Modus Operandi: Workbooks and being an art student

modus operandi - every tuesday

I had something else planned for this week’s modus operandi, but something Collage Contessa shared via twitter has been percolating in my head, so I’m switching gears. In discussing coming to terms with the the idea of one’s workspace as a “studio,” Kris shared the definition of the word:

1. An artist’s workroom.
2. An establishment when an art is taught or studied.

It’s that final word that’s been resounding with me—where an art is studied—because I have no formal training in art techniques or materials, just decades of being an avid museum goer and now a strong inclination to steep myself in the pages of wonderful in magazines like Somerset Workshop and Cloth Paper Scissors.

In both instances, I’m inundating myself visually with the best of class and setting myself up for failure in the eyes of my inner perfectionist. This has long been standard practice for me, though I can see it much more clearly due to the work my cluster has been doing with Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way; among the things you learn are techniques for evading your inner censor and ways of identifying how you sabotage your creativity.

This realization, combined with the sign Cameron suggests posting in your art space and the interview with Ira Glass I posted during week 2, prompts me to remember that art comes not through osmosis or moments of genius, but through work.

Instead of trying out new techniques in the middle of a project I love, I utilize workbooks. Even the very word “workbooks” reminds me: This isn’t art, this is technique, just like a language workbook wouldn’t be mistaken for fluent conversation or a math workbook wouldn’t be taken as an attempt at the Riemann hypothesis. I started the use of workbooks whilst reading Bev Brazleton’s Altered Books Workshop:

Altered book workbook:  2-page spread Altered book workbook:  Joker

Occasionally, I end up with something that might harbor the beginnings of an idea, like the images above. But for the most part I focus on just learning the technique. To keep myself to that task, I often use colors or color combinations unappealing to me; I’m never going to love these pages, but that wasn’t the point and using these colors helped me dispense with that immediately:

Altered book workbook:  2-page spreadAltered book workbook:  2-page spread

One of the other things I do to sabotage my progress is to start out with too complex a project for my skill level and, again, the use of workbooks helps me avoid that because it reminds me that I’m still learning. So, this past weekend when I started flipping through my copy of Shereen LaPlantz’s Cover To Cover: Creative Techniques for Making Beautiful Books, Journals & Albums, I was immediately taken with some of the books and techniques 70 or 100 pages into the book—the same way someone in the first week of French 101 might fantasize about chatting up locals in a Paris cafe! I forced myself to go back to page one, read the introduction and start with the first technique, a simple pamphlet stitch. I pulled out some scrapbooking papers that were not to my liking, and, lo and behold, I made three books, each with variations:

Sample pamphlet stitch books

Again, I don’t like these books, but that wasn’t the point: I’d never done a pamphlet stitch before, and now I know how. And I can use that knowledge to continue moving forward through the book and preparing myself to tackle the projects in the last half.

So what’s today’s modus operandi? It’s less of a technique and more of a way of practice. When you’re learning something new, think about the safeguards put in place in school classes to guide you through the learning process and use those techniques to your benefit. Remind yourself you’re just the student and that learning these things should be fun and interesting. Send that inner censor or perfectionist to study hall or even out to recess and get to the work of learning!

  • Do you struggle with allowing yourself to learn and make mistakes? What techniques do you use when trying to learn a new skill? Leave a comment below!
  • Have an idea for a future modus operandi feature? Want to know how I achieved a certain effect or what I used to make a project? Leave a comment below or e-mail me at miscellanea (dot) arts (at) gmail (dot) com!
  • Stop back next week for another of miscellanea’s modus operandi!

Thanks for reading!

Published in artist's way, books, modus operandi on Tuesday, July 1, 2008
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  1. Wednesday, July 2, 2008, at 1:44 am | Permalink

    I often struggle with even ALLOWING myself to do something I’m not sure about… often, making a mistake is out of the question (subconsciously) and therefore, I don’t allow myself the opportunity for growth… hence, big fumbling spurts doused with extra pain ;)

  2. Wednesday, July 2, 2008, at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    You wax eloquent as usual. When I looked up studio’s definition it helped me to understand what I’m doing here as well. We place a large stigma on calling ourselves artists and our spaces studios. I think we should always be in a mode of learning/studying. Never be afraid to try something new. By the way, my favorite definition of an ‘artist’ is: one who professes and practices an imaginative art.

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