Archive for the 'Projects' Category

April making

April has been a quiet month of slow and gentle rebuilding, with more making than thinking.

Last post (22-Mar-2021) I showed examples of 3D writing, resin bangles, and coiled vessels using fabrics worn by my mother. This month’s variations:

WIP coiling completed, and embellished with a “family heirloom” hatpin. 19 cm diameter
A small, chipped jug, gifted by mum as material for re-making a few years ago, was broken up…
The base was repurposed in a tiny nest – around 7 cm diameter
Another fragment formed the centre of a shallow, saucer-like form (slightly over 16 cm diameter).
More fragments remain in the “to be considered” queue. I’d like to use every skerrick of the jug eventually

Feeling that some of the character of the prints was lost in the wrapping and coiling process, I experimented with embedding swatches in resin. All of this series so far start with a circle of fabric around 19 cm diameter.

First attempt – the resin+fabric, supported on a silicon sheet, was draped over a form too soon.
Attempt 2 – still too soon.
A free-form bangle while I considered my next move
Getting better, but this was with waiting 8 or so hours before draping. Brushing silver-coloured pigment over part of the resin before draping is effective. This shows the patterning of the fabric used in the top photo – the bowl with a hatpin.
The bangle has a few wraps of the same fabric in it.
Drips under control! I didn’t want to move to a different resin if I could avoid it, but Sydney temperatures in my unheated, single brick garage are a bit marginal. This time I followed the manufacturer’s suggestion of pre-warming the resin bottles in a water bath, plus put the setting resin on a warming tray repurposed from mum’s flat.
The vessel had gold coloured pigment brushed over the back. The same fabric is in the bangle, plus the broken-jug vessels above.
Thinking I had the resin-curing more under control, I tried pre-cutting slits in the fabric, wanting to spread it out like a lattice pastry top as the resin was setting.
It was a nasty, sticky battle and a disappointing result. Not sure if this is worth pursuing.
The bangles top and bottom in the photo are repeats already shown above.
The centre one had two new ideas, aiming to display more of the original fabric pattern – silver-coloured pigment brushed on the inner side of the mould before adding resin, and the fabric a single bias-cut strip (left over from making its matching vessel). This sample is a bit scruffy, but I think there’s good potential here.
This bangle uses some of the 3D writing of Anne Carson’s text seen in my last post.
The text had a tendency to float up in the curing resin. I quite like the effect of it almost escaping at the top, so only sanded the edge the minimum needed to remove sharp edges.
Very happy with this, and lots of possibilities to take it further.

In March I did an evening class in making silicon moulds (yay Sydney Community College!). The plan is to make my own bangle designs that better showcase fabrics. The tutor suggested I make my initial form in polymer clay, use it to create a silicon mould, so I can then cast the resin.

I haven’t got to that yet. Instead I wondered if I could use polymer clay elements to neaten up the beginning and ending of a coiled vessel.

My very first attempt at using polymer clay. 9 cm diameter.
The great thing about first attempts is you can look forward to improvement.

Re-structure

Following the “making reading” shown previously (22-Dec-2020) I wanted to take it further. Anne Carson’s work “Wildly Constant” in Float felt a good subject.

I slowly wrote the entire text.

Then I played with my new object(s).

As well as rearranging the text objects, I attempted a series of digital transformations – scanning the objects then optical character recognition (OCR); scanning the printed page and OCR (very accurate and boring); recording voice then automated transcription… Basically trying every relevant app on my fairly new tablet and seeing what distortions or misinterpretations I could generate.

Nothing very exciting emerged, plus priorities changed. My mother was diagnosed with a terminal illness, my father was seriously unwell at the same time, and then my husband (his not life-threatening). Five months, three patients, a total of nine hospital admissions to four different hospitals. My normally quiet, reflective life was turned upside down. One of five siblings, I took lead for mum with the various health professionals, while my sister took charge with dad. We were fortunate to be in Australia – Covid complicated things, but it was always possible for at least one us to visit and provide support. Mum’s hopes at diagnosis were for a final summer with family and friends, then to die at home. The five of us, together with a lot of professional support, were able to achieve that for her.

