Observation journal: mercurial eggshells and stolen words

The activity on this observation journal spread started with a prompt Kim Wilkins uses in her writing classes and workshops: finding the beautiful words that create the feeling of what you want to do. I adapted it here to physical projects/business proposals: I was putting together a worksheet for my creativity students, which they could use to put together later business documents, and I wondered if I could adapt Kim’s activity for these projects.

Two handwritten pages from the observation journal. The left notes 5 things seen, heard, and done, and a picture. The right page contains notes on lush/key language.

I started out by just making a list of key words for aesthetics I wanted to evoke when describing the project. The initial pull of the exercise was very practical and businessy, which was NOT what I wanted to achieve. (It was a useful lesson for me, though, because I knew I’d have to talk the students through that barrier.)

The right page from the observation journal, with notes on key language:

The first list is: Durable, Texture, Weight, Quality, Elegant, Subtle, Whimsical, Professional, Functional, Robust, Practical, Convivial, [versatile but don't like word], Pragmatic, Human.

The second, riffing on Arnold and Bishop, is: Monochrome, Elegant, Eggshell, Charming, Winsome, Sooty, Cotton, Scratching, Nib, Sooty, Lead-crystal, lustre, mercurial, gesso, porcelain, chalk, ribcage (diaphragm, space to draw in breath, oxygen), arranged, glint, awash, [vocabularies/], unnebulous

So I pulled down a few books of poetry and flipped through them until I found some pages that had the right feeling, and collected vocabulary from those — or used their vocabulary as a starting point for word-associations. “Specifically textured poems (Arnold & Bishop)” and “Attraction = v. physical words”, I’ve written here. (I should have noted the poems, but this definitely involved Elizabeth Bishop’s “Invitation to Miss Marianne Moore”).

The next step would be to change and refine these into phrases I wanted to use to describe the project in question, since the aim was to use the poems just as inspiration (but it was very late at night and I stopped here).

Writing/illustration/other exercise (with acknowledgement to Kim Wilkins, on whose “lush language” activity this is based)

  • Look at a piece of art or writing that you love, and pull all the adjectives (or other striking words) from it that appeal to you. They can be words contained in the piece, or ways you would describe the piece. Riff on those a bit further — do they suggest other appealing phrases. (Jaunty and dashing, well-sprung yet chaotic? Muted and mysterious, distant yet intimate? Spun-sugar and a foam of lace, with just a drop of acid? Crystalline, brittle, and weighty?)
  • Then do a quick sketch (written or drawn) that feels that way (try to avoid using the words themselves, especially if that could verge on actually stealing them)*. Alternatively, you could rework a previous sketch — this sort of approach can have an interesting unifying effect.
  • (Bonus note in case the answer is intriguing or useful: what sorts of words did you find appealed to you, and why?)
A friend wearing elf ears

*I use “steal” in the Austin Kleon sense. This is not advocating plagiarism!

2 thoughts on “Observation journal: mercurial eggshells and stolen words

  1. Pingback: December 2020 post round-up | Kathleen Jennings

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

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