Materials are a language

Materials are a language


“The open studio is a world within a world. 

Within this setting, each medium and tool has an inherent history, memories, and knowledge to share with us. Each medium possesses a persona.

Thus, when we look at a pen and nib or hold it in our hands, we might associate it with great drawings such as Leonardo’s. Watercolors might recall the memory of Turner and Chinese artists.


Understanding of materials is based on the practice of all cultures. Throughout time, all creators and shamans highly respected and acknowledged the qualities of a feather, seeds and plants, wool, and eggshells. They knew how stones, plants, and animal body parts have the gift of curing physically, mentally, and metaphorically. Early humans clearly related profoundly to their tools, powders, rocks, and plants. 


We can read about many Western art materials in Cennino Cennini’s The Craftsman’s Handbook, written in the fifteenth century, and many of these materials are still in use today. A few of Cennini’s chapter topics illustrate this: how to make various sorts of black, on the character of a yellow color called ocher, how to cast medals, how to make brushes, how to paint in oil on a wall, on a wooden panel, on iron, how to make a bronze sculpture.

We, studio managers, have inherited all of this wisdom and experience, which is a vast body of spiritual-technical-cognitive-emotional knowledge marked in powders, chunks of stone, wood, and painting tools. Not all is forgotten. Much of it is waiting for us to acknowledge it in our bodies and our studios.”

Text from my new book:  The Good Enough Studio: Art Therapy Through the Prism of Space, Matter, and Action

Cennino Cennini’s The Craftsman’s Handbook

The image of the heading is from Herbal Academy 2011, on the Internet.

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