influence tracking #2: visual vocabulary

image: Camilla Engman‘s studio wall

(this is the second installment of this look at what gets my artistic motor running… #1 is here)

One of the most memorable assignments I had in my undergrad art education was in an Introduction to Ceramics class with Linda Arndt at Ball State.  She presented us with stacks of magazines that contained a wide diversity of content and then asked us to flip through, cutting out any image where we naturally paused.  After a spell, she had us go back through our stacks and make them into categories.  This was a tool for discovering our visual vocabulary– the shapes, colors, symbols, styles, (etc) could be more objectively seen when gathered in larger quantities.  I took the concept of this through my life– picking up anything that caught my eye and slipping it into a sketchbook.  The floating images have served as inspiration and guidance.  Some tendencies in my attraction have held on through the years– animals, boats, off-beat comics, old books.  Diagrams, anatomy, botany, geometry.  Some stylistic things seem to pass over the years, like my shorts with cargo pockets that feel outdated this season. When the internet became like an indispensable informational organ in our collective lives, this gathering of images became a folder on my desktop labeled “inspiration.”  I drop things into it as I surf, and flip through it when I’m getting dry, idea-wise.

Here’s my latest, digital version of an inspiration/visual vocabulary bank:  Zack and I share a flickr account, but I’m primarily the one who marks favorites.  If you’re familiar with flickr, you know that it grids all of the images that you mark as favorites from other users, and you have the option of seeing them as a slideshow.  Here is mine… (click on any image to see more info or to go to the flickr page of that artist/photographer).  Just like the old slips of magazine-paper stuck between pages of my sketch book, they come from all directions– from a quick “ooh, I like that,” to specific visual research or the occasional snapshot of someone I know.  Somehow, looking at it all at once (or chunks of it) gives me an inkling of what I’m after.


1 thought on “influence tracking #2: visual vocabulary”

  1. So many of my art friends (myself included) are natural collectors and I think this is because they are unconsciously doing what you described: surrounding themselves with objects and images in front of which they naturally pause. I am going to think more consciously about this visual language now as I do some of my favorite collecting exercises: going to garage sales/thrift stores, marking my favorites on etsy, objects that I pick up from the sidewalk. The current objects gathering in my room, show me that I am drawn to the color red, random white ceramic objects, tiny bowls and pitchers, buttons, library cards, vintage books, dictionaries, rusty bolts, anatomy diagrams, letter press images, line drawings, lace, black and white stripes, jars, wooden boxes…

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