Friday, May 30, 2008


I've been reading Spirit Taking Form by Nancy Azara and at the moment I'm enjoying the chapter on Visual Diaries. Azara speaks of the workshops she used to run called Consciousness-Raising, Visual Diaries, Artmaking. A group of women gathered weekly to discuss topics relevant to women such as the essence of birth, life as a woman, the traditional ways of working, crafting and arting etc. During these sessions each person would draw and doodle in a personal diary while listening to the discussions, making visual conversations , using colours, signs, symbols, shapes, marks and "primitive" drawings. These drawings were personal diary entries to be shared only if one chose to share.
"It was thrilling to be part of their discovery" writes Azara "I watched women change their processes, many returning to art after years of being stuck. Others shifted gears and made more authentic images. We drew and made collages, built up pages in our books, and made substantial and powerful diaries." "In these books were new visions, ideas, ways of seeing - shadows from the past".

Hickory with hands - by Nancy Azara. Carved and painted wood with gold leaf and encaustic.

She goes on to suggest incorporating these diaries into daily life, keeping a blank notebook at hand and markers and crayons or whatever else takes ones fancy to record feelings and happenings by means of images.

Leaf Alter for Nunzia - by Nancy Azara. Carved and stained cedar plank with aluminum leaf.

Joan Arbeiter, one of the first participants in the workshops, writes that her visual diaries were made from the "stuff of my ordinary daily life. Mundane notions such as shopping lists, appointments, and phone numbers were used along with philisophical commentary, overheard bits of dialogue, and other sayings that came my way. These words were often grouped into shapes that 'read' as images along with doodles, designs , and sketches. It was in fact soon after the workshop that I began to integrate these ideas into my own large format paintings and drawings".

Although I don't belong to a discussion group I think I have been doing something similar whilst having long phone conversations or listening to audio books. While my mind is engaged with the discussion my hand creates intricate designs which are often intriguing. Abstract doodles, created without interference from my inner critic. These I tear out and glue in my journal where I sometimes develop them further. As Azara experienced, I am coming back to the same forms over and over again. I suppose it's a way of discovering one's own personal symbolism or art vocabulary.

"I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn't say any other way - things I had no words for." - Georgia O'Keeffe


  1. One for my wishlist, certainly. Thanks for the review:-)

  2. I must look for this book - it sounds amazing.

    Thanks for your comments and for sharing my show 'butterflies' - you described how it feels perfectly.

  3. Thankyou for the review, it sounds like an inspiring book. And the cover is inspiring me right now!

  4. Very intriguing thoughts. And that leaf alter is amazing.

    Love the O'Keeffe quote!

  5. Nice to see Willow over here...

    This book sounds quite interesting, I think its message is very powerful. Art is being recognized as having so many applications, beyond hanging in a gallery or on a wall.

    This inclusiveness is a wonderful opening for both artists and for those of us who are not...but whose hands have an urge to create, and recognize what has been created as not only intensely personal but intensely meaningful as well.

  6. I stopped by after reading your comment on my blog. Your work is lovely! I went to Cape Town a few years back, so it was also cool to read about your trip to Drakensburg. I must admit, the landscape in South Africa is amazing.

  7. This sounds like a wonderful book, I must try and buy it. What great ideas. I have a whole range of doodles on my sketch pad at work that evolved from discussions with clients. I wonder what some of them mean, especially the squares within squares.

  8. So interesting Robyn...I have this book and perhaps every other creativity book known to mankind! I must revisit this book...I am off to pull it off the shelf. Azara'a sculptures are intriguing.