Episode 8: Leaving Breadcrumbs

July 2022


[Do do do do do do do!] Welcome! It's Me, Bird Bohannon and the Uncanny Familiars of Fern Hill, with some Journal Stew Tidbits. Here we go!

The Importance of Leaving Breadcrumbs in your Art Practice

It’s happened to me more times than I can count. One week my art practice is strong and the path forward is obvious, a successful complete project or series just around the bend. And then something “comes up”- emergency family travel, illness - any number of potential derailments from what seemed a certain plan.

Such side-tracking is even more common when art making is not the artist’s source of income, and thus can suddenly fall under so much else on the hierarchy of life obligations. Art is an important part of your life - regardless of potential monetary gain - so let’s see how artist statements and project descriptions can act as time capsules for future review.

If you are a visual artist primarily, you may find writing about your work to be a little beside the point. However, artist statements and project descriptions are two pieces of writing that can help you recenter and remember your path.

Most often, artist statements are seen in the wild accompanying art in gallery settings or anywhere else an artist’s perspective might be used to contextualize artwork, such as an artist’s website or appearance in an anthology. These writings may include biographical information, but they are different from an artist bio which is like an origin story with a list of accolades.

Artist statements vary widely in the type of language used. Some artists have a rigid formality to their statement while others use poetry or humor. The length of an artist statement can range from one sentence to typically less than a page. These statements can describe a person’s way of seeing and processing the world through their art or may describe a particular series’ inspiration or special technique.

I enjoy writing a new artist statement when I feel my perspective has changed, as a way to encapsulate the attempts I am making with a body of work or to describe a current vision of my role as an artist in the context of the greater world.

Although artist statements are most often encountered as public facing pieces of writing, your own such writings can be kept private as a personal compass guide as you see fit. In this case, you don’t have to worry too much about your audience because your future self is the intended reader!

Artist statements can act as time capsules that contain your thoughts from one particular moment. They can help you maintain a special emotional perspective until the completion of a series, for instance, in which some uniformity is desired from piece to piece or from page to page. A goal-centered approach like this can be applied even more directly with project descriptions, which are less broadly about your approach to the world as an artist and instead about your methods within a specific body of work.

If you have always approached your art making and creative time with pure intuition and not much planning, writing project descriptions may be a totally foreign concept to include within your practice. But fear not, a project description is an opportunity to just state what is obvious to you now about your vision.

Without an artist statement or project description you may find that as time passes you are distracted away from the initial goal of a project and not really finishing anything or maybe you have lots of finished work that doesn’t seem as related as you might like. Writing down what seems obvious to you now about your work does not preclude evolution in the studio, to the contrary, you will better be able to see how your work and perspective are evolving if you take the time to record your thoughts in written form.

Both artist statements and project descriptions can act as pieces of writing to return to if you feel lost, if you were wondering “what was I thinking?” when looking at past art, or if you have stepped away from a way of doing things and want to return to a previous modality. If you spend time to find the right words, you will also be more prepared to speak to others about what your work means to you or what you find most inspiring.

State what is most obvious about what you are feeling and how you are approaching a work. Decide what questions you are asking through a project and what your inspiration is. Alternatively, you can simply list the technical goals you are working to improve.

You will need to keep these proverbial breadcrumbs somewhere safe if you are to trust being able to find them later. For instance, in Fall 2021 I found myself unable to preach about the merits of making art and had to retreat into a smaller, more sustainable private journal practice. Now Summer 2022, I am able to pick up where I left off because I kept great notes about my plans and intentions.

My Journal Stew project is primarily housed in a 3-ring binder, with plenty of notes and writings and drawings in a collection of sketchbooks and Google docs. But my safest place is the 3-ring binder. I put key takeaways from sketchbooks and print primary docs into this binder because it is easier to rearrange priorities for actionable review as my priorities evolve. This binder is a tangible collection of my progress, a map with previous iterations recorded against which I can compare newer revised plans.

While I generally advocate for the use of a sketchbook journal as a “safe place” to keep ideas, I want to point out that there is a difference between using a sketchbook to plan versus keeping an art journal as a finished product in itself. While I love the experience of putting down all of my planning and sketches together in one big Bullet Journal style book, I find that when all of my uses for sketch paper are combined together in a single book that I finish these special books too quickly.

This fact can make it a challenge to find certain ideas again as I may be in a new sketchbook just a month or so later. So more and more I respect the usefulness of keeping separate sketchbooks for specific purposes. For example: a dream diary, a book for only visual art, and a notebook for ideas and project planning and artist statement drafts.

As you keep your artist statements and project descriptions in the safe place of your choosing, be sure to date each entry for future review - whether or not you ever plan to share them with anyone else. As each day brings change to our individual perspectives, so too your artist statement will need to be rewritten to evolve with you. Artist statements and project descriptions are not a one-time bio set in stone, but rather a way to clarify and summarize the goals and inspiration of your current artistic practice.

What materials would you need to keep in a safe place, to be able to pick up where you are now?

For Example: color samples, character studies, free-writing, loose sketches of ideas only in your head

Well, that's it for today. Happy Journaling!