Concerns About My Studio Practice

Deciding to work on an all-digital studio practice was not without its worries. In conversations with friends in Saskatoon in the summer before coming to England, I talked about my frustrations with creating digital works, and how those frustrations had led me to abandon—temporarily—digital practices.

I had talked about the remote-control nature of the work. How even drawing with a graphics tablet lacked tactility, and how without a prohibitively expensive integrated tablet/display, you would always be drawing somewhere other than where you were seeing the marks appear. In addition to this there were questions about how to turn the digital works into displayable pieces. Projections? Prints? Installation?

One of my biggest concerns had to do with frustration in the process. While I’ve always had a certain level of technical frustration with the process—either the computer has been too slow to respond to what I’m doing, or the screen hasn’t been big enough, or the tactility/remote control issue I talked about before would rear its ugly head—I found that the first few pieces I’d made in this new series had been extremely challenging, more so than in the past. I hadn’t know what was causing the challenge and frustration. Was it because I was pushing the computer too hard? I didn’t think so. Was it because I was learning new techniques? I didn’t think so. Was it because I was trying to do creative work in Japan in a mental state that wasn’t conducive to such work? I didn’t know, and didn’t have the mental presence to explore it. And by the time I came up with this thought, I was in Saskatoon, so the point was moot. Was it because I was going deeper into the work, and exploring it in ways that were new and unfamiliar to me? Bingo.

In my past digital work I had set up parameters that would shield me from this frustration—I hadn’t thought about them that way at the time—but in the new work I found that I was going deeper into the work than I had before in any medium. I think the software catching up to my creative vision (for lack of better terminology) combined with my commitment to making good art with the tools at hand broke down any barriers I might have set up that would have made the process any different that if I was to engage in the same work in plastic media. While I had never seen my previous digital work as having been compromised due to technical issues, I was aware that the parameters I had set up for myself did limit some of my expressive choices.

I made a conscious decision to work digitally for this year-long studio session even though I could easily have a material studio practice. This decision was primarily driven by two intercontinental moves in three years, my desire to continue my art practice without generating a lot of “stuff” that needed to be hauled around, and the realization that my digital practice was maturing.

I gave myself the goal of completing 40 new pieces within the first six months of coming to England. Arriving here at the beginning of October, that put my target date at the end of March. I further subdivided the goal into finishing 20 by the end of December. I was going to “reward” myself at the end of December with the freedom to blog. But come the end of the year, I had to scramble to meet my goal—I revisited some of the pieces 2006 because I wasn’t completely happy with them—and then became so interested in the studio practice that I forgot all about blogging. I had been worried at the beginning of my project that I’d get frustrated with the work, and abandon it part way through. Or that I’d see it through to completion but be so sick of working this way that I’d not want to put stylus to tablet again for years. It turns out I became really excited about the work as I neared my goal, and I didn’t want to stop.

However, reality encroached. After an Easter trip to Saskatoon, I revisited my goals, and realized that phase two of the project was marketing. Having achieved my goal of creating a substantial body of consistent work, I now have the task of writing about my work, and then figuring out how to present it. Present the work, that is. I’m less concerned about presenting the writing, because though the writing is important to the practice, it isn’t the practice. I’m not seeking professional recognition for the writing and I can easily post it here. But I do need to write about the work in a way that doesn’t give people the impression that I’m a fluff-head, which is a concern with some of the territory I’m exploring. But that’s a different post. This search for academically-grounded writing was what led me to all the heavy postmodernist theory that I was moaning about before. What you’re reading here is kind of a brain dump so that I can clear my head of all the other stuff I’ve been meaning to write and just concentrate on the art writing.

And my target of 40 pieces? I made 48. Plus 3 more that are variants of one piece, and could be sung into that sesame street rhyme “three of these things are not like the others….”

In other writing news, I finally got around to finishing a long-overdue grant report. The report was supposed to be a couple of pages long but took on a life of is own and turned into about 8 pages of text, another 10 or more pages of photo documentation, and a DVD. There’s a lot of stuff in there about changes in my practice, especially the transition from working in sculptural wood reliefs to what amounts to a—for the time-being—nonmaterial practice. If people are interested, I’ll post excerpts. I has to do with the my sculptural installation Crossroads, a group of large-scale unpainted wooden figures I made in 2002, as well as a video project based on the installation that I’ve been trying to finish.