Jane Dunnewold’s Advice to Artists –

(For those of you who were unable to attend the recent Surface Matters Symposium or were at a concurrent talk, we have asked fellow SDA members to write about about the various presentations. In this post, Lorraine Edmond writes about Jane Dunnewold’s presentation, “Strategies for Exploring Your Visual Language.” )

Jane Dunnewold is well known for her positive outlook and consistent support to artists at all stages of development.  Her presentation on “Strategies for Exploring Your Visual Language” began with these encouraging words: “There are as many ways to get started at

Jane Dunnewold at the Surface Matters Symposium. Photo by Jennifer Nerad.

this as there are people working.”  The range is broad– some people are color field people, while others are focused on very specific content and messages.  What is important is to make work that is recognizable as your own.  If you don’t know where to start, start with content, OR just begin somewhere, pick an object, work on design exercises, collect techniques.

Jane acknowledged the tendency many of us have to focus on “filling our toolbelts” with techniques, however, and emphasized that although there is a time for that, there is also a time to stop collecting techniques, to settle in on some that speak to us, and to put our own spin on them.  She described this evolution as “our responsibility as artists.”

For those of us who are still working at developing that visual language, she offered a multitude of possibilities for starting places.  Some are as simple as selecting a shape or image you like that can be interpreted in your own way (she showed several examples of circle imagery).  Another option is to pick a specific color or color palette to work from.  Jane emphasized that there are many ways of working that are “pre-cloth.”  Choose something to work with every day or until you’ve done a hundred.  Some people take a photograph a day for a year, while others carve a stamp or a printing block every day.

The “expanded square” or Notan is one good visual exercise to start from (do a search for “notan” and you will find an abundance of images as well as an inexpensive Dover book on the subject).  This exercise is a good way to learn to see positive and negative space, and it is worth doing every day for 30 days.  You can use the results of the successful ones to form a repeating pattern that can be applied to cloth in any number of ways.

Jane predicts that you will begin to recognize that your designs have some symbolic meaning, even if meaning is not your starting place.  She also believes it’s OK to work with public domain images and clip art when you don’t feel ready to make your own, but she stressed that “you have a right to make all your own” and that once you get started, you’ll actually love to make your own version of the usual symbols. Another recommendation (good advice that may be hard to follow) is not to jump around from one thing to another—it is OK to use the same image over and over.  The question Jane invites us to explore is “How many ways can you use those images authentically?”

Verbal, rather than visual, approaches can inspire work, too.  Try a free association exercise, starting with one word (her example was “boundaries”).  Set a clock and begin writing everything that comes to mind.  You may be surprised at how many visual images emerge from the list.

One way to build a series of work is to figure out your message, then develop the images. But not everyone likes to work that way—you can choose to be more or less structured.  You can also stay with some simple ideas and images.  “It is OK to go in the studio just to fool around, but it takes some planning to pull off what you see in your head.”:

After many of examples of the “how” aspect of working on visual language, Jane concluded with her perspective on the “why:”

“Life is too short to not love what you’re doing.  If you do love it, do it enough to be good at it.  You deserve to feel true passion for whatever it is you’re working on.”

Lorraine Edmond

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One comment on “Jane Dunnewold’s Advice to Artists –

  1. An excellent summary of Jane Dunnewold’s talk. Thank you!

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