Towards A Symbolic Enterprise: Perception & Conception, a podcast by Jamey Foxton

In my very first episode I ramble with long time friend and creative mentor, Daniel Dominguez, to explore some of his insights into the creative process.

"Drawing, like all intelligent processes, asks us to engage our attention in two adverse acts: breathing in and breathing out: perception and conception."

Dan's unique blend of warm colloquialism, reluctant academicism and spiritual mysticism make him a very engaging conversationalist and something of a creative sage. I look forward to seeing what fresh frontiers his ancient ideas shall grace this year.

Join us as we dialogue on a range of matters from "listening patiently" to "throwing a chair across the room".

Jamey Foxton


Working on the Auburn Crucifix, Tom Bass Sculpture School, 1996

Working on the Auburn Crucifix, Tom Bass Sculpture School, 1996

Catholics today, by and large, appreciate the value of faith. Most still educate their children by it and organise all major hatches matches and dispatches around it. However, few actually practice their faith: attend mass, pray regularly, attend confession...etc. This is largely due to the fact that many today struggle with how to connect to faith.

To better understand how perhaps it might be better to consider faith not as something you have but something you do. The word faith comes from he Latin fidere: to trust. Rather than being just an outcome of religion, faith can be seen as a process of connectivity, connecting ideas together through trust.

We are reminded of this challenge to connect every time we start a prayer and invoke the Trinity. Here we have the coming together of three main ideas: the father, God projected in Heaven, the Son: God reflected on earth and the Holy Spirt: God as is understood and expressed through the self, breathed in and out through human consciousness (spirit coming from the Latin Spīrāre, to breath). On a simpler level this is a connection between what is seen, what is made and what is felt, connected as a symbol of one.

A practical way of understanding this sacred union (or com- Union) is through the humble act of drawing. Drawing takes what we see, say the shape of an apple, connects this to what we make, a corresponding drawing of this shape, and then combines this experience with what we feel, our perception and conception of an apple.

Drawing an apple may not seem sacred but the creative process involved does provide the same principles of connection that turns the internal mechanism of faith. Perhaps this is why my old teacher used to repeatedly say of drawing, "Don't make it look the way it looks, make it work the way it works", faith and drawing seeming to work along the same lines.

However, while drawing may illustrate the form of faith, faith holds up the candle that illuminates the sacred potential of drawing. For while a drawing may be generated and pushed forward by the cogs of seeing, making and feeling, it is only faith that can provide the leap of insight, that illuminates the whole process into a cohesive vision, allowing us to ultimately let go of what we see, make and feel and let shine a bright new idea. 

To find out more check out the audio file below...


Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin met together for the last time at Yalta, 1945

Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin met together for the last time at Yalta, 1945

Imagine a university where faculties were defined by mistakes. The Faculty of Greed set up alongside the academy of Narrowmindedness. As silly as this sounds there is a question of how much direction we should allow mistakes to guide us in our lives.

When one looks to the history of humanity there are three major pitfalls that seem direct human behaviour consistently over the years. Literalism: stemming from a preoccupation with what we see. Perfectionism: a preoccupation with what we make and narcissism: the preoccupation with what we feel. One might look a little closer to their own productive life to find the same wreckage. Certainly for myself over the last twenty years as a figurative/portrait sculptor these three black wholes have been my defining landmarks, my Bemuda triangle of lost thoughts (I generally swap from one to another every three years).

These three great pitfalls are often found shared across professions, ages, cultures and generations. Alternatively people choose one as their definitive donkey, or even tribes of misfits waging war against eachother. Left wing narcissist attacking right wing literalists...etc

However, like moths to a light or lemmings off a cliff, the interesting question hangs as to why we keep doing these stupid things. The answer, if one looks closer, is that each of these three pitfalls represents the over arching push toward an object of value: literalism the pursuit of what is seen, perfectionism what is made and narcissism what is felt. What we see, make and feel being three major cornerstones that drive creative projects forward.

