Friction and the Shape of Language

Last time I mentioned thinking about the shape of words when I use them in my drawings. That got me thinking about concrete/visual poetry and how that practice takes a similar approach to utilizing the shape of language within the frame of the page.

Some of my favourite visual poetry and overall favourite language art was made by the poet bpNichol.

From “Still Water”, bpNichol, 1970

There’s an incredible archive of bpNichol’s work at

This drawing I made this week has a particular focus on how the text could be read and is more direct in using language to connect to experience. But it still follows from my other work in using words with other drawn forms to create associations.

It wouldn’t be a stretch to me to call this drawing poetry. I’ve always felt that poetry can be wide and inclusive and take many forms and rhythms. I wrote quite a bit of pure textual poetry in university and then lost it all in a hard drive crash and never really went back to that kind of practice again. Or I suppose I have but it has found what is to me a better place in the broader context of my drawings.

Friction Avoidance

One element that surfaces regularly in my art making process is the avoidance of friction. By that I don’t mean avoiding things that are difficult or challenging but the practice of loosening, skipping, and/or “forgetting” steps to further any working inertia I may have in the moment.

Versions of this might be seen as “lazy” or “impatient”.

  • Not waiting for layers to dry before working in top of them
  • Working only with colours, materials, and tools that are directly within reach
  • Continuous “automatic” mark making in between more intentional actions
  • Pulling words and phrases from at hand source materials to worry about any possible meaning (or not) later.

The goal is to be engaged with the active process and to not allow the “friction” of thought or judgement to break the flow. There’s a kind of bubble that forms while making something that can expand and may pop at any moment due to the tension inherent in creating anything.

I can actively enjoy constraints within making art while also deftly avoiding the friction of planning and forethought. The circumstances of lots of my work would probably feel fraught with a diverse set of frictions to someone else but my goal is primarily to get out of my own way as much as possible.

When I was making music quite frequently over the course of a couple of years, I made the majority of it on my phone because to me that reduced the friction of going to the computer, understanding more complex software, and dealing with the nuances of hardware recording. Again, it could seem “lazy” in some ways but that way of working allowed me to make and release an album a month for 16 months in a row.

If you are interested, the music I released is all on Bandcamp.

In some ways, to me, the act of learning how to do something “correctly” is a friction. I would rather stay a perpetual amateur and sometimes stumble up against the limitations of my friction avoidance if it means I keep to a frequency of making things.

I gave myself the following set of anti-rules for making a few years ago…

Art is a form of expression and therapy for me. Like any form of play, it forms connections and opens me up to a greater understanding of where I am in myself and the world.

Learning How

Back to bpNichol for a bit. As I went down one of my usual rabbit-holes looking through and re-reading some his work I discovered that he had these other connections to parts of my life.

As someone who made much of his textual art with a series of typewriters, bp was also an early and deep user of computers. I found correspondence in the bpNichol archive (link above) where bp was drawing connections between open and closed approaches to computer programming and those same approaches within poetry. I think bp thought of most practices as forms of poetry to some degree. Which seems like a healthy viewpoint.


I like this notion of flipping between open and closed modes. To engage structure where it is needed and also allow an openness to pathways of making that we might only discover while getting somewhat lost.

Maybe I’ll write something about trying to get lost some other time.