Life, creative practice, was restructured to new necessity. Not too mentally demanding, fitting into small fragments of time, supporting and nurturing me so that I could support and care for others. Reading changed – Kyo Maclear Birds Art Life Death was a great standby. There was a lot of reflective writing. Making – well I came up with a new project, as I explained to some friends who were e-discussing earrings:

I got my ears pierced in 1977 – went travelling after school, was living in York (UK), and it was a low-key assertion of adulthood. Lots of my earrings contain memories – of travels, or gifts, or connected to an exhibition, or that I made myself or bought from friends. Selecting them each day was part of checking in with myself – how do I feel? what am I doing? what message do I want to send? But over the years I’ve come to like dangley and for me they just don’t work with masks.

During mum’s illness I started wearing bracelets and bangles. Partly that same checking in, planning for the day. More important was as personal armour. One link is once knowing a child with behaviour problems, who wore an elastic band to snap if they were feeling stressed. Another from some sci-fi show where they wore wrist-lets that could produce a personal force-field. I rub them to centre and slow my thoughts and reactions – echoes of rosary beads, or maybe worry beads.

Extra fun – you get to “curate” collections of arm ornaments in different combinations. Plus I only had a couple of “proper” bracelets so I started improvising, wrapping chains and neck-pieces around my arms – stuff I haven’t worn for decades or maybe never (weight makes neck sore). I even dragged out some wire and beads to make a few bits, and in the last couple of days have played a little with resin. All very minor demands on time and focus and energy, when I don’t have much of those. It’s felt like my one reliable piece of self expression as everything else creative fell by the wayside.

What does that look like?

More experimentation with resin is planned – perhaps combined with 3D text in some way. With luck this will be a low-key project that recurs over time.

Since mum’s death I’ve begun another small increments, potentially recurring project. She used to love wearing brightly patterned cotton skirts – often Liberty prints. With the permission of the siblings I’ve been using the skirts to make small coiled bowls. Stitching them is quiet and meditative, or I listen to podcasts or an audio book. I’m on my third, and it feels a gentle expression of love.

Making reading

I continue to be absorbed in the intersection of language, sound, image, text, and ways to transform and mix between different modes. 29-Aug-2020 showed some related work.

In The Poetics of Space Gaston Bachelard writes of “‘… galleries of words’. which describes extremely well this fibered space traversed by the simple impetus of words that have been experienced.” This set me playing with writing in space – plastic filament text using a 3D pen, quotes from recent reading, and the mobile form to emphasise space.

I like the shadows and movement of this. The text is still quite flat and linear.

I wanted to work with text and ideas very literally, but not illustrating. Emphasising the thingness of text. Perhaps bring in other crafts – basketry is a good fit for creating space. A Tower of Bable or a Trajan Tower of text? The plastic text is quite brittle. Perhaps writing on insect mesh would give stability and flexibility.

Initial tests were promising. A form from 2016 suggested itself.

I tried other bases and forms to write around, other ways of presentation. The text below comes from Walter Ong, Orality and Literacy.

Looking for another transformation – filtered, distorted and merged photos in gimp.

I was less happy with a sideways step in materiality. This next sample’s text is from The Botticellian Trees by William Carlos Williams (https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/browse?contentId=19139). A very appropriate text. I’d really like to work more with this poem, but this wasn’t the right application.

At this point I returned to the earlier idea around flyscreen. This time I wrote out the full text of Part for the Whole by Robert Francis (https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/24187/part-for-the-whole). I think the idea of fragments, distortion, reflection, reconstruction sits very well with this treatment.

The weaving was awkward. The initial idea was to plain weave the text strips and support them with twining in a thin yarn – similar to the 2016 sample. Given the poem is about views of a sunset I was thinking of painting yarn in an appropriate colour progression – the light being overtaken by the dark mesh of night.

However in 2016 I used aluminium screen that responded well to shaping. This fibreglass mesh was obstreperous. I used pins at each crossing of strips to keep it together as I worked. The outcome was lumpen.

It went onto my “thinking table” – a place where I display items of inspiration, work that is part of an ongoing investigation, in this instance a work in progress where the next step is unclear. All together, a chance for a conversation. I can see it all from my work table and often find myself looking in an abstracted muse.

I started seeing this

and this

The vessel fell on what I thought was its side, and the text became more legible, the form less inert. The shadows became more interesting. How would it look with a different background?

This is an unedited photo, and I like the series of transformations involved. A poem made into a physical object – mesh and plastic filament. Then made into an even more dimensional form using basketry. A sunset some years ago in Canberra was photographed, printed out, carefully positioned behind the woven form; together they were lit and photographed. In and out of different modes of being. I’m happy with this result.

