Archive for September, 2012

Project 8 Stage 2 Exercise 4 – weaving in a rigid grid

The requirements for this exercise were fairly open – use rigid materials to make a grid, any size, then do something with it. Possibilities included filling in spaces, weaving across diagonally, using the grid as a frame or base structure…

I took a number of photographs of this structure on Cockatoo Island when I visited it with Claire during the biennale.

I did some work in my sketchbook (here) and was thinking about filling the spaces with some kind of exploration of rust colours and texture (I’d done a little on rust using stitch back in project 2, blogged 24-Oct-2011).

It took a couple of evenings wandering vaguely purposefully around the house looking for suitable rigid materials, but eventually I found a bundle of metal loom heddles, scavanged from a Guild clearout. It seemed a nice twist to make a weave structure using loom parts. The heddle eyes and the loops at each end helped to combine the heddles to create a grid, and after a lot of experimentation and false starts only a few twists of wire at key points were needed to provide some stability.

I was pleased with the shape I came up with – more reminiscent of electricity pylons than the original image, but still pretty nifty I thought (unfortunately I forgot to photograph it bare). It had such interesting lines and odd shapes that I decided to be very simple in the weaving. It took a lot more experimentation, both on paper and in attempts on the frame, to get a method that worked.  The multi-colour diagram on the left of this sketchbook page, towards the top, was the final design. Even once I’d figured it out I kept going wrong in the weaving, since I was using a single length of yarn and kept losing track as I worked up and down each triangle. In the end I carried along extra yarns in the different colours as I wove so I could identify each pass, then removed them once the weave was formed.

I  used one of my challenge yarns from Reverse Garbage  – not actually for additional challenge, but fortuitously it was in a colour and with a texture that suggested rust. It’s definitely synthetic – possibly a type of nylon, but I have no idea of its original purpose. I also used a blue version of the yarn to create a counterchange pattern, providing some extra visual interest while highlighting rather than obscuring my nice grid. I could pretend that the blue was echoing the colour of the sky, but really it’s just what I had.

I’m actually really pleased with this, although it’s a very odd thing. I’ve considered bending down those protruding wires near the top. A 90 degree angle could increase the suggestion of electricity pylons. In the end I’m too attached to the idea of the integrity of the heddles – ten altogether I think. It amazes me that they could be fit together without modification to create such an interesting set of shapes.

The choice of a simple weave worked well. It meets the exercise brief, fits with my chosen source image, and doesn’t obscure the grid shapes. I also like the way the spaces in the weave structure vary in size, just like the grid itself. Plus I’m pleased with my process, a good mixture of planning and experimentation, not losing sight of my source but not slavish and literal. It’s not a thing of beauty, but it does have interest and in my eyes a kind of oddball charm.

Project 8 Stage 2 Exercise 3 – Weaving inside a shape

The goal of this exercise was to make a rigid shape, then weave within it, thinking about the effect of light and space and selecting materials for their qualities against the light.

I decided quickly on a circle. I was thinking of the round braid using weed trimmer line in the last exercise (blogged here, 16 September) and on the right in the thumbnail photo. I could substitute something more suitable than the black tubing and try to make the braid into a circle. Light through the blue line should be a nice effect, I like the idea of building on work in previous exercises, and the multiple strands would provide lots of attachment points.

Next I played around with a few ideas for shapes within the circle.

One reminded me of some of my earlier shell sketches back in sketchbook 2 in February, so that was my base. For colour, blues and whites – thinking of shells, sea, sky and (looking at the sketch) the opera house. My challenge “yarns” would be the trimmer line and some cotton tubular knit sold at the hardware store for plant ties. I liked the silk tissue in my pleating samples (blogged here on 13 August), so that could work in the “sails”.

The ideas came quickly – not so much actually doing the work. First the trimmer line was totally uncooperative and curly. A run through the ironing press resolved that. I don’t think I achieved a 4-strand round braid structure in the circle. I tried to make a circle of one strand then add in the rest one by one. Very confusing. Another time I think I’d try doing a normal braid then splicing the ends to form the circle.

I intended to use the trimmer line to form the edges of the “sails”, but it was too strong and distorted the circle. I used a blue 26 guage wire instead – a bit light really, but it coped. I used a white cotton/viscose yarn in the round braid, and a blue of the same type in a very way between the sails. In the first attempt I wove torn strips of tissue silk between the wire supports. I wanted to create the lower rounded shapes by putting something in the cotton knit tube, but nothing looked good except silk cocoons, and I’ve done that in a previous exercise (also based on the shells, blogged here on 16 August). Then I got very excited when I tried stretching out parts of the tube – it formed lovely swirly lines like brain coral. I went a bit crazy, covered about half the circle with it. Finished! – except it was totally unbalanced and boring.  The sails were half covered, and the parts visible were boring – the silk was flat so there was no texture or interest. The knit tube was just out of control.

