Saturday, August 14, 2010

Essential Design Tools

How do you work through your design ideas as you are composing a work? The best resources I have for stepping back and looking at my work objectively are my  Coolpix digital camera and photo software.

In the years before I used this dynamic duo:

  • I took Polaroid pictures and hung them on my design wall.
  • I turned away from the wall and held up a pocket mirror and looked at the work in it backwards.
  • I  removed my glasses and squinted.
  • I looked at it in the dark so just the value contrasts stood out.
  • I turned it a quarter turn and viewed it from each orientation to see what it revealed about my composition.
  • I carried my piece from room to room, laid it over a couch or chair and then let my eye catch a glimpse of it each time I passed through.

Now, I shoot images of the work on my design wall and can immediately load and view them on my computer to evaluate where I am.

I’ve spent this week working on the fifth Relics piece. Here’s some details of its evolution to date:


One layer of monoprinted dye on the silk – this is a detail – the full  piece is 65” long x 55” high. At first a vertical orientation, I changed it to horizontal.


First layers of added dye painting. It definitely does not look aged yet.


Beginning to define the lines and crevasses.


Adding more color.

Friday detail

Deepening and darkening areas. My intention with each layer is to age the surface and create more visual depth and definition. I’ve shifted now from dyes to paints. This is a detail of where I left this new piece yesterday.

I am still adding line work and defining the crevasses. Once that’s done, I will be ready to add the language elements to the surface that suggest ancient inscriptions -- or possibly play on the “ancient writing” theme with some 20th century graffiti.

Whether this piece ends up on the “sample” pile to be made into smaller works or actually proves to be successful on a large scale, it is teaching me a lot.


  1. Great ideas! I squint but I've never looked over my shoulder with a mirror. Will try that. I do take digital images....when I think to do it!

  2. Good points Jeanne. I can see things in an image on the computer that I can't face to face...why is that?

  3. Maybe because our bare eyeballs just don't have as sophisticated adjustable exposures and flash?!?!? Which raises an old question about color and painting -- since colors look different in every type of light (natural, incandescent, fluorescent) what light does one use to create? Most artists prefer natural -- but most galleries/museums have artificial. It makes a difference in how the finished works "read".

  4. fascinating to see this piece develop. the digital camera--what would we do without it. Of course, at the moment I cant include myself in that we as I am in perpetual stalemate packed with nowhere to go. But back when i had some things I was working on I found the camera (I too have a coolpix)invaluable to see/resee. thanks Jeanne and I love this series you are working on.

  5. Thank you Suki, I had a eureka moment for how I could complete this piece after posting these progress images. I'll be back working on it by next week and trust that I'll know by then if the idea is right.

  6. I stalk my pieces - prowl around, catching myself and them unaware and unsuspecting, pretending that I've forgotten them or am ignoring them, watching sideways to see how they converse with the changing light, catching glimpses of intimacy: the translucency of a back-lit edge; the waves created in surrounding space from a curve and a sudden stop. Listening intently for the whispered answers, waiting for that magical moment when the piece finds its voice and begins to sing.

    Which is not something that's easy to explain to people who don't already know!


  7. Hi Nikki, what a rich, visual description. It captures some of the seductiveness that I think we all feel when we are working -- a lush, sensual tango. Love the image of you "stalking" your pieces.