MA Visual Enquiry : Reflecting on Theory and Practice
Generating and selecting ideas
How do you go about selecting and developing your initial images/ideas? Ideas are based on my interest in the natural world, the beauty and threat of nature, both seen and unseen, and also the way that we as humans impact upon nature and how nature impacts upon us. Most of the imagery which I look at initially comes from the internet, and I find Pinterest especially inspiring. I create boards there where I can archive my areas of interest to refer to at a later date. I am also lucky to have a very good library at work where I can access a variety of books on contemporary art, For primary research, I look to the environment around me. I live in Perthshire “The Big Tree County” which is a stunning landscape which has many beautiful walks where I feel totally immersed in nature. I use my mobile phone which has an excellent camera to record the interesting aspects which I may use later in my work. I have also looked at microbiology slides to develop abstract paintings. Sometimes the work of other artists gives me inspiration on how to develop the images which I have sourced. Ideas have also come from my children(!) and partner with whom I have regular discussions about the direction of my work.
What criteria do you use to select/reject them? I store all of the images that I collect either on my phone, on Pinterest, or by bookmarking pages on the web. I don’t ever delete them, in fear that someday I may revert back to a certain line of enquiry, so I suppose you could call me a bit of a visual hoarder! I suppose I start to hone in on a particular set of images or subject, knowing that I can still explore other images at a later stage. Sometimes I upload the images into editing software, such as Photoshop, to get a feel for the possibilities available from that particular image. I also have to ensure that the images are suitable visually, ie they are not blurred (unless I want them to be!) , are of a suitable resolution and format and that the colours are adjusted to the best effect.
Are your ideas usually substantial enough to sustain a piece of work? If not how do you modify them? Yes, I believe that my ideas are substantial, in fact sometimes they are too substantial, and I feel that I could create many solutions to any one idea. I sometimes feel that I need to rein my ideas in though and often find my brain whizzing off in different directions and tangents.
What do you do when you get stuck? When I get stuck I try to get away from the artwork, take a break from it, and sometimes I start on something different, leaving the problem on the “back burner”. Sometimes, I will ask advice from colleagues, although I don’t always act on it, but it is good to hear other people’s opinions. Usually, after a few days, I will come up with a solution, or see something that inspires me to take a different direction with a piece.
Are there any ideas you would like to explore but don’t know where to start? I would like to explore performance art, not on a huge scale, but to give it a try. I have an idea which fits in with my area of interest, but may pursue it at a later date when I have more confidence, and a willing participant! I also would like to make a natural site specific installation, but the idea which I have may result in my actions breaking the law!
What are your influences? An overview of my influences and interests in relation to my art are as follows:
▪ The landscape where I live and the natural world
▪ Environmental concerns
▪ Stories, history, legends and narrative
▪ Traditions, customs and folklore
▪ Haiku, which I write when I take the notion
▪ Technology, the internet and the use of innovative software,
particularly augmented reality
In terms of artists that inspire me, below are just a few examples of many:
- Andy Goldsworthy
- Constance Jacobson
- Laura Gurton
- Michelle Lougee
- Peter Gentenaar
- Liz Douglas
- Robert Ryman
How does your work draw on these? My work draws on these through technique, style, or subject matter, depending on which artist is being referred to, but they all fall into one or more of the above categories which tie in with my work.
How do you choose the resources to research and to support your work, where do you find them? The resources are chosen depending on what my concepts are. I usually start with a mind map, and generate ideas from there, which I then research further. Often ideas come to me when I am in bed at night, and I write them into a notebook and investigate them when I get time. In most cases, the internet is a great place for resources, but the library can also be very useful. I have also contacted artists and conservation projects regarding knowledge of a particular type of material, and have found them to be most obliging.
How do you position your practice in a contemporary context?
What difficulties do you have in accessing resources?
- I have had difficulty in the past as I have never had a real studio of my own; I have either relied on using the studio at work in between classes, or used the kitchen table at home. I have now been fortunate enough to convert my garage into a new studio, and this should be ready to use in the next fortnight.
- I would like to have my own printing press in my studio, as the majority of work that I do is print based.
- I don’t have a decent SLR camera, but I do have a very good mobile phone camera, and I am enjoying the challenge of attempting to take photos which look semi professional using a variety of apps.
- I need to get Adobe CS6 software at home. I have it at work, but don’t have a great deal of time to do what I need to with it at work.
- If I include time as a resource, I don’t have a great deal of it to spare. I currently work 4 days per week, have two young children, and they have various commitments at weekends that I take them to.
- I would like to use certain materials which are quite expensive, such as epoxy resin, so money is an issue for some materials.
What is your framework for making judgment about the work of others? Depending on the piece of work, I will take into account :
- The concept – is the intent of the work clear? If there a statement which explains the work it is easier to judge whether I feel that the artist has accomplished what they set out to achieve, and if they have achieved what they want to achieve, then the art should be deemed successful.