Reading Candor

Reading||Making has continued. Again I visited Candor, Anne Carson’s text, looking for guidance in transformation of the monoprints (25-Feb-2020). “If you are not the free person you want to be, you must find a place to tell the truth about that… You could whisper down a well. You could write a letter and keep it in a drawer.” Jane, wife of HG Wells, made faint pencil marks on the letter of sympathy she received from her husband’s mistress. Jane – born Amy Catherine – fulfilling her husband’s domestic expectations.

A square of one print became a folded envelope. It is named – “Jane”. Bound by net, by woolen skein, by the trappings of domesticity, by the stones of the well. Inside, hidden, her name – scratched, mis-written (my oops), torn.

I like this little object very much… except that in the end it is so literal. As I worked at reading the text I found it more and more full of imagery, of the material, the specific.

Playing with printed card, finding shapes, became more abstract.

As reading the process has worked. There is familiarity, and I still find more. Slow. Attentive. Absorbing and making connections. Can I claim that in these photographs the work of reading is made visible???

Eavesdropping at a half-open door

“one has to teach the skill of reading even to those who are no longer illiterate”

“uncultured readers… with a vague knowledge that there is something else here, and enjoying the text like someone eavesdropping at a half-open door, glimpsing only hints of a promising epiphany.”

Umberto Eco, on literature, pages 171 and 219.

Some days I have the confronting feeling that I’m a beginner in something I’ve practiced daily for almost six decades. Then I tell myself to stop being maudlin and self-indulgent, and just get on with it.

I have tried to make visible the work of reading. I have complained bitterly when I found reading challenging. I have made reading the foundation of every day. I write about attentive reading, focusing on every line and word… but lately I’ve wondered – am I getting all I can from all this effort? In particular, am I making connections, building usable knowledge. I note correspondences as I go, and the use of indexing glyphs in my notetaking has been useful in later consolidation around particular ideas. Possibly I need to be more alert to the need to extend my glyph set.

In my last post (7-Jan-2020) I tried to link books and authors with fabric swatches. That was step one in an experiment.

The previous data viz experiments were generally useful, giving me space and time to think, seeing from different angles, generating some surprises… I decided to look at where I was spending time reading, and to search for rhythms and flows in the mix of reading. Keep mine-ing the existing tool set and stash. The brief developed:
* Start recording time spent reading.
* Repeat the scarf form. This time with weaving.
* Begin simple, with options to elaborate as the process continues. So plain weave. I put a 2 metre warp of black cottolin on the 4-shaft table loom, a straight threading.

The result is a record of four weeks of reading – 30 November to 27 December. Information encoded:
* Length of weaving is proportional to length of reading. Four centimetres = One hour.
* Beginning of day is marked by 5 picks in cotton – white on Sunday, then darkening greys reaching black on Saturday.
* Indicate book by weft – torn fabric strips.
* Most reading was done in my workroom. If outside the house, a supplementary fine coppery weft was added (“sunshine”). If bedtime reading, a supplementary weft of silvery white was used (for the moon).
* When a book or essay was finished (not many were), mark by 5 picks in red cotton.

Detail – Wednesday 18 December 2019

In the detail above you might just be able to see the cotton picks at the beginning and end of the day. The book swatches all look quite different when squashed down and used for weft.

Umberto Eco on literature

John Berger
Selected Essays

In the morning I read Umberto Eco for 45 minutes. John Berger accompanied me on the bus, and in a cafe waiting for CPR training – a total of 50 minutes and a glint of sunshine.

Jane Hirshfield Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World

At that time I was reading Jane Hirshfield before sleep – hence the loops of white rayon. I wasn’t taking in much, just trying to find the flow, to get an overall sense, hoping to learn enough to be able to read it again with more understanding. Thirty more minutes, and a total of 8.3 cm.

Classic uses of a data visualisation are discovery (learn something new) and storytelling (communicate ideas). I can’t claim either here. Using standard viz software I would have waited to collect all the data before even starting, then probably run a variety of statistical analyses, experimented with multiple chart types, maybe colour themes and scales, transformations, brought in other data sets for context or comparison… There’s the faintest hint of this in the fringes.

