Articulation of Practice: Note-taking

What is note-taking in my practice?
Note-taking is a compulsive habit.

I carry a note-book everywhere and jot down thoughts, observations, questions, appointments… I wasn’t one of those first year uni students who wrote down “good morning” when the lecturer began, but I wasn’t far from it. I write down points from others. I write down points I want to make when others finish speaking. I doodle and sketch and diagram and outline. I work things out. I think.

When I’m having trouble explaining something I reach for pen and paper. A time axis, some labels, arrows, scribbling through, vigorously underlining – and communication.

What is note-taking in my practice?
Note-taking is an integral component in all elements of practice.

Ruth Hadlow teaches that Practice is Thinking: Reading + Writing + Making + Lived Experience; and uses those words in the most broad and inclusive way. With a computer science background and taking care to shift from noun to active verb I translate to Input-ing + Process-ing + Output-ing + Context/Environment(-ing?).

Input-ing: I’ve heard it said that we generally don’t read word by word, but don’t have further information on that and a quick websearch suggests it’s complicated. There’s certainly skim reading, flicking through and hoping to chance on what you need. There’s also speed reading – again, out of my experience; but I’ve never liked the idea of racing through. Ruth teaches attentive reading. Enjoy the language; observe the structure; be aware of the poetic techniques of adding layers of meaning. You don’t need to read all of every book, but be attentive to all that you do read.

Taking notes – dot points, diagrams, even literal illustrations – helps, as a reminder and also simply as a way to slow down. To maintain focus. Reading aloud, reading while pacing, reading one cup of tea at a time all help too πŸ™‚

Output-ing: Note-taking as writing might seem obvious, but this is writing as a way of having a conversation with oneself. A way of thinking through ideas. In my interpretation writing can also stand with one foot in “Making”. My Morning List (1-Aug-2019) was a writing experiment that started with note-taking as ideas collection, was founded in Reading of Georges Perec, and that documented my morning schedule that includes a focused hour of Reading (including, naturally, some noting).

Most of my Making takes place off the page, but note-taking captures ideas – a resource for the future. It also works in plan development.

In practice, note-taking moves quickly from one element of practice to another. How quickly? The page on the left shows initial thoughts for a data visualisation to explore just that. A bar chart showing the proportions of note-book pages – different colours for times of reading, thinking, capturing ideas, planning making, daydreaming, …

… and resulted in making.

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What is note-taking in my practice?
Note-taking creates notebooks. It builds a store of information.

Again, that might seem obvious. I’m continuing to build the spiral bound books mentioned last year (28-Jul-2018). Such a small, simple, thing – but it gives flexibility and allows me to keep information from multiple sources in a single, chronological store.

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As well as new Reading, my morning routine includes reviewing notes – the previous day, and a dive into earlier pages, last month or last year (using a random number generator to select a page πŸ™‚ ). It helps me make connections, add layers of understanding, strengthen learning.

How to access this store methodically, not just at random? Often I have a visual memory of a page, say a particular diagram, but no idea of when it was written. I have a record of books and essays read (a topic for another day), which might give a rough date. Not satisfying.

But I was already photographing the pages regularly for the bar chart, and that photographic resource created another spiral note-book – a visual index. So if I want to review the peculiar feather-duster that accompanied thinking about philosophy and “truth”, it’s relatively quick to find.

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What is note-taking in my practice?
Note-taking traces threads and exposes slippage.

I wanted more value from my notes, from the index. I wanted to squeeze every drop. What if I needed to find information related to a particular theme or terrain of investigation, rather than a single particular page?

Over time I have developed a series of “glyphs”, extended as new areas of interest become apparent.

Glyphs are added as I write or review pages. If I want to collate material relevant to the terrain of memory, for example, I scan the index for its glyph – ∞. It provides a level of flexible access to the paper-based records – something I sorely miss moving from digital storage. A means to identify and track currents of investigation.

Coding glyphs as I go is another way of slowing down, of pausing to think about what I am writing, what it could mean. I become more attentive.

Glyphs have also proved a rich source of slippage. Wanting – needing – to keep the number of glyphs (my glyph-abary?) fairly small, I’ve overloaded them with “related” concepts. For example ∞ can also refer to time. Or history. Or the past. It’s not yet been tried in practice, but I’m hoping for some surprising combinations of concepts, some unexpected connections.

What is note-taking in my practice?
Note-taking is a generative field underpinning further transformations.

Development of the glyphs has broken open new possibilities, helping me make sideways steps and transformations away from the original material.

A personal language is building, a set of shapes that I can deploy. For example, a photo of a crockery tower (11-Aug-2019), combined with the glyph for unbalance/uncertain, some blurring, layering, masking and cropping, gives:

Something I find quite dynamic and interesting, with layers of meaning.

Having the glyphs also gives me something easy to count. My data visualisation background could spring into action, as it did with That Dreadful Man. Instead, a transformation using a different set of skills.

Two weeks of notebook pages

Basketry. Each glyph was assigned a colour of cottolin thread – a mid blue for “process”, the most frequently used glyph (after all, articulating, documenting and visualising the processes of practice has been my major terrain of investigation). The bright yellow is “mark/gesture” – not much used in the period shown. Mauve was used to mark the end of each page. A core of rope was wound in colours, based on the glyphs recorded on each page. This is a visual representation of my note-taking, just as much as the earlier chart.

What is note-taking in my practice?
Would there be a practice, without note-taking?

This post is part of a loose series. A major focus this year has been developing a creative art practice that sustains me and which I can sustain. It’s all part of the Intensive Creative Research Program I’ve been doing with Ruth Hadlow. As part of thinking about and experimenting with aspects of practice, I’ve been trying to make the work of practice visible.

The Tale of That Dreadful Man (27-Sep-2019) gave an extreme example of my efforts to read attentively. The original essay also also provided the repeated question | multiple response format I have used above.

Morning List (1-Aug-2019) articulated the time schedule that carves out a guaranteed hour of creative practice each day. The list form was inspired by Georges Perec.

Not part of the series but highly relevant are my notes from a previous Articulating Practice workshop with Ruth (25-Feb-2016).

1 Response to “Articulation of Practice: Note-taking”



  1. 1 Eavesdropping at a half-open door | Fibres of Being Trackback on January 11, 2020 at 5:29 pm

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