What the problem seems to be therefore is not what entices people toward these ends but the isolation of each in the creative process. People seem to shove all their creative energy into one at the expense of the others. Alternatively, some may choose two of them, becoming literal- perfectionists, or literal-narcissists (like Adolf Hitler), leading indubitably to double trouble. However, it is when one attempts to take on all three, to become a literal-narcissist-perfectionist that our troubles take a turn in direction, for what happens with three is the arrival of a structure, the most simple yet robust nature can provide, the triangle.

Introduced as three, united toward a common cause, they seem to hold each other in check, keeping contained and in their proper proportion. A simple example where this takes place is drawing, a creative process at not only ensures such a process, it requires it. Drawing connects the three underlying values of what we see, what we make and what we feel- bringing them together to create a symbolic effigy of something new. What carries meaning is not what they individually project but what they collectively reflect- a big shiny new idea.

Set in a symbolic embrace our three supposed
pitfalls work brilliantly in support of eachother. The literalism of what we see becomes tempered by its interpretation of how it feels and its translation into how it is made (as a drawing), the perfectionism of what we make becomes contained by its role to simply reflect what we feel and what we see and the narcissism of what we feel becomes opened up to the wider, objective possibilities of what we see and what we can create.

Perhaps then next to the University of mistakes there might be another complimentary institution, the university of getting it right....Westminster system of Academia- a horrid prospect as you can imagine. What would be required is the third university to connect it all together- and there again, the big three. 

To find out more check out the audio file below...


Terracotta kylix (drinking cup), Metropolitan Museum of Art

Terracotta kylix (drinking cup), Metropolitan Museum of Art

Problems generally can be approached with two main lines of thinking: from a question to an answer (eg deductive thinking, maths, logic, reason...etc) or from an answer to a question (eg inductive thinking, creativity, experimentation, play...etc). In both cases there is a line of enquiry involved with a sense of completion being established between two points.

However, in matters of creativity such as drawing a third option is provided, the move from a line of enquiry to a loop of enquiry, with questions leading to answers and then on to further questions...etc.

The beauty of the loop over the line of enquiry is that a loop has form. The creative process can be reduced down to two main components, form and content. Form is how an idea is represented, content is what the idea is about, what is contained in the form.

That said, what the form of this loop of enquiry does as it gains momentum, is expand and ascend, creating an opening spiral, as questions step up to answers, and so on. The result is the construction of a dish like structure, like a beautiful Greek Kylix wine drinking cup (pictured below), built with a definitive function, to support and contain bright new ideas.

This might sound unusual but in a creative culture such as drawing, where all form is generally designated to the creative outcome a sense of form ascribed to the creative process can be tremendously interesting. Understood in such a way one might formulate from our loop a more tangible sense of creative direction. This of course should be nothing new to drawing, a medium that gains its appeal as a formative means to design greater things.

Alternatively, we can forget about our wine cup and lasso our spinning loop around the next big thing that runs past. 

To find out more check out the audio file below...


I grew up as a young Australian with a shadow of fear: I couldn't catch. I served reluctantly on the rugby field for ten years (couldn't tackle either) and whenever the ball was kicked off, despite wanton calls of "mine" from others around me, it always seemed to head toward me. I would feverishly grab at it as it bounced off my face or bent back my finger. Always thought this was a problem of co-ordination (which it was) but recently am also considering it also a problem of appetite. The problem being, when I try to catch I try to catch everything, and as I madly stumble to clutch on to all I can I miss the lot. Could it be that a more ordered approach to catching is available.

Drawing, I have discovered, is an excellent tool for achieving this end. The first thing drawing provides is the capacity to perceive. As catching is essentially an action of reception rather than projection, what is required is the capacity not to think but to listen (Latin for listen is obidere: obedience). Drawing encourages listening by reducing what we see down to broad elemental structures and simple approximations. Such simplification provides perfect access to matters of sensitivity and discernment: the capacity to pick and choose what we want to take in. In such a way, if one forgoes their sense of self when catching, the ball just leaps into the hand, like magic.

