Archive for January, 2022

Artifact

Definition of artifact

1a: a usually simple object (such as a tool or ornament) showing human workmanship or modification as distinguished from a natural object
especiallyan object remaining from a particular period
b: something characteristic of or resulting from a particular human institution, period, trend, or individual
c: something or someone arising from or associated with an earlier time especially when regarded as no longer appropriate, relevant, or important
2a: a product of artificial character (as in a scientific test) due usually to extraneous (such as human) agency
b: an electrocardiographic and electroencephalographic wave that arises from sources other than the heart or brain
c: a defect in an image (such as a digital photograph) that appears as a result of the technology and methods used to create and process the image
Source: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/artifact (my highlighting)

I’ve been wondering what I’m doing here – a question so big and so vague it’s close to useless. Part of the answer is that I like making: the process of working with my hands and mind and skills, tools, materials; to create something that didn’t exist before and in its small way is unique; to express myself; to connect with myself and others; to help me think. The thinking part keeps growing in importance. There’s the meditative aspect, especially with the rhythm and repetition of my preferred additive processes, keeping the hands and front of the brain busy while the mind quests. Plus there’s a focusing effect, with a conscious effort to use making as a way of extending my research, and the attempt to express abstract ideas in physical form. More and more an object at the ends seems to be a by-product of the process rather than its goal or purpose.

The dual meanings of artifact fit well. And what I’m doing here in the blog, in part, is documenting my artifacts – the objects, ideas, and making. The ratios will vary of course. This post, as you’ve already seen, is on the wordy ideas side.

Layered grief
It looks better in person

Background

A year ago mum had been discharged from the palliative care hospital. Just a few days left, with a lot of laughter and love mixed in with the rest. I still think of her through each day. Sometimes it’s the stab of loss. Or relief that she had most of what she wished for when diagnosed – a final summer with family and friends; to die at home. I’m glad she didn’t have to go through the winter of lockdown. I miss chatting with her – her advice, her opinions on all things large and small, gossip. She was my most vocal and unstinting supporter. And I miss the sense of purpose and value and meaning of supporting her. I hate the lurch when I vaguely think that I haven’t phoned her in a while, then remember why. I miss her smile, the pleasure it gave her, when she opened the door to me. I miss the example she gave of taking simple joy in the world, curious and interested – watching children playing, chatting with workers on their smoko, enjoying the joke of chalked signs in the park.

I’m glad to miss mum. I’m glad to grieve for her. I’m so lucky to have experienced such love, to have known such a person. It’s right and human to honour her and our relationship.

Ideas

Perhaps with time and distance I will see some pattern, some kind of stages in grieving. At the moment I see – feel – complexity and change and repetition-with-variation and layering and unexpected connections. Perhaps a rhizomic rather than linear thing (“structure” seems too strong a word). Is that something I could express in clay?

Memory is an integral part of grieving. My most recent attempt at expressing that was shown 14-Jan-2022.

My notes when beginning to plan this new experiment:

  • extension of distorted memory
  • clearer use of stencil
  • ?dark “Victorian mourning” cane
    • use as background
    • simplified stencil in gloss (?? possible?) black?
    • don’t like link of black to mourning, but works visually
    • peering into the past, overlaying present.
  • a larger, mixed bowl, or a series of cupped hands?

Making

The clay. Once again I used leftovers and oddments from previous work.

Victorian mourning
28-Sept-2021
including build-up and mop-up material
Grief, hope, energy, renewal
28-Oct-2021

I focused on using as much of the clay as possible, laying out slices in a pattern, then filling in the gaps with a cane of scraps of the scraps (a Fiona Abel-Smith technique)

In the photo above the burnished disc of clay is on a sheet of Agreena wrap. Made of silicone, it’s sold as a non-toxic, renewable, recyclable alternative to clingfilm. It’s heavy enough to be able to carry the weight of the clay, thin enough to peel off easily, and is oven-safe. All very handy working with polymer clay.

I didn’t like my placement of the feathers cane at this point, but hoped it would be toned down in the next stage.

