh when, will that be?

Hi Don - "great minds think alike" :-) Actually, I do the same thing you do by keeping printouts in chronological order of each series I paint. It helps me keep track of which paintings are available for exhibition and sale, and which ones have been sold. It also prevents me from creating paintings that are tooooo similar to each other. And, thanks for the advice - I'll keep my color paints.

layers said...

When I teach my workshops-- one task that many of the artists find difficult is writing a short paragraph about their art-- an artist statement-- probably because they have not thought much about why they are painting what they are painting-- but I think it is important