Moreover, drawing encourages us to maintain an abstract sense of what we see and what we make. The art of drawing lies chiefly in the ability to avoid being literal in one's creative approach, focusing on the shared dynamic between elements rather than particulars. The effect is to cultivate a gentle grasp of the total idea, rather than an obsessive grab at any one part.

This guides our catcher not to focus exclusively on the ball, or the position of the hands, but rather the general idea of the ball meeting with the hands. Gripped instead with the imagination, all we need to do is imagine the point of impact and remain detached, the result being a forgone conclusion of inescapable success. This explains why great catchers love the hard impact of cricket balls or the wobbly slap of a Rugby ball, the point of impact providing a more emphatic interaction, more readily conceived in the imagination (than say the meaningless pap of a tennis ball).

In such a way, learning to detach and gently grasp the issue at hand, one may succeed in combining adverse faculties of attention toward the achievement of a common end.

But perhaps more importantly, for a befuddled Australian, who habitually hides at BBQs when the cricket ball comes out, it teaches us how to catch. How to allow a ball that falls from the greatest heights to be calmly caught in a loving embrace with grace, charm and a touch of dignity. 

(image: Black Caps Trent Boult dismisses Australia's Mitch Marsh, caught and bowled in Wellington, Feb 2016

To find out more check out the audio file below...


San Sebastian , 1999

San Sebastian, 1999

One of the chief aims of drawing is the bringing together of values and relationships. Values are the elements we put into a drawing (lines, shapes, cloud, tone, texture, size direction). Relationships are the principles that guide these elements to work together to function as a common design. However, it is not often that we stop to examine the very qualities that make values and relationships possible.

Everything important in life comes down to values and relationships, everything we want for, hope for and fight for, everything we screw up- values and relationships. Yet, rarely do we consider the connection between these two words. When one looks up “distinction between values and relationships” on Google no answer comes up. Is this uncharted territory?

Values and relationships appear to exist independently. Much if not most social problems occur due to the muddle between, with people judging values to be bad because of the relationship or context their embodied in, or people relating poorly to eachother with the excuse of noble values. And yet, values and relationships are also interdependent, swinging on a constant pendulum of support and defining each other through transformation and growth.

A value is a measure of worth or importance. It may be a quantity, such as a number or money, or a quality such as colour or juiciness. A value can come independently, like a gift or it can come with strings attached. An independent value is said to be absolute and usually comes packaged as an answer, providing something we might know. However values are not independent for long (someone eventually grabs the forbidden fruit) and when values get company relationships are formed.

Relationships, therefore, are the combination of values, not always happy ones. Relationships provide problems, valuable problems. Sometimes we have problems because we do stupid things, like pouring orange juice over our sausages or leaving our keys in the fridge. But sometimes we do sensible things, good, kind, brave things and it all goes to poop and there we have a valuable problem, or a relationship.

What drawing provides is an excellent platform for airing out and evaluation relationships. For the tension of a relationship isn't necessarily bad, tension being necessary for structure. What drawing shows us is what is to be gained from the reconciliation values within a relationship. For while values independently may provide knowledge, it is only through relationships, tried under the tension of opposites that they earn the added rigour of understanding (inter- standare: to stand among).

Equipped with understanding, drawing enables us to look toward further values with an added sense of empathy, identifying with the tension and strain that makes them possible and better appreciating the qualities that make them shine. 

To find out more check out the audio file below...


Small Branch Study, after Albrecht Durer, 2005

Small Branch Study, after Albrecht Durer, 2005

For the last 20 years I have attempted to make a living out of figurative sculpture. A number of years ago I stumble on a problem of not being able to finish things. I would start a job happy enough but as I proceeded the pace would slowly decline, eventually stopping with a lurch and in a jam.

