Archive for the 'A Creative Approach' Category

Textiles 1: A Creative Approach – final tutor report

A Creative Approach??? You might think that was over and done with in my final Module Reflections posted 22-Feb-2013, very nearly three months ago.

It won’t be entirely done until the formal assessment process in July. More to the point, it wasn’t done because I hadn’t dealt with my tutor’s final report, nor with the damage to my final piece in the post.

p10_complete_01I’ve had Pat’s report for two months, and my parcel back almost as long but… I couldn’t figure out what to do.

I identified the major issues back in the project review post of 21-Feb-2013. Some critical phrases:
“the … wrapping is much too confused and visually distracting” (a quote from an even earlier post, writing about a sample – and repeated in the hope I’d addressed the problem).
“I’m not totally convinced by the black yarn binding, it’s a bit clunky visually, but it’s very important structurally.”
“The biggest test of my choices is yet to come – will the work survive multiple trips through the mail?”

Match this with Pat’s feedback:
“A bit confusing”; “dominant wrapping. Have another look at this”; “I can’t find an entry point for the eye”; “make sure the threads are anchored… one of the pieces had snapped”.

While being very clear that it was my choice what if anything to do, Pat had some specific suggestions – cutting down or rearranging the black; not so evenly spaced; perhaps leave head unwrapped.

To all this add that when the work arrived home the figure was a squashed little ball in the middle of the container. The discreet spots of hot glue anchoring the figure to the container had all failed, and clearly the figure had rattled around freely during all the handling of international postage. As a final injury, a second thread had snapped.

Doing nothing wasn’t an option – I had to take off the wrapping to re-fix the figure. Plus Pat’s points echoed what I already knew. I might second-guess myself, but it would be crazy to second-guess my highly experienced, capable and supportive tutor.

p10_yarnsplitI didn’t want to give up the spikey black yarn. It fits the subject so well, plus I had a length couched spiraling up one leg of the figure and it was printed on the red ribbon between phrases.
I found it could be split into two parts, making the interesting spikes much less heavy. The downside was that the yarn was a structural as well as visual element, maintaining the interesting squashed shape of the container. If the original thread had snapped under the strain there was no possibility the weakened split version would last.

Using a 26 gauge black wire to hold the structure was the solution I found. It’s quite non-intrusive visually and I was able to use it irregularly and on diagonals, avoiding an obvious grid.

Now the black yarn was purely for effect I could strip it down and use only the interesting part.

On the second issue of an entry point for the eye I decided to take Pat’s advice and keep the binding away from the head and much denser across the lower part of the body. This would give a clear space to enter the work, with more contrast and interest across the piece.

Fixing the figure in place proved more difficult. The hot glue didn’t adhere to the container. I’ve replaced it with pins going through the container and into the figure. There are two in the torso, one from each side hopefully creating a stable centre, and more in the head and legs. I wanted to avoid anything too obvious, so I’ve got my fingers crossed that this will last the (literal!) distance.

p10_figure_rework_01All of this sounds like problems solved – but they weren’t. I had anchored the figure and it seemed pretty stable when I shook it – but it was too high in the container. The wire was holding the squashed shape unobtrusively. The binding was improved … but still wrong. I couldn’t find a way to wrap the yarn and ribbon so they wouldn’t slip around and they wouldn’t intrude on the head.

I could give up or severely limit the binding with words – but that loses my whole point in developing the piece. Both the meaning of the text and the sense of constriction would go. Yesterday morning, mulling over options and fast disappearing time, I finally noticed an assumption. I was binding the words – influenced by Judith Scott’s work (see and posts 21-Feb-2013 and 28-Dec-2012). I’d chosen to make my figure from felt rather than binding, but the concept was still strong. I’d made a single very long ribbon of text and was trying to wrap the container and finding it really difficult to manage.

p10_figure_rework_02Giving up actual binding but producing the effect with separate pieces of ribbon would make placement easier – but how to hide the discontinuity on a transparent container? Perhaps a base – but without losing the distortions. In this first mockup I slid some black cardboard between the container and the existing wraps. Not bad, but the black merges with the dark of the open mouth and the head is a bit lost.

p10_figure_rework_03Mock-up mark II uses red cardboard and I liked it very much. It creates a place to hide discontinuities, it obscures some of the wrapping and thereby simplifies the image, it grounds the work and stops it floating in space, the red is a contrast to both the dark mouth and the pale skin so provides a background and foil to the head, and in my eyes it provides a coherence to the work, linking the red ribbon and the red in the dress.

p10_complete_01The final reworked piece. I’ve repeated the thumbnail of the original version on the right to make comparison easier.

