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Chuck Close employs an atypical process to achieve atypically good results. Of course, that process is due in part to Close’s rare set of circumstances. He is face blind — he has difficulty recognizing people’s faces — in addition to being wheelchair-bound, following a spinal artery collapse in 1988 that left his legs paralyzed.
In the recently ended Chuck Close Photo Maquettes at Eykyn Maclean gallery in New York City, viewers could see how Close achieves his unique works by viewing the gridded photos he used as part of his process.
To make his abstract portraits, he overlays small photos of faces — usually his friends and fellow artists — with a grid.
He then recreates in paint and other media the photo, square by square, left to right, for giant, hypnotic portraits unlike any other. The process accounts for his physical capabilities and helps him remember faces — just in a different way.
It’s fairly common to find exhibitions of a famous artist’s process, but the value is consistent. The exercise of considering how something is made shows that one can garner the same conclusion by different means and that the same means can lead to wildly aberrant ends. Traces of interesting processes abound.
Matisse reworked his paintings again and again until all that was left was what he called its “essential lines.” Bernini’s small clay models and drawings show that his masterful sculptures evolved from revision and placement. The same holds for designers, musicians and writers (for a topical example, the manuscripts of The Great Gatsby author F. Scott Fitzgerald show that sparkling prose doesn’t come easy and requires a lot of pencil marks.)
Varying one’s process is also a good way to come up with new ideas and to innovate on old ones.
This is something you can also do in everyday life, just by paying attention. In what order were the pieces of your wallet stitched? Why did the designer make the choices she did in your favorite infographic? How was this webpage constructed?
The trick is to be open-minded and curious about your process and that of others. That way, you’ll find one that works for you and with results you might not expect.
Rani Molla has a digital media master’s degree from Columbia Journalism School. She’s a journalism reader, writer, photographer, videographer, data visualizer and general doer. Follow her on Twitter.