I couldn't find the answers required to bring my work to a point of resolution- enabling my work to perform its creative function as an answer to the general anxieties of our human condition. Unfinished, my work was a mere collection of problems- my studio resembling a junk yard. However, what problems did provide were questions, beautiful, definitive questions.

What was required, therefore, was to identify with all the problems associated with my work, to ascertain the pressing questions which would lead me forward. A clear and simple method to do this was drawing.

Drawing is a simple method that bubbles our world view down to questions and answers. The answers are the values that inspire us to create, the green light that says proceed. The questions are how these values should be combined to communicate our idea. In a design sense the answers are the visual elements: line, shape, colour, tone...etc; the questions are the principles of composition: balance, contrast, harmony, unity...etc.

However, what makes drawing interesting is the cyclical manner in which these questions and answers roll: the answers of our inspiration leading directly to our questions of design,the questions of design leading us back to our point of inspiration, but this time searching with a touch of desire...and round and round it goes.

In such a way, what drawing provides is a process of questions and answers paddling against each other to propel ideas forward. This means creativity is no longer a matter of deciding on a question or answer for completion, but rather a linking of a question to an answer to form an interaction.

Creativity is therefore no longer an end product, isolated to a particular time and place but a connection of one idea to another on a series of levels, like the verses of a song.

However, more than just an interaction, what this coming together of verses provides drawing is the ability to con-verse. By establishing an expanding network of questions and answers a conversation of design could be established. This conversation not only provides drawing with a sense of narrative and connectivity to other stories but it also suggests the overarching sense of personality, a welcoming expansive sense of personality of shared ideas rather than the elite, exclusive and isolated being. Importantly also, it imbues drawing with a personality of process, not just the vapid celebrity of outcome.

At the end of the day what all of this did was legitimise my troubles. It didn't necessarily solve them but it did make it a bit more of a noble effort to bear them and introduce an ongoing melody of verse to drive me forward. 

 To find out more check out the audio file below...


James Gillray,  Mendoza , 1788

James Gillray, Mendoza, 1788

I've always been a deplorable joke teller. I can start a joke good enough- just good enough to get everyone's attention, so they can wait and the time the punchline comes across I leave them dismayed, as if an awkward silence was the punchline. Same idea in sales and romance- always good at warming up the customer but hopeless at going in for the kill- always the lamb or the buffalo but never the fox.

Theorists have described the punchline as "the pivot on which a joke text turns...", the point of impact of two lines of text, related to a similar narrative yet incongruous with each other. The result is a shift in meaning, "the tipping point" of the story, the "Ah ha!"(flowed by "ha ha ha ha") of the mad scientist discovering something new.

We experience a similar pivot in direction in drawing when we experience the shift in inspiration, the moment we see what we want and decide to dedicate it to the page. This is followed by a subsequent, yet incongruous pivot, the shift of frustration, the moment we accept the fact we have missed the mark and identify with what we need.

These pivots in creative direction impact on each other creating punchline moments, with inspiration bursting through from frustration, frustration bursting the bubble of inspiration...etc. The impact of these punchline moments build in momentum over successive laps, the more we are beleaguered by frustrations, the greater the chortle of delight when we find a breakthrough and inversely, the more we create what we want, the greater the cry of despair as we grapple with further frustrations. This continues until our spin cycle hits it peak, a Van Gogh moment, with dynamic shifts in sentiment becoming characterised by hilarious laughter and hysterical tears.

So what we have with our punchline is not an end point but a moment of change, the pivot in a cycle of incongruity. If we want our punchline to have more impact we need to drive our punch with a little more force and this all comes back to the humble act of accepting our limitations- essentially being the butt of the joke.
And here we have the tragedy of comedy,

Does drawing help us to say better jokes... one can only hope (some things can't be saved). Perhaps, however, by linking tragedy to comedy what is clear is that the punchline does much to help drawing. For hear we have emotional responses at the peak and the pit of the creative process, set against each other, not as isolated outcomes of hilarity or despair but as


corresponding pivots in a creative process, building a dynamic of momentum, that swings from one idea to another. 

