Making Art

Using your own original ideas.

Working through ideas – an example

Most ideas start as just a little whisper in your head. You might see a colour , or a flash of movement. It might come from something some one said to you or a random thought you had sitting on the bus. It’s rare that a great big idea will just smash right into your brain. Most ideas take a little teasing out.

I jot down or doodle most of my ideas in a blank notebook, because it’s an unusual day when I can have an idea and sit down to make it right then. There’s often a bit of  time before I get a chance to start making and I don’t like to forget my ideas in the meantime. Sometimes I will be struck by a seemingly brilliant idea, but the next day I think it is cheesy crap. I save it anyway. Because chances are that I will change my mind again, or if it still seems cheesy I put it on hold until I can use it in a way that de-cheeses it. [If you want to read more about saving your ideas  please go to the Making Art website section Catching your ideas].

People often ask me where I get my ideas but as I tell them it’s not so hard to have ideas but you have to acknowledge them and know how to use them. So here is an example of me working my way through an idea.

Recently I bought a book called African Masks- The Barbier-Mueller Collection. I have so many books that I try not to buy too many but I realised I’d had this one from the library nine [yes nine] times, so I figured it was a good buy.


Above: Mask [Lukwakongo],  Lega [or Rega] region, Democratic Republic of Congo.

Above: Face mask of the Do Society, Bondoukou region, Ivory Coast. Wood with pigment and fibre.

Above:  Wood and pigment Kwele mask from Gabon.

This book is about African masks collected form about the 1920’s onwards and includes detailed information about who made the masks, and how it was used in ceremony or ritual. It has a colour plate of each mask plus B&W images of the tribe who created it using or wearing  it.

They make me think of all sorts of things. Some of them are good, some of them are bad.

  • Colonialism and taking other people’s cultural booty[bad]
  • Anthropologists recording ever detail of a group of people’s dying traditions. [bad and good]
  • Tribes of people making really specific items, that stem from a deep tradition that may have continued for hundreds of years. [Amazing]

These masks are really powerful, beautiful and sometimes creepy too. They are made of natural materials including wood, plant fibres, bone, horn, hair, textiles and pigments. Often the masks represent animals, deities, important figures or combinations. They were mostly worn during ceremonies  and rituals.

But I realized that  although the masks were sparking off all sorts of ideas , I didn’t actually want to make a mask: it was more the sort of totemic power I wanted to capture and the amazing texture and patina of some of the masks.

I’m also very keen on ancient figurines, like the Venus of Willendorf or the animal figurines found in Turkey. They seem  designed to be held in your hand, they are just the right size. Their purposes is unknown. Toys? Religious objects? In any case I decided that I would make some animal figurines but try to give them some of the gravitas of the African masks. I have to admit here to also being a fan of terrible horror movies, and I love the notion of creepy voodoo or Ju Ju, so I might as well stop trying to sound all fancy pants about my idea. I did want it to convey some of that creepy Ju Ju.

Above: The Venus of Willendorf, more than 20,000 years old. She is 11cm tall and is thought to be designed to be carried as she never had feet.

Above: Figurines found in Catalhoyouk, Turkey are around 9,000 years old and also hand held size.

I made  3 small figurines  from clay because I wanted that everlasting quality.  They are smallish and smooth so they fit and feel nice in your hand. I put holes in them before they were fired, so I could insert hair or fibres. I’d kept some of my hair from a recent hair cut,  and  also gathered some of the fibres from  my papyrus plant’s shaggy head.

Above: One of my clay horse  figurines. Nice to hold.

Pigment wise I wanted to stick to the colours of the African masks, black, brown, white, red and yellowish ochre colour. I didn’t want to use ceramic glaze because I didn’t want the glassy look it gives. So I decided to use oil colour paint because I like way you can rub it in, and have a thin layer or build it up to be a stronger colour.

On the first horse like figurine I make stripes of colour, not worrying about being too neat and smoothing it with my fingers. I stuck in the fibres from the papyrus. I think it looks a little too try-hard African stripey. I’m not trying to make something  African, just something that has a sort of gentle power.

Above: My hair and the Papyrus fibre.

Above: One of the horse figurines with Papyrus fibres for his mane.

Above: With the addition of pigment.

On the second horse like figurine, I  dip small clumps of hair into craft glue, then when dry, I re-dip in glue and poke them into the holes. It looks a little show pony extravagant at the moment so I will give it a hair cut later. I did a very simple rough line of dark blood red paint along the top and around the feet of this figure. I like its roughness and its slightly bloody look.

Above: the assembled clumps of hair.

Above: the second horse figurine looking a bit too show pony.

Above: the show pony becomes creepy pony with the addition of a tarry blood like paint.

On the bird like figurine, I rub in white pigment and polish it off again with my fingers. It’s kind of nice but needs a little more so I paint just its tail in the same blood red. I might stick feather or sticks into the holes later.

Above: the bird figurine, chalky white and blood red. He might receive some feathers or sticks later.

At the moment I feel like I need to look at them for a few days to decide what to do with the show pony hair, so I will post a photo of the three of them when they are dry and clipped.

Overall I think they are going towards what I want, but they are not there yet. They are a little too cute for starters, possibly they need to be even simpler. I also think I have made them  too smooth so if I decide to make others I will probably leave them more textured.

Act and re-act: that’s the heart of making art. You don’t hit upon a brilliant series of work just by doing one thing. Give your ideas a go, then change the bits you need to in the next one.  Mistakes are ok, you learn what you do and don’t want by making mistakes.

If you want to read more about ideas please go to the Ideas section of the Making Art website.

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One comment on “Working through ideas – an example

  1. Pingback: Naming your art – throw ‘em a bone. « Making Art

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This entry was posted on August 29, 2012 by in Ideas, Making art and tagged , , .
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