Observation journal: remixing good art

On this observation journal page, I used previous notes on my creative habits in order to remix an image.

Double page spread of observation journal. Tiny handwritten observations, a drawing of a birds nest in a tree.
I’m still amused by the little seen/heard/did icons on the left (observation) page

In a previous post — Points of Habit and Resistance — I did an activity where I listed some of my creative patterns and habits (good and bad) and then flipped them. (See also Paired Points, for more on that).

So e.g. “whimsy” flips to “violence” or “grotesque”.

The aim was to not correct habits, but to be aware of them and see where I wanted to adjust them and where I wanted to double-down.

I’ve been working that list up into a larger project, about which more soon!

On this page, I just wanted to play with some of those prompts.

For the purposes of trying them out, I chose an image I already liked — in this case, Ryo Takemasa‘s Water Lily illustration (see it here on Ryo’s portfolio or buy prints on Society6).

Screenshot of Ryo Takemasa art print of waterlilies in shades of blue-green on black water with a crescent moon above
Those blue-greens, the DEPTH they give the darkness, the shimmery yellow fingernail moon…

(A few other water lily images I’d been looking at recently also got into these ideas.)

Trying an exercise with someone else’s picture is a great way to:

  1. study how and why that picture works for me,
  2. know I’m working with something I already like (I’m sometimes too close to my own work), and
  3. relieve any pressure I feel to make something out of the exercise — this is Ryo Takemasa’s picture! I’m just conducting an exercise.

I then ran that image through a number of my prompts, and made quick drawn and written sketches of how they might change the scene.

A set of smaller sketches varying a drawing of lilypads.

It was interesting to note which gave rise to new ideas, and which suggested a treatment for a related topic.

There are close-ups of the exercises below:

Here the prompt was to consider only the surface/what’s on it. The original picture did this excellently anyway, deepening the effect of what might be below. This is perhaps why I added an arm emerging from the water. This remained.

Ballpoint sketch of arm emerging from water among waterlilies

Black glass, turquoise disks in the moonlight, & a hand reflected like a lily.

Next: double-down — particularly on the density of the lily pads, plus a sense of the gruesome/claustrophobic (not in the original, except for the sense in which the colour has drained from the lily pads and the peace of utter stillness, which could also be oppressive).

Ballpoint sketch of close-clustered lily-pads with an emerging arm

Choking depth & layering of lilies, & an arm, corpse-purple, broken through a gash of darkness to lie on the surface like a swimmer mid-stroke.

Then: Invert — from underneath. Much more light.

Ballpoint sketch of waterlilies seen from below

Stems soar like strings of kites into liquid light, jewels of green shadow, & out of the cool depths an arm raised so casually, colourless in the weightless space, vanishing into its own reflection.

The next prompt was to consider the prequel/sequel to the event.

Ballpoint sketch of lilypads with ripples disturbing the water

A splash, a jerk, & then pooling rings of silver in the dark water. But otherwise — only lily pads. “Perhaps it was a fish,” said X.

The next was a retelling — I decided on a story of a family dragging a straying member back (I must have read something like that recently).

Ballpoint sketches of a person getting pulled down into water, and another of loosely arranged waterlilies

This prompt, however, pushed me immediately into coming up with further story ideas, instead of just altering the original image. So I tried it again. This time I took the idea of convivial clusters of people from which others remain proudly aloof. I then used that to decide on the placement of lily pads as if in family groups.

The final prompt I wanted to try was asking whose point of view the image was from.

Ballpoint sketch of arm distantly emerging from waterlilies with shadow of frog on nearest lilypad
Note frog shadow on foreground lily pad.

A frog, looking across the broad expanse, the round fields and platforms, might not — from that angle — have noticed anything amiss.

Art/writing exercise:

  • Create a list of prompts. Here are some ways to make a list personal to you:
    • List at least 5 of your creative habits (do you always use one type of viewpoint, or bold colours? certain formats or subjects? no adjectives or all of them? cosy scenes or cold and cruel ones?). Flip them and make a new list with the opposite of each habit — this is your list of personal prompts. For more on this activity and some ideas of my prompts, see Points of Habit and Resistance. For viewpoints specifically, see Viewpoints.
    • List at least 5 things you always appreciate in other people’s work, or wish you could get away with. (Flip them or not, as you like.)
    • Create a list of versions of a specific technique, e.g. potential points of view or colour treatments.
  • Choose an image you like. It can be a piece of art or a photograph or a scene from a book. Either visual or written is fine — both will work, whether you’re going to do a written or drawn version of the exercise.
  • Apply each prompt to that image. How would applying or intensifying that aspect change the image?
  • For each prompt, do a quick drawn or written sketch of the changed image.
  • Consider: Did you understand anything more about the original image? Which prompts made you excited to use them? Which confirmed you in your usual approach (or that of the original artist/writer!)? Did some give you full new ideas, or just create subtle changes?

ballpoint sketch of birds nest in branch

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2 thoughts on “Observation journal: remixing good art

  1. Pingback: Observation Journal: Five Things to Steal from Midsomer Murders | Kathleen Jennings

  2. Pingback: May 2022 — round-up of posts | Kathleen Jennings

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