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Reflection and the edit: Part 1 - The Open College of the Arts

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Reflection and the edit: Part 1

I wanted to write this blog post because discussing the concept of reflection and editing of work is something that I discuss very frequently with my students. I want to clarify first that this post is applicable for all specialisms, not just textiles, as reflecting on your practice and editing your work is a fundamental part of the creative process for any designer/artist/maker! I’d like to offer a few pointers that may help your personal reflection skills, and share images of my own personal reflective logs. (Please note that my way of reflecting is definitely not the only way- I just find sometimes seeing how others do it can help jog your own thoughts of how you might approach it.)
I have chosen to write this blog in two parts because to successfully be able to edit your work you must be able to successfully reflect first and make those informed decisions. The two things are quite different, yet intrinsically linked; reflection is about looking at your work and questioning it, whereas editing is knowing which parts of your ideas and practice to take forwards, and which you allow to be left (impossible to do without being able to reflect beforehand!).

Reflecting on your work underpins your entire practice; it is essential to be able to look objectively at your work and really review things such as- why you have done something, how does it work, is it a success or does it require more development/thought, how would it be improved, and the specifics of why it has worked/not worked.
There is no right or wrong way to reflect, and one size does not fit all- you need to find your own way to do it successfully. I have had many students in the past who really struggle with the concept of reflection to begin with, but eventually the penny does drop and it becomes second nature for most. Projects that I frequently see that lack reflection also lack depth, development and the student behind the work often lacks motivation and struggles to know where to go next with their work. If you feel like you are struggling with it, don’t worry- just try out different methods that work for you and hopefully you will see a progression within your work. Being able to reflect allows deeper self-evaluation which in turn allows for an increase in learning from experience- so bear with it and do try see its value!

Ideas to help you reflect:

  • Reflect regularly. Don’t leave it a week before you go back and try to evaluate your work as you will have undoubtedly forgotten important thoughts and ideas. Jot ideas and thoughts down in a small notepad perhaps so you don’t forget. I’ve been known to write an idea down on a train ticket as I know it’ll vanish within five minutes if I don’t!
  • Don’t be afraid to directly jot/sketch directly onto your work or research. Circle things, cross things out- don’t worry about being precious with your sketchbook or loose sheets. Really connect with your work. If you really can’t bring yourself to do this, post it notes or tracing paper overlays can be helpful.
  • Find a quiet place to go to reflect. Is there a place you feel particularly calm and able to really think? I find myself reflecting lots whilst I walk the dog! When I was studying, I often went to a particular place near my house (weather permitting!) to just sit and think- this really helped me too as I found it helped to get away from my workspace and try get my thoughts in order.
  • Lay out your work so you can visually see what you have produced and make connections between different pieces. Sometimes you need to take stock and look at your work all together to be able to see where your strengths lie and which ideas are working best. If you have a nice day, why not lay out your work in the garden? Often giving your work new surroundings can also give you a new perspective on it instead of staring at it on the same desk or wall. I’ve been known to hang my samples on the washing line, go make a cup of tea and then return to look at my work- it really can give you a new perspective on your work if you see it a different place, or even with two pieces of work juxtaposed for the first time.
  • Spider diagrams/mind maps/charts/lists are all great to generate ideas, but why only do them at the start or a project? They are a great way to make you pause and evaluate what you have created so far; I always recommend doing things like these regularly through a project.
  • Can your mind maps sometimes be visual? I always found it handy to have contact sheets of my images to use by cutting selected ones out, or circling them, and using them to prompt my reflective annotations.
  • Don’t ‘backtrack’. It is very obvious to see where a student has not annotated or reflected for a while and gone back to do so after a while has passed. This is a pointless task and a waste of time- you won’t gain anything from doing so, only regretting not doing it as you went along!
  • I always encourage my students to document their workspace. Seeing your workspace evolve with new work and new research input really can help you to visually see how your work is developing. I urge students to not hang on for dear life to pieces in their space for longer than a week or so, unless they are really prominent in the project, as your creative space can become stagnant and you begin to lose sight of where ideas can go if you are looking at the same things all the time. Be confident about putting some work to the side and keeping your space fresh. This is more about editing your work which I will explore in Part 2 of this blog, but it is also a visual way to reflect on what you have created on a regular basis.
  • Talk to others. Talking to others really can help your thought process and allow you to get new ideas or new perspectives. Where possible, connect with your peers online, or try talk to friends or relatives for an objective view on something. It can be hard to just have your own thoughts rattling around your head sometimes! Perhaps you could present them with one or two questions you would really like their view on.
  • Really use your blog/paper log book/sketch book as a reflective tool- treat it like an extension of your mind! Thoughts can often be expressed easier when written down.
  • Lastly, just question, question, question! Don’t let your annotations become just explanations of a technique, or what media you have used- use them to really delve deep into WHY you have created something, and WHY it’s working or not. The further you question things the better, and you will have a stronger body of work.

Good luck! Try enjoy it- soon reflecting will become second nature and your work will be much stronger as a result.

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Posted by author: Faye Hall

12 thoughts on “Reflection and the edit: Part 1

  • Excellent stuff, Faye. Unit Leaders are currently collating feedback from tutors about the courses and one of the recurring issues is that students sometimes struggle to know what we (that is, tutors) mean when we insist that they ‘reflect critically’ on their work. This post goes a long way to starting a meaningful conversation on that subject. I don’t doubt that I’ll be including a link to this post in future reports.

  • Thanks Faye. This is so helpful. I’m a painting student and it will be interesting to work through your ideas here with my work. A lot of this goes on in my head but I can see the benefit of getting it down on paper!! Great!

  • Dear Faye – thank you for sharing this very helpful post. Indeed, I found this part the most difficult myself – I am not quite there yet (the second nature bit), but working on it. So this is spot on. 🙂 Thanks/ Inger

  • Thank you for so many useful tips and insights,Faye. I like your suggestion about laying stuff out in the garden to see it from a fresh perspective. I’ve also found that taking a photograph of my work can give me that extra bit of emotional distance from it to be able to consider it more critically and see what is and isn’t working in the composition. I must put more of your suggestions in practice now!

  • I agree with Inger. Although I reflect more than I think I do, I have found it quite hard and these suggestions have really helped. Looking forward to part 2!

  • It is great to read through a clear list of ideas that can be used to pick up where you aren’t doing something you used to in terms of reflection, or employing new approaches.
    Thank you Faye!

  • Brilliant Faye , it is so helpful to hear your thoughts clear plan of editing and constructive ideas to reflect on my work this will remind me

  • Thank you for this insight . I too do a lot of reflecting whilst walking the dog or in general day to day life and it gets lost by the time I sit down at my laptop to write up my blog. I think the purchase of some tiny portable notebooks is in order. 🙂

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