 To find out more check out the audio file below...


Edouard Detaille,  Vive L'Empereur!  1891

Edouard Detaille, Vive L'Empereur! 1891

Perhaps the most disappointing thing about invasion is its conclusion in uncertainty. Instead of rewarding us with an answer as we pound our tankard of mead on the table, it leaves us disquieted and ill at ease. This seems ironic, with an invasion generally the product of great certainty, requiring decisiveness and a commitment to action to get the job done.

This has led to the creative impetus associated with invasive change being seen as problematic, where fools rush in and wise men fear to go. Such an association has also done much to justify the wretchedness and treachery affiliated with "reckless" behaviour, the thrill of conquest being valued for many as the pinnacle moment of creativity.

However, in drawing invasion is lifted from its isolated position as an outcome and included to play its part in a greater creative process.

In the words of Churchill, "...this is not the end, it's not the beginning of the end but perhaps it is the end of the beginning".

For drawing an invasion is the introductory stage of a creative project, the assemblage of values on the field. Impetus coming from the Latin: to attack. In drawing we take what we see and value: lines, shapes, texture, shades...and then we throw them on to the page, in a passionate fury, like a scene from Game of Thrones. Then, as we wipe the spatted ink from our brow and lay our stump of charcoal aside, we are left aghast at the utter carnage we have created (or seemingly desecrated) onto the page.

However, drawing is a process makes sense of change,this lightly rendered medium, sensitively applied, easily adjusted, enables us to sensitively evaluate what has been positioned before us and intelligently develop a means cultivate a point of resolution.

Moreover, as we survey this mass of assembled casualties we call a design, we are presented with one undeniable fact, the problem created is one of value- a valuable problem. All the elements we have added to our creative engagement have been things we fancied, people we wanted to invite to the party, villages we have wanted to plunder and pillage. As a valuable problem we therefore have a problem of our own choosing, a problem that translates into a valuable question.

Inspired by our question we are led back to the breach, but not as an antagonist but an emissary with a quest, to connect rather than plunder, to resolve what we have rather than destroy what we have not and in doing so, to empathise with bright new ideas and drink our mead in peace. 

To find out more check out the audio file below...




Do you find it hard to come up with new ideas?
Do you hit your head against the wall searching for a change?
Do you find interesting and imaginative people difficult to be around? I do
It's so sad, so shameful, so hard

And yet, when new ideas do come they come so easily, the grace of inspiration falling so gently, like a little lamb, bleating with it waggle tail. In fact, how often to you find a new idea wasn't new at all, something that had been sitting under your nose all that time...annoying you, trying desperately to gain your attention, engulfing you.

It's an interesting thing about new ideas. As much as we might hope for that flash of brilliance to hit us on a dull day, they rarely come unaccompanied with their gang of tawdry followers. Perhaps we are a little cruel on ourselves as we pull on our beards and gnash our teeth trying to come out with new ideas, could it be that a more effortless process of connectivity is available?

Drawing is a great way to gather together ideas. In drawing we focus on the simple ideas that surround us, basic lines, shapes, gestures...etc and put them down on the page, making a tangible connection of what we see to what we know and feel. Understood through our own creative potential we can then identify with what our ideas need, and see the steps forward to what we want.

The result is not necessarily a good idea but quite possibly a better one, with a sense of direction being established for a better way forward. In such a way, drawing helps us to see new ideas not as something you find or take, but as something you cultivate and grow. This enables us to connect between the limitations of what we do, to the possibilities of what we see, a connection they call innovation.

So Relax. Take a deep breath. Stop running around searching for a new ideas and be still, pick up a pencil and become a new idea. 

To find out more check out the audio file below...