SETUP

The first thing that you need to do is create a free Dropbox Paper page which you will use for the duration of the workshop. If you are not familiar with Paper, it is a really easy cloud-based shared document platform I use in all of my classes both pre- and post-pandemic (kind of like Google Docs, but way way better). I have created a simple demo and tutorial for getting your page set up (link below). Once you have created your page, you will need to send a view-only version of it to me to share with the other participants. Within the tutorial is a link to submit your page to me via a Google Form. It also asks you for your name and an email (which will only be used to communicate specific stuff about the workshop and nothing else. It will absolutely never, ever, EVER be sold or used to spam you.)

The Dropbox Paper setup and demo page is here. Note that you will need to either create a free Dropbox account, or use an existing Dropbox account to properly see and use the setup (more about this at the link.) If you are already logged into Dropbox when you visit this link, this demo page and the page you create will automatically be associated with that account (and you can skip the first step in the demo).

I will be posting people’s individual pages on a main workshop index page, so everyone can see each other's pages to give feedback. Once you have submitted your page to me, I will email this index page directly back to you (so please use a real email address in the Google form). Note that this index page and each person’s individual page are private to members of the workshop — these links will not be made public to the world at large. It is important that the workshop is a safe space where people can really experiment, without the worry of outside judgement. That being said, you are welcome (and encouraged) to post your own work to any social platform you like. Please use the hashtag #obstructionsworkshop, the workshop Instagram account will be used to gather any hashtagged work and display it in one place.

METHOD

Now that the housekeeping is out of the way, it is time to get into the workshop itself.

On the next page, you will pick a set of obstructions: a formal obstruction, a methodological obstruction, and a conceptual obstruction. You will also be given an optional quote to use as content. You will use these obstructions as prompts to make things (which I will call “artifacts”) for a week. Each artifact you make should include all three obstructions, plus the quote, if you are using it. Everything you make for the week should use these same obstructions (you do not pick new obstructions until the next week.)

How you decide to “use” these obstructions are entirely up to you, but you must incorporate them in your artifacts. Decisions about what each artifact is, how you make it, how long it takes to make, what it means (or does not mean), are up for interpretation. The quote you pick is optional (you might have something else you want to work with), but it can be looked at literally, metaphorically, symbolically, or even formally (the shape of the letters or words.) You may change directions, methods, media, etc. at will. You may also have each artifact lead directly to the next, or your work can vary wildly week to week or even day to day. You must decide what to do and how to do it. Your work does not have to be meaningful, clear, or highly conceptual — it can just be about making stuff.

When I teach this as a class project, my students have to use these obstructions to make one artifact every single day for the duration of the project — they usually make about 40+ things over 5 or 6 weeks. While making one thing a day, every day is ideal, for this version of the workshop there is no pressure. You can make as much or as little as you like. I would suggest you try to create at least three artifacts a week, but do whatever you are able to.

This next part is really, really important: There is no “correct” way to do this workshop. While three artifacts a week might sound like a lot, you can make each one in 60 seconds depending on how you “use” your obstructions. The idea here is not to make finished, refined, perfected objects. The idea is to iterate and make a bunch of stuff — most of which will NOT be good, but some of which will be absolutely amazing. In many ways this workshop is about quantity, not quality — and having taught this workshop for 15 years, I can tell you with absolute certainty that sometimes quality comes from quantity. If you do feel the need to make perfect things (it’s a hard habit to break), you should consider approaching your weekly obstructions the way I just explained, and then refine them later.

Once you have made your artifacts, you need to post them on your Dropbox Paper page. If you are working physically, this might mean taking a picture or scanning what you made to get it online. A few specific notes about this:

  • You should list your obstructions for the week so we know what you had to work with. (You can look at the sample page linked at the bottom of the Paper demo for an example of how to organize your page).
  • Post new work BELOW older work (which is the opposite of how most of the web works).
  • Since we cannot talk to each other in person, you should write explanations of what you did and why you did it. These written reflections can be as long or as short as you like. You can also tell us what you either loved or hated about any given artifacts, if you made any interesting discoveries along the way, and even ask specific questions of others about what you made.

Once a week, we will all look at and critique each others work using the commenting feature of Dropbox Paper. Because we are all in different time zones around the world, the critique period will be from 9AM EST Wednesday, until 9AM EST Thursday (I will send you a weekly reminder through email). This will give everyone plenty of time to see what people did and give them their thoughts. Depending on how many people are participating, I will break up the crit into groups so you do not have to spend too much time giving tons of people feedback. I will post more details of this on our index page, including what specific things to look for in the work and comment on.

Due to the workshop launching this week, I want to make sure people have time to be aware of the workshop and have time to get set up. Therefore, our first round of critique will start at 9AM EST on Wednesday April 8.

After you have given your feedback, pick a new set of obstructions for the next week!

NOTES

A few things you should be aware of and pay attention to as you make your artifacts:
  • Start at the start, don’t worry about what the end result might be.
  • It can be helpful to try making the worst thing you possibly can.
  • All the “rules” of design you should never break? Those things they told you never to do at design school? Do them.
  • While you should do only as much as you want to, there is something to be said for making a LOT of bad stuff, which will help you discover the good stuff.
  • When you get really stuck on what to do (which absolutely will happen), pause for a moment, and think of the most silly, absurd, dumb, idiotic thing you could possibly think of doing — the kind of thing they told you to never ever do in your art school classes — and then do exactly that.

Finally and most importantly, the idea here is NOT to find clever ways around the obstructions. The idea is to find interesting ways to use and exploit the obstructions. Many of you are not in your normal workspaces, and might have limited tools or supplies. Use this to your advantage, and let it feed your process. Restrictions and limitations are doorways into unexpected outcomes — they will help you go places you might never get to working the way you always have. Obstructions are a gift, when you accept them.

Ready? Pick your obstructions and get to work!.