Shaping – the How

mini dropIn another post, I talk about why the metaphform poems drew me to discover the shapes inherent in them; in this post I describe the discipline involved in how I chose to present the shapes, to do them justice.

I wrote the texts first, then looked for shapes that might be hidden within the words; shapes that contained the essence of the piece. I set off on a dual process of developing the raw verbal and visual material into a satisfying product. In each case, the intricate shapes that appear in the book require edges with both fluidity and a fine degree of sculpting.

There are several methods that can be employed to change the shape of a word, or the space between words, to achieve these edges. For example, kerning allows you to alter the spacing of individual characters in a font; tracking, to vary the spacing between a group of letters. It’s possible to use fill justification to bloat groups of words to expand line margins, or to trim lines by forcing line breaks that split the final word arbitrarily.

However, I was convinced that using these techniques was unnecessary, and indeed would be counterproductive, as it would undermine the integrity of the text. I felt the words needed to speak for themselves naturally. Therefore, I decided to restrict myself to presenting unmodified text as it would normally appear, within the variable borders of a line, and only using structural spaces – like the little highlight in the image of the droplet above.

This rule – not to fudge my shapes by manipulating the physics of the text – both created great difficulty and also provided a precision tool to make it easier: it became obvious to me that the shape and words were integrally linked. It just wasn’t good enough to risk compromising the quality of either. If I couldn’t achieve a shape I was hoping for, I’d consider whether a text change might improve it – but as this also indicated a fault in the existing text, that too had to be identified and rectified, for its own sake, rather than selecting the easiest or most obvious solution. Conversely, if I was altering words primarily for better conveying the meaning, I had also to be mindful of retaining or honing the shape achieved so far. The two halves acted as a check on each other – there was a dynamic relationship between these dancing partners, a kind of musical conversation between the two parts. All the way along, two distinct craftsmen were involved, differing in role but not in purpose, working together to bring both words and images to completion.

I wanted to be able to achieve smooth curves. This meant that the edge tolerance in many instances is very fine, down to around 0.5 mm. Some of the most challenging pieces to shape were those with internal spaces and boundaries, where consecutive lines of text contain four or more edges per line, all of which have to flow consistently through successive lines down the page. Exploring possibilities, reaching dead-ends and closely comparing minute variations in order to fine-tune the words, imagery, and derived images, resulted in nearly 5,000 working data files. It took time in buckets, very focused attention to detail, and much unfettered experimentation.

The pieces are accompanied by artwork that is composed by using the master metaphforms as the unique building block – providing raw material to be developed in some way, allowing them to further diverge and express their character. All the images differ not only in their immediate impact, but also in the ways the images within each “family” are created. I’ve used polymerisations and catenations, tessellations, sequences, constellations, reflections, and combinations and permutations of these – basically lots of fun ways to explore and expand the themes, adding something new each time, led by the way the words and shapes relate to each other and speak with the same breath.

Revealing the bond of word and image was more important to me than producing professional-looking artwork, so I was happy to work within my limitations in some aspects of presentation and design, and my lack of experience with much of the software. There is a rawness, a simplicity, an imperfection in many of the pieces; for me, as a therapist and as an individual, the whole creative process requires an acceptance of imperfection, or it is frustrated from the start. I’m happy for this to show through. I was playing, exploring, trying things out for fun – making new discoveries as I went along, and trying not to lose patience with my laptop – or myself.

Having committed to an exacting strategy, I found that almost every piece intentionally breaks my rule system somehow – they are determined to assert their independence and idiosyncrasy – to break free from the mould! Every instance of rule breaking, however, still respects the integrity and essence of the piece, in achieving an effect or emphasis. There was only one instance where I found myself breaking a word in the middle of a line: vuln…erable.

Presents of Mind is available from the author or from this link:

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