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The process log is a means for telling the story of  your learning in words and pictures. Like any good story-telling technique, a great process log embraces all the ways a concept might connect the maker to the “reader” and takes full advantage of what words can provide. You might create a provocative headline “This is how you stop time”; or a compelling topical sentence “ignoring where our waste is going and chastising those who help in that process is a way for people to deny their responsibility“; or exciting content “the first known valentine message was sent by a prisoner of war in 1415”; or humor on occasion:  “I never knew that a chair could be so hard on a lady.”.  Language is a tool. Well-crafted writing helps me disappear into the specific flavor of another person’s story.

Imagery, like words, has its own language. When a maker uses the distinctive properties of visual messaging, she makes her story stronger. A photograph created from an unusual point of view, or in the dramatic lighting of a particular time or day, or depicting unexpected subject matter, can lend details to a story that words can’t capture. A picture strategically placed may indeed be worth a thousand words.

          

Images can perform what text cannot. Words can reveal what images cannot. In a blog, both languages well-crafted and working in tandem can create a compelling transporting experience.

The right relationship of word and image comprise the main content and message of the blog, but the presentation of the work is an essential component for consideration. What is the overall format of the work? (In WordPress this option can be explored in the menu under “appearance”, but these principles apply to any visual framing device.) How one critically applies her knowledge of the elements and principles of design in order to best present her idea is a critical factor in creating engaging visual  impact. A good rule of thumb in making format  choices is to never choose a framework that detracts visually from the content. Formats aren’t yet standardized for digital media, so an artist can (and must) rely on her own critical eye to make good design choices. This  compares to a general “standard” for turning in essays that are typed, double spaced, contain a 1.5” edge margin, and 12 point type; or to the white walls of a gallery with all picture frames on center at 60 inches from the floor. In the absence of an accepted standard format for digital presentation, the maker must ensure a strong “frame” that highlights, rather than competes with, the work.

textovernebula
A successful example of good framing is in textovernebula’s blog, where the quality and variety of the images are “read” immediately because of the careful choice of a design style. The template they chose (Theme: Imbalance 2 by WPShower) features a simple meticulously structured format that focuses on the strength of the images and headlines in the blog and avoids disruptive decorative clutter.  It is as if the page were a museum with walls that embrace the carefully curated work and invite us in to view them. I expect to be served tea. The white area surrounding the columns of body text suggests an abundance of space, fresh air, and time. The images shine through like intricately wrought chocolates in a delicately packaged text box of goodness. I want to select and savor them, one at a time. I am welcome here! Delightfully, when I click into the specific stories I am not disappointed. The photographs are nourishing, and the writing is strong in craft and interesting in content. Their blog connects me to a deeply considered and personal point of view.

baker160
Exciting visual connections and engaging, thought-provoking work that elicits an authentic experience is also found in the blog of baker160. A typical response from a student to an assignment that asks you to describe a class project sounds like a very dull subject to report on. So it is a double the thrill to read a work that expands the experience into an expanding complex of interwoven details. This process log is filled with delicacy and rigor and includes references ranging from the universal to the commonplace in an exciting subtle and smart interplay of personal narrative. It is a joy to read. It’s sort of a Renaissance blog, linking big (human) and small (personal) ideas with social and political content that is current and relevant. baker160 uses the power of the web to link thinking with evidence through her wide-ranging linked references that include mathematical formulas, the first recorded valentine, videos of gulf shrimp deformities and a shaky guitar player singing an acoustic valentine. Sample excerpts below give you a flavor for the blog, but I recommend reading–and subscribing to–it!

 “At the house across the street from Rachel and John’s, a crew has vacuuming bees out from inside the walls. A colony of honeybees had established a hive inside the kitchen walls and had been rapidly expanding into the rest of the house. There was honey inside the walls and on them. I love that image—a kitchen that is being used to make food for a colony of bees. The house had mostly been cleaned by the time I could get a photo; I’m a bit allergic to bees, and I wasn’t getting too close to them while they were loose.”

And…

“This is something of a change for me. I’m more of a fan of words than images to convey ideas. It’s not that I don’t enjoy an idea expressed well through images, but I tend to think that there are very limited circumstances in which words aren’t the more precise way to convey a concept, philosophy, or argument. The well-explained graph or infographic is my ideal for words and images working together. Images can enhance and clarify a verbal explanation, but I always thought that whoever said a picture’s worth a thousand words was getting a terrible exchange rate. This is left-brained chauvinism, and I clearly need to think more about ways to convey information in a right-brained way.”

I have found that a great process log, like any great work of art, delights me with careful craft while a big idea sneaks in and makes its bed in my heart:

“I had a surprisingly similar problem with a pie I baked for a party this weekend. I intended to garnish this in the center, but there was an off-center ripple in the filling from when I’d moved it from the oven to the refrigerator. I knew it was off-center, but it was compelling as a place to put crushed Girl Scout Cookies and strawberries. I wound up correcting for it by expanding the garnished area to include the actual center of the pie. It’s interesting to me to see that there are so many circumstances in which patterns or design features make me think that I’m looking at the center of an object, but I’m really not.

