Visualizing Ideas and Opportunities through Mood Boards

Mood Board "Courage"This is less of a mood board and more of a pin up wall with things that inspire me. Although even from this maximalist and intuitive collection of images and forms, I can raw out some elements of design and themes that might apply to a sculpture and print project I am working on. At the start of a project I tend to gather more information that I may need, and then edit as I move forward.
Mood Board "Compost"Starting with a mind map, and research the context of an intimate meal with friends and family in a garden, I created this mood board to explore unexpected forms for plating and presenting a meal with the look and feel of earth, farm, garden, and growth. The mood board attempts to set a visual vocabulary through form, texture, color.
Mood Board "Pandemic Plating"This mood board, created with the designer Robyn Berg, was made to explore forms, colors, and concepts related to sharing a meal in the age of social distancing during the corona virus quarantine of 2020.
Mood Board "Illustrated Garden"This mood board was inspired by the drawings of the French poet, Jean Cocteau. The visual language is primarily focused on line, and surface design, with forms for possible tableware based on scalloped edges and tin-glazed ceramic.

At the start of a project I often begin by creating a mood board. Mood boards are an excellent tool for designers to clarify a design idea and "feeling" through a coherent visual vocabulary. It is also a great tool to help convey an idea visually to an audience (client, collaborators, etc.). For example take a look at the pin up wall created by Scholten and Baijings. I was fortunate to meet Carole Baijings and hear her talk about the creative process in their "atelier-way-of-working." Collage and color plays a significant role in their material rich creative development process. The production of allot of material and visual studies generates new ways of envisioning form and surface designs.

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Artists, designers, and makers of all stripes have a lot of different tools and techniques to help brainstorm ideas at the beginning of a project. Some tools that help clarify concepts, and the look and feel of an initial idea include design methods such as Mind Maps, Framing Questions, and Mood Boards.

Mind Mapping

The mind map is an intuitive concept development method created around a central idea. It typically takes the form of a diagram representing words and images, arranged around a subject with ever-expanding branches that lead to free association of related words and ideas.

A mind map may help in organizing a haphazard collection of related ideas into a clearer direction for a project. When I don’t know where to begin, I often use this exercise to help me choose a path to take. www.mindmapping.com I typically do this exercise on a blank page in my sketchbook, however there are some interesting digital tools that enable this task such as www.mindmup.com, and www.mindlyapp.com.

Framing Questions

Make better decisions by using questions to understand context, and identify needs for a given project. At the start of a design process, it is easy to lock onto a solution before we even ask a question. I like to spend some time doing desk and field research including interviewing and observing the people and living systems that may be impacted by a design. Armed with new insights, we can craft a well formed series of questions that open up rather than narrow down the possibilities for innovation through design. Take your initial ideas generated with a mind map, learn more about this through research, and then reframe your design ideas with a well formed thesis. Try the “How Might We?” method used by product designer to help  expand the possibilities for design. There is an excellent  Design Challenge Framing worksheet (pdf) to help frame a design challenge. Learn more 

Mood Boards

Gathering visual and conceptual elements together in a mood board serves as a fundamental transition between an initial thought and a first draft of a design language. It may be more beneficial to think of mood boarding as a means of organizing a visual language. There are many digital tools and platforms that can be used to create mood boards. A few digital mood board tools worth considering include: www.canva.com, and Adobe Spark.

I personally like to do them by hand and source my images online and in magazines, or through my own photography, painting, drawing and collage. The important thing is to begin, and find your own way of doing things. I am primarily a visual thinker, so I draw, collect materials, and compose collages to find form and give direction to the path that my work takes at the beginning of a project. Moving beyond words and experiencing the world through our sensations can spark insights that we may act upon through the design and making of a thing. The ephemeral nature of a doodle, a sketch, a collage of images, a collection of artifacts, cumulatively can reveal a trust about the agency of things, which can then be employed within the design process. Mood boards offer visual, material, and metaphorical insights on a philosophical level about the manifold meanings of form within the various contexts in which designers and artists operate. This visual metaphor also invites a common ground for conversation and understanding among those that I collaborate with. On a practical matter, the elements of design such as color, texture, form all may be composed through the collage and sketches that culminate in the mood board and this helps me to begin a project with more clarity.

