The Feel of a Shape

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One of my first jobs was at Shanti Foundation for Peace in Evanston, IL. Indira Johnson, the artist-founder of the nonprofit, created many different kinds of community art, but my favorite was her work based on Rangoli drawing, in which women traditionally painted a pattern on the ground outside their homes. Family members would walk across this drawing each day, scattering the image, and in doing so, the blessing was spread across the community.
 
I had the honor of helping Indira with some of her community art sessions. We’d explore the meanings of a variety of shapes and then as a community draw a pattern that had meaning to our group. Then, the drawing would be transferred to the ground and filled in with bright spices and other materials. You can see some examples of final results here: Community Blessings.
 
I came to understand that each shape has a different feel, and a different historic significance. Molly Bang explores the feeling of various shapes in her book, Picture This: How Pictures Work. It’s a book I return to again and again because it takes this concept of shape down to the basic, underlying concepts. Molly’s images and clear explanations help me understand how shapes work in visual art, but also sparks thoughts about how shape shows up in my writing. What might the shape of a line, the shape of a poem, or the shape of a story add to (or take away from) my work?
 
Try This:
 
  1. Take out a few pieces of differently colored paper and cut out shapes. Cut some circles, squares, rectangles and triangles.
  2. Arrange your shapes into groupings. See if you can make groupings that have different tones. Can you make a calm grouping? A fierce grouping? A lazy grouping? A creative grouping?
  3. Choose one of your groups of images, and write a poem that captures that same tone.
  4. Arrange your shapes and words on a page, and then share your work with someone. Celebrate this small, creative act.
 
If this idea of shapes has caught your fancy, you might enjoy this collection of images.
 
As always, I’d love to hear from you! Are there shapes that have particular meaning for you? How does shape show up in your work? Feel free to comment below, or connect with me on Facebook or Twitter.
 

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