It’s fascinating to me to start seeing these systematic errors in my visual thinking. It’s like taking a logic class for the first time and realizing that your closely-held opinions are based on fallacies and what the TV news lady with the pretty hair says.”

Attention to the craft of visual and written language makes the structure disappear, and lets me revel in the experience of ideas. The maker reveals who she is in her manor of writing and showing, and if she’s honest about that, I am interested and engaged. When you share experience and it feels true to me, you leave me asking questions about my world and I can see how your truths apply to me. Your experience increases my own.

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Reflections on critique:

I’m not going to lie, I love looking at drawings I have been lucky enough to witness in the making. There’s an undeniable accomplishment up on the wall that is simply waiting for affirmation—like the makers and I both see the effort represented in these pictures, and it simply awaits a benediction. I guess that’s how I see critique these days–as the explicit sanctioning and recognition of the practice of creative process. The sincerity of the marks in this situation seem to never be “wrong”. Each picture has its own humble offering, and in critique we can make it real—like in the story of The Velveteen Rabbit…each artist comes in with a well-loved, worn and threadbare stuffed animal that wishes it could hop, and as we acknowledge each drawing its little heart starts to beat, and ultimately it skips off into the woods into its life as a real live bunny, with the magic generative ability to BE (hopefully it reproduces like a rabbit). Through the act of sitting together looking at the drawings we find distinctions and mutual understandings that make the drawings come to life. This discussion is an essential ingredient to the studio community—an ability to make meaning of the process through looking at a map of the work. Ironically, the end product (the map) always carries value. Even though I ask the artist to completely forget the end product, to make a mess of the page, to simply concentrate on getting the lines right—there is always a fascinating vitality to the page. Likely the interest of the image is because of the artist’s attention to making an authentic accurate line, and liberating herself from the burden of a perfect end-product. Little real moments are always more interesting than perfection to me, and add endless life to the line itself and to the classroom.

One of the most difficult tasks of the artist is to put her work on the wall, weather it’s pinned to the clumsy cobbled together ten-year-old wall of a working classroom studio space, or framed on the wall of The Museum of Modern Art, to SHOW our work is to show ourselves undefended. Super scary! And yet, it is the work of the artist to do so, indeed it is why we work: some inner drive to seek, to show and to make ourselves known. The task then, is to show our work and receive its critique without getting hit with the information as if it were some bullet into our soul, but rather receiving the words to increase the meaning and efficacy of the work itself. When we can remove ourselves from the work, and see the imagery as separate from us, we gain a great deal from the insights of others. It is in our capacity to gain understanding that the horizons of the whole venture expand. In my view it is essential that the wall we pin our work to, and the people who surround the work be trustworthy, valued and valuable. We need to know that they will be direct and honest and speak in the best interest of the work. Of course we can’t always be sure that this will be the case, and can only build trust through the experience of risk—in sticking our necks out we become strong. In trying, we grow. I am grateful when the circle of influence generated by the effort of a class works this way. The environment of a critique may be influenced by me, but it is realized through the honest effort of the community of the class. I am exhilarated to walk into a room and see the risk on the walls, and the attentive engaged energy of the artists in the room. In the critique space we realize our effort at building a relationship with each other, with language and with our work. I am heartened to see that strong sense of trust reflected in the words of my students. The quotes in this passage are linked directly to the students own writing.

“I came back to the studio at night to take some photos I’d missed. I found the circle of chairs at night strangely comforting. This was a helpful critique focused on growing, and I value that.”

For some reason I felt really comfortable talking and sharing. It was definitely more than the small class size and the fact that other people had similar issues as me, it’s that I feel like the class is a no judgment zone. Other classes I have taken were supposed to be judgment free or just really free in discussion, but I find that this is the first class I’ve taken that really felt that way and it is great.”

Part of what can be scary is the lingering notion that perhaps you don’t really belong in an art class, because your work can’t hang (pun) with the other “artists” work. This is a common and pervasive insecurity, probably linked to us being human. In an introductory art course, seeing your work in proximity to other work is reassuring–you can see that your work reflects your effort, and that your effort is just fine. Another place where you can make a direct observation and SEE what is really there — draw conclusions from what you see and not what you know. Critique then becomes another opportunity to move away from the limiting categories of Mr. Bossy Controlling Static Brain, and open into the possibilities that the fluid responsive present might present. (as a present). ; )

“My chair looked alive and in no way inferior to the rest.”…It took time and effort to draw the second drawing. I learned that progress is possible. I learned that talent has nothing to do with the skill level of an artist. The professor stated that “you can all draw. Like anything worht something, it’s going to take time”… If you take it seriously and commit yourself to the project, the results will reflect that attitude.”

Critique provides space to reflect on the drawing experience, to see what you learned and in many ways to detach from the work so you can “hear” it.

“I had a firm picture of what the chair should look like. However, the drawing spoke to me. In many ways, the drawing drew itself. The critique was nothing like a public stoning. It was more like a time for us to discuss  where we have been and where we will go.”

