I’ve been thinking about how I record and document the experience of my surroundings.
Of course I use my eyes, and at first looking appears to be the dominant sense. As I walk I’m mindful of what is going on around me – I literally have to look where I’m going – but it is only when I sit still that I really begin to pay attention. Stillness allows me to take time to search out detail and choose what is worthy of recording. I look, but I also listen and feel and smell (I don’t taste very often!). My senses shift from listening, to looking, to feeling as I become aware of the change and movement around me. It seems that one sense always dominates and the other senses back it up. If I hear a sound I look for it. If I see a movement I listen for evidence of it. If I stub my toe I look for the cause. Nothing happens in isolation and I need all senses to fully comprehend.
‘wind in the reeds sets them waving and shifting – red/green movement – a huge continuous rushing and swooshing’.
So how do I record these sensory noticings? Drawing? Photograph? Sound recording? I do all of these things. Although texture is visually referred to in drawing and photographs and a visual picture jumps into your mind of what is being listened to in a sound recording, I like to complement these documentations with words and my sketchbook has as many pages of writing as it has drawings.
‘the tide has moved the mud into ridges along the sides of the meandering rivulet. The sun catches them and casts deep shadows. A curlew calls’.
Sometimes I write down simple facts: the weather, the sounds I hear, colour and changes of light. I have a great fondness for lists: lists of birds I’ve seen (if I know their names), lists of objects found and just lists of words. I love a Thesaurus and I frequently write a list of synonyms for one word (I find it can spark new ideas) and I love it when I discover a new word. Often I write a single sentence noting a change of light or how a bird calls as it takes off from the marsh. Finally I write pages of noticings that are a stream of consciousness – observations (not great works of literature) that I scribble down as they occur.
‘Sea Roar – white noise
Higher sssssh – continuous – slightly wavering
You can’t hear the waves breaking.
There is no rhythm.
There is no source – it is enveloping.
The higher and lower sounds come forward and recede so that neither is more prominent that the other.’
Words are a complement to my drawing and although I seldom make work that comes directly from either of these activities, the discipline of recording ensures that I stop, take notice and fully document each phenomenological observation. I am always searching for something new and the knowledge I gain through the process of documentation widens my scope and gives me a greater understanding and thus more possibility as I start creating.