Some things to consider when creating a mood board:

> Maximalism

I collect hundreds of images for a few days, and I pin them all up so I can see what formal patterns emerge. I have a habit of collecting far too many images then I actually need for a project. A greater the number of images can result in information overload and that usually leads to an incomprehensible mood board. So, I find it useful to edit my collection down to a clear color palette, a coherent body of forms, textures, photographs, and illustrations, sometimes even typographic samples find their way into the collage if it's relevant. I try to keep words to a minimum but I might include a sentence of two if I think it will help when I present mood boards to clients.

The primary goal of using mood boards in the creative process is to respond to a particular problem. This problem might be poetic as well as formal or even practical such responding to a design brief. That’s why not all images deserve to be on a mood board.

Stepping back and taking time to look and then edit images helps to clarify what the messages and feelings that I am trying to convey are. The next step is to remove half of the images in my collection, and then repeat this step until I have narrowed it down to 20-40 images that I can then compose to help tell a visual story. The goal is to have images that help you capture a clear formal language and simultaneously convey an emotional feeling.

> Use hierarchy and scale to emphasize a visual idea.

No matter what format you choose, it’s important to select images that will act as the anchor for the design. Creating a visual hierarchy through scale and juxtaposition is a good way to direct the eye. Larger images draw more attention than smaller ones. Smaller objects can complement larger ones conceptually and formally.

> Extrapolating feeling through form

Choose images that help establish a shape, form, color, rhythm, texture, illustration or photographic style, as well as the emotional sensibility of all of these elements together. 

> Expressing meaning through materials

For a variety of reasons, there has been a shift in people’s relationship with materials, from design to manufacturing, with materials and making methods starting to reclaim their central role in the creative process and beginning to dictate form rather than simply adapt to it. In this digital age, this haptic impulse might be a nostalgic desire to get closer to the means of production through craft; regardless, the exploration by contemporary makers has reaffirmed the power of materials, which when used early on in the creative process, offer a sense of touch to convey emotion and impart meaning. Therefore, I make use of material samples in my mood boards and this in turn helps me to discover making methods that I might employ as the project unfolds. 

Visual Vocabulary

Sometimes a single composition can encapsulate enough information to build a visual vocabulary with. For example, this lovely snapshot of flowers by Andy Warhol captures the bold form, repetition, and happy sentiment that translated beautifully into an exuberant visual vocabulary for a body of Flower paintings.  

Class: Reimagining Tableware as a Sculptural Landscape


Reimagining Tableware as a Sculptural Landscape

Changing attitudes and emerging social behaviors in food preparation and the social and cultural rituals of eating have lead to changes in the way tableware is made and used. In this short course we will explore historical and contemporary forms of table ware design. Through lectures, class discussion, research and making through drawing, modeling and prototyping in clay we will consider new categories of tableware and new roles for familiar as well as sculptural pieces. If you’re wondering what are the most appropriate forms and designs to use in your work, you’ll gain a better understanding of what’s current and gain an appreciation of the challenges and opportunities makers confront in their creative practice.

Tuesdays July 07 through August 25, 2020. 11:00 AM-1:00 PM EST
Level:  Intermediate / Advanced
Space is limited

Register online at Greenwich House Pottery

In this workshop I will focus on paper templates, slab, coil, and pinched forms used to make everything from plates and bowls to mugs and handles. We will discuss shapes as well as approaches to design, ranging from the practical and ergonomic to the poetic, and playful. 

For this workshop, you will need a computer with Zoom. Students are welcome to act upon the project prompts and try the techniques with me as we progress from week to week. I have found its best to use the class time on zoom to sit back and take notes. The sessions will be recorded and sent to students for future reference. I’m excited to invite you into my studio to share craft strategies and answer questions about the process of making. I will send an email with a Zoom link with details to registered students before the Tuesday workshops. 

