Project 5 Stage 4

Lanaset dyes printed on silk (felting paj). Printed area 44 cm wide x 52 cm high.

This final stage of the project asked for a larger sample, a repeating pattern and/or a “single unit” piece – a design complete in itself. I felt I’d done enough repeating work already, so just went for the contained design.

The subject is a jug that’s been passed down through the family and I now have on permanent loan from mum. It’s appeared on this blog before – it was the subject of my very first OCA sketchbook page here, and blogged here.

There was a quick profile sketch then a paper cutout in March, which was used as a stencil resist in the orange and black scribble printed fabric that I was very excited about here.

Focused work on this iteration began on April 16, which I’m amazed to find is only 10 days ago – it feels I’ve been living with this much longer! A day by day, blow by blow description of the development process is in the sketchbook beginning here.

Apart from the obvious of wanting to meet course requirements, I was interested in extending the work previously done. The printing on silk I’d done in Stage 3 led to some interesting overlapping images and had me thinking about the nature of memory and images from the past. The process had also highlighted some technical issues in terms of size of prints I could achieve. I felt the use of perspex plates seen in the scribble print could help with that.

After a couple of quick sketches I settled into the practicalities – for example to keep on shape and the squares on a grid I would have my printing surface, then a full-scale printout of the vase silhouette complete with a printed 5cm grid, covered by clear plastic; then creating lots of paper resists and playing with placement.

This blog post by fellow OCA student Lucie stopped me in my tracks. I’d forgotten the design process. I hadn’t explored options, I hadn’t focused in on interesting areas, I hadn’t tried different media. I’d had an idea and I’d set about making it happen. <– Note the full stop.

Worse the idea was so literal – a jug plonked down in the centre of the image.

I’m being a bit harsh on myself. There had been play with collage materials, even if it hadn’t proceeded to making a collage. There was work to be shown in conte crayons and pencils, plus on the computer. A work by Picasso that I’d seen in the recent exhibition at the NSW Art Gallery was in my mind (Man with a Mandolin, 1911 – a photo is included in this article) which I remembered as having a central focus, but I looked in the catalogue(*) and read a bit about analytic cubism (**), then felt pretty foolish. Rather worse was when I noticed the wall mural in the supermarket carpark – blocks of colour, overlapping silhouettes…

I tried a quick idea of some kind of still life (thinking about Cézanne this time, and a little sketch thing I did here) but my heart wasn’t in it. Apart from anything else I was curious – would the ideas I had so far work?

After all the preparation and thinking, in the end it came together quickly. I had a printing session yesterday afternoon, then when I went to continue the work this morning I decided it was enough. None of the additional ideas I had would make it better – just different. Now having steamed and washed and ironed and pinned it up on a board and sat looking at it a while I can see heaps of flaws and problems and things to do better, some specific things I wish I hadn’t done – but overall I’m very pleased with it.

Some specific areas for reflection suggested in the course notes:

Selection of design material: The designs I selected back here were shells, Tutankhamen inspired, ink scribble and bird. The ink scribble worked best – it had a strong graphical element which worked well with the stamping technique. I also enjoyed the liveliness and flexibility it offered. I did a lot of stencilling with the shell design. It was reasonably effective, but unsatisfying in that I didn’t develop it further in the process. That’s in part due to the nature of repeating patterns – design and plan up front, repeat as accurately as possible thereafter.

My favourite tutankhamen design didn’t work out. I didn’t like the dye-paste print on the silk that I had in mind, and more importantly I think I’ve used the design enough for a while at least. On the other had I was able to use elements from it as stamp motifs and they worked nicely (they were the basis of the overlapping example shown above).

Although not on the list the jug has appeared repeatedly in my work to date. My use of it also built on the scribble technique and the layering achieved with the tutankhamen column motif. Overlapping and fractured images fit with my ideas about ageing and memory – topics that I’m considering exploring as a theme later in the course. The jug is part of family history, family memory, and it has a range of seemingly unrelated motifs jumbled around on it. I think this works well with the techniques used.

Fabrics chosen: I tend towards natural fibres and in particular I love silk in all its guises. It’s partly the simple “natural = good” message, although I don’t hold to that in dyeing. Silk is special. It dyes easily, takes colour well, generally feels good whether satin smooth or raw and slubby or crisp in organza. It seems to generate or amplify light.

