Artists as Collectors

Look around—we are surrounded by objects! How often do we think about the origin of everyday objects, and how can objects influence our art making?

Our online social-distancing programming began by introducing the idea that artists are historians in their own right. Expanding on that theme, we’re going to spend the coming weeks introducing our artists to ideas about collections on a personal and institutional level. By exploring items that are important to us, we’ll be looking at 1.) how those items can be helpful in fuelling our art practice, 2.) developing a deeper understanding of items around us, 3.) working items into our online studio art-making sessions, and 4.) exploring how other artists have used personal collections in similar ways. We’ll also be taking this opportunity to talk more about collections in museums and art galleries by exploring how and why they display their collections!

Blind Contour Art Prompt:

Museums, galleries, and artists all tell stories with objects—this week we are going to begin a project where we explore the stories we can share through special objects and collections. 

Using all of our senses, associations, and personal history, we’re going to get to know these objects in more detail. It’ll be an exploration in how we engage with objects, and how they engage with us. By the end of this week, our hope is that we will have a list of words, stories and drawings about all of your interesting object. We’ll be using all this juicy information for next weeks’ art prompt. You can choose to do this art prompt at home anytime or in your Studio Zoom Session this week. 

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A pen, pencil or marker
  • Paper 
  • An object from your house

Step 1: Pick an Object 

Pick an object in your house that is important to you. This can be an object from a personal collection, something you’ve decided to hold on to, something you’ve been given as a gift, or simply something you love to keep close. 

Step 2: Describe what that object looks and feels like 

Let’s look at describing your object physically, ask yourself these questions. You can write down your list of answers on a piece of paper, or get someone to help you write them down. 

  • Hold the object in your hands. 
    • Try to find as many ways to describe the way your object feels in your hands!
    • What does the object feel like?  Is it hard or soft? Hot or cold? Rough or Smooth? Small or large? Slippery or dry?
  • Set the object down in front of you. Ask yourself some of the following questions:
    • How would you describe your object to someone who couldn’t see it? 
    • What colour is it? 
    • What shape is it? Does it look like something else?  
    • How is it decorated? Why do you think it was decorated that way?
  • Does your object make sounds? 
    • Does it rustle, hum, bonk, plop, rattle, crackle, or pop?
  • Not all objects should be tasted(!!), but could you imagine what your object may taste like?

Step 3: Write down some stories about the object 

Now let’s look at the history of your object, you can ask yourself the following questions and write down your answers in a list. You can have someone help you record your stories and answers. You don’t have to answer all of the questions, but the more you answer the more we know about your object. 

  • Tell us a story about the object. What makes it something important to you? 
    • What does your object “do”?
    • What is (or was) it used for? How do you use it?
    • What’s it called? Do you have a special name for it? 
    • Why do you enjoy it so much? 
    • Does it remind you of a place or person? 
    • Where did it come from? Was it bought at a store? 
    • Was it a gift, or did you buy it for yourself? 
    • How is it meaningful to you? Would someone else find it as meaningful?

Step 4: Do a blind contour drawing on of the object 

Now Let’s explore your object using an drawing activity, using a blind contour drawing so that we can spend time really concentrating on your object. 

A contour drawing is an outline drawing that focuses on the form or edge of an object. It’s called a “Blind” contour drawing because the challenge is to do the drawing without taking your eyes off of the object- this means you can not look at your drawing! Although the results of these drawings can be pretty fun, it doesn’t really matter how accurate your drawing is. Our focus should be on getting our minds off what we’re actually putting on the paper, and concentrating closely on the object we’re drawing. 

The details you’ve drawn will highlight important aspects of your object that, if you were just sketching it, you may leave out. Concentrate on details, but not on getting them perfect! Remember, this is a practice of observation more than getting it right. 

Now you will have a list of words, some stories, and a drawing that tell us about your object and importantly the way you understand that object. Hold onto this for the next art prompt! 

Coordinator, Programs and Exhibitions – Clayton’s Example:

Clayton’s Description:

  1. Smooth, bumpy, almost slippery.
  • With my eyes closed, I’m not sure I could tell it was a frog. But it feels like an animal. 
  • I can feel it’s legs, toes, eyes, head, mouth, etc.
  • It’s cold to touch, but warms up fast. 
  • It’s got a round hole in the bottom of it.
  • About the size of a cat. I would guess 8”(H)x10”(W)x10”(L)
  1. It’s 3 or 4 shades of green with brown markings.
  • It’s shaped like a toad. 
  • It’s front legs fold forward, and the back legs fold back. 
  • Looks like it’s ready to jump!
  • Kind of reminds me of a water balloon.
  • Its mouth takes up a lot of its face. The eyes are almost on top of it’s head.
  • It was made to look slimy and to resemble the markings of a toad. 
  • It looks hungry. And thoughtful. And slightly ominous. 
  1. If I knock on it, it sounds hollow. It makes a “clunking” sound. I wouldn’t want to hit it too hard. 
  2. It’s dusty, so I imagine it would taste a bit dirty. 
  3. I would say this is for decoration. It seems like something that would maybe sit in a garden or be displayed outdoors. I use it for decorating my house (classy, right?). I call it my Creepy Toad. It’s a conversation starter! It’s both mass produced AND original. You could buy forms like this from different ceramics companies, but this one was done by my grandma, so that makes it special. I enjoy it because it reminds me of her and her house. In the little town of Coutts, Alberta, she used to have a ceramics club where they would work on bisqueware together. She would often gift these types of things to friends and family members, and her house was full of little things she made over the years. I guess she enjoyed both making and giving them away! Any time I see ceramic pieces like this I think of her. After she had passed away, I collected this from her house