Stencilling. The John Chester Jervis jug stencils were used again (last seen 14-Jan-2022) – there is a strong link to the Victorian mourning conventions work. My largest  handheld round embroidery frame was slightly too small. On my larger ThimbleLady lap quilting frame the fabric was not held as firmly, and it was difficult to access everywhere, but worth it I think to avoid moving a frame around and having edges rest on the print. Stencilling was done in opaque black liquid clay.

stencil placement
improvised silkscreen
Left: paper cut stencils in place. Right: stencilled clay

A high level comparison shows the stencilling worked quite well. I’ll go through some caveats later.

Baking. The clay was lifted and placed in a metal bowl, in a “sling” of agreena wrap. That is, it didn’t touch the bottom, the bowl acting as a general support rather than forming the shape. Sausages of foil were used to create an unevenly undulating form, to suggest the distortions and selection that creep into even our most precious memories over time.

Fresh from the oven. The clay slipped down slightly during baking, but didn’t touch the bottom of the metal bowl.

Artifact

The final outcome is one of the largest vessels I’ve made in the past year of mourning – around 19 cm in diameter, and a pleasant weight in the hand. I love the layers of connection – to mum and our family history, to various lines of research, to my ongoing life and explorations. I like the sinuous edge, and that the bowl is open – inviting, accepting.

The underside came off the agreena wrap with a pleasant shine. It’s bright and busy, but in my eyes visually coherent. Even those feathers look better, in their place like a trim on a skirt, linking clearly with the canes in the middle section above.

The interior is more complex. It is intriguing when held in the hands, moved around to catch the light and to follow lines of pattern. However…

  • the areas of liquid clay are very textured, even after light sanding and polishing. I think this is a side effect of the slightly looser organza screen, moving up and down as I dabbed on the liquid clay. I didn’t want to sand further and start losing stencilled areas altogether.
  • in most areas the “opaque” black still allows the shadow of changing pattern below. Very on theme. However there is a lot of black in the base layer, leading to a visual muddle on what is foreground and what background, impacting the integrity of the silhouettes.
  • The pattern of cane placement is obscured, creating a visual jarring effect in places where different input canes join.
  • on the plus side and ignoring those limitations, the boundary between foreground and background is crisp in all but the smallest detail areas.

As it is, with all the associations it has for me – I am satisfied, happy, when I handle, examine, spend time with the bowl. I’ve learnt in the process. There’s still a way to go in making a stencilled pattern on a busy cane ground work, but I’m getting closer and I have ideas for more tweaks.

Admin apology

A tip from a kind reader led to the realisation that a number of my blog posts were missing photos. I have a private notebook blog, and have sometimes copied photos from there to this public blog. It all looks fine to me, as owner, but leaves little blank squares for others.

My apologies.

I think all the posts impacted have now been fixed (but please let me know if you have problems 😁):

18-Jan-2022 More liquid clay experiments

14-Jan-2022 Reimagined memory

29-Nov-2021 Skills building

31-Jul-2021 Materials focus – polymer clay

22-Dec-2020 Making reading

29-Aug-2020 (relatively) recent making

More liquid clay experiments

My initial liquid polymer clay experiments (28-Dec-2021) were interesting, but in my first attempt in practice the stencilled clay has very little impact (14-Jan-2022). There is promise, the concept of a larger / clarifying / extending image stencilled on more complex cane patterning remains intriguing. But more work is required. Time to revisit more monoprinting techniques.

Some homemade stamps from past print-making, with liquid clay dabbed on with a cosmetic sponge:

A stamp made with some looped string glued to stiff cardboard and varnished.
This stamp was made from a piece of foam mat, heated, then impressed with a wooden block

Textures from a collotype sampler plate (30-Dec-2015), again with liquid clay sponged on:

collatype plate 8
The original plate, using modelling paste on mountboard as a base
This section uses a piece of mum’s wedding dress
Here a scrapper was dragged through the paste

A gelatine plate was used with a stencil, again with liquid clay applied by sponge:

right to left
* yupo stencil on top then pressed clay on (+ve)
* stencil pressed on clay – transferred on (-ve)
* clay on geli – a little/faint ghost
Using plastic with a corrugated surface as a stamp
Liquid clay was put on the geli plate, some wool pressed in, and then the wool pressed onto the clay
The shadow image left on the geli plate was captured.