This series of workshops requires a few tools. This list of suggested tools is not required for the workshop but may help when you try it on your own. 

  • Clay
  • Banding wheel
  • Scoring tool (a fork will do) 
  • Sharp knife 
  • Metal or rubber rib 
  • Small container for water 
  • Paintbrush 
  • Rolling Pin 
  • A bat or board 
  • Paper for templates (Tarpaper also known as “roofing felt” can be found at any hardware home center. Typical grades are 15 lb. and 30 lb. weight, which indicates the thickness. I like to use the sturdier 30 lb. grade for making templates for large forms.)
  • Utility Knife and/or Scissors
  • Cutting Surface (you can use a board or a self-healing cutting matt) 
  • Pencils 
  • Tape 
  • Sketchbook

Studio Visit in Quarantine

New York Artists Equity invites you to join us on a tour around multimedia artist Andrew Cornell Robinson's studio. Throughout this tour, Robinson discusses the inspirations behind his ceramics, sculptures, and prints while also sharing anecdotes about the potent disruptive power of images.

Robinson’s artwork examines and highlights the historical, collective, and often cyclical nature of the visual language of revolution and unrest. His multidisciplinary work is currently showcased in an online-only exhibition, “Andrew Cornell Robinson: The Time of Protest and Plague,” now featured on our WING project space and Artsy profile. View work from the exhibition on Artsy


Studio in the Time of Protest and Plague.
June 10, 2020 Interview with Andrew Cornell Robinson
By Michael Gormley

Living in a city driven by artistic ambition, “What are you working on” is the go-to question meant to quickly distill the daring of one’s aspirational reach, the aesthetic value of its form and the intent and likelihood of financial success and lasting fame. In the upheaval of social unrest and pandemic, the question sizes up how one is to staying alive. Over the past three months Equity has been posting text, images and videos of pandemic projects its member artists have been engaged in.

Read the full interview with Andrew Cornell Robinson

Drawing Phrygian Caps

At the onset of the corona plague in NYC, I found myself having a recurring dream that prominently featured Phrygian caps, the red liberty caps worn by radicals during the French revolution. A symbol which has its roots in ancient times when it was worn to signify a formerly enslaved person's freedom.

In any case the image and dream seemed significant so I began to draw a series of Phrygian caps with gouache, pastel and ink on hand made paper.

Exhibition: Food Show

FOOD SHOW March 4th, 2020 — March 29th, 2020 Opening Reception: Wednesday, March 4th, 6pm-8pm 131 Chrystie Street, New York, NY 10002 Gallery Hours: Thursday-Sunday 1pm-8pm

Learn More

SFA Projects is proud to present FOOD SHOW, a group exhibition curated by Chantal Lee and Jeffrey Morabito. FOOD SHOW explores the relationship between people and food as it exists in the cultural imagination. The exhibition looks at how food participates as a subject today, capable of expressing personal history, cultural mythology, and collective experience; describing a still-fertile ground for the tradition of still-life. Artists include Izzy Barber, Jon Chonko, Jennifer Coates, Martin Dull, Paul Gagner, Judy Glantzman, Alex Kanevsky, Maria Liebana, Jeffrey Morabito, Joshua Nierodzinski, Aoife Pacheco, Andrew Cornell Robinson, Ivan Lamberts Samuels and Crys Yin.

Jamón Jamón II (Reliquary Loisada)2019, Slipcast ceramic, enlay and silkscreened underglaze transfer with glazed interior 16 x 7 x 7 inches.

Andrew Cornell Robinson, Jamón Jamón II (Reliquary Loisada), 2019

Since ancient times, food has measured human well-being. Across cultures, families sat down communally to eat food that corresponded with the changing seasons and that were harvested or hunted by themselves or their neighbors. What was once a slow interaction with food has been replaced by a ménage of seasons, sourced from near and distant landscapes, moving through us at the speed of light. Our food experiences today are largely brought to us anonymously by corporations that mobilize the gentrification of our homes, the food market, and with what we eat and how. Nevertheless, food has endured as a symbol of experience. Whether it is the forbidden fruit on the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, the apple indicating immoral indulgence of pleasure. Or Wong Kar Wai’s repeating scenes of noodle stalls in In the Mood for Love, motifs suggesting loneliness and longing. Or the Greek mythological figure of Tantalus, who is punished to forever go thirsty and hungry, despite standing in a pool of water and almost within reach of a fruit tree (the origin of the word “tantalize”). In art, food has been used as a symbol to express not only our relationships to one another, but our human nature, exposing our dreams and fears, and giving voice to our desires. FOOD SHOW is equally inspired by more recent food experiences in art and culture, particularly Gordon Matta Clark’s artist-run restaurant, FOOD, from SoHo in the 1970s; and the installation works of Thai artist Rirkrit Tiravanija. For FOOD, artists such as Donald Judd, Robert Rauschenberg, Philip Glass, and John Cage created meals, washed dishes, and ate at the restaurant, serving to other artist-diners who met to discuss art. The cooking and food were seen as both a performance art and a visual art, with the food “painting” the table. As well, Rirkrit Tiravanija’s works are fundamentally about bringing people together, and so created site-specific structured spaces where he cooked and served food to his gallery visitors.

Jamón Jamón II (Reliquary Loisada)2019, Slipcast ceramic, enlay and silkscreened underglaze transfer with glazed interior 16 x 7 x 7 inches.

Art Hag on Peculiar Craft by Pam Wong

Queer + Peculiar Craft | The Clemente Currently on view at The Clemente in the Lower East Side is Queer + Peculiar Craft, an exhibition of contemporary ceramics and textiles that examines identity and challenges viewers' expectations of craft.

Read the full essay on Art Hag

Curated by Andrew Cornell Robinson, the exhibit showcases “an inter-sectional group of artists who explore craft to transgress expectations of traditional materials, methods, and meaning,” according to the show’s press release. The show features a diverse selection of subversive work that includes pottery, quilting, cross-stitching, printmaking, and crochet employed in unconventional and refreshing ways.

Plug (Yellow, Black and White)Stoneware, glaze, stain, cork, 16 x 7 x 7 inches

One artist featured in the show, Koren Christofides, explores feminism through ceramics. In an email, Robinson explained that some of Christofides' works are soft sculptures made with industrial ceramic fiber insulation covered in paper clay, resulting in pieces that are simultaneously “familiar and strange.” For his prismatic quilts featuring erotic males nudes, Greg Climer reinterprets traditional quilt-making methods by “creating the fabric fragments rather than upcycling scraps,” according to the exhibition essay.

Phoenix Lindsey-Hall’s ceramic sculptures play with “repetition and formalism,” according to Robinson. “It uses that formalism to include queer stories within the framework of contemporary aesthetics.” Her Fourteen Blows features a row of white porcelain claw hammers—a weapon used in hate crimes against members of the LGBTQ community—protruding limply from a wall. Robinson’s own ceramic and mixed media sculptures included in the show “explore historical customs as a metaphor for queer-baiting and conformity.” The sculptures in his Jamon Jamon series reference a medieval Spanish custom in which hosts offered ham to visitors to “sniff out heresy during the inquisition when the pious were looking for expressions of distaste in response to the offer of sliced pork,” the exhibit essay explains. His Jamon Jamon sculptures are a “metaphor about being ‘suspected’ and ‘queer-baited’ as a gay man." Inspiration for Queer + Peculiar Craft came from a 1993 interview with the late artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres for A.R.T. Press. When asked about the lack of “overt political or Latino content” in his work, Gonzalez-Torres responded: “I’m not a good token. I don’t wear the right colors. I have my own agenda. Some people want to promote multiculturalism as long as they are the promoters, the circus directors. We have an assigned role that’s very specific, very limited….” “[Gonzalez-Torres] expressed an impatience that I could identity with as a gay man making art,” Robinson noted. “I felt empowered by his question, ‘Who is going to define my culture?’”