A few more uses for the observation journal

Just a few pages

The original purpose of the observation journal was to demonstrate a feasible approach for students who’d been set observation journals for assessment (the early days). It turned into a place to consider, reflect on, adjust, tinker with and riff on written and drawn stories, and other aspects of how I work. (NB: Words in bold throughout are a list of journal uses, so that I can easily find them again.)

From there it became a source of ideas for articles and material for blog posts. It’s served as a very handy set of tools for fixing problems on other big projects. Something I continue to like about this approach is how it evolves and adjusts to my needs and interests at any point in time.

Over the last few weeks I’ve given a number of workshops to writers and illustrators (at the Queensland Writers Centre), to art teachers (at the Queensland Art Teachers Association conference), and to English and art students (from grades 4 to 11 at Concordia Lutheran College). I’ll post more about those soon.

A few of the workshops

The observation journal has been invaluable for preparing all of those workshops.

Indirectly, it has been the place I worked out how to explain my own techniques and working theories. More directly, exercises I refined for my own uses have turned into workshop activities (see writing/art — either tag will bring up most of the same posts).

Other pages have taught me what sort of questions to ask after doing an activity — a little mental stockpile of approaches and variations. And the physical pages themselves have become a voluminous stock of material to serve as references, examples, illustrations, and ornaments for slides.

This wasn’t particularly planned. Largely, it’s a demonstration of the (occasionally unexpected) usefulness of simply tinkering away at something, adding to it little by little and bit by bit. One of the other benefits of small things.

But I’ve learned, now, that (a) keeping on learning and thinking about how I work and (b) remembering to go back and sift through those thoughts for material, is a very useful way to develop workshops that are on topics I want to talk about!

Wild Things map workshop

2020-03-13-MapWorkshop1-WTWTA

Photo courtesy of Where the Wild Things Are

Some overdue photos from my map workshop — these are from the first instance of it, held at the wonderful Brisbane YA and children’s book store Where The Wild Things Are who ordinarily give marvellous workshops, and still give excellent advice. Like all bookstores, they could use some return support at this time (see also parent store: Avid Reader).

Here we all are on the back deck of Avid Reader. It was billed as an older kids workshop, and we ended up with a mixture of ages which I’ve always found delightful. Everyone gets both so light and so serious.

2020-03-13-MapWorkshop3-WTWTA

Courtesy of Where The Wild Things Are.

At one stage in the workshop, we build a world, to make sure everything is connected and water (absent serious provocation) flows downhill (the two most important cartographic principles), and that hills and forests are where they ought to be for the tale. (My dad, an infantry officer and grazier, used to do this with us to explain tactics or cattle movements).

2020-03-13-MapWorkshop4-WTWTA

Below, a cartographer contemplates the sea, which can be identified in the photo above by a very small lighthouse.

2020-03-18-MapWorkshop5

It’s the most delightful workshop. We start with the same base story-shape to illustrate, and build it out with adaptations, themes, techniques, variations…

2020-03-18-MapWorkshop1

I walk them through the process of illustrating a map, including a lot of my actual work for Holly Black’s Folk of the Air trilogy (I think only the Cruel Prince was out at this point).

2020-03-18-MapWorkshop4

(Above is a glimpse of notes I took on trees from many maps in books and old atlases when I was working out the style of The Cruel Prince).

And then everyone gets so busy (I love this picture of hands).

2020-03-18-MapWorkshop3

Some versions end up in space. Others appear to have swords stuck through them (this class wanted to know how to pin art to the wall with virtual daggers — I think this was because of the City of Bones 10th anniversary illustrations).

2020-03-18-MapWorkshop2

(Spot the little house lurking under a wrist, there).

Art/writing activities:

(This is a variation on the activities in the Old Maps post).

  • Build a landscape to fit a story (a fairy tale, your own story, a movie...). On a grand scale, cushions, chairs, odd-shaped objects, and a blanket to throw over them will give you the basic layout. Then you can drape them with shawls and belts and toy houses, potplants, dinosaurs, etc to give watercourses, trees, and habitations. On a smaller scale, an assortment of cups and books with a light scarf draped over will give you a bijou universe. I’ve more than once built a small city out of thermoses, for reference.
  • For illustrators: convert this into a map (or a perspective landscape painting, if that’s your style).
  • For writers: consider how the terrain affects the story — often it can be the story. What can you see from a particular point (consider To Kill A Mockingbird)? What can’t you see from a particular point (consider “The Charge of the Light Brigade”)? What reasons might make one take the low road in preference to the high road? What (literally, but why not throw figuratively in there and make a family epic of it) stops a person getting from one side of the blanket to the other? If you move the lamp, how much of the land does the light touch? How much of the story could you tell in a glimpse from one hilltop (and who would be there to look?) — Michael Innes does this brilliantly in the opening of his (beautifully written although not unproblematic, in the ways one might expect from a country house murder mystery from the 1930s) Hamlet, Revenge!