I did try a couple of other monoprinting techniques, in particular a variant of backdrawing, but wasn’t satisfied with the result. My method was to sponge the clay on thin plastic, then place that side down on a clay sheet and press through – a little like using carbon paper. Instead of just getting lines where pressed, the whole area of liquid clay immediately transferred. I should try leaving the prepared plastic overnight before use.

Next attempt – silkscreen printing.

Printing through silk screen; plant material as “stencil”. Liquid clay pushed through with old membership card.

I tried to wash the screen quickly – alcohol then soap and water. Traces of liquid clay remained. Not something to repeat. Plus I should have washed and dried screen before using it – bits of dust and dirt were left on the clay.

The screen did what I hoped in terms of keeping plant material in place.

A day later came the next layer of fish imagery experiment. This time some polyester organza in an embroidery hoop worked well as the “silk screen”, and was easy to clean up.

  • Dabbing rather than scraping [with credit card] to spread colour made some differences
    • more flexible for colour placement
      – think this is a key outcome of technique
    • less of indent left in clay
      • if want, could pre-press with acrylic block
        – would probably help definition of colour
    • difficult to get colour into previous indentation
      • if want, could hand apply later.

I later realised the fish is upside down.

Another overnight wait, then colouring the fish.

Used “negative space” stencil to add (upside down) fish)
+ cocktail stick to ease colour into impressed lines of plants.
  • Very little ink picked up on back of stencil – happened to be shiny side of freezer paper, which may be a factor

I really wanted to be able to pick out lines for definition. Time for a side experiment.

  • oddment of clay
  • black ink [dabbed] onto (2 day old) weed.
    onto clay and held with improvised embroidery hoop while pressed – like it!

I also tried decanting some black liquid clay into a small bottle with a gutta nib (from batik work many years ago). I thought this would give a finer line. It looked promising at first, but soon became a big fail.

Inked plant material, ink on thread, other random improvised stamps, the gutta nib lines – all beaded on the surface.

So far I had used a few pieces of scrap clay, mixing in the liquid clay and re-rolling after each experiment. It all ended in the bin.

After a few days of grumbling around, a new plan:

Next fish scene:

  • colour on weeds. pressed in.
  • brighten colours with alcohol inks.
  • get “outlines” using +ve and -ve stencils, slightly out of alignment.
  • fish right way up.
  • smoother “slump donut” baking

Day 1

  • white top sheet on scrap base.
  • weeds and violet liquid clay dabbed on. Used acrylic block to push into clay
  • yellow liquid clay + sunbright yellow alcohol ink
  • looks fabulous

Day 2

  • Both colours faded a bit as they dried out – more pronounced in the violet, which didn’t have the alcohol ink boost.
  • organza not as tight – some nice texture
  • bigger “edge gap” on large fish (stencil a heavier card – relatively)
  • layering on yellow doesn’t make much sense, given effectively no white retained.
    • although “proper” blue around weed
  • blue liquid clay + sapphire blue alcohol ink

?? another idea – texture clay to manipulate colour later added.

Day 3

  • straight red liquid clay – want it paler (distanced)
  • tried threads-as-stencil to add definition
  • looked odd, so used alcohol on cotton bud to add to body shape, eye, mouth

–> uneasy un-balance in level of texture / detail and graphic nature.

Day 4

  • red of big fish faded overnight
  • small fish – red liquid clay + chili alcohol ink
    -ve (stencil doesn’t quite fit +ve
  • tried to make thread shaping clearer
  • want to hold nerve and do black edge tomorrow as planned experiment.

Day 5

  • Small fish with dual stencils
  • large fish done without stencils, using cotton bud
I much prefer the line achieved on the small fish

I wanted to introduce some distortion and slumping in baking – suggesting movement in the water. A rough donut of foil was wrapped in old T-shirt fabric, and the clay pushed in gently.

Final sample:

Lots of lessons, both positive and negative. Lots of avenues to explore. Perhaps the biggest problem for me is the wait between steps, not wanting to smudge layers. If I worked in a more production-like mode, for example building inventory for a market stall, I could work on multiple items at each stage, or have multiple items at different stages of the process. But for me at the moment, making is more an adjunct to thinking. Plus some of this seems to be working against the nature and possibilities of the clay rather than taking advantage of the medium. The more exciting possibility is to use just one or two of these ideas at a time. There’s a lot of flexibility to add my own imagery that I’ve developed over years, rather than relying on commercial stamps and stencils.

