Creating Original Colour Palettes
I’ve been writing about my own approaches to art and design for over a year now and I’ve only just realised I rarely talk about creating colour. I’ve mentioned the idea of ‘finding’ colour, through photography, printmaking, photo walks and maybe using Adobe Photoshop, but never about how I instigate colour. I’ve kept it quiet, mysterious somehow, even to myself.
This probing about creating colour was prompted by some rest between Christmas and New Year. I was thinking of writing a blog post about the connection between wellbeing and a repetitive creative task. Feeling that when we offer time willingly towards something, we can find peace even with a laborious action. A lot of creative work is repetitive and can quickly become a chore, 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration, and all that. I’ve been wondering if by reframing the notion of ‘time’ around the chore, it can be transformed. The way that mindfulness tells us we can find gratitude in washing dishes. Not to worry about how long something will take, but accept the task and pour energy into the action, not the thought of its burden.
Colour came to mind when I was thinking about past creative projects – times of work that have felt repetitive and a struggle to complete. In the first year of my textile design degree, our group studied Josef Albers’ colour exercises for a whole term. 12 weeks dedicated to colour, can you imagine? I remember our tutor taking care to tell us this was a unique moment in our creative lives, we would refer to this time, this learning, again and again and again. I’m not sure we were convinced, but we accepted. Now I have come to think of that allotted time very much as a gift.
We spent days mixing red to green, blue to orange and yellow to purple – finding their most beautiful mid point of grey in each complimentary pair through minute adjustments of hue. I was never to make grey from mixing black and white again. Because here was a richer, complex kind of grey, made up of red and green but looking like neither. A kind of magic potion to apply to all future colour palettes.
This precious bit of memory lane is to introduce my new video on colour. This month I gifted myself a mere afternoon of colour mixing, without Alber’s rules this time, just a bit play and discovery towards some original colour combinations. Was there wellbeing in my repetitive paint mixing? Yes.
Why then the mystery or quietness on colour until now? I think it’s to do with all that time spent producing colour at the beginning of my textile life, it made it part of my language. Colour had embedded in to my creative world so much I forgot to even speak of it – proceeding on without much attention – until once again, I was able to give colour some of my time.
Journey of a Few Found Objects
It starts with my own journey, not my usual photo walk, but a hunt for discarded objects that I will claim as my found objects. Objects discovered by chance and ‘considered from an aesthetic viewpoint’. I swap my camera for a carrier bag and proceed to scan the ground with an unexpected self consciousness. I’m in Glasgow, I walk from Buchanan Street bus station to University Way, which is more or less a straight line, heading west through the city for thirty minutes. This is a clear start and end point, which is helpful for my concentration and limits any extra decision making – because to blink would be to miss the low lying treasure.
I’ll admit this activity amounted to voluntary litter picking. Which sounds admirable, if it wasn’t for leaving most of it on the ground as I reviewed debris from the newly required ‘aesthetic viewpoint’. It felt odd at first, to pause and idle around kerbside, whilst regular folk pass by, moving through at speed. I think about how a walking pace is one of my safety indicators – and if I saw me from a distance I’d be very suspicious. So I channelled Rauschenberg as I walked and collected, taking on his optimism. He’s quoted at the time of 1950’s, when making his combines and living in New York; ‘“I actually had a kind of house rule, if I walked completely around the block and didn’t find enough to work with, I could take one other block and walk around it in any direction—but that was it. The works had to look at least as interesting as anything that was going on outside the window.”
Ten minutes in to my walk, I started to gather some of my own interesting stuff, I relaxed, my eye tuned in, filling my bag with materials, trusting I’d find enough to fulfil this unknown project ahead.
I see this collection as another way ‘in’ to a creative process, a starting point. Just like a photo walk offers a chance to explore and be surprised, a ‘found object walk’ offers the same. Starting with nothing and having faith in the act of discovery, controlling only the method, not the outcome. What began as an exercise on questioning aesthetics, was also humbling and freeing, with an unintended survey of Glasgow’s consumption.
The ‘finding’ of the objects is step one. I’m following direction from Jasper Johns for this month’s project; “Take an object. Do something to it. Do something else to it. (Repeat.)” I’ll share my own journey of the found object through a series of steps. I draw on influences from artists, some intentional and some having seeped into my practice over time. Which is an interesting outcome, to notice again where your artistic leanings are by working with new materials.
Found Objects, Glasgow, October 2017
“Take an Object…”
I run a bath and pour the contents of my carrier bag into the water. I soak them for a few hours, scrub them and leave them to dry, cleansed and anew. Who knows if Rauschenberg washed his objects, nae matter, I’m creating my own sequence of events. My objects move into a neutral space – the impersonal studio, ready to be examined.
I photograph each object in turn, in daylight, sitting on white paper, capturing shadow and definition of each piece. Mostly as a birds eye view camera angle. Questions of value and status dissolve as each object is given equal time and space to be documented. I start to consider the sculptural possibilities, how objects might combine, by colour, material or shape.
