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If you liked the idea of the reflective walk, and the drawing, you might be interested in the Festival of Dangerous Ideas: Thinking Dangerously in Teacher Education? Walking, Drawing and Extending Sites for Learning at the Ayr campus of the University of the West of Scotland that is happening on June 18th.

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As I mentioned the intriguing sounding Documentary Drawing Masterclass in a previous post, I thought it was only fair to share some of what I was thinking about on the way home…

Well, firstly, it was a great day facilitated by Julia Midgley, who has documented everything from archaeology projects to hospital processes – and also sometimes draws at/for conferences. (That in itself is, of course, very interesting as it links really closely to the reflective bookmaking I have been known to go on about.)

Julia gave us some great tips as to how we could loosen up as part of a warm-up, and especially things to think about to make people less precious about the outcomes of a drawing, which allows us to focus on the energy of the situation rather than on the artefact ending up on the sheets of paper. So consider drawing with both hands at the same time, for a result full of energy (and in my case lots of cross-hatching), not allowing yourself to look back at the paper once you have started drawing, or doing an ‘etch-a-sketch’ by not allowing yourself to let your drawing implement leave the page until you are done.

warm-up drawing made with charcoal on a stick using both hands to draw at the same time

warm-up drawing made with charcoal on a stick using both hands to draw at the same time

We also talked about considering the paper you are using – and how much more effective a drawing can be if it is backed up by ephemera – a timetable as the background to you documenting a journey, with added tickets, for example.

Another thing that we explored was cutting out pictures of people and collaging those together – but turned over, so that we would concentrate on the shape that the human body creates. I have to admit that I didn’t really have time to do this during the workshop, but I was thinking about my previous post and thinking about how documenting workshops can sometimes be tricky if you don’t have the permissions of people to use their photographs. I also think that sometimes then the picture becomes about the people, rather than about the workshop. but what if you just used the silhouette of your participants…? I think this way we could end up with another really interesting ways of documenting a workshop. Something I will attempt to try out soon.

However, what I am probably most excited by is the way I used documentary drawing as a research method in the afternoon. Julia had given us a brief, parts of it was “By closely observing visitors to the Gallery what can the reportage artist discern about the activity of looking at art?” So I found myself sitting in the Tracing the Century exhibition and in the beginning I was randomly sketching people.

some typical poses observed

some typical poses observed

I found some typical poses, for example there is almost a standard way that men hold their arms behind their backs when looking at art. I and my fellow documentary drawers complained to each other that people never stand still long enough. I decided to ‘follow’ a group around, sketching them whenever they paused in front of art, to see how they interacted – and found that there was an opinion maker, who tried to move the group by moving herself and almost dragging the others with her, while another one seemed to be really interested in the art and tried to linger in front of certain pieces.

And then I started tracking visitors’ journeys along one specific wall. Comparing these drawings I realised that people tended to either stop at artworks or at the labels. So I am now wondering whether this form of observation is something I could use to get my students a bit more excited about primary data collection for their research. I think I spent less than an hour in the gallery, but can’t help thinking that this could be turned into more rigorous data gathering, I could develop rules, such as really try to sketch where the visitors stop and pause; the longer they pause, the more detailed/black/intensive the sketch of them should get; trace the ‘motion lines’ on the floor to capture where they come closer or step-away from the work (later put in corresponding motion lines following the whole bodies); prepare a standard background on which to sketch, so that the data can be more easily standardised (possibly superimposed). From this (and a suitable sample), it could be determined whether there really is a distinction between pictureviewers and labelreaders; it could be found out which group is bigger; and possibly whether one spends more time interacting with the art.

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I made a little book transferring my sketches onto transparent paper to illustrate my mini-findings, which I might show students to get them to consider documentary drawing within their research. As you can see I was very inspired by the workshop and will be doing more documentary drawing for sure!

While checking out the Tate Liverpool website to find out more about the ‘Tracing the Century’ exhibition, I came across a workshop they offer on documentary drawing on 19th January 2013. While it might be a bit too focused on the connection of documentary drawing to war artists for my taste, I am intrigued, especially because I know that there is a lot of drawing going on when it comes to documenting and reflecting within academic research.

I’ll be there…

‘How we experience material objects through our senses’ was the tag line of a two day workshop that I attended recently. The Sensuous Object, as it was called, turned out to be two days full of thought-provoking presentations (all centred around actual objects) with interesting people. So many issues were covered that it would be too much for just one blog post, so I may go into detail in future posts; suffice it to say that we discussed objects and the use of collections through focusing on their tactile nature, through sound, taste and smell, as well as movement. In the process we were treated not only to interesting visuals, like one presenter talking about hysteria while wearing a leather belt with which diagnosed hysterics were restrained to be kept safe in the nineteenth century, but we were also able to handle some of the objects that took centre stage.

One of the reasons that I really wanted to attend was that I was interested to see what is thought about object learning outside of my own field (of art and design), and I was not disappointed, coming home with a whole list of thoughts to follow up (once I have the time). I was particularly intrigued by the term ‘artifactualists’, the view of gloves as keeping an object of memory intact by not adding more memories, ‘imaginative imagination’, an ingenious way of visualising quantitative data, that sometimes we are talking about intuition but it may just be listening to sound without being aware of it (the sound being overlooked as it were), the question of how we listen and are we thinking about sound through metaphors, Gernot Boehme’s notion of athmosphere and the materiality of photography as well as drawing.

A big component was probably the Medical Museion in Copenhagen, which, as host, allowed the presenters access to its collection and also provided an athmospheric (and slightly unusual, for example they have a recreated Victorian pharmacy tucked away in one room) setting for the two days.

A good starting point for using objects in art and design education, in particular, is to use them to draw from. This allows a different engagement and investigation of the object than other forms of note-taking, such as writing down label information or taking photographs.
When using objects in such a way a number of things need to be considered:

If you are working from a formal display, such as in a museum exhibition, a still life has already been set up for you by a curator. Try to encourage students to find their own perspective and not necessarily go for the ‘obvious’ frontal view. Encourage students to use sketches not to necessarily replicate what they see (this they could do much more effectively with a photograph, if photography is allowed), but rather to try to capture other aspects of the objects, like their context, details they particularly like, etc.

If you are working in a collection where the objects can be handled, you and the students can play with the setting up yourself. How would it differ if this was a museum display set up or a shop display? What would be an authentic context? Being able to handle objects often also means that you will have access to views of the objects that might not be on show in a museum, for example the back, bottom or inside – take advantage of that in your exploration.

Also take into account the different contexts of the sketching, students often lack the confidence to explore something in a museum, where other visitors might come up and look over their shoulders, possibly even comment on their work, so sketches here could be used as starting points for future, more elaborate drawings. If on the other hand, it is possible to have a drawing session that is private, this can lead to an informal discussed amongst the students, which starts the investigative process.