The bad, heavy grid is gone. It’s better having the head clear. It was deliberate in the original to have words right across the mouth – they were meant to be gagging the figure. The extra meaning didn’t come through and the design is better without.
p10_figure_rework_05There’s space around the head and I agree with Pat’s concern about an entry point for the eye.

The whole effect is still quite busy and messy. I haven’t achieved the increasing density of “wrapping” across the work as I intended. It would be interesting to try lighting with a strong spot on the head area and the rest in relative darkness…

p10_figure_rework_07A pause while I tried to simulate that with a torch. Not an easy thing to manage a torch in one hand, a camera in the other, and find a camera setting that can cope with the lighting differences. In short it’s beyond my skills to capture and the colour of the torch light isn’t attractive, but this gives the idea. I think proper, careful directional lighting could really enhance the work.

p10_figure_rework_06The back view is reasonable. In original wrapping I tried to be very conscious of viewing from all directions and I think the complexity got too much for me. This time I focused on the front.

Using the cardboard base not only hides all the ends, but it gave a place to tape everything multiple times. I taped a second piece of cardboard on the first, sandwiching everything in and (I hope) making it more secure. The security of the pins holding the body remains a major concern. Everything is more stable – but will it be stable enough? It only has to survive one mailing intact.

Overall I’m very glad I made the changes and I think they go some way to meeting the concerns Pat raised.


Today I saw the Menagerie Exhibition at the Australian Museum.

The impact of lighting and shadows has been a recurring interest in my OCA work (for example 17-Feb-2013). There were some wonderful examples in Menagerie – all the more impressive because it’s in the Vernon wing (built 1896-1910), a huge room with tremendously high ceilings and lots of high windows. Photography was permitted (no flash).

Taking this photo I was concentrating on the shadow of Emu (2007) by Laurie Nilsen. Unfortunately I didn’t note the name of the artist of the piece at the bottom left, although I remember it was made of bull kelp and referenced the Devil Facial Tumor Disease that is threatening the Tasmanian Devil (more information on that at

Lena Yarinkura Camp Dogs, 2008

Garth Lena Echidna, 2006

Frewa Bardaluna Stingrays, 2008

Module Reflections -Textiles 1: A Creative Approach

Eighteen months ago, on 25-August-2011, I wrote about my hopes from the OCA course. I am now in the throes of packaging up the final assignment for this module. How has it gone?

  • Purposeful exploration. Tick! One of the things I’ve really enjoyed about the course is the structure – skills and ideas are introduced, you do initial exercises, then use the skills as one component of later sections.
  • New skills, particularly in design. Another tick, in the context of this being a foundation course. I’ve learned and improved. I need to practice and learn more if I want to keep improving.
  • Learn ways of expressing myself. Yes. I chose a theme which was very personal and which I found very challenging. I’m glad I did, and I feel the final piece is true to me as a person. That’s very satisfying.
  • Incorporate weaving in the work. Marginal. There was the structure section of the module, but that was mostly tapestry – very valid as weaving, but not previously my “thing” and not what I was thinking of in this point. On the other hand, I’m rather proud of myself for choosing not to use weave in the final piece.
  • Improve/train memory, with sketchbook work and a framework. My sketchbook work basically stopped during Assignment 5. I also slowed down on reading about art history. Both are very disappointing – it felt good and I enjoyed it when I was in rhythm. Definitely something I want to return to.
  • Learn about what others are doing in textiles. A strong yes. I’ve done more reading and been to more exhibitions, both textile and other forms of art, than ever before. This also fell apart during Assignment 5, when I developed a rather obsessive and narrow focus, but I’m confident will return.
  • Do things I wouldn’t have thought to do myself. Definitely. I never expected to make yarn and weave with fly-screen mesh, but now I think it’s a very exciting material that I want to use again. Overall I feel I’ve tried to push myself beyond my comfort zone and given the levels of discomfort I felt at various times I should rate that as achieved.

Those were all the hopes I listed, but I’ll add that I’ve found writing these reflections very helpful. I’m good at finding flaws – in de Bono’s terms I’m a strong black hat ( – valuable in moderation but… Writing my reflections I’ve tried to acknowledge the good parts in balance with areas needing improvement. It still feels uncomfortable, but my inner critic could afford to lose a little weight.

