Idea-gathering and organising: as artists, we have so many ideas floating in and out of our brains, so many feelings and thoughts and troubles and loves, trying to corral them into some kind of workable conduit to make work can be perplexing. Not all of them will find their way into a piece of art, but they need to be organised in some doable, tangible way so they can be utilised to express what we have to get out.
Artists generally use sketchbooks. They help with the whole artistic process, connecting ideas and thoughts, and are even used for Proper Drawings (although not by me). I remember, many years ago when I was an undergraduate student at the College of Fine Arts (UNSW), our lecturer Virginia Coventry drove home how essential it was, describing it as ‘a tool to talk to yourself with’ (or words to that effect).
How right she was. Getting things out of your head is a critical part of creating. I do love to flick through my old sketchbooks every blue moon or so. They remain a potent resource for years. Writers jotting notes on a conversation they’ve overheard, artists making compositional thumbnail sketches or colour observations, musicians recording snippets of a melody, even people who believe they’re not creative faithfully journalling their thoughts – all free the mind to some measure, so that clarity can have a chance.
Personally, I use my sketchbook to plan assembly of work, plan gallery layouts, jot down concepts, and sketch out compositions. I rarely use it to make a ‘proper’ drawing. Generally, things get resolved through the doing bit, which comes after the sketchbook bit. Or vice versa. While that doesn’t sound very helpful, ideas, as you’re no doubt aware, come from everywhere at any time, so precise order is pretty irrelevant.
Of course, new work develops through the practical handling of materials as well as reining in disparate thoughts via The Sketchbook. Indeed, making is a powerful form of thinking in itself. But progression can also come about through participation in the odd workshop. On the weekend I had the pleasure of spending two days at the National Art School manipulating ink and drawing experimentally under the tutelage of Toshiko Oiyama. While I do work this way at times, it’s a pleasure to rediscover alternative ways of seeing, comparing results with a congenial new crowd and dispensing with expectations. Toshiko demonstrated ways we can use all our senses, as well as found materials, to make a drawing, while responding to the unexpected in creative ways.
Opening up to the new in a workshop (as opposed to me teaching one) lets me relax, discover, connect, broaden my practice, and accumulate ideas and ways to apply them. It lets yet another source of disparate ideas into the mix to be absorbed into the work, or filed away for future use. It can eject you from your comfort zone enough to rethink, reassess and allow seemingly unrelated pieces of information in, that just might help solve a creative problem in the studio.