Eventually I took out all the silk and the cotton tube. I made some textured lace-like strips by free-machining over some cheesecloth, based on the class with Helen MacRitchie (blogged here, 15 September). Only a week ago but I forgot about putting it into a hoop – no wonder I had trouble and got a different effect!! The cut strips of cheesecloth sat between the wire outlines of the sails, and I wove over then using the tissue silk. Much more interesting! By this time I was thinking more of waves than shells. I found some … I think it’s mulberry bark paper – and used that across the base, poking holes in it so I could weave through the cotton tubing – in much more restrained amounts this time.

The backlit view above shows some distortion of the circle as it hangs. I think the final selection of materials worked well together to form interesting textures against the light. The (eventual) water theme is apparent, without being too literal. I was able to use my source material, but not be bound by it. The braided circle provided good anchor points as anticipated.

Compositionally I think it’s close but it doesn’t quite work. The sails are a bit misshapen and clumsy. The boundary where the mulberry bark paper meets the sails is rather abrupt. The blue “sky” lines look lost and forgotten. I chose the tissue silk because of the nice effect when pleated – and then didn’t pleat it! It is much, much improved from the original version, and I’m very pleased that I put in the extra time and effort.

Project 8 Stage 2 Exercise 2 – surface quality of braids

This exercise involved trying to interpret surface qualities in hand-twisted ropes and some four strand braids.

This is the base set of structures, all using jute twine and neoprene tubing.  From left to right, four-strand chevron braid, four-strand round braid, four-strand flat braid, hand-twisted rope (4 strands in final rope), hand-twisted rope (8 strands in final rope). In this initial set I wanted a contrast in colour and texture of materials, but similar grist.

Once I had an idea of the basic structures, I tried to think of a texture then select materials and structure that might combine to give that texture.

Above, from left to right:

Soft, uneven texture. Silk throwsters waste that I gently attenuated to form a fragile but continuous length, in 4-strand chevron. The end result is much stronger than the individual elements.

Soft, even texture. Merino tops in 4-strand flat braid. Even though the colour varies, I think the overall texture is even, soft and smooth.

Shiny, rough texture. This is gold lamé fabric strip with frayed edges, combined with a bundle of fine gold threads (a weaving warp that got in a tangled mess when I attempted to beam it), in a 4-strand round braid. The round braid worked to maximise the spikiness of the rough gold.

Shiny, smooth texture. Multiple strands of two colours of anonymous plastic fibres (they came in a bundle looking like artificial horse hair, from Feeling Inspired) in 4-strand flat braid. In life it does look shiny. A repeat of the merino structure, it’s interesting to see one looking so hard and the other so soft.

Above, from left to right:

Bumpy. 1 strand each of Paton’s Sorrento (cotton/viscose), Sidar Donegal (wool/acrylic/polyester), Patons Cottontop, elastic thread (anonymous from Feeling Inspired), in 4 strand round braid. I kept tension on the elastic thread while working. Combined with the textured threads this gave a very nice bumpy result, which also has an interesting stretch.

Sharp. Paper yarn and fine cotton. I tried to fold up the paper yarn, maintain the folds by holding it between groups of fine cotton, then create a hand-twisted rope. The result is highly unstable and not at all “sharp”. On the other hand, it makes a lively line.

Smooth ripples. I was imagining a smoothly flowing water effect. This is some fine braids (anonymous yarns from Feeling Inspired), combined in a hand-twisted rope. The result is attractive, but not “smooth”.

Smooth ripples – attempt 2. The same as the previous attempt, but only one colour used. This is more successful.

In this set I was looking for contrasts. Above, from left to right:

Contrast of scale. Neoprene tubing and fishing line. I had a few attempts with the standard exercise structures, but couldn’t get a good result. This version which keeps the neoprene neatly side by side is not quite as boring in real life as in the photo.

Contrast of fibre. This is hand-spun mohair and cottolin in a 4-strand flat braid. Ho-hum.

Contrast of shiny and matt. More neoprene, and Maderira Glamour thread (viscose/metallic polyester). My notes don’t say but I’m sure this is 4-strand chevron braid. This is very attractive – subdued elegance.

Contrast of shiny and matt. Hycraft rug wool and Excel metallic yarn in a hand-twisted braid. I like the extra element of roughness in both the shiny and the mat elements.

