Medium and Message

Where do you begin, how do you begin?

From ideation to creation: Finding a starting point is often the most difficult part of making art. Where do you start, with a concept, an image, or a piece of string?

An awareness of how ideas begin and are developed is part of the Visual Arts assessment expectations:

  • The Process Portfolio asks you to communicate ideas and intentions and articulate how you take an idea from it's original stages and develop it (criterion C)  Ideas and Intentions in the PP
  • For the Exhibition, you aim to develop a coherent body of work  (A), that shows "subtle use of complex imagery" (C), which requires intentional development of ideas and imagery.

Starting with materials

Ideas are often initially discovered through playful experimentation with materials


Experiment with whatever materials you have around you, letting the physical materials guide you, the drip of paint, the curve of clay, the fold of paper, seeing how they respond to manipulation, not controlling too much. Collect stuff. organize it, look for relationships. Be curious. Don't think of the end result. Not yet. You may be surprised at what you discover. 

Activities for experimenting with materials

Richard Serra's Verbs

This is an exercise in lateral thinking for the experimentally minded In the mid-1960s Richard Serra began experimenting with nontraditional materials, including fiberglass, neon, vulcanized rubber, and,...

Mark Making Activities

4 drawing exercises to get off the screen and in touch with the physical act of drawing The materials required for these activities include pencil, eraser, charcoal, ink, and chalk, but you could substitute...

Seed: Found Frottage

Look for examples of low-relief patterns around you, in architectural details, natural or manmade objects, anything with a raised texture.Record them with rubbings ( frottage) using a peeled crayon, graphite...

Seed: Shadow Assemblage

Assemblage: art that is made by assembling disparate elements – often everyday objects – scavenged by the artist or bought specially. _Tate terms Materials create an abstract or naturalistic 3D assemblage...

The Art Seed Bank has many inviting starting points to help you get going when you are stuck


Using source material to develop imagery

When developing work around a concept, it is really helpful to gather source material for reference. Start a file, a folder where you collect images. This can be digital or paper. I like to keep both analog and digital "inspiration" folders

Source material can be:

Drawings drawing from observation can be an excellent starting point for adding visual complexity and richness to a conceptual idea. (Bird drawings above were done in a natural history museum)

Photography taking pictures as a way of gathering source material, documenting, visual note taking, references

Research finding out about a topic, artists, gather information to add complexity and build ideas

Collecting images, objects to refer to, draw from, or to include in process. I like to create a file of images and print out thumbnails or make multiple photocopies to cut up.

Giving importance to the thought process and the choice of imagery.

At some point, probably not until year 2, you will begin to consider what your art work is about, what subjects, issues and concepts you want to address.( Finding a Focus )

    In IB ART you are supposed to come up with your own ideas, not just the teacher led assignments.You can build and develop these ideas in the medium and techniques of your choice through a process of trial and error, eventually creating a  Coherent Body of Work that is visually/conceptually coherent, and can be presented as a successful exhibition! Wow! That is a tall order.

    Finding the right medium

    In the most powerful art work, the medium and the message work together like a marriage of form and content.

    When you have had some experience with a range of Art Making Forms  you can then wisely choose the appropriate materials to realize your ideas. Choosing materials that correspond to the message/concept/subject is fundamental to its success.

    • what subjects/ideas do these materials suggest?
    • what materials lend themselves to expressing my subject/idea?

    What medium suits my message?

    Finding the appropriate materials within the scope of the project is one of the most difficult aspects of starting with an idea rather than materials. It is often a matter of trying out different material solutions before settling on the one that works with the idea.

    The image on the left was made by Sophie, a pre IB student at la Vigna Art Studios. She began by experimenting with paper cut outs and pricking holes, then developed imagery of birds and constellations and arrived at the lightbox solution for this nocturnal scene. Her work was also informed by research on artist Joseph Cornell and working with found materials ( wood).


    Choosing the medium according to your skills and interests

    Say your work focuses on portraiture -there is a wide range of possible media and this choice might depend largely on your skills and proficiency in a particular medium.

    Your work focuses on nature and the environment you might incorporate natural materials into your studio process, plant dyes, grasses, soil, bark. Or maybe you makes videos that respond to the natural rhythms and cycles found in nature. The medium corresponds to or reflects the topic and your natural abilities.

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