For the final stage I chose a very light felting paj. It gave the most interesting patterning in my sampling and has a beautiful gleam. I have vague notions of using some of the ideas in nuno felting in the future. Finally, it’s light and postage limitations are always a consideration for the course. I did consider some heavier silks, but the habutai just looked a bit bland and I thought a textured silk wouldn’t work well as an interpretation of a glazed ceramic.

Scale, spacing, contrast and harmony: The scales of the marks and shapes work well in the piece. The individual motifs vary in size providing variety and additional interest.

The fabric itself is well suited to the project, as discussed above, but in this form is not really practical. It is too lightweight for durability in most applications. If used in felting I would expect loss and distortion of the image – which of course has its own potential.

When I decided the piece was finished I thought there was a good balance of shapes across the design – not even, but balanced. Now I see it finished and pinned vertically some areas that I thought were restful and interesting white space don’t really work. In particular the space in the left background near the handle is too large and it would probably have been better to indicate the narrow area near the foot more clearly – or at least one side of it. However I am very happy with the overlaying of images and colours, the positive and negative shapes formed and the complexity of image I achieved.

Soon after beginning work I changed my mind about how to handle the definition of the edge between jug and background. My original intention during planning was to use masks all around the edge, but I was concerned that this would make the overall shape too obvious and literal. I decided to cut off rectangles with a sharp angle when crossing the boundary, giving a kind of pixilated-on-large-scale edge, then define some areas with an added line. I thought this would make an interesting contrast of geometric and organic shapes. In practice I found the diagonal cuts jarring, and felt the complexity of the decoration would work better with a smooth, curving boundary. The early cuts are still there of course. I think it was a good choice to change.

The top of the jug is also a problem area – the spout and horned detail are too dark and flat, the top curve of the handle too undefined.

I particularly like the areas where the motifs cross the boundary of foreground and background (although the one on the right below has one of those annoying sharp diagonals).

I prepared both positive and negative versions of stencils to get further variety in the image which generally works well, except for a clumsy repeat of white on black close to black on white of a small plant mid-right background. Also I intended a more gradual and general movement of value in the background from dark at the bottom to light at the top. Unfortunately I haven’t achieved that. Really the overall balance of value isn’t right.

I like the range of colour used. Possibly it could be richer/deeper, but I didn’t want to risk losing the overlaying of shapes and imagery.

Overall success of sample and design: All the above issues aside, I think there is both contrast and harmony in the piece, providing an interesting, varied and harmonious image.

The layering and complexity of motifs works well, providing interest at a detail level. The treatment is very appropriate for the subject matter. The distance view is not quite so successful, with some distracting, clumsy areas. Also with so many rectangular elements I wanted to make the outside border of the image uneven, but I think the result goes too far.

Near the bottom right in the background is a small stencilled jug shape. I thought it might make a good visual clue if the overall design turned out too messy. I’m probably too close to the image to judge, but I hope that the overall shape is apparent (effectively making the small shape unnecessary and a bit cheesy).

The orange defining lines were a late addition to the design. The original sketch used black lines and the idea of the complementary orange was always on the list of “maybe somewhere”. In the end I think the amount of orange used is about right, and the extra definition helps to clarify the shapes. Although there were some poor choices, I was pleased that I was well prepared but not over prepared – there was still some flexibility and spontaneity while actually doing the printing.

I’ve read comments (and made them myself) in blogs and forums about various difficulties and disadvantages of being a distance student. On the other hand distance learning has the advantage that in the end you are responsible for everything. There are lots of resources available – course notes, tutor, the internet (especially blogs and youtube), books, friends, guilds … – but in the end you choose the specific task to meet the requirement, gather the equipment, find solutions to problems and get a result (even if the result is “I don’t like this” or “it didn’t work”). I love going to classes, but they’re often exhausting, you can easily miss a vital something that makes everything work and there could be specialised tools or materials that you’re unlikely to invest in at home. To get the best learning I need to come home and try the technique on my own, using resources and material available to me. With this piece I feel a real sense of personal ownership and confidence. I know how to do every step involved.

Overall I’m very pleased with my result. To be honest, this Assignment has taken so long I would have said “good enough” to almost anything, even a disaster that I could learn from. As it is I like the result, I like seeing the progress shown in my work and the development of ideas and techniques, and I’m sure similar elements will appear in future work.

* Laporte, S. (editor, 2011)  Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris, Paris: Musée Picasso, Paris.

** Maloon, T. (editor. 2010) Paths to Abstraction 1867 – 1917, Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales.

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Fabulous figure sculpting workshop with Kassandra Bossell!

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