I finished all the above a couple of days ago, but “sharp” was bugging me. So today I visited the local ginormous hardware store and wandered around looking for potential “spiky/sharp”.

Above, from left to right:

Sharp. This is fibreglass flyscreen in a 4-strand round braid. I cut a strip off the flyscreen mesh, then stripped off threads along the edge to create spiky fraying. The round braid was chosen to maximise and accentuate the “sharp” edges. There are two strands of the frayed material, and two strands made up of a small bundle of the fibres removed in the fraying process. I think this looks like it could catch and cut your fingers – sharp and dangerous. In fact it is quite soft to the touch. While doing OCA work I’m always mindful of postage implications – weight and the possibility of damage to or by an item. If I’d bought the aluminium flyscreen it may have felt as well as looked sharp.

Hard but smooth. This is orange trimmer line – hard plastic – and anonymous purple something from the bottom of a drawer, in a 4-strand round braid.

I didn’t have a texture in mind for the round braid on the right. It uses black soft flexi-tie (plastic of some kind I think) and blue trimmer line. Both materials came from my hardware trip. I was curious to see how the very stiff trimmer line would combine with the pliable, soft tie. Would the actual physical hard and soft contrast be apparent in the combination? The result looks like a core of transparent blue with the black coiling around it. In real life the blue is shinier. I really like the overall effect.

The final set all use audio cassette tape. I’ve seen it used in a few things recently, but no links because I can’t recall any specifics.

The tape is a beautiful smooth, shiny ribbon. Above on the left I did a simple hand-twisted rope. The result is bouncy and shiny, but doesn’t really add anything to the base material.

In the centre is audio tape in a flat braid with yellow garden twine. The tape is all squashed and folded, and there is too much shine in the twine to give a contrast.

On the right is the tape combined with a weft thread taken from a hessian coffee bean sack. I tried flat, round and a sort of modified just-trying-to-make-it-work braid, but they all seemed to squash/fold/deflate/minimise the tape. Finally I carefully wrapped the tape around the hairy thread, keeping the tape flat and at a low angle so there was a lot of space between each wrap. I used the result to make a twisted cord. I think this is the most successful experiment in terms of retaining the smooth ribbon nature of the tape and contrasting it with another yarn.

I found this exercise very satisfying. I was able to use a wide variety of materials, pushing a few personal boundaries, and in most cases I think the results reflect the texture inspirations.

Layers of Texture – Workshop with Helen MacRitchie

I spent today in an ATASDA “Textile Taster” with tutor Helen MacRitchie (blog I did a two day class with Helen last year, making a bag (blog posts 12-June-2012 and 30-June-2012), but being a Taster this wasn’t about a particular finished product, but a speed tour of heaps of different techniques and ideas.

I had camera failure at the workshop (actually multiple operator errors – the camera remained at home and the phone battery was flat!), so the photo on the left of Helen’s work is taken from her blog (with permission) – see her post here for lots of information about the multiple materials and processes she combined to produce an integrated final result. Helen has completed a City & Guilds Certificate in stitched textiles and is currently completing her Diploma (I felt rather daunted just now when I saw her work on woven structures using paper strips here).

The photo on the right is of Helen’s work, a sample for today. The topic was layers of texture – blending texture through paint, fabric and stitch. We looked at lots of different ways to create textural elements which can be layered and combined to create a work with depth (visual and physical) and coherent design. A particular focus was how to visually disguise the borders between all the parts to avoid jarring and create a flowing whole. Shape, material and colour can be repeated in different combinations at different scales in all the individual elements to assist in bringing it together.

Helen started by showing us lots of samples and giving a general overview. Throughout the day she gave demonstrations and led discussions, and we all attempted to try at least a little of everything. As usual I was slow and didn’t get through it all.

First up was a base of pelmet vilene, covered with texture – in this instance cotton and jute scrims, torn and distorted. We used a dilute, matt, clear-drying ??? gel medium I think. Like everything else we did, this just scratched the surface of possibilities such as adding colour with paints and dyes, and/or using one or more of a huge variety of gels, pastes and mediums.

My second background is a hand-dyed cotton base (from a class I did with Djanne Cevaal years ago), with some dyed cotton scrim in the little pack of materials from Helen.

We also used the gels etc to make some elements that could be added later in a layer. This is some cotton plasterers’ scrim strip with a matt heavy structure medium stencilled on (through a paper doiley). This could be painted or distorted later.