This style of learning suits me and my  circumstances well. I’m looking forward to more.

Project 10: Reflection

Having completed my “piece of my own” last Saturday I’ve spent time looking back through my themebook, design development and construction. On Sunday I also re-visited two major sources of inspiration.

sketch20121123_24dThe first was the Francis Bacon exhibition, now in its last week at the Art Gallery. I posted about this in December, just as I was finishing Assignment 4 (see post 25-Nov-2012). I wrote at the time it “felt raw and shocking and visceral and demanding and thumped me about the head until my ears were ringing” and “in every screaming face I saw Nancy, the subject or at least focus of my Ageing theme book”. I did sketch after sketch melding those screams and the nursing home room.

On this last visit my perspective had changed. I no longer saw Nancy – that image has developed down a different path. Instead I found myself seeing the paintings as paintings, looking at colour and mark-making and composition. I noticed details that I’d totally missed before. I was more familiar with the paintings, able to move on from that raw emotion. Interesting.

The second visit was later the same day, my standard 4pm Sunday with Nancy. Her voice has changed in the last week, it’s a little deeper. She’s still shaky and weak after the episode a fortnight ago and is even thinner – the bones of her hands used to be prominent, with the skin falling away, but now there are dark caves underneath the bone as the skin curves under. It is amazing the tenacity and endurance of the flesh, and I should be clear that not every moment is bleak or filled with despair. I’ve learnt a lot, read experts’ opinions, tables of statistics, lots of individual views and I have much stronger and clearer opinions myself – but it will be good to put those to one side for now and focus on doing whatever little I can to support the person, Nancy.

So on to the Assignment questions.

Can you see a continuous thread of development from your original drawings and samples to the final design?

Over the development period I had lots of ideas that were winnowed away as the design progressed. Ignoring the paths not followed, elements of the final design are evident from the early stages of collecting material in my theme book.
p10_path01A page dated 23-June-2012 has a little sketch tucked on one side that is surprisingly like the final design.

sketch20120701_nancybedJust a couple of days later I recorded the impact of the new, deluxe but too short bed that Nancy had been allocated, and the resulting contortion of her body.

In Stage 1 of Project 10 (blogged 22-Dec-2012) traps/constraints was one of five areas of focus I considered, and red tape was mentioned under the heading of strong emotion.

sketch20121226In Stage 2 (blogged 28-Dec-2012) I had considerable more clarity of focus – an exhibition piece focused on an individual and the critical experience of loss of choice, trapped in intense physical and emotional pain. The moodboard shown in that post has been a powerful guide throughout my work on the final piece and included the sketch shown here which is very close to the completed work. There are differences in the detail level – the figure itself was formed by binding, the container had bars more like a prison…

figurev2_01The plasticine model I made of the figure (first seen in the blog 1-Jan-2013) was a vital part of the design development. It let me think about the work in three dimensions, the shapes that could be created. I referred to the model throughout construction of the figure.

sketch20130123sketch201301dI also made extensive use of photographs of the model. It was an opportunity to check for other design directions, plus I gained familiarity with the shapes I wanted to make and I’m sure that assisted the actual fabrication. Re-reading that post I see mention of the importance of shadows. I’d forgotten all about that – it turns out my assumption that the shadows would be interesting was spot on.

shape_sample_04I tried a few construction methods for the figure (see post 6-Jan-2013), with the felt version the clear winner. I noted down a couple of extra ideas at the time which were included in the end, such as use of Nancy’s own dress, a loose “skirt”, and contrast colour in the mouth. One of the discarded samples had binding in the black spikey yarn overtaking the body, and I used that on the leg of the final figure.

sketch20130108Ongoing sketchbook work also played a part. On 7th of January I played around with overlapping words, and this was later developed into the binding on the container. This element was the last to be resolved in construction of the piece, as earlier ideas for interpretation of it did not work well in practice.

Further sampling and mockups assisted in colour choice and what I thought were final design decisions – although in retrospect I was too quick to dismiss my concern that “the sample wrapping is much too confused and visually distracting” (blog post 28-Jan-2013). This led to the only significant change of the design during construction. The plan of stitching words on black cotton tape to bind the container did not work. Another round of sampling was required to find different materials and techniques (blogged 15-Feb-2013) – although in the end the solution harked back to my earlier thoughts of red tape.