I begin by arranging by hue, altering quickly the way the objects are understood. I get drawn into the group of white, cream and beige. How their sum of parts can suggest an elegance and simplicity, a world away from their isolated origin in a street puddle. Here is where the artistic control returns. I get immersed in moving these objects of whiteness around the page, enjoying how small variations create a new scene, questioning what makes an arrangement more ‘right’ than another. The camera being vital to capture this activity. Here’s a short animation of these compositions…
“Do Something To It…”
I proceed with the project, looking for ways to transform the object itself. I look to how I can create my own assemblage, a term described as “art that is made by assembling disparate elements – often everyday objects – scavenged by the artist or bought specially” Tate. Joseph Cornell was famous for this. There’s a beautiful essay dedicated to Cornell written by the artist John Stezaker, he writes: “His (found) images have a previous life in circulation where, in their legibility, they have been universally overlooked, treated with indifference and eventually cast out. Like orphans, Cornell gives them new homes in his boxes. In these final resting places, they take on a second life, a visibility within the dark aura of fascination.”
With the likes of Joseph Cornell or Louise Nevelson on my shoulder, I explore the materials by hand, looking and feeling for ways the items can fit together – how they can create a match. Binding and wrapping seem to be my choices. I don’t want the method of assembly to overwhelm the objects but become integral to the combination. I use surgical tape, cello tape and thread to fuse pieces together. As I work, I start to recall an exhibition at the Wellcome Collection a few years ago called Memory Movement, Memory Objects by Alice Anderson. Obsessively wrapped everyday objects in strands of copper wire, offering an exquisite new way to observe the very familiar.
Memory Movement, Memory Objects by Alice Anderson, 2013, Wellcome Collection
It’s a period of trial and error. Except there’s no definitive clue about right or wrong here. My assemblage evolves one way and I wonder the outcome if in another’s hands. With a free styling approach in mind, I stumble my way through, connecting the contours or the scale of various objects together. I’m looking for some synchronicity perhaps, parts that add up to a new whole. Each unit transformed simply by being placed with another to ignite fresh sensations or stories. More dramatic examples lie elsewhere – Merett Oppenheim’s Object in 1936 or Picasso’s Bull Head, 1942.
Object, 1936, Fur-covered cup, saucer & spoon, Meret Oppenheim
Bulls Head, 1942, bicycle seat and handlebars, Pablo Picasso
Their extreme editing of objects paved the way for Duchamp’s readymades. My own task here is limited by materials and scale, but this restriction feels good. It’s a useful challenge to stretch my sculpting ideas and try out unfamiliar materials. A big influence in my approach to assemblage is Eva Hesse, who’s distinctive sculptural hand writing always makes her objects feel connected, creating a unique space in their presence.
Eva Hesse,Photograph of Hesse’s studio, early 1966
I’ve held onto this image of her studio since first seeing Hesse’s retrospective at the Tate in 2003. It was around that time I began devising my textile degree show, the final collection of work before finishing art college and her impact is lodged in my mind. Hesse led my interest towards plastic and resin, inspired by her experimenting with opaque and translucent materials. I started collecting carrier bags to paint as objects and photographed them against light. I painted resin onto fabric to make textured hangings. Her legacy for me is repetition, consistency, do the same again but slightly different. Variation on a theme is probably the constant in my own visual practice. If Rauschenberg is behind my spontaneity and experimentation, Hesse is behind my ability to handle the outcome, how to create a sense of order through editing.
Moving back to my own objects, I get tempted to stay digital and begin to view the photographs of the assemblages in Photoshop. I start to layer the images and get pulled in to new compositions like below. For me, creating digital artwork will be an inevitable step in the process. It is a way to transform work quickly and dramatically. And although tempting to continue, I want to push the physical work a little further first.
“Do something else to it. (Repeat.)”
How to transform my found objects outside the digital realm? I consider changing their environment – covering them in paint or placing them in water to photograph them again. Water made me think of ice, solidifying my objects and watching the thaw. A way to make a major change without damaging or permanently altering the assemblages. Freezing the objects also feels like preservation, halting time on any further deterioration – and about as far from the street as they could be.
With my tupperware collection ransacked and filled with water, I place the objects in the freezer for a day or two. I notice how the direction of the frozen blue rope will be dictated by the shape of the container, a process imposing itself onto form.
And then one sunny Sunday morning, with glee, the ice objects are removed…
Photographing the frozen objects became an immersive few hours. I leave them on baking trays in sunlight as I work with each one in turn. Rotating the blocks until I’d exhausted ideas. To photograph each object, I use a large sheet of white paper as a base, turning up one end of the sheet to form a backdrop. The opacity of the white paper makes it ideal for capturing the texture and contours of the translucent ice. I use a mixture of macro lens, flash and no flash, moving the camera around the object to capture variations of image. I use back lighting from sunlight and direct light from an overhead lamp. I am absorbed in seeing how light moves through the ice, sometimes blocked by the object, forming ice bubbles and flecks and orderly crystals.
