Observation Journal — a tremor in the web

[NB: On Friday night (US)/Saturday morning (AUS) I’m talking about Flyaway and art and writing games for the Storied Imaginarium!]

On this page of the observation journal, I was again looking at questions from the recorded interviews set for the class I was teaching.

Double-spread from the observation journal. Two densely hand-written pages. On the left, a page with five things each that I had seen, heard and done, with a picture. On the right, answers to some questions about creative process.

By this point I’d worked out (through the journal: e.g. 1, 2, 3…) that I, personally, should avoid super-introspective questions. Your mileage may vary! As always, a large part of the usefulness of the observation journal is not so much the answers on the page as what I notice about the process of putting the answers on the page.

At any rate, I can eventually learn things, so in this case I deliberately chose questions from the interviews that felt like they inclined towards actions/useful information.

[Note: The first three questions are adapted from those developed by Associate Professor Kim Wilkins and Dr Skye Doherty for interviews with people in various creative industries, for the University of Queensland course HUMN3700: Creativity — myths, methods and impact.]

  • How important are noticing and observation to [my] creative practice?
    • (The observation journal itself is obviously a key part of this.)
    • The process of sitting up and taking notice mid-way through a project is very useful. If I’m stuck on something, I’ll sometimes look around the room and try to add in a reference to (or a texture from…) something I can see. If nothing else, it will shake things up.
    • But it’s particularly important as an incidental/ambient part of what I do. As a library and a toolbox and a habit. As practice in the sense of doing scales on the piano. This is why, in addition to observation activities (observation exercises, ROYGBIV, etc) I also like games and exercises that let me pull out and rearrange and play with things I’ve already noticed and know. For example: Observation Journal — tables and other locations; The Key to All Mythologies.
  • When do you get a sense that you can create something?
    • There are always ways to make something — knowing that aspect of the craft and/or the material helps a lot (and a lot of the journal involves that). But there’s also a distinct feeling when a thing seems to come with its own momentum, as if it wants to be made.
    • At this point, it felt like that feeling was usually attributable to three things:
      • Inspiration, in the form of a lot of creative input (exposure to other people’s work, to sources of ideas, or just to other people busily making things).
      • Desperation (I think now this is also a type of momentum — it usually happens when I’m being productive on other things. It’s just that I notice it more when the limits of time and space then stop me adding on new activities).
      • Boredom (the kind you have when there are no sources of distraction).
  • How do you tell which of your observations are worth developing?
  • The new question: Basically, I decided to try stopping (after coming up with ideas) and asking myself which ideas I liked and which I didn’t and then (and this is the important part) WHY.
    • I quickly ran a few recent ideas through that format, which revealed:
      • Ideas that felt as if they might have life had a feeling of narrative impetus, aesthetic charm, a through-line and an innate arc (those two might be the same thing)
      • Ideas that didn’t quite resonate had in common a structure without inhabitants (no people or viewpoint to hang it on), an aesthetic that didn’t charm me, and elements without an arc.
    • This meant I could make a note to further work on understanding the things that worked (e.g. what aesthetics charm me and why) and some tools to deal with ideas that haven’t quite come to life yet (e.g. narrative exoskeletons).

Densely hand-written answers to questions about creative process.

Writing/art/journal exercises:

  • If you listen to an interesting interview with someone in your field (or any field, really), instead of (or in addition to) taking notes of the answers, take note of the questions, and try answering them yourself.
  • Next time you make a list of ideas (new or existing), take time to go through and work out which ones do (and don’t) feel like something worth pursuing. Then make a few notes on why that is (in both directions. See if there are any patterns. Can you draw some lessons from that for ways to strengthen future ideas?
Tiny pen sketch of people with wine watching Miss Fisher in a cinema
Watching Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears — the last visit to the cinema Before Everything. No regrets.

6 thoughts on “Observation Journal — a tremor in the web

  1. Pingback: Inktober and triangulation, or: Nature LOVES a vacuum | Kathleen Jennings

  2. Pingback: Observation Journal — things that tell you what they’re doing | Kathleen Jennings

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

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

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