In summary I feel there was is a very clear and continuous thread from initial collection of theme ideas, through all stages of design development and sampling, to final design, construction and the finished piece.

Do you feel you made the right decisions at each stage of the design process? If not, what changes would you make?

I think I made good decisions at each stage. I kept true to the emotion which drew me to my theme in the first place. The choice to make an exhibition style piece was right in that sense, but it had to be interpreted within the postage constraints of volume, weight and cost.

shape_sample_02I’m pleased that I was able to make decisions that hurt, that I didn’t want to make. Judith Scott’s work (see and my comments 28-Dec-2012) really influenced me with those overtones of constriction and distortion of the body, but my small sample raised problems with scale, and as a story having the body bound within a container didn’t quite make sense.

nancy_leno_2It was difficult to give up the covering blanket (see post 7-Jul-2012). I was so happy doing that bit of weaving. It would feel so right right as a weaver to have some weaving incorporated in the final piece, and even now looking at my work I can imagine a little blanket in there. However I think it would have been unnecessary complication and would have detracted from the work as a whole.

Were you able to interpret your ideas well within the techniques and materials you chose to work with?

Generally I feel the work is a sound interpretation of my design.

The wire I used at the core of the figure was not firm enough to get the shaping I wanted. The figure is more rectangular rather than curved. If I wanted to do something similar in the future I would explore other materials, gauges and type of wire, or at least doubled the wire.

I thought the figure could end up looking like a doll (or at one point an alien in a cheap sci-fi movie) but in my eyes it avoids that. The strange proportions, the multi-jointed leg, contribute to an overall sense of wrongness.

The synthetic organza ribbon and the printing film can look a bit artificial and plastic depending on lighting direction and intensity. Overall I think that choice was alright, but not spot on.

The biggest test of my choices is yet to come – will the work survive multiple trips through the mail?

How successful is your final design in terms of being inventive within the medium and coherent as a whole?

I don’t think I have been inventive as such. Possibly using the needle-felting tool to attach the dress to the body was unusual. Crushing the box was a small thing that may not be obvious but gives some interesting reflections. I think it was a good idea to scan the binding yarn and include it on the printing for the ribbon – not something you might be conscious of when looking at the work, but a subtle ratcheting-up from the alternative of blank space between phrases. I did things I‘ve never done before, but nothing that hasn’t been done by others.

In my eyes the final work makes a coherent whole. Each element has a purpose and makes a contribution. I’m not totally convinced by the black yarn binding, it’s a bit clunky visually, but it’s very important structurally. Obviously I hope to go on to make more and better work, quite possibly on the same theme, but Aged Care pretty much achieves what I set out to achieve.

I have tried to follow a development process, but my emotional attachment may have taken over from course requirements at times. I don’t regret that at all. I wouldn’t want to work with a theme I find so intense all the time, but certainly it should be a substantial part of what I do.

It’s ironic that this work about the voiceless will itself never been seen or heard.

Project 10 Stage 4 – More photos!

I thought I’d posted enough yesterday, but I just noticed the effect of the late afternoon sun.


Lots of shadows.

Shadows inside the container too – can you see them cutting across the neck and coming down to gag the mouth?

Given my previous obsessions I’m amazed I didn’t try for a silhouette sooner. I love the way the balance has changed – the dark figure, the ribbon binding almost reduced to “just” the words.

Project 10 Stage 4 – Aged Care

Below is a series of images of Aged Care, my final piece for the OCA course Textiles 1: A Creative Approach to Textiles.  Click on a photo to be taken into a carousel that lets you scroll through the full size images one by one.

Aged Care
Words trap the voiceless.