To help convey the feeling of discovery, I recorded a video of my camera scanning two sides of a frozen object. The sound you hear is a recording of the room where the ice objects are melting. Listen out for tiny sounds of water drops, spaced out every ten seconds or so. The high pitch sound of the water droplet is so slight, I quickly set up my microphone in the hope of harnessing the moment.
By moving the camera close, the object and ice become one world, the story of the object on a new trajectory, away from confines of scale and place. The introduction of frozen water with object forever alters the way I know these objects and sharpens my curiosity for how materials can interact.
Needing to reclaim my freezer, I leave the ice to melt fully, feeling a little sad to see the end of my ice objects. Slowly, the found objects reveal their original state, with no harm done. I document a few stages of the thaw. As ice melts around the surface of the objects, I am able to extract the items from the ice, leaving indents and gaps around the ice structure. The remaining thawing ice becomes the thing to photograph, in the daylight, its surface is reflected in the increasingly soaked paper background.
Beyond Objects Transformed
What will I do with my imagery of the transformed found objects? I’ll certainly be moving into Photoshop and working digitally with the imagery as layers. Something to return to in another blog. I also think about repeating the activity of the original walk over a series of months, collecting objects along the same path. Perhaps I’ll investigate new ways of transforming the assemblages, using different mediums besides water to see the objects anew.
Before I find a home for my own found objects and reflect on their journey, I delve into research about artists who continually work with object, material and their transformation. I’ll leave you with a few examples of painting, installation, sculpture and sound all incorporating the sculptural elements of water and light…
Bomb Falling into Water 1942 Leonard Rosoman, Tate Britain
Single Cloud Collection, 2012, Leandro Erlich
Fake Swimming Pool by Leandro Erlich, 2004, 21st Century Art Museum, Japan
Aerial, 2012 by Baptiste-Debombourg, Abbey Brauweiler, Germany
AquaSonic, underwater concert at Tramway, Glasgow, 2017, photo credit Herald Scotland
If you are interested in hearing more about Clare’s creative projects and how you can join in for yourself – sign up to be notified about The New Creative free mini course launching in January 2018.
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Find C F McEwan scarves at The Lighthouse in Glasgow this December…
The Lighthouse and Granny Would Be Proud are coming together to bring you The I.D. Pop-up Department Store, Glasgow’s first Independent Pop-Up Department Store!
The new alternative pop-up marketplace of the High Street, where creatives of all different backgrounds gather to provide that unique cultural and shopping experience within one of Scotland’s most important design centres alongside Granny Would Be Proud market lovers.
The I.D. Store will be a weekend takeover of the five floors of The Lighthouse.
9th & 10th December
16th & 17th December
11 Mitchell Lane, Glasgow, G1 3NU
“The Lighthouse, Scotland’s Centre for Design and Architecture, is a visitor centre, exhibition space and events venue situated in the heart of Glasgow, just off the Style Mile. The Lighthouse acts as a beacon for the creative industries in Scotland and promotes design and architecture through a vibrant programme of exhibitions and events.”
C F McEwan at Handmade at Kew
“Following the storming success since its launch in 2015, Handmade in Britain will return to Kew Gardens for the third edition of HANDMADE AT KEW in October 2017!
This four-day international contemporary craft event offers you the opportunity to meet and buy directly from over 200 extraordinary designer-makers working across all disciplines including: ceramics, jewellery, fashion and textiles, glass, paper, furniture, metalwork, sculpture and interior accessories.
It’s a really special chance to invest in beautiful, unique products at a show where you can buy, browse and commission directly from the maker; unearthing the stories, inspirations and processes behind the exquisite work of some of the world’s most talented craftspeople. Most of the work on show can’t be found on the high street so it really is a one-off opportunity to shop for unique products and gifts in very picturesque setting.
The event is housed in an elegant pavilion next to Kew Palace and tickets to the event include entry to both the event and Kew Gardens, allowing you to enjoy the Gardens and crafts to the full. It’s a truly a unique shopping experience and great day out for all the family!”
Tickets are on sale now for only £16 in advance, including full entry to Kew Gardens.
Find C F McEwan scarves in the Craft Central group stand at E17-E21.
Finding the Value in Mark Making
What do you do? This question I know can make some of us hesitate, I’d rather talk of many other things; pets, recipes, the latest good telly, not to hide anything, just because it’s easier. I scan the asker’s face and consider what details to share. What I often say is, ‘textile design’ or that ‘I design and make scarves’. Which is true, but perhaps like many professions it feels like the tip of the iceberg. It’s a broad stroke of a sentence that still conceals the basics: I make marks, I collect marks with my camera, I’m obsessed with irregular shape and have ongoing curiosity to rearrange and repeat variations of a mark for ever more. It can be hard to talk like this if you can’t see examples. I think I’m writing this post to make up for my lack of mark making small talk. So I’ll make the big talk here and give some attention to my occupation.
