The Queensland Art Teachers Association invited me to give a workshop on my observation journal at their 2021 conference — an exciting invitation to receive, and great fun on the day. It was an honour to be able to sit in a few talks and watch over the shoulders of teachers developing their craft, and also to demonstrate to them how I approach my observation journal, and learn a little about how they approach teaching art (very useful, in fact, for a later set of workshops).
I gave two 2-and-a-quarter-hour workshops, running through how I structure and use the journal, with plenty of activities and a focus on art rather than writing. I based it on the original presentation I gave for SCBWI Qld early in the year, but that was for a mix of writers and illustrators. Illustration and writing are fairly interchangeable in how I approach them, but given this was a presentation for art teachers, it was good to be able to swap in a lot more (and new) journal pages with plenty of pictures, and shift the focus.
Here’s the fancy description:
This workshop will introduce participants to an observation journal technique. It’s an easily adaptable approach I have been using and teaching to record and reflect on the world and my creative process and practice(s) — not only to catch those thoughts, but to build on them to develop process, materials, techniques, theories, ideas, resources, and more. It is designed to be manageable, personal, practical, adaptable, entertaining, and useful.
All the participants were wonderful — interested, interesting, willing to try anything, full of practical questions and feedback (so very useful when giving a presentation to people in a field adjacent to your own!), and so very open and various in their approaches to the activities and art. Also, after keeping us on track by neatly avoiding a clear speculative fiction distraction, I instead accidentally brought all the Midsomer Murders fans to the surface.
I was there as an illustrator demonstrating how I work, but beyond that, I had two main aims with the workshop:
- to demonstrate how the journal works as a set of tools for people who want to keep thinking creatively about their own art — i.e., for creative teachers; and
- to show its use in ongoing learning, theorising and explaining of artistic work — i.e., for students.
But I also wanted to make sure everyone was drawing from the start, and tangling with the activities (because the journal is really more about working out how you prefer to work than about adhering to strict rules). I’m hoping someone has photos of those exercises that I can share at some point, but I was too busy bounding around the room.
After I introduced myself and covered some of the context and origin of the journal, I explained the journal structure as I use it (observation; activity; review), and possible further uses of the pages, as well as some of the practical results of having kept the journal.
We then looked in more detail at some of the categories of reflection and exercises — general and targeted observations, ways to make notes that are creatively useful, the many applications of lists, the uses of favourite things, mixing and matching for ideas, examining finished work, learning from your own process, acquainting yourself with your materials…
The observation journal involves a lot of gradual building-up of activities, thoughts, and approaches, so it’s interesting to try and convey that in a workshop using short activities. But there were plenty of those, which included:
- Bad birds.
- Planning a heist.
- Deconstructing your favourites.
- Terrible remixes.
- Scurrilous aspersions.
Edit: some of these appear in some form on the blog, or will in the future. The ones I’ve written up AS exercises are under the writing exercises/art exercises tags (they should lead to almost exactly the same group of posts, so choose whichever link you like). Others are adaptations of general (and/or forthcoming) observation journal posts, the introduction to which is here.
Thanks again to QATA — and, to give further credit where it’s due, here some of the books which helped build aspects of the journal, as recommended in the workshop: