Documents and Spaces

I think most artists are remiss at documenting their work. Making careful records of finished art and process can often run counter to how we want to make the art itself. It can also be tedious if not impossible with some media to actually capture a document that represents it in any meaningful way — digital and interactive art, fibre arts, performance, conceptual work, and even collage and assemblage can be tricky to make records of.

Basement art desks, September 2021

When we moved to the house we currently live in, my partner Gayla and I had the first time luxury of having a creation space separate from an office/desk. This house, though in some ways smaller than our previous place, has a semi-finished basement that allowed us to dedicate a room as our shared studio. Both of us have a “controlled chaos” approach to much of the artwork we make so having even a relatively small space where things can be left in progress and a variety of tools and supplies that can be on hand is fantastic.

I don’t make all of my art down in the basement but much of what I call my drawings have been made on one side of our shared desk surface over the last few years.

Very professional “copy stand”

One of the projects I had been working on over the last five years or so is a large format “vintage” ledger that’s around 90+ years old. I made drawings with a variety of media on every right hand page in the book. I’ll write in more detail about The Ledger in another post but one of the issues that came up as it filled with drawings was how to best document the drawings and even the whole of this odd bound set of mixed-media work.

I was also really interested in documenting process. Honestly, documents of process often interest me more than my finished artwork.

I tried a variety of jury-rigged setups with a tripod kind of leaning over my shoulder and then a tripod sitting right on the desk which took up a bunch of space but did give a fairly good bird’s eye view.

I would use these tripods with my phone mounted in an adapter to take still shots of work in process and finished overhead shots that I would post to instagram.

Depth of Field in The Ledger

And at a certain point, I started taking time lapse videos of me making drawings. These were fun to watch and people liked them on social media but they felt more like a novelty than a true document.

These videos at less than a minute in length show the making of drawings that took between 20 to 40 minutes to create. They are happy and peppy and I do love the frenetic action of my arms.

They remind me a bit of the time lapse images that software like Procreate will spit out after the fact.

One of my “finger painted” phone drawings

I can pick out decision points in the time lapse videos when I watch them but I wanted something more real time and the tripod on the desk was getting a bit annoying.

I got this modular set of armatures fairly inexpensively online and it allows a variety of heights and placements — a very good eye in the sky view while mostly getting out of my way while drawing.

I’ve adapted the lighting I use a few times since I started using it — mostly using cheap LED lights. Most dollar stores now sell stuff like ring lights for a couple of bucks.

I use this setup to take still shots but I also started shooting real-time video of full drawing process. These are mostly for me to refer back to but for a while I was posting them to YouTube with full “commentary” voiceover tracks that I recorded while watching the footage.

I got a lot out of making these videos because in creating the voiceover I was challenged to really watch what I was doing in each case and wonder about decisions and reactions in my mark making. While drawing, I try not to think too much about what I am doing and just flow and react to myself. So the videos were a good way for me to examine how I work.

Not many people watched them and those that did rarely stuck around for a full 45–60+ minutes of drawing but they were good for me.

They were also a useful way of showing older work in a casual show-and-tell fashion.

But after one really annoying technical battle one night, I got frustrated with myself and, filled with perfectionist self-doubt, I stopped making them. Maybe I’ll go back someday.

But I have continued to take video while I draw because it is still an interesting document of process and helps me quickly look things up on my phone if I need a reference for something.

Here’s a wide view of my purposeful chaos from a couple days ago that also shows the phone mount on the armature and the current lighting setup for anyone interested.

View from the phone mount

I’d recommend this kind of low impact way of documenting things in context. This setup can also work as a decent copy stand for people that need to make images or video of more dimensional work like assemblage or bookwork.

Also just a general recommendation (I wish I could go back in time and take my own advice) to artists to find a low friction way of documenting the way you work and of course the artifacts of your work. Even just quick snaps on your phone mean you can easily look up what you were doing when.

I’ll also recommend posting in-progress work online to social media or otherwise. This shouldn’t presume that you should care about likes, views, engagement while posting about process. That’s a road that leads to dark places most of the time. But posting work as we go can mean we capture things we may not remember after the flow/fog of process is over. Even things like titles can surface this way. I often tend to think of titles as I post work online and in those cases, that may be the only place the title is documented.

So I try to think of documentation as part of creative process and not as a chore for some future self.

Does anyone reading have any ways they include documentation as part of your process?