The full title of this weekend workshop was Articulating Practice: exploring the interior terrain, and the first sentence of the description on the ATASDA website “The subtle slippery nature of generating ideas, their development and transformation into objects, images, words and forms is difficult to describe, express or even have confidence in, and yet it is the core of artistic practice.” We would be examining – mostly talking around – strategies of creative practice.
I’m still processing the two days dense with ideas – this is not a polished post, more teasing out a jumble of interlocking strands.
Starting points – points of reference; what interests you, what attracts your attention (magnetic).
Exploring, unpacking – not committing to a single direction early.
Model of practice: not discrete bubbles of separate projects. A series of strands of investigation, like currents in a river – although not a progression. A strand may start, fade, join with other strands… Go where-ever I am most engaged at the moment.
Key areas of practice – reading; writing; analyzing / attentive looking; making.
Ruth sees all parts of life as part of her practice – the key areas above, plus gallery “work” (using the key areas, and a research project in itself), library “work” (ditto), and lived experience (some parts more potent than others, but in theory including washing dishes).
The core is attentive looking and analyzing.
– Registering (scan and select)
– Paying attention (screen out distractions – the glass bell; sketch and record – drawing and writing, eg form, materials, associations)
—Subjective first – what is attracting my attention; what can I bring to my practice; avoid getting stuck in the literal or derivative; using language helps attract, analyse attention.
—Objective less important – type; history; context; biography. Information that has authority, certainty, categories, boundaries is not useful to my practice.
Drawing: a verb, not a noun. Provisional, propositional. Avoid default behaviours – insides of envelopes instead of white paper, scissors instead of pencil. Use to advance very attentive looking.
Writing: a vehicle to a more attentive practice. A place to unpack stories, narratives and ideas; to play with structure and forms; to engage with ideas. Take time to make notes. Clarify. Push further.
Reading: forage – chapters here and there; multiple books on the go; making new connections. Focus on one chapter – what really attracts interest.
Everything is brought back to your own work.
Ruth gave extended examples of how attentive looking and analyzing works. Focus on exactly what attracts your attention. Ideas generated by Matisse wall cutouts: not framed, provisional, scale, loose repeat of pattern –> a lot of licence –> tear rather than cut so less controlled, less contrived –> recognise interested in negotiating a terrain of uncertainty. This led to work by Sally Smart – what attracted, what changed / extended. Led to William Kentridge – torn paper on a ground.
Another sequence was on drawing and doodling, and Ruth took us on a path through artists showing her chain of thought and interest, one thing leading to or building on another.
Once you’ve identified interest in a territory, start adding more examples. Translate materials or contexts – responding to, not replicating
Ruth is interested in the sets of rules or processes that artist set up – maybe working in timed sessions, feel versus look etc. These rules or brief determine the outcome of the investigation. The internal logic gives terms for personal critique.
Be your own best critic: not the default inner critic (negative), but your own best critic – was I engaged (even if work was “easy”) or was I being lazy? Did I meet the brief I drew up?
One suggestion was to try a related exercise over a month. It can develop an interest, build to a project, it might surprise, be an enjoyable process. A clear brief can be reshaped. The idea is to engage the creative mind, focus attention, respond, build, recognise links… As it builds up a new project may eventuate, and all start to build up a life of the mind. We can turn our passions into research settings, and all into ongoing exploration.
Ruth is constantly sampling, and often sampling becomes the work. Sampling avoids predetermining the work. But always ask: Am I playing it safe?After a lot of talking we tried to use some of the ideas. When preparing for the class I chose John Bokor as a contemporary drawing practice that interested me. I’ve written about him previously in the context of still life (31-Jan-2014).
The class task:
– Make a list of what attracts my attention. It may be easier to start by listing what you see then identifying those key points.
– Write a brief for a drawing exercise based on that. Based on interests, then take that information and play it out separately and differently.
– Use chosen object as subject matter or to inform the drawing brief.
– Bring in some lightheartedness – this is an experiment.
While working on this task I realised that my interest was being attracted by some specific works by Bokor, so I focused on those. My initial list:
overlapping/layering of image; domestic scale; life as it happens; simple lines, complex image; charcoal, gesso; depth, not flat pattern; looks like fast work – a captured moment; provisional, not definite; sense of movement; life was happening as he worked; no directional lighting; structure – basic perspective; space between – positive and negative space lock together in pattern.
I note the ideas of captured moment and provisional. A definite strand of ongoing interest there.
My edited list of what is attracting my attention: layering of image; captured moment [–> work quickly] [–> multiple sessions]; simple outlines.
My brief for an exploration: Use a small group of items (not a single one – I wanted space between). Three timed 2 minute sessions. Brush down sketch between sessions.
Variations noted were same arrangement; changed arrangement; changed objects.My selected objects were samples p3-33, p5-4, and a prayer wheel brought by another student.
For the first sketch I changed the arrangement after each session and worked in charcoal in all layers.
For the second sketch I kept the same arrangement in each session, but ignored the traces of earlier layers as I was working.
One note was the three colour idea. Using similar media would limit the range of mark-making. Ruth suggested trying a range of media – say pencil, conte and charcoal.
We also discussed “ordinariness”. Clearly I wasn’t looking at well-known domestic objects – but these are objects that currently fascinate me and that I want to work with. Where else could “ordinary” lie? In media used or support (Ruth is very encouraging of moving away from the default white paper). Perhaps draw in tea or coffee.
Ruth also focused on p3-33, one of my “glorious failures”, and suggested exploring further with lots of small variations – shapes in different plastics, working at different temperatures, recording in sketch or photo. All of this, in fact much of the course, was very close to the OCA structure I’ve been following. Research, sample, record, sort, lots of reflection. Good reinforcement, and also good to see it from a different perspective.The group critique came soon after. There was just time for a very quick attempt with different drawing media – pencil (3H), conte pencil and charcoal.
This final sketch is not satisfying, the different media interacting to muddy the image. However the group made some interesting suggestions about playing with which medium is dominant, putting some shading and variation in tone and mark, and anchoring the objects in a space. Ideas I’d like to follow up that were raised as we moved around the room were varying scale (the drawing we were looking at was a brown paper background with white and black chalk over. What about fine black ink and white chalk pastel?). If you find/feel a frustration try to recognise and name it –> new ideas. Working in the round, not on a flat surface – a cylinder of acetate or paper draping in the hand. Drawing with stitch and collage. Pushing pencils, working while standing. Overlapping and rearranging paper surfaces. Drawing with a stick and ink.
As mentioned above a lot of the course resonated with me because of the parallel with Mixed Media for Textiles. I realise on reflection that Ruth has given me a way to continue that exciting ride out of the college context, making my own briefs rather than relying on course notes.
There was another class exercise, working with a contemporary art practice, but that leads to my next post – research on Gillian Lowndes.
T1-MMT-P5 Ruth Hadlow – Articulating Practice workshop
Textiles 1 – Mixed Media for Textiles
Part 5: A final piece
Ruth Hadlow – Articulating Practice workshop