Observation Journal: Swapped descriptions and descriptive filters

These two observation journal pages both play with descriptions again. (You should be able to click on the gallery images below to see larger versions.)

The first is the simple swapped descriptions exercise (described previously: Variations on Descriptions).

In this exercise, you describe one thing using words more closely associated with another. Above, I was crossing cars with sofas, and swapping descriptions of air and blankets.

E.g. “air scratchy and heavy as an old car blanket, and with much the same smell”, “limb-tangling air”, “currents and swirls of wool”, “chenille like the lines on a weather chart”.

A few days later in the journal, however, there’s this variation. In these tables, I moved through the elements at the top (from fairy-tales), but described them using the elements down the side (animals) as a key.

Some excerpts.

Little Red Riding HoodCinderella
Foxreds, flash of a cap like a tail, bushy hair, sly and quick, small and fleetwatchful wide eyes and a pointed face, red-cheeked, long gloves, velvet and fur
Fishglimmer and gleam of sun-spangles through leaves, flitted & swam in forest light, short memory, huge eyes, ultimately slipperysequins and refractions of light, [moving through] currents of ballroom, [running along] avenues of fountains, silent and shocked, silver and gold thread and slippery satins
Door (of grandmother’s cottage)Rose garden
Foxred wood, fraying, white raw wood where red paint scratched away, a hitch and a pounce to its stingdevious & winding, wine & amber roses, dens of leaves, a shiver of breeze in leaves like a shiver in a coat of fur
Catcreaks like a meow, whiskery splinters, swings like a cat weaving, cat-warm from the sun, arched windows, cat door in it?curled on itself, thorned paws & waving tails of boughs & roses, purr of bees

Like the first exercise, it’s a way of doing something like scales on an instrument: practising describing things in less automatic ways, feeling for the shapes of worlds and stories. It’s also a good way to sound out an aesthetic and to tonally unify a piece or an element — a way to open up and narrow decisions. It’s also useful for dropping clues as to someone’s or something’s real nature, or at least making the reader worry about it (if you’ve read Flyaway, there are a couple of characters I wrote this way).

Writing/art exercises:

  • Swapped descriptions: See the previous posts (Variations on Descriptions and More Swapped Descriptions) for more detailed activities, but basically: pick two nouns. Then make a list describing (or sketching) one using words (or shapes/textures etc) more obviously associated with the other.
  • Shading descriptions:
    • Pick a couple of elements (characters, key objects) from favourite stories. These could be fairy tales, movies, the last thing you read, etc. List them across the top of a table.
    • Pick a few iconic objects — animals or things you think have mythic value, or three things in your line of sight. List them down the side of your table.
    • Now, for each cell, make a few notes (written or drawn) about how you would describe the story element in ways that evoke the iconic object.
    • Bonus round: Watch how the influences change as you move across and down the table. Which are easy? What happens if you lean into the difficult ones? Where do you want to chase down new vocabulary or visual reference? Do some variations spark your imagination, and if so is there a pattern in why they do (or don’t)?

And, finally, here is a sketch of a bush stone-curlew.


If you’d like to support art and writing and posts like this about it, I have a Patreon account (patreon.com/tanaudel) and patrons there get behind-the-scenes process and sneak-peeks, starting from US$1, or you could buy me a (virtual) coffee at ko-fi.com/tanaudel (and I get through quite a bit of coffee).And/or check out prints and products available at Redbubble and Spoonflower.

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2 thoughts on “Observation Journal: Swapped descriptions and descriptive filters

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

  2. Pingback: Observation journal: Secrets and preoccupations | Kathleen Jennings

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