Tuesday, February 19, 2013

On Taking Notes

Scribe Jean Jean Miélot, circa 1400s.

Today we have amazing palm sized recording devices that allow us to photograph/take video/voice record at the drop of a hat*. But no one seems to take actual notes any more. There’s a connection between the physical activity of writing or drawing and memory that just doesn’t happen when you turn on a machine to capture information**.

Some might argue that recording with camera or video frees you to pay closer attention to the information at hand, preventing distraction caused by dealing with your note taking. I don’t see much evidence of that. What I see is that it fosters a kind of laziness along the lines of “I’m recording this so I don’t have to pay close attention to the lecture or demo. I can review it again later.”

I know, because I do it myself sometimes.

But there is something lost in note taking by proxy, and that’s being in the present moment. The pictures or videos reviewed later are echoes of the event. Subtlety and nuance are lost.

Marginalia in a circa 1520 herbal
Someone writing in a book around a picture of someone writing in a book.

Taking notes by hand slows you down, forces you to pay attention, and compels you to edit and select the most important bits. It hones your ability to recognize what’s useful and what’s superfluous.  You learn to focus and that in turn aids retention. Taking notes by hand exemplifies that old Chinese saying about learning: “I hear, I forget. I see, I remember. I do, I understand.” Taking notes, writing down or drawing the information you are studying, is a way of doing and therefore understanding. 

My own notes on making stencils, from an enameling workshop.
I remember this.

By drawing out the arrangement I can much more easily
remember the construction of a fabricated prong.

 From Jennifer Walsh, a friend who graciously shared her excellent notes.

 My notes from a demo by Lisa Fidler
at the Penland School of Craft.

*At the drop of a hat:  Apparently a phrase from the old American west to signal the start of a fight or race. Also serviceable: In the wink of an eye; in a heartbeat; in a New York minute.

** Evidence suggests doodling helps memory retention. Have your pen and note pad ready while you read and you can check it out here

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Bugged Out

Greenville has its fair share of bugs*.

I had mentioned in a previous post that I sometimes find it challenging to create course assignments that students will see as engaging and inspiring. I presented a few of the solutions that were completed for a project on bolo ties. In that same post was an enameling assignment for “making a bug.”

Since then I have had a few requests to see some of the solutions for that project.

So for those of you interested...here are a few more bugs from Greenville. 

Christina Green


Justin Paxton

 Kate Lambeth

 Britni Broda

 Mariah Ross

Mary Pettengill

 Meredith Parker

 Samantha Clarke

 Phil Ambrose

 *The most common, seemingly, is the cockroach also known around these parts as the Palmetto or water bug. Not native to North America they were believed to be introduced from Africa off slave ships in the 1600s. Fossil evidence suggests they've been around for about 300 million years. Get used to 'em.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Testing, Testing

When you’ve been working in a particular manner or with a material for many years you risk becoming comfortable and familiar with it and forget that there may be potential for new directions yet undiscovered.

Sketchbook studies for torch-fired enamel

One of the great pleasures of stumbling onto an exciting new material, process, or technique is the honeymoon period when you get to search* out everything about it. It’s a time of being a beginner again. With experience you get the advantage and awareness that there are possibilities and applications of the information you’re learning. Yet you don’t worry too much about what exactly it’s going to be or how to apply it, you’re just eager to be in that zone of possibility.

Jeweler and consummate metalsmith Andy Cooperman once said there were two fundamental approaches to the learning process ~ the dove and the bulldog. The dove reads the instructions, follows the guidelines, practices established principles, and gets predictable results. The bulldog grabs the material by the throat, shakes it up, ignores the rules, and often makes a mess of things, but learns limitations and new possibilities. Each has their advantages.

I confess that with my own work I’m a bit of a dove and I tend to approach a new material that way. But then I believe it’s a good idea to be the bulldog.

Right now I’m firing the hell out of white enamel and I’m hoping the honeymoon turns into a long fruitful relationship.

Studies for possible enamel pieces

Yes, these are only white enamel, torch-fired to develop the colors

The same piece fired three different times with only 
a red glass thread added in the last.

*Research: the systematic investigation into and study of materials and sources in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions. Search, then RE-search the thing. 

Sunday, February 3, 2013

What Do Dogs Know?

In his novel Lila philosopher Robert Pirsig* tells the story of a Native American elder, a university professor, and a Bureau of Indian Affairs agent walking along a dirt road on a Montana Reservation. The agent spots a mongrel crossing in front of them and asks “What kind of dog is that?” The Indian pauses a moment to consider and then replies, “That’s a good dog.”

You can learn a lot from a good dog. Thirteen years ago I had one. She was the first dog I really paid attention to and the first that responded in kind. It broke my heart when she died. She was such a great teacher and I didn’t want the lessons to end. Here are twelve things Rita taught me. I’m still trying to apply them.

1. Leadership (being the alpha) comes with responsibility. Don’t abuse it.

2. Be patient and tolerant, especially when accidents happen.

3. Take long walks but not in straight lines - wander around and see what's off the path.

4. Don't let anyone get in your face without your permission.

5. Counter angry outbursts from loved ones with sympathy and quiet understanding.

6. Enjoy simple things: chasing tennis balls, sunlight to lie in, something good to chew, soap bubbles, flashlight beams, belly rubs, and hayfields to play in.

7. Take joy in the physical - the body is to be lived in and used.

8. Defend family first and ask questions later.

9. Discipline and routine give structure to the day.

10. Welcome every member of the household when they return home.

11. Showing your teeth can be just as effective as using them, especially if you throw in a warning growl.

12. Keeping quiet is sometimes the best thing to say.

*Pirsig is probably best known for his 1974 philosophical novel, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.