Materials, Processes & Procedures - Random Musings

The following are thoughts, observations, and questions culled from teaching students from kindergarten through graduate school, professional artists in workshops, and working in my studio.

These “musings” deal with a compendium of materials, process and procedures and the way artists interact with them to express themselves. They are presented as points of departure and as such are not necessarily complete.


Material is the physical “stuff” we work with (plaster, oil paint, silver).

Process is what must be done to manipulate that particular material (add water, apply it to a surface, hammer it, etc.).

Procedure is the order and manner in which materials are combined after the process phase.

Assembling, putting things together is what we do as a species – whether it is words, food or “stuff”.

No material is outside the purview of the artist.

Not getting it the first time does not mean you can’t get it.

Materials, processes and procedures are only useful if they allow you to better express yourself

Procedure generally includes a degree of planning.

Thinking procedurally does not have to destroy intuitive action.

Reading directions can really help in the process phase however, reading doesn’t have to mean following.

Spontaneity is usually easier when working with fewer materials.

All materials can be changed from their original form.

Everything can break.

Almost all artistic endeavors, even drawing, relies on putting at least two materials together.

More materials, processes and procedures do not necessarily mean better work.

The more you know about stuff, the more you can play with it.

Reading catalogs is a quick way to acquaint yourself with a large number of materials and processes.

If you change the process, you change the material.

Characteristics of materials may change in the procedure phase.

Playing with stuff can be serious work.

There is no reason to use only one material if it doesn’t permit full expression.

Adding a material allows the maker to include the references of that material.

  • rock - may indicate permanence, difficulty
  • glass – protection, transparency, entering, exclusion (you’re on the outside looking in, or opposite), seeing the way through

Adding a material may allow you to contextualize an object – set it’s age, locale, level of technology.

Multiple materials imply – handling, manipulation, time, thought, choice, sequential thinking.

Intent can be integral to making a hand-made piece of work - making a work like a _______ (fill in the blank – bear, fertility, etc.) amulet necessarily indicates that the intent originates with someone else.

Working with intent is a bit different from the organic, “feel your way as you go” reaction to the material, completely spontaneous way of working - planning is inherent in making work with a narrative; however, planning and intent need not be serious, heavy, or dire.

Considering materials:

  • materials – found or not
  • materials – context, exchange of references, perhaps hierarchy
  • materials – conversation among them, hierarchy, exchange

When people say about a material “it looks like… (a bear, cloud, ancient tool, etc.)“, that is a narrative you can use and build upon, using the references inherent in that material.

Asking a material to do something it doesn’t want to do is usually a losing proposition.

The scale (size) you choose to work in can affect the choices of material you use, and visa versa.

You can open yourself to different ways of thinking by changing the material you work with.

There is always a way to include a particular material in your work however, certain compromises may be necessary.

Play Well,

© Robert Dancik and Studio E.Y.E.