Finding your personal shape system for fast creating

Last year, I (Jenna) came up with my own personal shape system as a representation of myself as an artist and the themes I find myself most often exploring in my art journaling. This system then became a way for me to make quick pages on complex feelings. So, in this post, I explain how to create your own personal shape system in the hopes it can help you simplify your own creative process.

Lauren and Caylee’s Creativebug Get Messy class came at the perfect time for me – I had just had a baby, was still on maternity leave, but also getting that cagey feeling from being cooped up in the house all day tending to an infant, yet, I didn’t have the ability to really drive my own creating at the time, so the structure of a 30 day art challenge with short, simple prompts was perfect.

One of the prompts, a self-portrait of yourself as an artist stumped me. My art tends to be very abstract. At the time, I was also playing around in the Heart Journal (because I am always, if anything, overly ambitious!) where Essie guides you in exploring different emotions via art journaling. My frustration turned into one of those magical art moments where the common feelings and themes I explore most in my art journaling found expression as simple colored shapes. In this post, I walk you through my process for creating this system.

Shapes are the foundations on which any artist builds more complex art, whether that is abstract or representational art. But sometimes we need to stick to the basics to express something really complex, or maybe we just need to get something out without worrying about the process getting in the way. This is where a personal shape system can come in handy! You take a foundational shape and give it or draw from it meaning that suits you.

I’ll walk you through how my shape system came to be.

In the above photo, you will see I have six different shapes in six different colors capturing joy, whimsy, truth, strength, wonder, and peace. When I sit down to art journal, these feelings are the ones I most often am trying to capture, express, and/or find.

My Shapes & What They Mean to Me

Joy is about the simple pleasure of swiping paint across a page and therefore represented by a sort of parallelogram shape in a bright, rich cadmium yellow. It’s energetic and vibrant!

Whimsy is in my favorite color pink and represented by a wiggly line – it’s playful and wiggly. The up and down motion represents just going with my whims wherever they may take me.

Truth is a teal circle. I know a lot of Get Messians love teal – perhaps because it is cool, but commanding, like truth itself.. A circle reminds us of cycles and connections to nature, other people, the universe, no single beginning or end. Artist Wassily Kandinsky theorized the circle as a representation of peace and the human soul in Point and Line to Plane. (If you desire an art rabbit hole, Kadinsky’s work and art theories are the perfect place to fall down into.)

Strength is in a coral shade, represented by a square. A square represents the foundations that ground us, giving us strength. Coral, as a cousin of red and pink, indicates passion, blood, and vitality.

Wonder is a little different – represented by a lovely mint shade and shapes made with the end of a paintbrush. This shape makes me think of majesty of mountains and the simple process of mark making with a paintbrush at the same time.

Lastly is peace, represented by a golden triangle. Unlike Kandinsky, the triangle is my peace sign. I really can’t tell you why (and this will probably happen to you, too – a certain shape just may represent something to you because, well, it just does). I am drawn to triangles a lot – they are often my go-to shape or mark when I can’t think of anything to do or feel stuck. Perhaps it’s the idea of the golden triangle and sacred geometry.

Using Your Shapes to Create Art

One of the things I struggle with most in my art journaling practice is doing it when I need it most rather than waiting for the “right” time. One of those necessary times is when I am overwhelmed with emotions or depressed. My shape system has become a way out of that for me. I pull out my shape system then start making marks using my shapes to build up a page. Sometimes, I know exactly what I want to end up with, while other times my intuition guides me.

In the above image, I took turquoise circles, my personal shape symbolizing truth, and drew lines partially over them and in circular shapes in an opposing color to mimic the idea of lies we tell ourselves. I then added the quote “he obscures the truth and she plays along.” The feelings behind the page are multilayered and complex, yet the page itself is simple, allowing the message to be the focal point.

Art journaling doesn’t have to be complex. We use shapes as foundations for building more complex art, so why not use shapes as foundations for identifying and processing our own complex feelings? Think about how different shapes and colors make you feel, what shapes you most often are drawn to and when. Soon you will find your own personal shape system.

Action Steps

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Identify 3-6 personal shapes of your own, then create a single page or spread putting those shapes together. Tag me on insta @ginnistonik so I can see the amazing art you create!

Jenna Ledford

AKA Ginnis Tonik on certain parts of the Internet

Educator. Feminist. Creator. Activist. Writer. New Mama to William, not so new mama to four furbabies.

6 Comments

  1. Suzanne Earley

    This is awesome, Jenna. I feel like I’m going to need to play with this in my morning pages for awhile to think about shapes and colors that have meaning to me, before they might show up in my art journalling too much.

    I am mom to a William, too! He goes by Will. He also has a twin brother, Joe. They are 19. It goes so fast, as I’m sure you know. It sounds like such a cliche to say, but it’s so true.

  2. Debbie Bamberger

    yay, Jenna!!! Love seeing your process. xoxoxoxoxoxo

  3. Alyssa Rothwell

    I love the explanations on how you chose your shapes, so well thought out, I love it!!

  4. Maura Flood

    This is such a great idea. I’m thinking about my shapes and colors already!

  5. Kellye Crocker

    Love this! Thank you!

  6. Kristin

    So very very cool. Love this so much Jenna.