- If the art is esoteric? If it is esoteric, then I require more information before making a valid judgement.
- Is the art transgressive? Is it possible to adopt an impartial, disinterested approach, or does the nature of the art shock the viewer into a “knee jerk” opinion?
- The artistic skills, use of materials, craftsmanship, construction and finish.
- The purely aesthetic quality . If the art is purely aesthetic, then I would look at the use of colour, composition, texture, application, format etc Would I want it on my wall?
How can you tell if images and objects, yours and others, are successful or not? How do you compare your work in the relation to the work of others? As mentioned above, I would take all the afore-mentioned aspects into consideration. The purpose of the piece is also important. If it is intended to convey a message or idea, I can gauge whether it is successful by self –critique and also by asking opinions of friends and colleagues. If it is purely aesthetic, then I gauge whether I like it or not, but that is my own subjective opinion.
What is successful and not successful about your current work?
- Confident and satisfied with my work in terms of abstraction and use of colour, composition etc Have mastered successful overlaying of monoprints with pleasing results.
- Have got a strong interest in producing work inspired by nature, and feel like I have more idea of the direction that I am going with my work.
- Have been trying more 3D pieces such as sculpting using willow, and plan to investigate creating sculpture and installation using other natural materials.
- Sometimes the finish could be more refined, eg when using mixed media I need to sand areas of the piece.
- I need to produce a greater volume of work more regularly, but this should be addressed soon by gaining my own studio to work in.
Materials and Techniques
How do you decide whether a material or a technique is appropriate or not? I enjoy experimenting with materials and techniques, and tend to keep the outcomes in a large sketchbook or folio, so that I can refer to them later. I suppose it is a tension between the aesthetic and the conceptual again. Some materials will produce a beautiful outcome aesthetically, but the use of them could be questioned in relation to the concept. Sometimes it is a hard decision. If I am on a tight schedule, I often tend to work with materials that I feel comfortable with.
What limits your choice of materials and or techniques?
- Lack of knowledge or experience of certain techniques eg video, which I have never tried
- Cost of certain materials or equipment
- Space to store the final pieces
- Time to create the pieces
- Health and safety ie, hazards of working with certain materials, some of which I am currently investigating
Are there any materials and techniques that you would like to explore? ▪ Screen printing
▪ Cyanotype and solar plate printing
▪ Stop motion animation and video
▪ Epoxy resin
Communication and Intention
What messages do you intend your work to convey? How do you do that?
What is the intention of the work? How does that manifest in the work? There are a few ideas that I wish to convey within my art. These are:
- how human progress is affecting nature and the environment
- how nature is a threat to itself eg. alien plants and species
- how we revere nature vs how we destroy it
- the tensions between nature and modern environment
- the beauty of nature (both seen and unseen) which we take for granted I plan to think carefully about the materials which I use, and the objects and images I create, perhaps with the use of metaphor, combining found objects (natural and manmade) and referencing folklore, customs, religion and modern culture within the context of the natural environment.
Who is the audience for the work?
▪ Any viewers who see my work online, or hopefully in public
▪ Viewers with an interest in the subject matter or issues that my
work is influenced by.
▪ Students and staff on the MA course
▪ Colleagues from work
▪ Friends and family
▪ Artists who I know
▪ Critics (maybe one day!)
Who will critique your work? As above
What might their criticism be? That my work doesn’t seem to have a particular style….it is fairly transient.
Critical Thinking? What have been the most and least valuable resources so far? The most valuable resources have been a lab technician, other artists/craftsmen whom I have consulted about materials and techniques, and local conservationists. Not all the books which I read about art influence what I do, but I still find they have some value into giving me an insight into the way other artists think, and the processes that they go through to make art.
What changes has research made to your work? I feel that the literature that I have read on contemporary art has made me consider the reasons behind what I am doing more, whereas previously I was satisfied with simply making work which I found aesthetically pleasing. I also feel slightly more confident in terms of talking about my work and using vocabulary which is more appropriate in relation to contemporary art. Also, research has made me more adventurous with my intent to use certain types of material, but also aware of potential hazards which I could face when working with them.
Have their been any negative effects of your contextual research? Sometimes, I feel that the work can suffer aesthetically if it is “over-thought “ conceptually. Sometimes I question whether all art that I am making should have a reason or concept behind it, or if it should just be made, with the viewer interpreting however they want to, or admiring it purely for aesthetic reasons.
What specific influences and ideas have made the most positive impact on your work? The sculpture of Eileen Macdonagh, how she connects her art and her use of materials with nature and wider ecological issues, also the work of Michelle Lougee, whose art is similar in the way that her choice of materials reflects a wide environmental concern.