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Klecksography is the art of making images with inkblots. Spots of ink are dropped onto a piece of paper, which is then folded while still wet to create mirrored patterns. Symmetry most powerfully stimulates, apophenia, the human tendency to see meaningful patterns in random data.

The history of using inkblots as tools for stimulating imagination can be traced back as far as the late 1400’s. Both Leonardo da Vinci and Boticelli used them.

Interest in this practice grew wider in the late 1800’s when physician and poet Justinus Kerner collected his studies in a book Klesksographien, which was published posthumously. Kerner, also a mystic poet, felt that such drawings not only brought him in closer contact with deeper aspects of his nature but also drew him closer to the spirit of nature.

Around the same time, a similar game was described in the book Gobolinks or Shadow-Pictures For Young And Old (Stuart and Paine), which explained how to make inkblot monsters and use them as prompts for imaginative writing.

Some years later, psychologist Hermann Rorschach made the most enduring contribution to this practice. As a child he enjoyed klecksography so much that his friends nicknamed him “Klecks” (inkblot). While studying Freud’s work on dream symbolism (under the tutelage of Eugen Bleuler, who also taught Carl Jung), Rorschach’s interest in klecksography was rekindled. He published his book Psychodiagnotik (1921) and invented his now famous Rorschach Test, seeing it as a potent tool to stimulate visual free association, which would in turn uncover unconscious tendencies and desires, much like Freud used verbal free association. (From hundreds, Rorschach selected ten inkblots, designed to be as ambiguous and “conflicted” as possible.) Since then, many other psychologists have refined the Rorschach Test and used it as a tool for studying the subconscious. In the 1960’s it was the most widely used projective test.

I’ve found exploring inkblot symmetries extremely rewarding. The perceptual transformation that occurs when making them and the visual skills this practice kindles has influenced my art in many ways.

Here’s a sampling of my most recent digital inkblot studies.

What do you see in them?

View more of my inkblots here.

View some of my finished works of art that were influenced by klecksography here.

See more in my exhibit New Work 2016.

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PHOTOGRAPH 7 is out. This issue showcases portfolios from David Baker (Sea Fever), Michelle Morris Denniston, Mitchell Kanashkevich (Vanuatu), and Dave Morrow (nightscapes). The featured article is from Bret Edge, and the usual columnists are here, including Bruce Percy’s Natural Light column including a new column by Guy Tal.

In my column Creative Composition I discuss Pattern.

Here’s an excerpt.

“Many of the mysteries of the universe have been discovered by recognizing and describing patterns. The Golden Section/Ratio (8:5), the Fibonacci Series (1,2,3,5,8,13,21, etc), and the Mandelbrot Set (a shape characterized by repetitions of self-similar forms at all scales) are three examples of patterns that have been used for many different purposes – scientific, industrial, architectural, aesthetic, etc. Discover the type of repetition or change associated with a pattern and you too will unlock the key to understanding it – and possibly a universal principle.

People are pattern seeking / making animals. Even when patterns are absent, we experience them through our own projections. Making images is all about sensing and creating patterns. The same could be said of making any form of art – including life. Life itself follows patterns. You can make your images livelier by using the power of pattern; the clearer you make the pattern, the stronger the image. Increase your powers of pattern recognition and you’ll increase your visual versatility. Increase your sensitivity the unique qualities of each pattern as well as its differences from other patterns and you’ll increase the depth of your expression.

The modernist painter Josef Albers said, “A pattern is interesting. A pattern interrupted is more interesting.” Interrupting a pattern is a visual strategy that tends to produce strongly organized yet dramatic images. The pattern provides the organization. The interruption provides the drama. The pattern makes the images easily grasped, setting up expectations that are reversed by the interruption, like an unexpected plot twist in a story. An interesting distinction can be made between two different kinds of interruption; accents simply interrupt patterns; counterpoints not only interrupt patterns but they do so in ways that contrast with either the pattern or the main message of an image; both accents and counterpoints often become the new focus of the image.

Once you start seeing patterns you won’t be able to stop – and neither will anybody else. Understand the patterns you are naturally drawn to and you’ll better understand your visual voice and creative intentions – and if you make those patterns clear to others they will too. Because pattern is so powerful, it doesn’t take much; some artists have spent a lifetime exploring just one of these universal, organizing principles. Of course, you’re not limited to one pattern and there are so many to choose from. Simply use the power of pattern in your images and you’ll make your images more powerful.”

There’s more similar content in this and every issue of PHOTOGRAPH.

Download PHOTOGRAPH 7 here.


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