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Creating a Visual Vocabulary

Lesson 11 from: The Art and Business of Conceptual Portraiture

Jennifer Thoreson

Creating a Visual Vocabulary

Lesson 11 from: The Art and Business of Conceptual Portraiture

Jennifer Thoreson

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Lesson Info

11. Creating a Visual Vocabulary

Lesson Info

Creating a Visual Vocabulary

Photographic method has a lot to do with meeting, right? Just the way that you're approaching the actual photograph itself, the print so heidi's little tin things feel very antique, right? And that changes the way that you think about them, because it does remove you from reality a little bit. You don't look at that and think that happened yesterday, it's there's a different feeling to that. Then when you look at something that was someone's wearing contemporary clothing in color, perhaps that photographic method makes you read the image differently, doesn't it? Yeah, also palate, light mood, and this is stuff we touched on earlier, but if you actually look at it and think about it, if you look at rachel's image on the left, this is very similar palate actually, isn't it? But the lights so different, and the mood is so different that it makes us read those two images in a completely different way, just so different and that's just light a subject matter too, but the biggest difference ...

there is the way that we're using light photographic style, and yeah, this is a big one, but from something like on the left, that's from traveller that's very orchestrated, very orchestrated to abby's, which is it is controlled and it's staged, but it doesn't feed it feels looser, doesn't it? If he was a little bit more spontaneous than the one on the left does that style helps you read it in a different way because on the right I almost feel like an onlooker like I've walked in and seen something I shouldn't have seen it's quick the one on the left though that feels like it's been there a long time it's still so it's just calculate it feels really different clothing and objects we talked about this actually quite a bit with the women's work but the woman on the left is wearing one of the antique gowns, the antique leg everything about us antiqued even the color tone is antiqued it feels older that queue of that dress and that ob gyn those objects tell us that that this may be is fifty, sixty years old or something that those objects there there's a nostalgia to it first is something like on the right, where he's wearing contemporary clothing and kind of a more contemporary space it just feels different different cues that we're getting from two different kind of genres so objects in clothing are really powerful there's another one like it clear the the objects have a lot to do with it, but also what she's wearing if she was wearing, imagine this with her in an antique gown in black and white, how different that would be, how different that would feel so your models and your subjects we talked about this a little bit already, but who were you using and why so am I using I noticed that before I started making testament I was using idealized people all the time idealized versions of myself so tall, slender white women that's all I photographed pretty much and I never realized it really until I got into this new work and realize that no, I'm going to use surrogates and myself I'm going to use people who actually I feel like I look like these people are embodied thes people regular people with scars and tattoos and people who are short and round and taller older, you know? So that changed the method a lot in the way I approached my models in my subjects so if you use, you know ah young woman versus an older man that's a big difference in the way people are going to read the work also think about skin tone and all that kind of stuff that completely changes the way people are going to do the work. If I had two different races of people in that image, it would change the meaning wouldn't it? Yeah models and subjects so on the right I've got my idealized woman on the left you've got somebody who was, you know, clearly a realistic portrayal of a person, an older person you have a different empathy for her, don't you? The pace of the way it's constructed is it documentary or stage? That alone can change the way people read the photographs quite a bit with symbolism we talked about this too, but adding little things in there that you can help your viewer to read your photographs and get meaning from them by adding little bitty things the apple, the goat, the milk on the person's back little the stuff that's on the table has a story, so symbolism is going to change the way people read your work quite a bit and the thing is, a lot of people put objects in the photographs, not realizing that they mean something so again have to own everything that's in there it's all me it all means something whether you mean for it to or not some here again like symbolism like the the wet garments and things like that the water, the ashes, the bandages, your narrative in the order in duration that people will look at things. So I'm trying to command people's eyes with objects using that gold colored bedspread going up, looking through that where the light is because your eyes will be attracted to that because there's so much contrast in light right there, then I'm hoping you move over to where the two pictures are on the far right wall because there's, another area of contrast dark objects against a white wall, you come down and you see the little basket, maybe under the tv, right? And then you head into the man's, feet up that sculpture and down into where the faces are, and then I'm hoping you'll start that process all over again, and maybe then you'll next time you go around, you'll see the dog and the far left corner and things, so I'm trying to get people to spend a while travel and discover things slowly. Some photographs you look at it and you see it all at the very beginning, and that might be purposeful, it's just different the body language of your subjects, you have a really active body on the left, on a really passive body on the right, like on the right, she doesn't even know what's happening to her kind of thing, which is really different feeling, and then lastly, like the hand of the artist to your hand in the physical work. So in heidi's work, for instance, it's the fact that she's made this object in this ten physically like you can feel her hand in the process of making that because it's a handmade object and the work like testament, you see my hand in those sculptures. That I've made each individual piece of the sculpture that's the hand of the artist. So sometimes that shows up in the process. Sometimes it shows up in the actual print. It's just it's something another interesting layer that people were going to read in a certain way when they look at your work. Okay, we have done it. Awesome. We've done it. We've come in a separate their fantastic there's. A question. This question actually got sixteen votes. Michelle wants to know inspiring work. But do you pay? How do you pay for all this? Renting a house, buying wool, etcetera. Are you applying for grants? Are you independently wealthy? Are you working another job or does this pay uh, is this you know, pay for itself eventually? Is that the goal? That's a really great question. In fact, someone asked that over the break too. So I do apply for grants. I had a grant for testament that paid for most of it, and it was a twenty thousand dollar project is a big project, and so, no, there is no way on earth. I could have done that without the grant. I couldn't have and so a lot of artists, if you look at their work, they're working from grants and sometimes contest, there are a lot of contests out there where you can win a ten thousand dollar grant type prize for entering your concept of work you're beginning of the work kind of a work in progress do that a lot too, but yeah, I have to have it funded. The other half of that question is there is a little bit so commission work is different and that someone's paying for it up front this I make the work and then sell it. But I do make back a good bit of of that money that was spent when I sell the photographs in the end. Hopefully that part is profit if I've got the grant in place awesome. Um after looking at all the work that's out there and doing all the research that you talked about earlier, how do you let it go? So you aren't a cover band on really make it your own? Yeah, but one of the hardest things is the hardest part of the whole process. The thing is, I find tio with visual people, is it when you do inundate yourself with what's out there, sometimes it's hard to get it out of your mind? Visually you guys find that that happens that you keep going back to something that you've seen before, I would find myself making a sketch you feel like that's this thing that's done that's been done, so it is a process of using their visual cues that you've already seen, letting them kind of marinate together and figuring out a way for them to be unique and there's no answer for that, except that it has to be infused with your own flavors and that's it's, hard it's really hard? Yeah, I don't know, I can't give you a method for doing that, except that it takes time and really effort and making it your own and having a purpose for why you do what you do. I find a lot of people are using props and clothing and things like that just because it looks cool or because they've seen somebody else do it, you know, like a lot of vintage garments out there that's really trendy right now, people in vintage garments, but people don't know why they're using them. That's just one specific thing is just it doesn't mean anything. And so if it doesn't mean anything to you, then why are you using it? Because then that is a real easy way for your work to start looking like somebody else's and for no reason. Like that's, great advice, pro image wants to know. I'm always working on several different projects to get myself renewed. Do you do this? Are you thinking about what's coming next while you're working on one or are you just head down, working on one till it's all the way done? I worked on one until it's all the way done. A lot of people don't, but I that's the only way I'll ever get it finished. And if I allow myself to think about other things, I get distracted and get frustrated because I feel like there's, never enough time to do it all. And so, if I let myself think that way, I'll never finish the one. I'm actually working on something.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with RSVP


