Concepts in Practice — January 2022 Edition

Developing a vocabulary for your art

Based on the book: The Lost Spells (Read the book review here)

“Finding the words is another step in learning to see.”  

  Robin Wall Kimmerer

How important are words when we create art? What is their influence on how we perceive art? In The Lost Spells , we have spent time with poems and their images experiencing how the two combine to inform the viewer. How do artists find words to support their creative efforts?

Many times the best place to start is by asking questions. What about the subject is compelling? How are those qualities translated into  a medium? What technique would best convey the feeling or thought?

It is difficult to find words for something as profound as your art, finding words to describe a wild one is similar.

A good example of text and image can be found in the work of Dorothea Lange. She wrote field notes to accompany her photographic images which provide context for the work. Lange often had conversations with her subjects before she photographed them and made a point to write down their responses verbatim.  That record is now an essential insight into the people she photographed and the issues that were important to them. Often using terms lost to us now such as, ” plug mule”, and” knee baby.” The text and photographs work together to create the art.

Dorthea Lange photo of female

Photograph by Dorothea Lange

National Archive

“Young migratory mother, originally from Texas. On the day before the photograph was made she and her husband traveled 35 miles each way to pick peas. They worked 5 hours each and together earned $2.25. They have two young children . . . 

I would like to use the same concept except the field notes will be to the artist not the viewer. Our field notes will provide the context for what we want to create and how we will do it. The field notes will be the words we chose to describe our wild one. Follow along as I explain my Concepts in Practice journal prompt for this month.

Concepts in Practice

This journal prompt will help you develop a vocabulary to describe your art.

Journal Prompt

 Find something wild in your environment , a plant, insect or animal. Make a list of words that describe your wild one. Include words that describe something unique about your wild one. Then, using words from your list, construct your wild one using paper, clay , paint or the medium of your choice. 


Finding evocative words to describe  your wild one will help you develop a vocabulary to not only describe your own art, but also create a verbal thought path to help conceptualize your ideas. Taking the time to find the perfect word will make your work unique and expand your visual thinking as well.


your art journal

pen, pencil, paper, clay…

list of words to describe your subject

Photo of The Lost Spells book
Art journal entry

After working on the first page, I was able to cement my ideas for the crow and develop a picture based on all the words I had chosen. I felt a deeper connection to this image than I have with many paintings I have done where I only thought about the visual properties of the subject. This exercise deepen my understanding and I formulated a framework for investigation of future subjects.

Try this journal prompt and work out your theme in your journal. Did you experience a deeper connection to your subject and your work?

In this art journal entry to the left, I used my list of words to describe characteristics of a common bird. When I observed crows I was struck by the comradery among the group, they worked well as a team but also displayed uniqueness among the individuals.

Drawing of Crows