Monday, October 10, 2011

My Visual File

Way back when I was a single teacher I was working on my Master's Degree at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. While I was there I took a ceramic class from a captivating woman, I can't even recall her name now but I can picture her clear as a bell. She was extremely intelligent, vivacious and driven. In the course of the class we were discussing another course she was preparing; Discovering Your Visual File.

It wasn't a hands on art class in the traditional sense, she explained, but combination of a psychology class and self study of an artist's own work. She told us how we are all attracted to certain shapes, colors, textures, etc. unconsciously that as artists we then apply in our artwork without thinking. By examining closely what we are attracted to and why, artists could then be proactive in creating their work rather than reacting and not knowing exactly what they are reacting to or why.

For example, she explained that she had always been attracted to polka dots which was evident in a great deal of her work. She would create huge ceramic bowls that she would then cover in intricate lines and polka dot designs. She never understood why until she asked her mother who replied, "Oh, I used to dress you in polka dots all the time when you were little!" This story illustrates how simple things in our childhoods can influence the creation of art as adults.

I was never able to take her Visual File class but lately I have began compiling a visual file. To do so my professor said to go through stacks of magazines...any kinds....and just flip through them. Don't read, don't stop, just flip...and when you see an image that makes you want to stop flipping, tear out that image. Then once you've got a big pile of images torn out, go through those and weed them out. Flip through and only save the images that really attract you. Don't think of why, just narrow down your images. Don't worry about how many you save or how many you throw away, go by your gut reaction.

I don't have a huge magazine selection but these are a few that have caught my eye. I'm continually adding to this bulletin board next to my easel.

I think this is a rather ugly as a coin purse but I couldn't get away from the design.

Once I started looking through what I've torn out I realized I'm very attracted to circles, repetition and high contrast. I just love the way the red metal glows brightly against the dark background of the blacksmith studio.

I'm not sure what my love of circles and repetition says about me.
Stability? Consistency? Continuation of all things?
Circles remind me a lot of Native American philosophy.

While I'm continuing to ponder why I'm attracted to these shapes, I've begun to explore some radial designs; lots of circles (some vaguely) and repetitions.

I've shared this one before...

...and now I'm working on these two.

As I study my own visual file I wonder if the images I am attracted to change throughout an artist's life? Because I can think back to a time where I was much more attracted to earth tones and natural, realistic shapes. There was a time where I couldn't do a painting without using the color black, but now I hardly touch it. I may never understand why I create what I do...or when. But it's nice to reflect because since I've identified my Visual File I've become a much happier artist. I have had less struggles in these last few paintings than I have in a long time. Creating with circles and repetitions have been like playing rather than working.

Do you have a Visual File? What shapes, colors, textures, etc. attract you?
Look around your home. More than likely you have decorated with a visual theme and never realized it.


  1. Ok, this sounds really fun. I am going to do this and see what I come up with. I think all your siblings should do it also. Love Ya! Mom

  2. yeah, let me know what you come up with mom...i don't think decorating with pics of your grandchildren should count as a visual file though :)


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