In avoiding jarring effects we can’t make boundaries disappear, but we can help the eye move smoothly across by providing links that blur the edges, using colour and to a lesser extent shapes.This is a poor example, but the idea is to stitch in a thread colour closely matching each fabric piece, effectively bleeding the colour into the surrounding area.

One technique I didn’t have time for but really want to remember was the use of whip stitching. If I had just that top green square on the cream background, I would whip stitch on the green using a green thread in the needle and cream thread in the bobbin, producing flecks of cream on the green fabric. Then I would use cream thread in the needle and green in the bobbin on the surround cream fabric, producing flecks of green on the cream. Helen had a green and black sample that was lovely.

As well as whip stitch Helen demonstrated cable stitch and using thick threads in the bobbin. I didn’t get to those either.

Instead I spent my time on a series of samples of this technique – scrim in a hoop, then stitching over mainly in zigzag, distorting the weave and in places cutting into it. I tried using the regular foot and feed dogs up, and another version doing free motion stitching with feed dogs down.

I tried the cotton scrim, the much stiffer plasterers’ scrim strip, and a dyed scrim.

I don’t know how yet, but as soon as I saw this I started thinking about my theme book work on ageing – surely this technique would fit in somewhere.
Later in the day Helen talked about how she puts all the parts together, and very bravely (I think) actually did a fair bit of work on a sample piece. She had a reference / inspiration photo of some leaf and bark litter in the garden. Helen already had a base in suitable textures and colours, plus at least half a dozen separate elements. We discussed how to keep the eye moving around the final work, balance and variety, creating lines but not obvious, continuous ones – the viewer will follow the idea. Helen is very clever in her layering, gradually anchoring things and taking care to overlap in different ways so there’s no clear ordering of the layers. She didn’t have time to get to an end result, but talked about the extra stitching she would do to introduce and extend various colours in areas around the work.

On of the things I’m appreciating and enjoying about the OCA work is actually doing the work. It’s very easy to read books, look at blogs, go to galleries, see and talk about things – but nothing beats getting down and doing it. A single day can never be enough, so I’m going to have to make sure to find or create opportunities to practice all of this, because I’m certain that my work will improve if I can incorporate even part of what Helen shared today.

Project 8 Stage 2 Exercise 1 – Experimenting with Structure

This exercise begins our exploration of structure with paper weaving. For my first few experiments I worked with pages taken from an old Time-Life book on Eastern Europe.

Sample 1 was a failure. I used two photos of geese – one a closeup through a mesh fence, the other a more distant view of geese in front of a farm building. I thought the differences in scales of the images would be interesting, and that the mesh fence would add some sort of counterpoint to the grid of the weaving. Instead it’s a mess, virtually impossible to process visually.

Like Claire when she did this exercise (here), I found the back more interesting (nowhere near as interesting as her’s, but such is life 🙂 ).

Value is clearly very important. This is different to weaving a scarf or similar, where the smaller scale of warp and weft means that there’s a lot more optical mixing of the different colours, and no concept of trying to read individual images. Of course there are other weaving techniques, such as the Theo Moorman inlay used by Daryl Lancaster (see her blog including here – and Ann Roth’s work using strips of fabric she had dyed (here – annrothtextiles.blogspot), where scale and structure mean the image or pattern of the materials remains visible in the result.

I tried to adjust for the value problem in my second sample by using a coloured photo as “warp”, unrelated text for the weft, and a larger strip width. The photo is easier to interpret, but it’s not enhanced or given any additional meaning or depth by being woven.

This third sample combines two photographs. The black and white is Warsaw after it was levelled by the Germans in World War II. The colour photo is fields in Poland. I cut the strips of the warp to follow the lines of the field boundaries.

I think this is easily the best of this series using photos. Each of the images can be understood separately, and combine to give enhanced meaning. Following the sloped lines in my cuts makes the images easier to interpret and also adds some movement to the result.

In my next sample I cut and layered strips of tissue paper. The thumbnail above shows the very uninteresting back, and the larger photo to the right is very subdued.

Sydney is rainy and grey this afternoon, so I’m back to the wobbly, handheld in front of a lamp style of photo. This is just the effect I was trying to achieve (the weaving, not the photo). I like the idea of hidden meaning or interest that is only revealed in certain conditions.

The course notes suggest trying variety and contrast in materials. I decided to bring in one of my “challenge” finds from Reverse Garbage, shredded silver paper, as weft. For “warp” I took a piece of acetate (previous life the front cover of a spiral bound book), and cut 2 cm wide slots in it.

This is a very tricky thing to photograph in artificial light, so I’ve put in a couple of attempts – sorry about the reflections. There isn’t actually any gold or yellow in it.

