Walking in Frankfurt a couple of days ago I conceived an idea for a new installation. It consisted of projecting video over a collection of large box-like surfaces arranged in a darkened room. I was happy with the general design of the space in my head, and when I got back to my hotel I wanted to sketch the image onto paper.

I drew a few lines, but then I was stuck. I can sketch just fine, but something was missing, from the image in my mind. I realised that my brain had performed a common trick - to conceive an object in terms of it's salient features, and to obscure or avoid the 'less important' ones. Ofcourse, for an artist, this is not good.

I got some modelling clay from my room, and tried to build a small model in 3D. Maybe this process would 'jog' these hidden features into being. I came up against the same problem - my conception was incomplete somehow. Ofcourse I could experiment and come up with a new design by working and reworking the clay, but the point is that this threw me, and I was curious.

I left it there and wasn't thinking about it until my new friend Karla started asking me what the clay boxes were for. When I explained she seemed unsurprised. She knew the problem: In order to reliably conceive objects in 3D space, you have to be in the practice of conceiving objects in 3D space! It's one of those ones that becomes incredibly obvious when someone points it out...

I felt a little silly for not seeing it this way in the first place. I had been thinking in terms of projection surfaces, in terms of content, in terms of user experience. I complain sometimes about struggling to create real-world objects for my software-driven installations, but I've been so distracted by software and concept and content that I've been neglecting this crucial concern for some time.

Karla began explaining that it's a common problem. When she teaches kids how to draw, the first thing she teaches them is to see the geometry behind the surface. If they are drawing an eyeball, she tells them to draw the sphere of the eye first, and then to draw the surface elements over the underlying shape. Karla suggested that I improve by both drawing and sculpting 3D objects. The hands are the key to the brain, and working materials with your hands gives the brain the tactile information it needs to envisage 3D objects concretely. Translating onto 2D helps with 'bringing the object in', inside your head.

She also pointed out that I don't have to worry too much about the overall aesthetic values - "You're not trying to be the next fuckin' Rodin" - quote of the week. It's more important to get a feel for the nature of basic geometries. This should help me with my boxes, and on into future installations.

I started to think about new questions about the installation. How do the boxes feel? Are they the same or different sizes? How much do they weigh? Where do they intersect with each other and what angles are created as a result?

Another issue this raises (that I am just realising now) is that where I had left room for research and experimentation with some elements of the piece, I had thought the physical layout fixed from the point of conception. So these questions above shouldn't be so that I can define all these qualities from the outset. They are there to provide me a starting point, an initial conception that is open to change, now that I am embracing the problem rather than trying to finalise it quickly so that I can forget about it.

So this feels like a good idea. I'll work on content and research, and at the same time begin trying to sculpt some small shapes. This also jogs another 'back of the mind' concern... I want to initiate a similar investigation into colour... but this is enough for one day - one thing at a time!