Reimagined Memory

This post has been sitting in draft form for longer than I’d like. It’s changing, but I wouldn’t say improving. There are so many chains of thought, so many intentions. So much I’d like to say, but when I type it seems … overblown? underwhelming? And yet this piece is deeply satisfying to me. Words fail.


In general, too facts do not explain values. And in works of the poetic imagination, values bear the mark of such novelty that everything related to the past is lifeless beside them. All memory has to be reimagined. For we have in our memories micro-films that can only be read if they are lighted by the bright light of the imagination.

Gaston Bachelard The Poetics of Space

Bachelard has a poetic and beautiful response to memory. I have returned to this a few times while reflecting on memories of mum, new and renewed. In contrast, Bessel Van Der Kolk wrote of an experiment in The body keeps the score: “We deliberately tried to collect just isolated fragments of their experience – particular images, sounds, and feelings – rather than the entire story, because this is how trauma is experienced.” This darker perspective resonated with my recent jury experience – the conflicting and imperfect recollection of the various testimonies.

Could I show / explore that in clay?

Memory malleable, distorted, overlaid, mistaken, subverted, integrated, enriched.

Held

A few weeks after making this I was moved while reading Laura Marris’s “Atmospheric changes: on meteorology & Camus” (https://thepointmag.com/examined-life/atmospheric-changes-camus/). How do I filter enough to see without being overwhelmed? or too narrow? without skimming the surface? immerse without being lost?

It helped to hold this bowl. Here is a concrete thing that “memorialises” past thought. I love that it settles into the palm of my hand. Is held, stable. I sat, holding the bowl, mind wandering. More and more seeing distortions that somehow carry meaning. I sit with it, resisting ideas of where to go next.

Background

Memory hexagon

I wanted to return to and reimagine memories. A previous post shared some reading on the malleability of memory, the way we edit and reshape history in our recollection.

28-Oct-2021

Left overs of that cane were combined with the distorted end sections, then forced into the conformity of a hexagon. Imperfect mirroring over mismatched seams.

JCJ’s jug

Memories are overlaid, combined, misremembered. I used monoprinting with liquid clay to suggest this.

A faint flower, followed by a butterfly with some opaque black added to transparent red to darken and reduce transparency.

Further deepening and enriching the experiment, the paper stencils used were originally cut and used in a design on fabric for an OCA course.

26-Apr-2012

The imagery came from a family heirloom jug, and has already inspired other clay experiments.

31-Jul-2021

Glyph

I wanted to add more imagery, more layering of ideas. This time I turned to the glyphs I developed as part of my notebook practice. An infinity symbol was used for “memory”.

15-Oct-2019

Once again I was able to use existing and personal stencils.

22-Jan-2020

Recurring theme

I can’t recall (ho ho) if I’ve previously shared this page of related notes.

Finishing

Much of the liquid clay colour was lost in handling while I stretched and prepared the clay for baking.

Based on a suggestion from Ruth Hadlow I wanted to take advantage of the properties of clay to further suggest the changes of memory over time. I put the disc on clay on an improvised donut of foil, hoping for slumping and distortion in baking.

Fragments

Straight from my notebook, some further thoughts on the result:

  • violet liquid clay not visible
  • red visible, but pattern hard to see
  • blue – or actually, protected areas – visible but a lot of colour lost.
  • bottom surface rough from foil
  • doesn’t seem to have drooped in oven
  • no gloss on any of the liquid clay areas.
  • the form is satisfying. It sits well. It spins and wobbles when touched.
  • good to have cut thick and rolled out. Expanded motif size and get good variation.
  • Lost colour on back – didn’t allow long rest + impact of sitting on glass tile when rolling.
    -> ? focus on one side??
  • tried running water into / over it – as a bowl and as an umbrella. pretty. Different effects depending on rate of flow of water.
    –> ?? attempt an indoor water feature?

Instagram

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