This is how Rob Bevan and Tim Wright describe “Jackdawing” in their book “Unleash Your Creativity: Secrets of Creative Genius (52 Brilliant Ideas)”:
“One easy way to engage in this process of constant research is to keep a camera handy (preferably digital) and take photos of everything that catches you eyes. Another is to squirrel away little bits of information (and intriguing bits of rubbish!) as you find them, building up a personal collection of seemingly useless and unrelated factoids, newspaper cuttings, URL, bookmarks, postcards, brochures, food packaging… anything that catches your eyes. This process is sometimes referred to as “jackdawing”.
The authors also warn you against being carried away and getting submerged by your findings. The image of Bacon’s studio in his Kensington mews house comes to my mind…
What's left of a delicate fritillaria I found in the garden. The round seed is prisoner inside the fragile armature of the flower.
In "Memoirs of the Life of John Constable: Composed Chiefly of His Letters (Arts & Letters)", John Leslie recalls the artist’s habit to collect artefacts from nature to complement his plein air studies:
“On going into his room one morning, not aware that he had yet been out of it, I found him setting some of these sketches with isinglass. His dressing-table was covered with flowers, feathers of birds, and pieces of bark with lichens and mosses adhering to them, which he had brought home for the sake of their beautiful tints. Mr. George Constable told me that while on the visit to him, Constable brought from Fittleworth Common at least a dozen different specimens of sand and earth, of colours from pale to deep yellow, and of light reddish hues to tints almost crimson. The richness of these colours contrasted with the deep greens of the furze and other vegetation on this picturesque heath delighted him exceedingly, and he carried these earths home carefully preserved in bottles, and also many fragments of the variously coloured stone.”
Henry Moore is another artist who used to bring back bits of nature in his studio. The Henry Moore Foundation (by the way, the Henry Moore Foundation web site is incredible and I could spend hours going through their collection and information) offers a panoramic view of Moore’s studio, which is fascinating. You can see a box of bones on the table and the commentary notes that the studio contained “bones, flints, roots, shells and other natural detritus” and that:
“Often Moore would apply plaster or plasticine on to a found object such as a flint or bone, or produce a plaster cast directly from the object itself. One example of this can be seen on the stand in the centre of the table. Notice the small plaster maquette with the bone beside it. This bone was the basis for Mother and Child: Hood 1983 (LH 851) in travertine marble, currently on loan from the Foundation to St Paul’s Cathedral, London.”
The drawing Artist's Hands Holding Bone 1981 (HMF 81(186) shows the artist’s fascination for bones. It is clear that the organic shape with rounded holes went into Moore’s sculptures. An example of this is the sculpture titled The Arch (1963-69). Another beautiful sculpture is Seated Woman: Thin Neck 1961 (LH 472) inspired by a breast bones of birds. Henry Moore’s words highlight how small natural objects can transform art:
“Since my student days I have liked the shape of bones, and have drawn them, studied them in the Natural History Museum, found them on sea-shores and saved them out of the stewpot... There are many structural, and sculptural principles to be learnt from bones, e.g. that in spite of their lightness they have great strength. Some bones, such as the breast bones of birds, have the lightweight fineness of a knife-blade.” (Henry Moore quoted in Philip James (ed.), Henry Moore on sculpture: A collection of the sculptor's writings and spoken words edited with an introduction by Philip James (edition cited); Viking Press, New York 1967)
Related articles and further reading
Fire-up your imagination
- Memoirs of the Life of John Constable: Composed Chiefly of His Letters (Arts & Letters)
- Henry Moore on sculpture: A collection of the sculptor's writings and spoken words edited with an introduction by Philip James
- Unleash Your Creativity: Secrets of Creative Genius (52 Brilliant Ideas)
Rob Bevan Tim Wright Jackdawing Unleash your creativity John Constable Henry Moore Henry Moore Foundation Sculpture Art quotes