Observation Journal: 30 descriptions of a tree

This observation journal activity is one I’ve mentioned before (see: Sketching with words) — looking at one thing and finding ten or twenty ways to describe that particular object. It’s good for long drives, and also for sitting still, and for breaking open the world a little bit. (And for very famous poems.)

In this case, I’d gone down to the creek at the bottom of my street in the late afternoon. I’d been too twitchy to simply sit (this must have been after a deadline), but it was a lovely way to look long and deep at just one tree, and relax, and play with words.

And it didn’t matter if the descriptions wouldn’t work for a given context, or felt overwrought. That was part of the game.

Thirty descriptions of a eucalypt, late afternoon

  1. A tower with many windows
  2. A ticker-tape parade
  3. Stands of people cheering
  4. A spun stick of cotton-candy
  5. A rattle
  6. Soft-bodied, sharp-boned sky scraper
  7. Clusters of a thousand long eyes
  8. “An army with banners”
  9. Tamborinists, fluttering ribbons
  10. A dream of washing lines
  11. A map pinned with a thousand flags
  12. A paintbrush, gold-dipped
  13. A duster, web-spun
  14. A distant cumulus
  15. A fire hoop for birds to leap through
  16. A height chart, thick with measurements
  17. A river delta, fanning out into the currents of air
  18. Clustering tributaries, pouring down towards the earth
  19. A tide of leaves
  20. A gown of soft-clattering spangles
  21. A rococo candelabra, silver rubbing off the brass
  22. A net cast, unfurling
  23. A spray of fish scales
  24. A sheet snapped against the wind
  25. Largesse, upflung
  26. A rise of streamers
  27. A branching lung
  28. A conspiracy [of leaves]
  29. A cloud of witness
  30. Thick-clustered tinsel

(And, added a few days later, 31. A lagerphone)

balancing act

Writing/illustration exercise

  • Go sit somewhere and look at an object (or pick something you drive past).
  • List 5, or 10, or 20 ways you could describe it. You could:
  • Bonus round: Note if any descriptions stand out, or were very unexpected (and when they start to become so), and whether any particularly spark your interest (and if so, can you explain why?)

As mentioned in the post Sketching with words, I used this approach in working out some of the descriptions in Flyaway (available through Tor.com (US), Picador (Aus), and through all good bookstores).

But if you like even less narrative, and particularly if you like poetry that is lists of descriptions, my Travelogues: Vignettes from Trains in Motion (available from Brain Jar Press and other good book places) is just such a visual sketchbook:

Also, I’ve just started setting up a mailing list. It won’t be a newsletter — only the occasional email for any major updates (publication announcements, exhibitions, etc) and rare round-ups of things you might not want to have missed. If that’s for you, the (extremely early version of) the sign-up page is here:

Mailing List Sign-Up

I’ve only just set it up, so definitely please let me know if anything goes wrong!

1 thought on “Observation Journal: 30 descriptions of a tree

  1. Pingback: January 2022 — round-up of posts | Kathleen Jennings

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