By amazing chance, the number of warp ends was precisely four times the number of days woven. So each piece of fringe is one day. The fringing shown above records the total amount of time recorded reading each day (range from 0.67 to 2.75 hours). At the other end of the scarf the number of books read is shown – from 1 to 4 each day. Note the same information is already encoded in the weaving. This is simply a different chart type.

plump folds, showing more of the fabrics

Despite the proportions, the resulting textile can’t really be called a scarf. It does not drape softly and warmly around the neck. However while it sat on my desk over the last week, I came to love its edges. And to appreciate that “not drape-able” could also be described as “sculptural”

reading scarf sculpture

So perhaps wearable sculpture.

Click for larger image

Reading swatches

A game / experiment: matching reading material to fabric swatches. Maybe it could be seen as a form of deliberate self-training in ideasthesia, but really it started because I was trying to improve my reading plus to make the abstract (reading) concrete (clothing-ish). An extra criterion – the fabrics are all from my old clothes (from larger days).

Antony Gormley On Sculpture

Antony Gormley On Sculpture


This book is highly structured and highly thoughtful. I was going to write “generous” but it’s more like the careful guidance of a teacher, dedicated and wanting to share his knowledge, his message, rather than the lighthearted open hand of a friend.

Chapter 1 discusses his own work, the body in space and time. The second chapter considers works by other sculptors of importance to Gormley. Next was Mindfulness, and the influence of Buddhism on Gormley and his practice. The practice of meditation, and the idea of sculpture about being rather than doing are core. Finally, in Expansion, Gormley takes his ideas a step further. He wrote “Represented movement is a stupid idea for sculpture” (p.78) Instead, looking at stillness, we experience the movement in our own bodies.

The swatch is from a silk-hemp blend fabric that I dyed using shibori-based stitched resist, then sewed into a top. Where the resist prevents dye is as important as where the dye strikes. The first piece of old clothing I re-purposed, I was conscious of the absent body, and also of a stilled moment, rather than the movement, change, impermanence (I was around 30 kg heavier when I made it) over time. My space. My time.

Hugh Brody Inside Lake Ballard

Hugh Brody Inside Lake Ballard


Inside Lake Ballard is an essay I found on Gormley’s website – http://www.antonygormley.com/resources/essay-item/id/134 I would like to visit this installation. Experience the activated space. Think about what it means to stand in Australia.

Hot, bright colours from a linen shift seemed right for this swatch.

Johanna Drucker Graphesis: Visual forms of knowledge production

Johanna Drucker Graphesis: Visual forms of knowledge production

There’s a strong element of the data viz I know, but this book goes far wider. It’s an overview, a survey of the terrain. As well as abstracts and Boolean logic, Drucker considers humanistic, rhetorical arguments produced as a result of making, a poetics of graphical form. Drucker distinguishes between representations of known information and visualizations that are knowledge generators. She gathers together a huge number of references, creating a coherent structure and giving context. At times existing snippets of my knowledge shifted and came into focus, or coalesced in new and intriguing patterns. Many areas were new to me, leading to happy exploration of many rabbit holes even while I was realising how very much more I have to learn. And sometimes a phrase was like a magnet bringing order to iron filings. For example “a reified intellectual construct” provided a structure I didn’t know I needed and opens unforeseen vistas – and that was in a footnote! This is dense and challenging reading.

The subtle gleam of this swatch from a business jacket is lost in the photo, but the sense of purpose, structure, visual complexity in detail and coherence at distance, and hidden depths remains.

Giacomo Leopardi Canti and Zibaldone

Giacomo Leopardi Canti and Zibaldone

From total ignorance, last year I kept coming across references to Leopardi, starting in the last Hobart session of the intensive creative research group. He was the author of what Mary Ruefle describes as “The World’s Bleakest Poem”, and his conversation between death and fashion is quoted in an essay by John Berger.

Leopardi (1798 – 1837) has been described as Italy’s first and greatest modern poet. There’s a lot of misery and death in his poetry. The one quoted by Ruefle begins
Rest forever, tired heart.
The final illusion has perished.
The one we believed eternal is gone.

Zibaldone is enormous, his philosophical and critical notebook in which Leopardi compiled quotes from his extensive reading as well as his own writing and musings. There’s also extensive cross-referencing in a series of indexes that he created. The material collected provided the foundation for Leopardi’s extensive published writing. (That’s three “extensive”s in a row, but what can I do – the word fits!) I now have a copy of the english translation – over 80 pages in the introduction, then 2500 pages of the Zibaldone itself, Leopardi’s own index, and the editors’ notes. The translation itself was a major scholarly effort. Given my own notebook efforts, I was curious to see and learn from a master. Opening at random, page 1335:
“A language that is strictly universal, whatever language it might be, would certainly and necessarily by its very nature be the most slavish, impoverished, timid, monotonous, uniform, arid, and ugly tongue, the most incapable of any kind of beauty, the most inappropriate to the imagination and the least dependent on it, indeed in every way the most separated from it, the most bloodless, inanimate, and dead, that could ever be conceived; a skeleton, a shadow of a language rather than a real language; a language that would not be living, even if it were written by all and understood universally, indeed it would be a great deal more dead than any language that is no longer spoken or written.”
One sentence. One rather difficult sentence. As it happens relevant to an essay in Umberto Eco’s book. So many connections. And to be honest, so much that I don’t understand – even as it draws me in. Reading this is going to be a labour of love, probably falling in and out of love with it over years.

Mauve, paisley and beading feels a good fit for his poetry.

Mary Ruefle Lectures I will never give

Mary Ruefle Lectures I will never give

Just a touch of Mary Ruefle in my reading over the period, to check the poem she referenced. Very interesting to read the two quite different translations. What I’ve read of Ruefle’s work sparkles with ideas and wit. The patterning in the fabric is a modern take on paisley, making a satisfying link.

Umberto Eco on literature

Umberto Eco on literature


When I started reading this book it felt like chocolate – smooth and velvety, warm and luxurious, rich and flowing, but with a sparkle and not cloying so perhaps a hint of champagne. So chocolate, maybe champagne truffles, guided my fabric choice.

As I read further the book became more challenging – I know nothing of linguistic theory (pretty sure that isn’t the right term), and Eco’s careful differentiation of terms was lost on someone meeting them for the first time. Still, it feels worth learning.

Emily Dickinson The Complete Poems

Emily Dickinson The Complete Poems


I’ve tried opening at random. I’ve tried following themes from the subject index. I know Dickinson has a huge following. But I haven’t connected, so far at least. Perhaps I don’t know enough about poetry to appreciate her inventiveness and the power of broken convention.

The fabric is a cheat – from the general stash, not old clothing. I can’t quite see or connect with Dickinson. I suspect this swatch doesn’t really suit her, that I am misapplying convention. Perhaps when I’m more mature as a reader I will get further.

Alain de Botton How Proust can change your life

Alain de Botton How Proust can change your life

Mentions of Proust seem to pop up in much of my reading, his influence felt directly or indirectly throughout the 20th century. But reading In Search of Lost Time is a big investment of effort, and I have the impression that many readers fall by the wayside. I’m reminded of Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time – a friend was given three copies the Christmas after that came out. People thought it would be right up his alley, but apparently he didn’t finish any of them!

The plan was that reading Alain de Botton’s book might help me decide whether to take on Proust. Unfortunately…

What a show pony de Botton is! Yes, there’s information on Proust’s life and on his writing, but it’s all very arch and clever, with lots of winks and smirks and witticisms by de Botton as he breaks the fourth wall and addresses the reader. (I’m assuming that can work in writing as well as on the stage. In any case, he’s putting on a performance so there’s little difference.)

Fortunately for my own specific purpose, I was able to find Proust’s work online. I’m not un-interested, but I don’t think this is right for me at the moment – especially given that in the meantime I started on Leopardi.

The flashy pink snake print rayon number is for de Botton.

Jane Hirshfield Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World

Jane Hirshfield Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World


This is a book about poetry, written by a poet. The language is rich and beautiful. My own writing is an arid desert. But Hirshfield opens my eyes, my mind, my ears, and I think I’m almost beginning to see a little of what she is showing me. It’s not easy to read. It’s a joy to read.

One of my all time favourite jackets provides the swatch. All the colours I like, with some shine and an interesting weave.

John Berger
Selected Essays

John Berger
Selected Essays


A chapter in Bento’s Sketchbook was my introduction to John Berger’s writing, a chapter in which he is drawing some irises. Some light silk that I painted using watercolour-like techniques then made into a blouse feels a good fit. Most of the essays I’ve read so far in this current book have been short, pieces written for a newspaper. Some of them have me looking at the world differently, thinking about artists and ideas in a different way. Really, just what I want from my reading.

General Purpose


This fine wool swatch is included for completeness in the project, a catchall for some side-reading.