You might call it drawing and painting, I call it mark making, I’m not sure when that began, but it feels a more accurate description for me. I’m often treating marks in isolation and certainly in the abstract. Mark making conjures up the moment to moment of the creative activity, focusing in on the act itself rather than a final outcome.
During my textile degree I found myself in discussions about ‘quality of mark’. Terms like this became my new world and vocabulary. What is it about a mark or a group of marks that suggests ‘quality.’ Do not all marks have equity? Do they not all just bring up the proverbial five year old comparison? I haven’t read it myself, but noticed in a bookshop the title, ‘Why your five year old self could not have done that – modern art explained.’ Reading the cover made me smile, what would be the arguments put forward I wondered and would they convince anyone? I decide to offer my own thoughts here, on the value of mark making.
Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Written and directed by Werner Herzog, History Films, 2010
If I ever feel my vision narrowing while creating new work, or wonder unhelpfully about what I’m trying to achieve, I think back to the eerie documentary by Werner Herzog about the oldest known cave paintings in the world. Cave of Forgotten Dreams shows how humans have used mark making to communicate a mind blowing 32,000 years ago, on the walls of caves in Southern France. I use the word eerie, because as I watched the film unfold, the marks in these paintings felt strangely familiar to me, gestures and use of layers I enjoy today. I’m bolstered by the historic scaffolding my ancestors have built – I feel akin and connected but also humbled. Finding myself declare – what more can I offer? It’s all already here! When my mind embarks down this road, I try to relax and just start. Getting inside the act of mark making is always transcendent, absorbing and heartening. It can be like a ritual, a practice to trust and return to regardless of expectation.
Practicing Mark Making
If the act of picking up a paint brush or pen is frightening, then I recommend an approach that could compare to the musician’s practice of scales. One can ‘practice’ a mark away from composition or context. We can get to know our own language by using repetition and variation. Repeat the same mark across a page. For each new row, vary the mark by changing the scale, the texture, the tool, the pressure and the shape. Keep going with new rows of marks until the whole page is filled and we start to exhaust our ideas of original mark making. It is a mind clearing activity. Forced to tune into the physical and concentrate on the ways of a pen or brush or pencil.
Image from Roanna Wells Instagram of The Tracing Process exhibition at Yorkshire Arts Space
The artist Roanna Wells recently led a collaborative exhibition called The Tracing Process at the Yorkshire Art Space. It was all about the mark, inviting the audience to add their own repetitive brush stroke across the gallery wall. The sum of these many parts created a set of unique hand made marks in an exquisite order. The participatory nature of the exhibition made me wonder if the term mark making may have a different meaning or impact for the practitioner compared to the audience. Is Wells offering the audience a new way of looking at making marks now they have played a part in their creation? I’m sure the use of repetition and clear direction was encouraging and perhaps soothing to a first timer.
Physicality of the Mark
Jackson Pollock at work, image by Life Magazine
‘Behind the scenes’ of mark making got me thinking about the biopic Pollock, based on the abstract artist Jackson Pollock. Ed Harris plays the artist, sweating and heaving heavy tubs of paint across the floor, creating the famous drip paintings. It is the close up depiction of making this work that helped me imagine the physical energy spent to create these seemingly chaotic paintings. What exhausting work to attain such harmony and rhythm from his ‘throwing of paint’. Attention has been much directed to the radical act of his dripping paint on the canvas floor. Pollock himself said “It doesn’t make much difference how the paint is put on as long as something has been said. Technique is just a means of arriving at a statement.” For me, understanding his technique does play a part in appreciating the outcome. I know Pollock would prefer us to to focus on the painting itself, but I find the experience of his work is enhanced by holding on to the human effort involved.
Blue Poles by Jackson Pollock, 1952
I wonder if there is a natural break or distance between practitioner and audience that occurs once work is edited, framed, mounted into it’s ‘viewing’ rather than ‘making’ state. I think we have come to expect it as consumers, judging the work in our clean gallery attire, a world away from the studio. I think we assume we will see this level of presentation. However, I also believe there is a power held in the act of making marks that dissipates by the time it reaches the gallery wall. I think there is huge hunger for understanding how work is created, permitting us to be involved somehow. Attending the Giacometti exhibition recently at the Tate Modern, I couldn’t help but observe the very attentive mood of the crowds gathering and lingering for the video of the artist at work in his studio. The dual presence of his completed work and fly on the wall of work in progress is perhaps one way to tackle the distance.
Giacometti’s world through the photographs of Ernst Scheidegger
Hierarchy and the Unseen Mark
CreditRob McKeever/Gagosian Gallery
Scale and intention I’m sure play a huge role in carrying the power of the mark over this cavernous space between maker and viewer. Walk into a room of giant Twombly paintings and dare to question ‘why bother?’ before simply uttering ‘wow’. Feel the weight of the marks towering above you. His enormous works help us imagine an artist at large – a looming presence in the art world, impressed upon us by his verve to use such scale. It makes me think about the idea of hierarchy of mark alongside the quality of mark. What is is that makes some marks more visible and more important than others?