My biggest concern was to retain the liveliness and rather wild nature of the shredded paper, but in a form that somehow contained/controlled it and added some strength. I think it has worked very well, although it will be interesting to see it after it has been compressed in the mail a couple of times.

All the structure comes from the acetate – it remains a single piece with the paper woven through the slots. I wove with a continuous bundle of paper, wrapping around the edges of the acetate. Note the word bundle – I didn’t even attempt to separate the strands, just gently pulled out a handful and kept pulling, capturing extra bits as required to keep the bundle a roughly even width.

My final samples also come from my challenge purchases, this time a roughly woven bag that I think was used to ship coffee beans.

I cut a piece that had some interesting colour, both from the warp stripes and the overprinted labelling on the bag. My intention was to follow the note’s suggestion “make a more open weave and then weave across diagonally with threads or paper”.

Obviously I’m already bending the requirements somewhat, given I started with a woven fabric.

The plan was to make the fabric more open by removing threads from both warp and weft. I was going to weave diagonally over this, using the threads that I had reclaimed. I tried to keep the removed threads in order, with the idea that the overprinted text might be vaguely visible in the reconstructed, reintegrated, diagonal over-weaving.

Above is the result at the time I stopped. The photo is doing it favours – it’s really just a muddled mess.

Perhaps it’s a variant of the same problem as with the geese right at the top in my first sample – there isn’t enough contrast between my elements for them to make sense visually. At this time I was also in a mode of trying to be spontaneous and intuitive in my sampling, rather than planning everything up front. I ran into trouble because in my mind weaving is so much about structure, and working on the fly I couldn’t figure out what weaving through diagonally meant – at least not in the sense I was attempting, of creating a second layer like in doubleweave (there’s an early example of this from 2008 here, or you can click on the Structure/doubleweave category on the right to other versions).

My final example is included for completeness, since this is my learning log and I like to be open and honest about failures as well as successes, but it’s not going anywhere near my tutor or formal assessment. Shudder!

Having abandoned my diagonal double woven mess, I cut another piece of coffee bean sack with the thought of taking out more threads, but this time cross weaving in a contrasting material. After a while it occurred to me that it wasn’t interesting, it was never going to be interesting, and even worse I’d drifted entirely away from the requirements of the exercise.

Time to move on!

Drawing workshop with Gria Shead

Today I attended a one day workshop with Gria Shead at the Art Gallery of NSW. The class description: “In this workshop you will focus on drawing fabric as a starting point for exploring the heart of an interior. You will be focusing on tone and line, the bare minimum, in order to create a tactile aesthetic, representing form while understanding what it feels like. This workshop is suitable for all levels of experience.” Learning to draw while focusing on fabric and suitable for beginners – yes please!

On the right is a photo of recent work by Gria, which spent the day on an easel at one end of the room. It’s one of a series she has done of interiors of Vaucluse House. My phone camera comes nowhere close to doing it justice! Apart from other considerations, you could see the sofas were covered in velvet, that the curtains were sheer, that the floor was covered by carpet not linoleum. The texture is lovely. Look at those little highlights on the seats and top edges of the sofas!

This is a display of our work at the end of the day. Gria’s work is at the far left. Mine is as far away as possible on the far right 🙂

The workspace is in full public view on the main entry floor of the art gallery. You might be able to see a display case at the entrance of the Upper Asian Gallery at the back on the left, and the escalators leading to lower levels through the glass behind the easels. You might also be able to pick up the stunning view reflected in that glass – beautiful Sydney in full spring splendor!

We started with  a visit to the 19th century Australian painting gallery, to look at some of the painted fabric on show. Hugh Ramsey is a favourite of mine (see here and here).

Then we came back to the studio to draw – handkerchiefs. First one handkerchief, in willow charcoal on cartridge paper. You can see in the workroom photo above a handkerchief artfully arranged on the floor (not my hanky though). The instruction was to focus on getting the shape and size right – basically life size. I found this hard.

Then we graduated to two handkerchiefs. As the day progressed I wished I had arranged my hankies in a more simple way, or stuck to one. I tried to concentrate on drawing the negative space and not what I thought I was seeing. I found this hard too, but I was enjoying trying in a somewhat frustrated sort of way.

Next step was some better quality paper, still trying to understand that shape. Gria had given us soft brushes to remove some of the charcoal when lines went astray. You might be able to see just how often I had to use mine! At least this time I was getting the concept of focusing on the outline, not thinking about the inside of the shape too much. I didn’t get the shape right, but I was more certain about where I was wrong.