Walter Benjamin
One-Way Street

Walter Benjamin
One-Way Street


This book contains sixty short prose pieces. Another conglomerate of fragments? Perhaps more a kaleidoscope of insights into the everyday. Lots of little disparate nuggets that together add up to something more. This blouse fabric has the nuggets. It’s also a little difficult and uncomfortable – there’s a metal in the weave.

Anne Carson
Float

Anne Carson
Float


This green-blue shot silk doesn’t show well in the photo. I wasn’t conscious of a reason for my choice, but with hindsight could it be something as simple as a Canadian named Anne and “green”? That’s a bit embarrassing. I’d like to distract by drawing a parallel to Carson’s poetry… I find it difficult, clever, beyond my reach but I keep trying. Well while true, that’s not an explanation of the choice that will convince anyone.

Actually I find a lot of these books difficult. All the reading was done over a four week period, 30 November to 27 December last year. Only a few are finished – Gormley, Brody, de Botton. Most of the rest are still in rotation.

Dido

I started this post weeks ago, trying to sort out the … connections? resonances? overarching themes? … in the various books. Poetry and the poetic. In Hobart in January, a couple of nights before the first gathering of the Intensive Creative Research class, I made a little form in wire (it was later modified to become the quivering Dido). I was thinking of the flickering movement as we fight for balance, but in my notes that day thought the model too literal. When I showed the form in class, Ruth called it “poetic”, and I had no idea what that meant. It’s only while writing now that I’ve identified that link in my reading – I’m trying to understand “poetic”. That’s not where I thought this post was going to go. It now seems blindingly obvious and an almost banal conclusion – apart from anything else, there are two volumes of poetry and another subtitled “How great poems transform the world”. Curious.

This matching is step one in my little game. There’s more to come.

Words of Guidance

A friend chooses a word each year as kind of touchstone. It’s quite an open/generative thing, a guide or perhaps a reminder – I think a positive way to approach the new year rather than specific resolutions.

Mine is “exploring”. I wanted a verb, active, with flavours of curiosity, openness, movement, learning, paying attention to what is around me.

We were at the MCA, and while exploring (!) I found a wonderful avatar, one figure in Guan Wei’s huge Feng Shui:

Guan Wei
Feng Shui (detail)

That’s me exploring – chin up, eye alert, the hair used to have some ginger (the first to go grey), happily dog-paddling.

Other choices among the group were lightheartedness, joy, delight, dare and active.

Want to play along?

Red warp coat

Back in 2013 I had a “window of time” and dressed the big loom with a red warp – 8-Mar-2013. The window proved narrow and the warp languished…

… for 6 and a half years.

Finally this September I finished weaving every last centimetre I could get from it. Beautiful luscious fuzziness.

And this week I finished sewing it into a coat. Very nearly every centimetre of fabric. Now a shorter and less patient pause while I wait for the right weather.

Work made visible: Reading

There’s already a lot of material on attentive reading on this blog. Rather than repeating that, this post focuses on my attempts to make the work of reading visible.

Step 1: Generate some data
Daily tracking of reading in a spreadsheet, including a notation of whether the essay/book was completed, set aside, or the reading is ongoing.

Step 2: Data analysis
This data could be used to create some metrics and charts. From late May to mid October I started reading 52 works, and completed 30 (58%), the others being ongoing or set aside. Eighteen (35%) I spent only a day or two with. The longest reading effort was 33 days spent with Agnes Martin (edited by Lynne Cooke – see link) – a wonderful way to start the day.

But why get lost in numbers when the original tracking sheet is so striking?

Step 3: Material transformation

Reading Light Chart

Step 4: Push it further
Layers of transformation, combining with the glyph for light/shadow/reflection.

Reading light and shadow

Postscript: After my post on Note-taking (15-Oct-2019) Claire of TactualTextiles reminded me that we were encouraged to use skim reading during our degree-level courses with the Open College of the Arts. Pretty much the extreme opposite of attentive reading. Why?

I think there’s a fundamental difference in approach. OCA wanted demonstrated learning in the form of an essay, or a clear input to a planned and executed output. Jump in, get what you need, jump out and on to the next requirement. In Ruth Hadlow’s model of practice, you need to be clear about where you’re starting – the terrain of investigation, points of reference, what is attracting your attention. Then you explore, discover where it takes you. How can you discover new possibilities if you’re not being attentive? That’s the journey I want to take in my reading – finding new ideas, making new connections, asking “what if…”.

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 🙂

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 🙂 ). 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).


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