Here’s a recurring observation journal page, with one of my favourite activities: mixing up descriptions. This forces a closer look at ordinary things, from slightly unexpected perspectives. Sometimes it creates miniature poems, at others it builds an image that pulls away into a story. Almost always, it’s an engrossing little mental exercise.
On this page, I chose four things from the day, and paired them: picnic bench and youth, chooks and gold leaf (it was Inktober — see below for a related illustration). For each word, I then made a list of descriptions using words and metaphors I associated with the other word in that pair.
- slatted with spring light
- sifting flowers
- curled/curved like a fern frond
- ribbed like a fern
- unsteady as a lamb
I noted a “push to metaphor”. Now, I notice an organic vivacity and lightness.
- four-square on the earth
- curved and up-springing
- youth on which all else rests
- youth on which age depends
- barred with strength and air
- the promise of birds
- knee-deep in greenery
The note says “sentiment”. But there’s a solidity, here, that the idea of the bench brought to the prettier language I was using before.
- square and bright as gold leaf
- ruffled like soft foil
- scattering/scattered in light
- in a cloud of glittering dust/insects
“Tricky but ennobling”. I really like these ones — it was more of a reach than the reverse (below), but I think that paid off.
Gold leaf (imitation)
- soft and enveloping as [illegible]
- brooding on size
- nested in corners of container
“Personifying”. I’m struck by how textural these are (very particular to the textures of metal leaf in use), and also that the staticness (brooding and nesting and enveloping) implies some readiness to movement.
Writing/illustration activity (originally posted, at greater length, in Variations on descriptions)
- Pick two words at random. Concrete nouns — especially ordinary things — tend to be easiest to start with (especially for art).
- Consider the descriptions/visuals you associate with each. You can lean into cliches and stereotypes here.
- Describe (or sketch) each word using descriptions that belong more obviously to the other word.
- Bonus: Note any tendencies or difficulties. Can you lean into or pull against or leverage those? Are there any broader patterns in your approaches?