We cherish and marvel at the large pieces by the likes of Pollock, Twombly or Monet. We celebrate their brave and gestural energy. I propose we all have these bold marks within us and carry them out more routinely than we realise. Imagine if there was invisible ink attached to every cleaning cloth in our home. When darkness descends and a torch shone, consider the furious, chaotic and aggressive marks scrubbed over floors, cupboards and surfaces. Imagine the window cleaner with paint instead of soap in her bucket, travailing the vast glass tower block. What display there would be of bold, uninhibited mark making to be seen from afar. In fact now I’m thinking about the mural making duo Gilleard and Garner who have created the UK’s tallest street art project in Leeds this year.
These are the marks I like to think about, actions carried out by all of us, the technical abilities we hold of which we are unaware. What would be the impact for us if we could clearly see our own ‘works’? Maybe that’s why people talk about the satisfaction found in cleaning, the manual labour of paint to canvas not so far away from the movements towards a squeaky clean kitchen.
Athena Rising by Joy Gilleard and Hayley Garner (Nomad Clan), 2017
Learning Through Copying
Olive Orchard, Vincent Van Gogh, 1889,Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo
It’s not a surprise to me now looking back, that my early favourite artists were Post Impressionists – the time of innovative painting, a new personal freedom of making marks to capture a scene and mood, moving art on towards expressionism. I wrote an essay about Cezanne’s trees and painted replicas of Van Gogh olive groves. The act of studying pre-existing marks on canvas at an early age still remains vivid. I was immersed in Van Gogh’s lyrical, jubilant upstroke. “Swirling clouds in violet haze” writes Don McLean in his beautiful song Vincent. I knew an olive tree through the eyes of Van Gogh before seeing one in real life.
Paul Cézanne (1839–1906), La Montagne Sainte-Victoire vue de Montbriand (Mont Sainte-Victoire, View from Montbriand) (1882–85), oil on canvas, 65.5 x 81.7 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY. Wikimedia Commons.
Of Cezanne, I loved how his strokes required a different sort of paint brush – square, to best copy his angular marks of natural forms. These two masters distinct and teaching me the power of repetition and consistency of mark. They showed me how emotion within whole vistas can be governed by the direction and scale of mark.
Mark as the Meaning
Antoni Tàpies, Matèria rosada (Pink Material), 1991. Collection Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona.
In my twenties I was drawn towards Tapies and Rauschenberg. Artists who made marks look like a hurried simplicity. Loose and large and sometimes aggressive. I like the way their marks become the composition rather than background texture or suggestion of form. Tapies uses a mark as symbols and messages, playing with cross and line within space. Rauschenberg is master of control in combining the hand made mark with found image and object. His way of using paint most closely resembling for me what those window cleaning paintings might look like in real life.
Designer Pop Up at The Lighthouse, Glasgow
The Lighthouse and Granny Would be Proud are uniting to bring The I.D. Store Pop Up to Glasgow this September 2017.
It will be an alternative to the high street, where creatives of all different backgrounds gather together to provide a unique cultural and shopping experience within Scotland’s most important design centres.
The I.D. Store will take over five floors of the Lighthouse and offer jewellery, interiors, fashion, children’s goods and vintage, all created by local independent designer makers.
C F McEwan scarves will be there! Meet Clare and try some scarves on the 2nd Floor of the Lighthouse.
Saturday 16th September 10.30am 5pm
Sunday 17th September 12pm – 5pm
The Lighthouse, Mitchell Lane, Glasgow, Scotland
Selvedge Fair Edinburgh 19th August 2017
The team behind the cult magazine Selvedge bring a curated collection of fifty merchants and makers to Edinburgh. The exhibitors sell a range of rare vintage fabrics, covetable haberdashery and skilfully handmade textile treasures. Find C F McEwan scarves here! Looking forward to joining in. Dovecot Tapestry Studios, 10 Infirmary Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1LT, 11am – 5pm.
Having had a slightly nomadic life since its establishment by the 4th Marquess of Bute, in 1912 Dovecot Tapestry Studios moved into Edinburgh’s Infirmary Street Baths in 2006. Built in the late 19th century in response to the cholera outbreak, this building’s restorative history reflects The Dovecot’s core principles of preserving traditional craft in a contemporary world.
Make a day of it
Enjoy a guided walk in the historic city centre with the September issue of Selvedge. Relax with a cup of tea or a delicious lunch in Leo’s Café. Learn about the history of the Tapestry Studios on a free tour.
Drop in workshop
Throughout the day we will be running a drop- in workshop inspired by Fiona Rutherford’s mini tapestries. No need to book, simply turn up and drop-in. Tickets will be available at the door.
Dovecot Studios are prominently located on Infirmary Street in Edinburgh’s Old Town, close to the National Museum of Scotland and are a 10 minute walk from Waverley Train Station, Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace.
I am offering up to 8 free VIP tickets for free entry to this Selvedge Edinburgh Fair. Get in touch by email to request (email@example.com), on a first come first served basis. Otherwise, you can order your ticket here..