Bonus Materials with Purchase

Book Proposal Sample.pdf
Critical Mass - Digital Book.pdf
Curriculum Vitae Example.pdf
Keynote PDF Segment 1.pdf
Keynote PDF Segment 2.pdf
Keynote PDF Segment 3.pdf

Ratings and Reviews

a Creativelive Student

"Thinking about art is not making art." In this inspiring and informative workshop, Jennifer helps you put thought into action - through meaningful self-reflection, exploration and by taking her through her own processes. Through exercises and examples, she explains how to pull out a thread of an idea and develop it into a conceptual project that is informed and invigorated by personal experience, preference, interests, and so much more. Her workshop not only feeds the creative soul, but offers earnest information on taking first steps toward publishing and showing fine-art. Jen so beautifully shares her talent and her love of teaching - I first "met" her on Creative Live and have had the joy of being mentored by her in-person as well. This workshop is a very close second to spending time with her one-on-one. Thank you, CL, for bringing her back!

kalei harmon

I love Jennifer, she's one of my cL favorites! She is such a soulful photographer and her art just resonates with me in so many ways. While she was creating her conceptual piece with the mother and child, my eyes welled up because it was such a profound experience to witness. I appreciate that she has a graduate degree in art and is able to refer to others in the field who are leading the way. She is so genuine and I'm grateful for her willingness to bare her soul to us through her art and process. I've learned so much by watching how she interacts with models and communicates efficiently and gently to get AMAZING poses. Definitely worth the buy if you're looking for inspiration from an artist who creates images which evoke emotion and communicate a message, not just trying to make "great photos." I can't wait to learn about the business side of it all!


I am so grateful for this class; it is just what I have been looking for to help me go beyond my "photographic potty training". By leading us through her own creative process, Jennifer Thoreson invites us to think about why we do what we do and to make our work more meaningful and authentic, creating our unique visual vocabulary. Moreover, she provides detailed info on submitting work to galleries and publications, contests, printing editions, preparing an exhibition and pricing. In her calm, unpretentious manner, Jennifer demystified art without trivializing it and I finally saw light at the end of a rather long tunnel.

Student Work