This is what I ended up with. It works best if you stand well back and squint. I’m sorry now that I didn’t take a photo of my handkerchiefs – I didn’t get it right, but it’s not all wrong. But what I want to record and remember is the process, not my results on the first try.

After all our preliminary work becoming familiar with our shapes, Gria gave us a sheet of craft paper that had been roughly painted with gesso. On this we drew our outline in charcoal one more time. The early sketchwork made this so much easier, plus any problem lines were easily brushed from the gesso.

Next we painted the entire shape in grey acrylic paint. Just a single big blob of grey. That would become the darkest areas of our fabric. The process was then to add light and highlights – first by sponging off areas of the still damp paint, then with white paint (gouache and acrylic), and white pastels, and some people went a bit further with some more willow charcoal and some touches of colour.

Starting dark and bringing in light is such a great system. Doing the preliminary work meant that while painting I got closer to what I wanted, but also that I knew what I was painting so much better and was much faster at figuring out where a problem was. One big issue was the light direction changing as the day wore on, making painting shadows tricky – but as Gria pointed out to me, that always happens so you have to learn to deal with it.

Looking at a small piece of fabric with such intensity over hours and working so hard to really see it was … so many words – exhausting, satisfying, frustrating, enlightening, absorbing… I absolutely must make sure I follow up this with lots of repeats in my regular sketchbook work.

Biennale of Sydney wrapup

The Biennale closes soon after over two months. I blogged about some of the textile works (27-August), but want to record my impressions of some other works – not really in themselves, but in ideas I want to learn/remember from them. All the photos below were taken on my phone, so check the Biennale website above for better images.

This is Claire, fellow OCA student and member of ATASDA, interacting with Philip Beesley’s work Hylzoic Series: Sibyl in the old industrial buildings on Cockatoo Island. (Claire’s blog entries of our Biennale vists are here (Cockatoo island) and here (Museum of Contemporary Art).)

We were immersed in the experience, wandering through the huge, darkened space, surrounded by sound and light and scent, gently touching the work which responded to our presence. There was a sense of wonder and joy. Even the shadows on the old walls were fascinating.
I’ve said it before (24-June-2012), scale is important. Small can be exquisite, being big isn’t going to save bad work – it’s more that size should be a conscious choice, not just how it turns out or what’s convenient.
Light and shadow – very evocative. I want to incorporate this in my work. Lots of research to be done.
These photos show just part of Ed Pien’s work Source. It’s made of paper, mylar, rope, sound and video – the sound being throat singing by Tanya Tagaq.

In this the viewer, or participant, wanders through a labyrinth, exploring a watery world.

Scale, light and shadow, multiple senses engaged, immersion of the viewer…

Switching venue to follow the theme, this is Anything can break
by Pinaree Sanpitak, installed at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Once again large, with light, shadow and sound. I imagined it as walking just below the surface of the ocean, but have since read that the work is based on watery clouds and the female form, particularly breasts.

Some of the glass forms are lit using fibre optics. There are motion sensors in some of the grey origami “flying boxes”, which trigger speakers issuing a huge variety of sounds which meld together creating a world around the viewer/participants. The gallery is a double height space in the new part of the MCA and the lowered ceiling effect further enhances the feeling of being enclosed within the work.

The thumbnail photo gives an idea of the significant engineering required to support the work. Another common element is that a team was needed to produce and install each work.  Planning, project management and getting funding must have been huge tasks in each one.

Jumping back to Cockatoo Island, this is Gravitas Lite by Peter Robinson. The thumbnail photo is to give an idea of scale, but these shots show less than half of this amazing work in polystyrene. There’s an interesting clip of the artist speaking here.

Once again we have scale, light and shadow (I think all natural, thanks to the rows of skylights). Collaboration was an important element – around 60 crew and volunteers worked over a 5 week period to put it together. The sense of place is something I want to remember and think on. The work was conceived and created for this place, this event, and the polystyrene will be recycled afterwards. The chain motif references the convict and industrial past of the Island. The chains wrap themselves around and through the detritus of previous use.

I’m also taken by what I see as whimsey or humour – what the artist describes as the “contradiction of motif and materiality”. Some of the works in the Biennale seemed turgid, so (over)full of concept and meaning and gravitas. I like the idea of being thoughtful, meaningful and serious with a light touch.

In the video linked above Peter Robinson talks about the decisions that crew and volunteers made as the work was installed, and the sense of collaboration and ownership that each developed. Mit Jai Inn goes further his work No 112, leaving decisions about arrangement of his work to others. These abstract works use oil paint and pigment on canvas and the colour is complex and beautiful. Reading in the catalogue, there is a deep philosophical and political base to the artist’s work. I enjoyed it on a simpler level of rich colour and also rather intriguing speculation about how I would approach arranging this work.

