Observation Journal: Points of habit and resistance

Also oh hi! I have an (ornamented!) Australian Gothic book out this month: Flyaway

(A view bits are masked because they relate to projects still in progress — more in due course)

Meanwhile, in the observation journal, it is the 30th of January. I was still recovering from a bad back (as recorded on the left-hand page; I almost got stuck in the freezer in consequence), ladies in the cafe were still hoping to get to a pool in Bali, babies were disconcerting, and I reached a détente with Phthalo Turquoise, although it didn’t extend to learning how to spell it. Incidentally, writers could do worse than look at paint descriptions for a thesaurus of ways to handle colour. (For more about paints: Loving the Tools.)

But on the right-hand page I was working through points of habit and resistance.

Some habits are good. Some habits are style. Some points of resistance are there for a reason — the negative shapes we draw around. But I wanted to be more aware of them, more deliberate in looking for lines or “shapes that please me” (as Peter de Sève put it), and less frequently startled when I look back at something I’ve made with several year’s distance.

The process was simple:

  1. Look back at my work (mostly art, but not solely) and notice patterns.
  2. Work out what the flip-side of those would be.
  3. (Not shown on this page) Deliberately apply those approaches to a piece of work and see what I learned.

For example:

  • The fight against a shrinking delicacy of marks has been long-running, and is why I first started sketching with markers. I still like a sense of lightness, but now I try to make it a chatty communicative lightness instead of pencil that’s so tentative it evaporates off the page like smoke.
  • While I’ve tried drawing more violent and grotesque figures (often with editors pleading with me to “please make it more horrible!”), I know now that’s not what I want to do. However, I have tried to bring more energy and grimness back from that experiment — and discovered the delights of a plunge into the ornamental gothic. I’m almost always happy to add more skulls.
  • On the other hand, I find I like drawing squat figures more than slender ones, although it’s still an effort to adjust the proportions. I’m at the stage of concentrating on not making them too attenuated.
  • When writing, I have to include an editing pass to add emotion in.

Exercise for writers/artists:

[Note: You could also adapt this exercise by using it to look at someone else’s work, as a way to study it closely.]

  1. Look back at your work: the sum total of it, or comments you’ve received, or a piece that you’re working on at the moment.
  2. Look for patterns and habits. If you’re looking at one piece, what are some distinctive features? Lyricism? Vigour? Tiny pen marks? Make a list.
  3. Now flip the list. Think of opposite(s) for each item.
  4. Try applying those approaches to your work — either a new or existing piece, or just as a mental exercise.
  5. Which confirm your choices? Which create dramatic new directions? Which are confronting but intriguing?

Related: When in doubt, make lists (and shuffle them)

“Babies’ eyes are further down their face than one might think”

8 thoughts on “Observation Journal: Points of habit and resistance

  1. Pingback: Observation Journal: Reflections and making things happen | Kathleen Jennings

  2. Pingback: Observation journal — creative post-mortems | Kathleen Jennings

  3. Pingback: July post round-up | Kathleen Jennings

  4. Pingback: Observation Journal — Variations on habits | Kathleen Jennings

  5. Pingback: Observation journal — practical application | Kathleen Jennings

  6. Pingback: Observation Journal: Do it for the aesthetic | Kathleen Jennings

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