See you there!
Photo Walk: In Search of Shape to Mono Print
It’s been a few weeks for me since making time for a photo walk – walks that have quickly taken hold in my art life. I walk all the time regardless of a camera. Since moving up to Scotland a couple of months back, it’s a new routine, to walk and talk on the phone, attempting to keep up with people I miss. But now, making time just to walk with no other purpose than to gather images, feels luxurious, even care free. I wrote about photo walks in a previous post last year and meant to return to the topic. This time, I’m intending to be a little more focused. I’ve set myself a mini challenge – to go in search of shape in my photo walk. Finding regular or irregular shapes in my environment that will go on to inspire a range of original mono prints.
Why mono prints? Because I love any excuse to return to this technique, always a key part of my practice and where I head in spite of any lost motivation. Through mono printing, my spark returns. I thought I’d carry out the challenge as a way of demonstrating how I source imagery for print making.
Quite a few years back I was invited to join an A Level art group on their trip to Paris with the role of artist in residence. It was magic. Fantastic staff and students from Chalfonts Community College who embraced the city like nothing else. I thought I was trigger happy on the camera – I met my match with these students who quickly clocked up thousands of images each in a matter of days. We careered around the city, swarming any local graffiti and artfully decaying walls and plonked down on dusty museum floors, sketching Rodin and Degas. I mention this trip because I learnt a lot through the student’s eyes, watching them take pictures on the street, intrigued by what intrigued them. One of their tasks was to find faces in the city – to find signs of life in the inanimate. It’s a game you’ve probably seen played out online. Last week The Guardian ran a photo feature about it, celebrating the photographer Justin Sutcliffe, turns out this game has a name – facial pareidolia. The idea was also brought to screen by new Doctor Who actor, Jodie Whittaker in the film Adult Life Skills (lovely film), whose character sees faces everywhere. Here’s my contribution to the game – from today’s photo walk on shape… I warn you, if you start playing too, you wont stop.
I found it really helpful to focus in on the singular theme of shape during the photo walk. Normally I’d be capturing all sorts of texture, colour and shadow, which can feel overwhelming to absorb all at once. Today was about an hour’s walk – I had intended only thirty minutes, but it’s addictive. I walked through the town and into some local countryside. I was a little pessimistic, feeling the familiar route would not offer much – and there was rain. As always on a photo walk, the permission to concentrate solely on photography soon opened up plenty to see. By focusing in further on the theme of shape, I stretched my comfort zone a little. Texture is king to me, colour it’s consort, so to ignore both was tricky. In the end I’d say it was freeing and helped me broaden out from my go-to photo walk subjects. I can now add drains, vents and road signage to my visual interests. My walk generated about eighty or so images which, through a quick edit, appeared to fall into four themes.
The Square and Rectangle
The square and rectangle were the two most dominant shapes out there on my walk. Whether that’s to do with my own conscious bias towards these shapes or a general theme of urban life, I can’t be sure. I focused in on details, often within the architecture, escape routes and airways, at eye level or ground. Curves cost more money to realise in construction so perhaps that’s why these right angles trickle down into smaller features of buildings. If I did a similar photo walk in Barcelona I wonder if squares would appear so often with architect Gaudi at the helm, who believed “the straight line belongs to men, the curved one to God.”
The curves seem to be additions to a scene rather than part of the furniture. Discarded objects, graffiti and fabric all loosely embed themselves into the environment. Within this group I notice a greater variety of material, rubbish being the common denominator. If I’d been more savvy I would have combined my walk with a litter pick – although breaking my ‘one purpose’ rule for a photo walk. I start to envisage my next school project, fusing photography and conservation, a team of ten year olds armed with cameras and black sacks!
I wonder if I’m stretching the boundary of the theme of shape with the inclusion of line. Shape and line are often listed separately as formal considerations in art and design. I’m using the term ‘line’ as a way of grouping these images together. Line is helpful to extract when thinking about printmaking. I’m seeking clear motifs to inform my print designs and these are a good source.
The Negative Space
Perhaps another personal preference here. I’m always drawn to areas of light or dark. I like the idea of shape consisting of space not form. The space created sucking in the light and offering a true black. Another great source of motif for printmaking. Clear and distinct shapes to copy onto the printing surface.
Preparing to Print
Before starting some mono printing, I prepare some textured backgrounds to print over. It’s a way of creating another layer in the print work and quickly removes the dreaded blank canvas worry. I’m using diluted black ink and play around with some mark making ideas using tools like brushes, rags, crumpled paper, stone and rope. I try to reference some of the textures and shapes within the photo walk images.
With my backgrounds prepared I sift through my photo walk images and select a handful to use as a focus in my mono printing. I view the work from my laptop although I prefer to use printouts of the images out and have them nearer to hand. For this session I’m using a glass panel as my printing surface, an ink roller and acrylic paint.