How much can and should one let go of work – create it then send it on its way in the world? Robinson’s work will be recycled, confounding assumptions about the impact of the material he has used.

When I revisited Cockatoo Island a couple of weeks later, areas of Beesley’s touch sensitive lights no longer worked.

This beautiful gallery at the Museum of Contemporary Art has work by Liang Quan on the back wall, moon jars by Park Young-Sook on the left and Yeesookyung’s creation using ceramic shards on the right. On a return visit various sections had been roped off.

I’ve been told Li Hongbo’s bright paper Ocean of Flowers (actually based on the silhouettes of weapons) now has areas crushed and ruined where people have simply walked on them.

I’m not sure of my point here. Is it that one needs to let go, or that one should only use robust materials? Is this just the nature of such a large and long exhibition, especially one that attracts so many who don’t normally go into galleries?

That’s rather a muddled and low thought, so rather than finishing there I’ll show some shots of Air and Inner by Honore d’O, installed at Pier 2/3. You can read the artist statement here – I have absolutely no idea what it means, if there’s anything lost in translation, if it is intended as a joke or if it’s just I don’t get it. But I enjoyed experiencing the work 🙂

de Zegher, C. and McMaster, G. (ed.) (2012) all our relations: 18th biennale of Sydney 2012, Sydney: Biennale of Sydney Ltd.

Project 8 Stage 1 – Exploring the qualities of yarn

This stage introduces the student to the different properties of yarns, looking at the three main categories of fibre – natural fibres, man-made fibres and regenerated fibres.

Step one was to group my yarns by colour. I’ve never won a conversation about stash size. I’ve met a couple of people who keep to a very small stash. Mine isn’t small. It isn’t large either – I know lots of people with much bigger stashes. It has until now been mostly sorted by yarn content and size or by purpose – for example Bendigo 2 ply wool (a great weaver’s starter yarn), or various sock yarns (knitting keeps the fingers busy when the brain is tired or otherwise occupied).

I am gradually learning to trust the OCA course and process, so I gulped a few times and did it! I sorted by colour. The photo above shows a 50 litre tub of blue. I have six colour tubs (yellow, orange, red…), one white and light neutrals, one black and dark neutrals, and one mixed colours.

I didn’t entirely let go. My hand-dyed 20/2 silk stayed in its little trolley and skeins of undyed silks of various types are safe in a cupboard. Still, so far I’m liking it. After all, it’s easy to go through and pick out all the cottolins if I need to, and it certainly made the last exercise on colour matching and yarn winding (blogged this morning) easier.

As well as collections of particular yarn types for weaving I’m a gatherer and hoarder – so there are bits and pieces picked up at sales, at clearouts by other fibre people, big cones of fine cottons (a machine knitters meeting I wandered into), mill ends, lots of anonymous stuff. I spent some time going through the blue tub and made up some little cards with samples where I knew the fibre composition.

There’s another card with some basics which I don’t have in blue – linen, paper, raffia – plus things I’ve picked up in the past from the hardware store.

The tricky thing with all this is that I tend to think I know these yarns, at least some of their properties, what they can do, how to work with them… In one sense I do, in another I’m in a new situation and doing new things, so what I used to know isn’t relevant. I’ve never done tapestry weaving. I have tried to go from visual source to finished object (particularly in Meg‘s P2P2 challenge – my project here), but I need to take it to a whole new level. That’s why I’m doing this course, after all!

I want to force myself out of any comfort zone, so I went to Reverse Garbage looking for weaving materials. This co-operative takes industrial discards and sells them to the public – landfill diverted. On the left are my gleanings – some sacks that previously held coffee beans ( I can cut strips like rag weaving, or take out individual threads), some shredded silver paper, and some very odd synthetic things – I have no idea of their original purpose. Not super exciting.

Next outing was to Feeling Inspired, who sell beading, jewellery and craft supplies. My friend Des had used some of their neoprene tubing at the weaving week with Liz Williamson (blog post 14-Jan-2012 – if you click on the link you can see her work on the right in the top photo).

I now have a couple of diametres of neoprene, some fine wire, what I think is waxed cotton cord, various colours of something labelled “strong and stretchy” and a whole heap of anonymous somethings. I don’t know their properties and potential and I can’t read it up. I’m going to have to feel, experiment, and figure it out. Excellent!

