Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Documenting the process -- part 2, words

Yesterday I wrote about taking a lot of pictures as you work.  But that's only half of documenting your work.  You also want to keep track of your thoughts, how you come up with ideas, how you progress from one piece in a series to the next, how you master and improve your technique, how you solved problems, how you do something that comes up only once in several months but it's important to remember how to do it right.

I can suggest many different ways that you might go at this, but the most important thing is to find a process that works for you.  I used to be in the habit of writing down, every evening, what I had worked on during the day, along with any notes and thoughts that I wanted to keep.  I always used a calendar book with either a separate page or separate box for each day.

Spaghetti was a quilt, not my dinner menu.

I kept track of details like what thread was used to quilt.

One year a friend regifted me with a very nice calendar book that she thought would be good for my notes -- but it was one of those books good in any year, with the days numbered days but not marked with days of the week.  I started out by labeling ahead a couple of weeks at a time, writing "S M T W Th F S" in the boxes.  But then I would forget, and then I didn't label for a while, and I couldn't remember whether today was the 27th or the 28th, and by the time I got to May I just quit using the book altogether.

That may seem like a pretty minor problem, but to me the format of the book was like a bit of sand in your shoe -- just annoying enough to take the pleasure out of my daily notes, a process that had always made me feel I'd accomplished something but now was making me feel crabby.  I don't know what kind of process will make you feel good rather than crabby, but suggest you try out some different ones and see what works.

Some people already have the daily habit of journaling, or "morning pages," or writing down their blood pressure, or sending an email to their mother -- maybe you could add your art notes to that routine.  Some people use a daily or weekly blog or instagram post to memorialize their art progress.  If you were really compulsive, and like to work on the computer, you might make a new Word document for each artwork, and write a narrative with pictures and text.  Whatever works for you -- whatever encourages you to actually follow through on your good intentions -- is the right answer.

By the way, Linda left a comment on yesterday's post:  "I don't really think about documenting along the way.  I guess posting to my blog is my only documentation.  Maybe I ought to be stepping it up."  So I checked out Linda's blog and indeed, she's doing a pretty good job of taking pictures and writing down what she's working on.  She's got that discipline down pat.  So my advice to her might be to stick with the blog as her format, but write a little bit more about the decisions she makes and ideas that come to her as she sews.

I do think it's better to write down your thoughts than to depend on memory.  In particular, write down ideas that did not get executed -- "might use contrast thread next time" or "what if the lines were twice as wide?"  Just rereading what you wrote about past work can help you jump-start your process, decide what to do next, get out of a funk and/or overcome artist's block.

Let me know whether any of this rings a bell with you!


  1. Thanks for sharing your process. I never did have the diary or journaling bug, so it seems odd that I even attempt to keep up a blog. And the biggest reason I don't post more often (besides lack of project progress) is lack of photos. The lack of progress has been largely resolved by retirement. Despite all the blogs I read that include "in progress" photos, somehow it doesn't occur to do that for my own projects. I'm working on remembering though...

  2. I make notes on a page that might have a quick thumbnail or my math calculations. I keep these in a clear zip-lock style plastic folder. If I have a really good idea that has more universal application, I write it on a file card. I have 4 of them tacked to my design wall that I can refer to as I work.