Ideas for art making don’t always come out of the blue; often they’re developed from visual, contextual, and material investigation. By researching other makers, training your eye to see opportunities for design ideas wherever you are, collecting images and objects, and experimenting with techniques and materials, you amass a reserve of possibilities for future use. This is how your own creative style emerges. It’s important to develop your hands-on skills in different media alongside the research, or the objects you want to make will exceed your ability to make them. Sometimes experimenting with new and different materials and skills suggests creative paths that you might not have considered relevant. It’s an ongoing, two-way process.
I’m a champion of the sketchbook. I make my own sketchbooks (covers and sewn bindings) and love to fill them with quick sketches, clips from magazines, artists’ postcards, and short word lists (a technique used by Eva Hesse). By the time each book is full, it’s a work of art all on its own. If I stop toting it around, I find myself scribbling notes on those pale yellow Stickies, which fail to inspire me later. When I take the time to refine the sketches or develop the word lists, even if I don’t use that idea for years, I know I’m continually developing a resource that I can mine later. These past sketchbooks have become akin to a set of encyclopedias; a history of my creative thoughts and a bank I can be tap into at any time.
I also believe that the more you immerse yourself in the making process, the more you’re physically in tune with your creative consciousness, and the more you are prepared to see and act upon ideas when they emerge around you. Even when I’m not in the studio, but am immersed in putting an issue of PMI together, I’m fully engaged in the act of creating. I’m stimulated not only by new techniques, but also how the author forms and structures their words on the page. Everything around me is generating ideas and it’s all I can do to keep up and make sure as much as possible ends up in my sketchbook. The exciting part is that because I do have my own developed style of work, when I’m am fully engaged in creative research and activity, the world around me filters through that aesthetic and my ideas often start out sharper.
I imagine a similar research process happens for the authors in this issue. For instance, Rosanna Antonelli’s pieces are influenced by the history of her immediate surroundings and Rebecca Zweibel tackles her large, blank surfaces like a stream of consciousness. Donna Flanery gives a great tip for developing ideas; she captures everyday events in quickly drawn cartoons in a comic journal, then pulls bits from the various pages to create a mashup of ideas and objects on a single surface. Paul Andrew Wandless, not wanting to settle for the “what you see is what you get” color in a bottle of commercial underglaze, takes on material research to create a whole new underglaze palette, invoking ideas for future printing and transfer work. Necessity, the mother of all inventions, inspired Amy Sanders to create an updated version of the berry bowl. Cate Brus-Austin and Sumi von Dassow discover that even though old techniques still work, there’s always room for improvement—with stamping surfaces and cooking forms respectively.
So, where do your ideas come from? How do you refine and hone them? Hopefully the tips, techniques, and practices on the following pages are just the catalyst you need to get started in the studio, or in a sketchbook.