Assignment 4 – Analysing colour, texture and proportion

Visual sources – their colour, texture, proportion, pattern, composition – can spark ideas for raw materials and structures in creating textile structures. In this exercise I needed to choose sources of inspiration, looking particularly at colour and texture. I then needed to analyse the colours carefully and match them using paints or crayons. Finally I needed to select yarns trying to match texture and surface qualities of the source in addition to colour, and make a winding onto cards to interpret those qualities.

A calendar photo by Frans Lanting was my first source. Just some of the challenges:

* My recent sketchbook work (here) had been working with watercolours,  colour mixing and combinations based on Jeanne Dobie’s book Making Color Sing: practical lessons in color and design. Based on this I approached the exercise with a certain level of confidence which turned out to be entirely misplaced! It took me a couple of long sessions to admit that watercolours were not the right choice of medium for this exercise, and to make the move to gouache.

* Light source. The course notes recommend good daylight – not possible for me in practice. I consoled myself with the thought that Sydney winter daylight is different to London summer daylight, so matches wouldn’t necessarily translate well. I have a couple of lamps with what are meant to be “daylight” fluorescents, so  they had to be good enough.

* The colour in this photo is really complex and there is a lot of optical colour mixing happening when you look at it. Selecting and matching a specific, individual colour was difficult and even misleading overall.

* I started working with words, jotting down an initial analysis of the colours, then remembered I’m trying to work more visually and intuitively. Doing a quick sketch and focusing on smaller areas helped.

I am pleased with my results for both colour and texture. The plant area uses yarns with angora and mohair components, as well as a fancy acrylic bobble effect, providing the texture. These were alternated with other yarns (cottolin, a wool/nylon sock yarn, and anonymous secondhand cone ends), which adjusted colour.

In the background greenery I used a couple of old handspun experiments, one a green mohair, the other a blend of green wools plus a pale purple silk – not a colour I found in the photo, but it is subtle enough to enhance the flickering light effect without impacting on colour. These gave an underlying element of texture and some 2 ply wools gave additional colour and depth.

For the sky, relatively smooth cottolins (a cotton/linen blend) echo the smooth colour transition across the top. I used four different blues and in a larger work would be able to smooth the move from colour to colour. In the winding the limited number of wraps led to more abrupt changes.

My second source was a photo of Saddle bags in sumak technique, c 1880 from the southern Caucasus. The colour in this photo is more distinct, less blended, although there is still a lot of variation at the detail level (for example, how many reds???). I continued with the gouache paints, with reasonable results (looking at the photo now, I’m not convinced by that mustard yellow – it looks better in person).

I mostly used Bendigo Mills 2 ply wool in the wrapping. I assume the original Saddle bags used wool, and certainly it can combine a subdued lustre, depth and variation in colour, in a basically flat field. I had to supplement with a couple of other wools and wool blends to get the colour range.

The wrapping doesn’t have good proportions. I wanted to create a structure based on narrower dividing stripes (the navy outline and black/white chequerboard) and wider stripes of varied colour combinations. The main colours of the individual medallions are not clear enough in the yarn wrapping. I tried again in a computer simulation, but it still isn’t right.

The final example is based on a painting by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, “Woman in a hat”. I saw the original in the Mad Square exhibition at the Art Gallery last year. It was in the first room of the exhibition, and I remember spending some time with it each time I visited – partly I admit because some other images in the early rooms were very challenging, but mainly because of the complex, riveting, unusual, beautiful colour. Unfortunately I remember the emotion more clearly than the colour detail. Darn.

There a four general blocks of colour – skin/face/hands; dress and hat; chair or bed; wall. On the wrapping I think I’ve given a bit too much space to the wall. The face/skin area is also over-represented, but I found there were a few colours I need to include (eg the blue shadows) which was difficult to scale.

Most of the yarn on the dress and hat is 20/2 silk. I thought the smooth glow was a good textural match. For the bed/chair I used a wider variety of yarns in order to get colour matches. There is silk, plus rayon, a bamboo yarn and a soysilk. I haven’t actually used these in the past – they’ve been sitting in the stash, waiting for the right project. The wall is mainly silks, plus a viscose/cotton mix which brings in some texture which I think works. The colour is too light, which I have tried to modify by wrapping it with darker colours.

The course notes suggest developing this exercise into regular sketchbook work, and I think that would be of benefit for me. I found the process a struggle, although I am moderately satisfied with my results.


Dobie, J. (1986) Making Color Sing: practical lessons in color and design New York: Watson-Guptill Publications


No Instagram images were found.

Calendar of Posts

September 2012

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.