&

“I really enjoyed [critique], expressing my struggles with the projects and hearing how other people had trouble even if it was not the same as my own. It was especially relieving to hear that the people who hard art experience still struggled with the projects and that it wasn’t just the rest of us. …

&

“Over all the critique wasn’t as bad as I thought. We were not critiquing people’s work and saying if it was good or not. We were discussing how we went about with the assignments and how we felt during the process. It was interesting to hear that I wasn’t the only one that was lost or confused at the beginning and also it was good to hear that for almost all of us we found it difficult to at some point during the process.”

&

“Throughout the sketching process, I was concerned that my lines were thick and dark, while most other students’ lines were much thinner, lighter, and straighter. I thought I was doing something wrong, but I couldn’t manage to draw thin, light, straight lines, so I continued with my dark lines. Looking at the drawings during the critique confirmed that some people indeed drew their chairs with much thinner lines than mine, making their chair appear less dark on the page. However, that doesn’t make my chair inferior.”

Kirstein Gonzalez–blind contour

The blind contour drawing experience usually elicits strong feelings one way or another, which is why I always like to include at least a day of it in the visual thinking class. Some artists consider the blind contour an excellent way of warming up to get ready for a precision drawing based on observation, while other artists use the technique as a destination skill–a way to capture the essence or spirit of an object without the burden of realistic rendering. Elle  describes  everything I would hope a student could get from this lesson in her sensitive, well-written and descriptive entry “Drawing with my eyes Closed” (excerpt:)

Then it clicked with me: this isn’t an exercise about drawing, it’s about seeing. The lines on the paper only tell the story of what you saw, kind of like a lab notebook in squiggle form. The drawing is not supposed to be photo realistic. What matters is that I connected my eyes to my arm and recorded the lines I perceived in the hand.

Check out the range of experiences of this exercise.  Alex said:

I really hated it! I felt so out of control….One thing I found interesting was that I was less frustrated when I was drawing blind contour with my left hand. I think this was because since i am right-handed, I felt better about drawing “badly”. It was like because I was drawing with my left hand, I was given permission to draw badly and be out of control.

But Elle said:

This class in particular was relaxing and a real pleasure to participate in….the further on in class we got the more comfortable I was with letting go and letting whatever happened happen.  When I looked at what I had done I was always surprised.  What I drew and what I saw in my head were completely different.

Kristin Bell Blind Contour

Other interesting ideas that came out of the day are Anahita’s thought:

there’s so much you can’t see in an object (or a face!) at first, second, or even third glance, but being forced to look at the same lines over and over really makes it impossible not to see how they relate to each other. Quite apart from that, I found the drawings just plain fun (when they weren’t mildly exasperating).

and Polly, who made me laugh out loud in her post when she said: “I actually love myself”. She was talking about her portrait, but it reminded me of one of the reasons I like this assignment, which is that it forces you to drop the idea of seeing your self as something to judge as good or bad / ugly or pretty, but instead to see it (your body/face/hands)  in terms of form alone, which seems pointless to judge. I mean, is a triangle more perfect than a square? [Only when the triangles in power need the squares to fail…but I digress.] Polly offers a sensitive take on the assignment in her process description “Stinky Feet” (provocative header!):

Drawing blindly is extremely difficult but it definitely frees your mind and relinquishes your control.  I don’t believe that even if you tried to have control over this activity that you could.

The arty brain side takes over no matter what because you are BLIND. Especially, with music on in the background.

Syedah draws Michelle

Carolines “mess”: In class exercise 1

The point of my request for you to make a mess on this drawing is to deflect you from trying to create a precious and perfect artwork. The truth is, there is work and mess that goes into art. The particulars of the mess are what makes the drawing interesting! Like when you tell me gossip, I want to hear all the details, not just the end facts. The precious and perfect part comes at the very end in the PRESENTation the work. If you don’t divorce these two categories: making and presenting, you bind yourself with judging a work that hasn’t had a chance to develop. My intention is to free you from the constraints of preconceptions about how to make a “good” picture. (Never “should” on yourself, as my brother’s acting teacher said) In fact, remove the idea of having to be “good”  altogether. It doesn’t help you take the risks you need to take to learn, and it will ensure bad (or at least dull) work. I was interested that instructions to “make a mess” made some of you happy and comfortable and others  very uncomfortable! Which side do you fall on? Caroline made a beautiful drawing (above), but she doesn’t recognize it, and doesn’t want to own it! The line work and power of how authentically and accurately she engaged the act of observation brings the marks on this page to life. The integrity of the marks make this rewarding for me to look at. In her reflection

my perfectionism got the best of me and I was unable to complete half of the assignment. (from Caroline’s blog)

In my mind, this is a finished work, and very much a complete assignment! The “unfinished”-ness of the object cause me to focus on the mark-making (and not the chair) as the central “figure”  of the drawing. The marks do not disappoint–rigorous, and self confident, they stand on the page as a mysterious pointer that begs questions of the viewer instead of giving an answer.

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