Matt Madden's 99 Ways to Tell a Story: Exercises in Style, is a fun book containing a fun project. He tells the same story over and over, using a different style each time. For example: manga, how to, unreliable narrator, fantasy, police procedural, one panel, thirty panels, silhouette, horizontal, vertical, etc.
You can go to his blog at the link above. You can see some of these exercises in style at his project site.
I purchased the book the other day and admit that once I sat down with it I didn't get up until I had gone through the entire thing. It made me smile. I like projects like this. I like people experimenting with different ways to do things.
If you're a graphic designer or illustrator (or a writer or actor or singer or dancer; or a dog trainer, or a parent, or pretty much anything…) you are frequently asked to come up with several ways to "solve a problem" or get a message across and not a day goes by when I don't play with thumbnail sketches to do this. It's fun. Even before people started paying me to do this type of thing I would do it anyway. You can see this in my notebooks from childhood where I worked out different ways to write stories based on what was being studied in English classes, or where I created logos for myself for all the different jobs I might have. (The Rockford Files had a big impact on me and not just because I adore James Garner. And if you don't know what I mean by this reference let's just say I've always believed that everyone should have multiple business cards, even if you aren't printing them on the seat of your Firebird; and yes I prefer Mustangs.)
My point is it's a whole lot of fun, both intellectually and visually (if you're going to take a visual approach to it as Madden has).
And my point for today is that this would make an excellent Project Friday! Working in series allows us to exhaust all avenues of expression and really determine which best suits our purpose. It allows us to formulate an approach that is visually or verbally satisfying. It allows us to foster analytical skills and fit concepts into constructs with which we might be unfamiliar or uncomfortable—it's always good for a stretch.
I could go on. The point is it's fun.
So if you are looking for a project for today and the rest of your weekend I think you could have a lot of fun with the following:
1. Look at your art plan for the weekend. (You did have an art plan didn't you!!!)
Break it down into how many pieces you had hoped to accomplish, what theme you wanted to work on, what medium you were going to work with. Then see how you can switch it up. Maybe you'll be working in mixed media using media you don't usually work with. Maybe instead of painting you'll cut a linoleum block and make a series of prints. Maybe instead of doing a painting you'll do a series of comics panels.
That's just changing media. Think also about changing theme and style! Permutations!
2. Think about how you can create a series from your brainstorming for item 1.
3. Execute 3 or 4 pieces in the series.
4. Don't forget to spend some time at the end of the weekend looking over all your pieces with a fresh eye. Acknowledge what works and what doesn't work. (Do be honest with yourself—how does it live up to your thumbnail sketch, original concept, hopes and dreams? Don't beat yourself over the head if you haven't created the perfect piece of art—that's not what this is about.)
Write down any new directions you want to go, new media you want to explore more deeply and research more thoroughly. (Maybe you'll sign up to take a class from a printmaker because you have decided that monoprinting would be a good vehicle for expressing your ideas?)
Note: If you think you would like to experiment with printmaking but don't want to put out a lot of money for the project consider working with eraser carvings. It's similar to working with linoleum blocks, but they are easier to cut. And you can print with stamp pads (you probably have one around your house some where—though if you want to get a really nice black pigmented ink pad I recommend Brilliance Pad's Graphite Black). Check out my series on eraser carving that is four parts and starts at this link.
You don't have to change from one medium to the next to do this mental and visual exercise. All your pieces can be prints from carvings, but you can carve in different styles…You might do one carving in a cubist style and another carving as if it were in a 1930's advertisement.
Also, whatever medium you decide to work in don't forget the importance of color. You can do a whole series just focused on color. How does the selection of a palette alter the effect of your piece? Are the colors you selected pop, retro, modern? How would you describe them?
Why do a debriefing?
Are you really asking me this? You just started reading my blog right?
I always recommend that you debrief yourself after projects because I think this is where the learning becomes solid and "part" of you and accessible for future projects. You become conscious of what you did, how you did it, and how you can do it again. How powerful is that?
So get your art plan for the weekend ready and dive in. Madden's exercise might be a fun place to start, or you might find that by flipping through some pages in your journal you have all sorts of ideas for projects that you just never got around to executing.
- You were going to do a series of landscape paintings in 4-inch squares. Go to a field right now and start sketching and painting. (Do tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back. Safety first.)
- You were going to do a series of puffin portraits—get to the zoo and gather raw material for a carving/print, a painting, a dip pen portrait, etc.
- You were going to make a collage using only Dover clip art, or only bits from magazine ads, or only from torn pages of books you'd altered. How can you work on those collages to make them thematically similar but different in execution? If you normally work in a "packed" fashion what happens when you approach your collage with a minimalist attitude?
- Regardless of the medium you work in think about altering how you use negative space. If your style is typically open, fill up all the negative spaces and vice versa. Look at your 5 favorite artists and how they use negative space and work in your theme in each of their styles.
You get the idea—the fun is endless. And I know that somewhere in your journal there are tons of ideas that are awaiting exploration in one or all of these ways.
It's time to exercise artistically.
Final Note: Madden has also written two textbooks on creating comics with his wife Jessica Abel. I purchased them at the same time I bought his "99 Ways" book. I haven't read them yet, but they look very promising. I'll keep you posted.
Wait, one more really final note: As you may have noticed in reading this, I mention writers. So if you're a writer or a poet you know all the styles you can work in, so jump in too. You don't get to sit out just because I've been focusing on visuals—that's why I mentioned writing earlier in the post. If your theme was bees I'd write a one minute short story, a sonnet, a one paragraph short story, a one paragraph essay, a recipe, even a limerick…
And don't even get me started on film. Make your own 60 second story. Do your theme as film noir, slapstick comedy, romcom, road trip, documentary….Limit yourself as to time (the length) but not as to the creativity you bring to the creation of your pieces.