FInding Your Way in Media and Materials

Another pathway to finding one’s voice has to do with the materials and media that are central to the form. For me media is anything that takes the idea into form, be it writing, silk paint, cookie dough or conversation. Most of us as artists have the luxury of finding, exploring, layering and learning about many different kinds of media, and this time in play is an important part of the process of coming into our unique style. Some ideas work in cookie dough, others don't.

Experimentation, fluency and craftsmanship all play a role. Experimentation means taking the time and having the will to push a media or material beyond what you have seen others do with it. For some, this is easy and essential, others of us have to work hard to "break the rules," since our inclination or training may make this tantamount to heresy.

Fluency means playing with possibilities and with the borders between media, combining it with other materials and using new tools with the medium. Fluency is the brainstorming equivalent but with stuff, not just ideas. Fluency also requires “just sticking to it” long enough to get beyond the first easy idea, and this I think is the dirty little secret behind developing facility and technical skills -- ie craftsmanship.

Many artists want their first of something to be fabulous, but most of us who have stuck with art long enough know that expertise does clarify the voice. Experience with the technical handling of the media, the tools, the physical material of one’s art and craft means that the message becomes clear, the hand of the artist is consciously visible rather than intrusively visible. You’ve simply got to keep at it and the “it” has to be something you like enough to carry you over the drudge, slog and boring parts. Paints gotta dry. Dye needs its temperature. The ink line needs the right brush and the paper that lets it do what you want it to do. If you break the rules here, it's because you want to, not because you can't do it "right." 

Sounds a bit like a teeter-totter and it is. Too  much attention too soon to craft and you may end up with a dead something instead of a living idea. Too little attention to skillful handling, and your idea may disappear under the clutter of incompetence. And of course, all of these aspects are ever moving targets for most of us!

PS All these photos are from the recent Baker Idea Institute Workshop, where we did a lot of playing around with materials/media. Exercises are among those included in New World Kids, The Parents' Guide to Creative Thinking.