Once there’s an even layer of paint on the glass, I can start to add texture and line to the surface using a variety of tools to scratch away the paint…
The paper is layered over the top of the surface, even pressure applied and then slowly peeled back to reveal the mono print…`
The resulting prints can be seen as starting points, a way of understanding the original photographs. Like the practice of drawing, mono printing for me is about reducing an image to its bare bones. Extracting key shapes, textures and colours. With these ideas I can decide to be true to the composition and copy, or release the shapes and create new pattern and arrangement to lead into future designs or original artworks. In a another blog post, I’ll focus on collaging these mono prints together to create a larger scale, resolved piece. Along with a love of mono print, I really enjoy the combining, layering and patch working of prints together. Next time I’ll share ways to manage this by hand and by using digital tools.
The New Creative Sign Up
You may have heard me talk about The New Creative online course I am developing this year. To kick start the course and offer some tasters of the modules involved, I am going to launch a free mini course this September called The Eight Hour Creative.
The mini course will provide short modules about photo walks, experimental drawing, sculpting, mono printing and Adobe Photoshop. The Eight Hour Creative is designed to support each person to build their own collection of abstract imagery over eight hours – spread over a day, a weekend, a week or a month – you choose. By following a series of techniques and ideas I wanted to offer a ‘way in’ to being visually creative. This course aims to be both purposeful and accessible in terms of your time and resources.
If you like the sound of a mixed media approach, interested in abstraction, texture, colour and shape, then this is for you!
To get a feeling for some of the content, have a watch of my Photo Walk Introduction video. I use the idea of the Photo Walk as a starting point for creating original and personal imagery. A great warm up exercise for a new creative project.
To access the free mini course, sign up to The New Creative and you will receive automatic access when it’s ready and available in September this year.
Materials as Textiles: creating imagery from foil, concrete and paper
Materials have been a catalyst in all my work from day one. Whenever that was. Maybe it was watching my mum mix up flour, salt and water and turn it into salt dough. New matter created with these basic ingredients. It was as easy as that. Now I could be master of my own creative universe, what else could I transform? And so it continued many experiments later into A Level choices of science and art. For me, these two subjects asked the same question – what happens when…? My scientific education was always a little more laden with sheer fact over discovery and things became a bit static for me there, all that memory testing. So I ventured down the art road, hauling my science bag of tricks along with me.
I’ve always looked to artists working with non decorative materials. Anotonio Tapies, Eva Hesse, and Robert Rauschenberg are my heroes. Their use of plaster, rope, plastic, latex, glass, sheeting, cardboard, wood, sand and grit all signalled the power of art resting in the material itself. Their materials do the work while they, the artist play the supreme role of editing: gathering and arranging substances to be best seen and felt.
The scientist in me did want to intervene a little more, explore cause and effect, observe, transform and look again at materials. I learnt how to make paper, how to boil onion skins to make dye, I made paintings with mud and photocopied broken glass to make patterns. I froze objects in water to watch them thaw and ran car tyres over my ‘road’ textiles to make a ‘real’ mark. I read The Secret Life of Bees and promptly wanted to cover everything in honey – inspired by its imagery of the black Mary statue who was bathed in honey as worship. I still have the screen print on a swatch of cotton in my sketchbook, richly preserved in a honey layer – nine years on.
Starting C F McEwan was, I told myself, the respectable face for all this random experimenting. I was becoming overwhelmed by my imagery and was probably looking to give it a home. Five years later, combined with photography and some brilliant digital print technology, there are collections of scarf designs containing all this imagery, locked up in the print.
From these scarf collections I’m choosing to explore three pieces for this blog post, sharing some of the original imagery. Each design has a different material as their starting point – foil, concrete and paper. There are so many more materials from the archives to share with you, but maybe I’ll save those for another post, lest this one gets a little long!
This design is called Pi. Naming a design can sometimes feel a bit arbitrary. They are all abstract, I don’t always feel like it. But this one was different. Within the imagery sat a little sculpted piece of foil in a shape that reminded me of the symbol for Pi – π or Π, which stands for the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. I can thank my brother for that. Putting Pi on my radar forever as he strove to memorise Pi to sixty decimal places. Out done by my dad and little cousin, who later on, aimed for 100 decimal places – coz everything’s a competition.
Why foil? I’ve always liked using low tech, easy to find materials and foil has some terrific visual and tactile properties. I feel guilty using it in the kitchen, now I’m an ernest clip-lock Tupperware fan, but in the studio…well it would have a whole new purpose. I ransacked the kitchen drawer and started with some simple folding.
This is a small piece of folded foil, photographed on white paper in daylight. It’s a good place to start. I often begin my photography of objects on white paper. It allows me to see clearly, watch for shadows, find the interesting edges. But it still very much looks like foil and I wanted to transform the subject further. Sheets of foil allow for some instant movement between the 2d and 3d. I could use the foil as a surface and an object.
