Marks Over Time – Abstract to Concrete

How do we take an abstract idea and turn it into a concrete project?

Abstract thinking or ideas are relative.

Concrete thinking or ideas are specific.

Our minds often flood with interesting ideas, topics or facts but struggle with how to make something from them. Each of us will approach this process differently but here are a few ideas and an activity to try – to kick start you off.

Research it

The more you know about a topic the more likely you are to recognise, pinpoint or simply stumble across that “thing” you were searching for.

Describe it in words

Write a paragraph or 2 about what you have discovered. This is a tried and true technique for all things – the act of organising the words helps to organise your thoughts. Try to keep the paragraphs concise, use adjectives, be very specific.

Use Metaphors & Analogies

This is particularly useful. If you can liken the topic to something familiar, everyday or even a stereotype you will get a clear vision of what it is that fascinates you. Stereotypes are steroetypes for a reason – they typify a broad or general topic. This is not to say your work should be a stereotype but the process is helpful in understanding your topic.

Let’s take the tree ring topic as an example.

Research it – rings are a year’s growth, they are different sizes, they record changes in the climate and environment, the science is are called dendrochronology

Describe it – Tree rings are an example in nature of marks over time as they vary according to the environment the tree experiences which influences each year’s growth. Tree rings are an invisible badge or honour that is only discovered upon death

Analogy – Tree rings are like the layers of paint on an old house.  They tell the history of the house’s interior. And are often only discovered when renovated or demolished.

Ideas this one progression sparked in my brain:

  • A 3D house – opening doors
  • Tree house
  • Multi coloured tree rings with household items embeded in them

Group Activity

Draw four boxes on a piece of paper and in each box draw one of the following:

                        Love               Anger                        Justice           Trust

These are well known abstract concepts but we still have specific images of each in our heads. What did you come up with?

Or maybe you have a concrete design that you want to be more abstract?! The same process still works.

This is what the group came up with: