Along with other creative practitioners, I’m a bit of a magpie when it comes to visual material. I’ve always maintained a space to gather images made by other artists and designers or more general visual material that might come in handy in the future. Physically, this space has at times been a sketchbook, scrapbook, or simply a pin-board to stick photographs, postcards, leaflets and the various other bits and bobs that catches my eye.
The purpose of this activity has generally been to find inspirational examples of art and design practice, to develop a broader appreciation of different visual forms and as a reflective tool, to identify the kinds of things I found myself gravitating towards. It made me stop to look at things and make a judgement about them. Sometimes I’ve captured these judgements in my notes, often the judgements are visually implicit in where I’d placed the material, so that I started to develop ideas within collages or series of images.
Keeping a visual diary has also helped to capture the visual material that passes through my hands on a daily basis. Cutting something out of magazine and sticking it in a scrapbook is a small act, but perhaps helps to make the consumption of visual information less passive. It slows down the process to allow you time to look and think about a particular piece of visual communication from the stream of information we are exposed to. For myself, it aids decoding visual messages, noticing patterns or trends.
The downside of maintaining a physical learning log was the amount of material I generated – stacks of scrapbooks and boxes of clippings and postcards. Seven years ago I set a blog called The Digital Flâneur to help collate some of this material and make the transition from analogue to digital, partly to save on glue and photocopying, partly because more and more of the visual material I was encountering was online. In parallel with my physical visual diaries, the blog is essentially a self-curated collection of visual stuff, though more outward facing in terms of gathering the work of fellow bloggers, colleagues or students. There’s some excellent examples of similar activities in John Foster’s Accidental Mysteries, for the Design Observer Blog or the 50 Watts blog.
There are obvious differences between my digital and physical visual diaries – online I can link directly to the material’s source, can include video, interactive pieces and audio alongside static images – however scrapbooks make it much easier to flick back through to find things and allows for the accidental juxtaposition of images that can spark new ideas. The benefit of using the blog has been the development of a public visual diary that other people can comment on and contribute towards. Having other people like or re-blog my posts are gratifying but more importantly, it’s allowed me to make contact with a range of like-minded practitioners whose blogs I follow and occasionally have met face-to-face at exhibitions. Looking at somebody else’s visual diary can be very useful, however the pace of digital information can often feel like a binary conveyer belt of liking or not-liking, reposting or moving on to the next visual stimuli. While I am a very haphazard blogger, rarely publish my reflections online and can be quite lazy in my referencing, I still find it useful to pin images to the board, step back and look what’s there.
More recently, I have been involved in developing the OCA’s Pinterest pages to try and develop a shared visual diary of inspiration and reference material. Examples of illustration, reportage drawing, street art and graphic design amongst others strands are posted on https://www.pinterest.com/opencollegearts/. I spend a lot of time thinking about and sourcing appropriate examples of artists and designers for my students. It occurred to me that if the suggestions were useful for one student, then it might be worthwhile sharing them with more widely amongst OCA students.
Currently there are a number of tutors involved in posting to this site. It would be interesting to see how we could develop this resource, link to more student work, or get more students involved in contributing to the pin-board. Let me know what you think.
OCA Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/opencollegearts/
The Digital Flaneur: http://christianlloyd.tumblr.com/
Accidental Mysteries: http://designobserver.com/topic/accidentalmysteries/1044
50 Watts: http://50watts.com/