Here’s the same piece of folded foil, now sitting on a foil surface. Light fills and reflects off the sheeting, creating a darker and more dramatic foil object on top. This shot is still using daylight. I wanted to explore the lighting further, so I tried out some side lighting with an old disco light. I love how foil holds the memory of every action, every crease and fold. Light gets trapped in the crevices and creates great shapes and areas of light and dark. Here’s the shape that inspired the Pi name…
I begin sculpting with single objects, photographing one piece at a time. Next comes some repetition. How would these objects look in a group? Here’s a few swatches of foil before and after some sculpting.
As I created each new little shape, I varied the quality of the edge, moving between rolling and folding actions to create some strong contrast in shape and reflection. I realise the word sculpting may sound a bit fanciful, when I was doing nothing more than what a person does with an empty crisp packet in the pub – pre fidget spinners. Fair enough. I try to call to mind that artist (who was it?!) who talked about the best sculpture being that piece of paper you fold and place underneath a wobbly table. Its beauty residing in an elegant and efficient solution – and perhaps, also in the eye of the beholder! But I find this idea freeing, look closely enough and the starting points are all around us.
Pi, along with other textured scarf designs, form part of the Light collection which you can see more of here.
It is without doubt, the paintings of Spanish artist Antonio Tapies, which led to my interest in concrete. Yep, painting and concrete, or more accurately, ‘concrete on canvas’, being a typical caption next to his work. He scored marks using sticks in drying cement and embedded materials like rope and cloth into the surface, composing with the raw materials. It would take me another 15 years since first seeing his work before having a go, but the idea of concrete stayed, stored in my mental folder of must-trys. When I was considering themes for the Spring Summer 16 collection, concrete rose to the surface again, probably sparked by the industrial interiors trend emerging. I liked the idea of mixing silk scarves with the story of concrete.
Here’s my equipment, plastic lining a small wooden frame and an even layer of cement mix. I added water and stirred, the cement very quickly becoming gloopy and lumpy. I also layered clingfilm, cellotape and paper into the lining to create textures in the drying cement. Below is a concrete tile that shows the surface that was in contact with the plastic sheeting and the cling film – you can see the many creases. Where I’ve tried to remove the cling film, some of the concrete has chipped away creating holes within the tile.
With all these textures and uneven surfaces of the tiles, I thought I’d try some projection back onto the concrete surface. Here is a series of four tiles stacked up with some digital projection of various imagery. I love the gaps appearing between the tiles which seem to fall away into darkness – offering a new way of composing with the tiles as a group, focusing on the negative spaces.
I got out my trusty disco light to capture the surface of the concrete, using a side angle of light to accentuate the details. This provided some new sources of colour, great for developing some scarf designs later. The scarf design featured in this section, I would go on to call Disco.
I broke up the concrete tiles into fragments and photographed them in daylight and on a light box. I enjoyed arranging the pieces and started to look at the cross sections of the fragments. I use a lot of macro photography for close up work, ideal for these textures. Filling the camera frame with the surface detail means a small piece of concrete can evoke a whole landscape.
You can see the rest of the Concrete scarf collection here.
Paper, paper, paper, I’m obsessed with it. One of my early textile lessons at art college was to spend an hour creating as many new constructions or surface textures as possible – just using plain white paper and perhaps some scissors and cello tape to help us. I loved it. If this was textiles – I was hooked. I recommend this as any creative warm up activity. The simple act of moving 2d to 3d would become my ongoing inquiry. Paper is perfect for this exploration. Many years later, while brainstorming some workshop ideas for a year 12 class, I found an origami method on youtube. I wanted students to explore that move from working 2d to 3d. This mini video demonstrates how to make the box design. I explored a little mark making activity first with black pen and then went on to make the box.
For my Spring Summer 15 collection, I focused on paper, I called it my Out of the Fold collection. Everyone of the six or so designs were created using paper as a starting point. You can see the rest of the collection here. For the photo shoot, I returned to the origami box, this time scaling up the boxes in size to between 50-75cm in length. I varied the folding angles and made a series of irregular origami boxes to use a backdrop.
This scarf design, called Wall Cast was developed directly from this same origami box design. Back in my studio, while working on the paper collection, I folded fifty or so a4 sheets of paper into this box shape. I blu tac-ed them to the wall and lined them up in a group. I began to partly dismantle the folds and liked the ordered chaos ensuing. Here’s one of my only grainy pictures of that initial activity.
This became my wall of paper boxes, now simply paper folds, full of shadow and line. I needed some colour and went back to my digital projector to cast light and imagery onto the paper folds. The projection of imagery was interrupted by the various angles of paper and this in turn created an interesting new surface to capture. I photographed a series of different images projected onto paper folds – including the foil imagery. Here are a few examples from that series that were all combined to develop the Wall Cast scarf design.
That’s the three materials covered, foil, concrete and paper, forever to belong within my textile practice. I share these starting points with you as much to remind myself as well as inspire others to have a go. We are never far away from resources rich in potential. Even a paper clip can be deconstructed and photographed, probably looking futuristic and terrifying in the process! A good camera, thoughtful lighting and some experimental camera angles, this is my recipe for creating abstract imagery and moving materials into textiles.