Quotes and sources:
“the elderly or vulnerable may be coerced into agreeing to end their life for somebody else’s gain” Comment by “jo jo” to article Novak, L. “Euthanasia could become a matter of will in South Australia” Accessed 11-Feb-2013
“it is inherently wrong to end a life in answer to suffering” From “A Disability Position Statement On Euthanasia and Physician-assisted Suicide” Accessed 11-Feb-2013
“Reducing the availability of means of suicide as a preventive strategy has been advocated as an important strategic initiative”. Cattell, H. “Suicide in the elderly”. In: Advances in Psychiatric Treatment (2000) 6: 102-108 doi: 10.1192/apt.6.2.102 Accessed 20-Aug-2012
“voluntary euthanasia could be open to the terrible abuse of the elderly” Gillian Mears discussing her earlier (now changed) views on the topic, quoted in Power, J. “Author’s new view on final chapter”. Accessed 19-Nov-2012
“the act of suicide in late life is rarely a rational act or an unavoidable tragedy” Cattell, H. “Suicide in the elderly”. In: Advances in Psychiatric Treatment (2000) 6: 102-108 doi: 10.1192/apt.6.2.102 Accessed 20-Aug-2012
“fraught with danger” Rob Stokes quoted in Tovey, J. “Euthanasia is just a bridge too far”
Accessed 23-Oct-2012
“affects the values of society over time” Quote in Davey, M. “Doctor slams ‘arrogance’ on euthanasia” Accessed 24-Oct-2012
“a Trojan horse for involuntary euthanasia” Kelleher, T, Death on demand: euthanasia and assisted suicide in Australia – (AFA Journal Vol.32 No.1 2011) Accessed 11-Feb-2013
“the abuse of elderly people by coercion and psychological manipulation” Accessed 22-Jan-2013
“regardless of circumstances, no suicides are all right” Russell, P. LIFE ISSUES: Assisted suicide rationalised by misguided motives Accessed 11-Feb-2013
“exploitation and perhaps callousness towards people in the end stage of life” Julie Gillard quoted in Davey, M. “Doctor slams ‘arrogance’ on euthanasia” Accessed 24-Oct-2012
“euthanasia and assisted suicide legislation is never safe”
Accessed 11-Feb-2013

That’s it for the presentation but since this is my blog and my soapbox, I’m going to give voice to my take on assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia for the elderly.

I believe the individual should have the final choice on whether and when to end their life. Safeguards – checks and balances – are needed to ensure that there is no coercion or manipulation. It will be difficult to draft the legislation, but being difficult doesn’t mean impossible. It won’t be perfect, nothing is – the current situation is far, far, far from perfect.

The individual should be able to make a living will, setting out various potential circumstances and what they want to happen. If a person thinks that’s dangerous, then don’t make one – or even better, make a living will with clear instructions that to you personally every second of life is precious and you want every step taken to prolong your life as long as possible in all circumstances. It’s your choice.

I think that for many people, if they are confident that their wishes will be honoured, they will be able to relax and enjoy their life longer. Knowing they won’t be trapped, that they have control over their own life, the final step can be delayed until they are ready. Maybe with extra time, with no fear of legal consequences, they will be able to discuss their personal choice and reasons with their family and loved ones. That could make a difference to those left behind.

Excellent palliative care, identification and treatment of depression, support for those lonely or grieving – all have been raised as removing the need for assisted suicide or voluntary euthanasia. In practice there isn’t the funding available to make these services available to everyone and they are not the choice of everyone. In Nancy’s case, she was “lucky”. She spent time in a psych ward following her suicide attempt and later spent a couple of months in an acute care hospital while her specialist attempted to find a balance of medication that dealt with her pain without too many side-effects. There has been no ongoing support in the nursing home. Even something as simple as a heat-pack – the one sure way to ease her pain a little – is only available sporadically.

To address this, I believe any savings in the system due to reduced long-term care of those individuals who choose assisted suicide or voluntary euthanasia should be immediately used to provide additional funding to palliative care, treatment of depression, and all those other valuable programs that support individuals, perhaps making what was unbearable bearable – for at least a little longer.

Project 10 Stage 4 – part 2

After making the figure (blogged 9-Feb-2013) the second major phase of construction was the binding tape.

p5_text_choicesIt turned into a multi-stage process to decide just what I wanted and how to achieve my design. Since this course is so much about process I want to show the various steps and decision points. I’ve been trying to observe myself work, and one standard sequence is that I ask myself a question or come up against a problem, it rumbles around in my mind – conscious and unconscious – I have various conversations with myself, and generally an answer, or part of one, or a new question, comes up in minutes, hours or days. This time multiple iterations of that pattern were needed. It’s not inspiration, it doesn’t come from nowhere – but it’s hard to explain where it does come from.

p10materials031. Initially I collected a reasonably wide range of ribbons, tapes and yarns. The sampling during Stage 3 clearly showed that using all of them was way too busy (blogged 28-Jan-2013).

2. I pruned the proposed bindings down to just two widths of black tape, plus the spikey over-twist yarn (which I think is reminiscent of barbed wire). In the top photo step 2 shows the text stitched in bright rayon threads. I purchased some matt cotton thread in the colours of the figures’ “dress” to use on the actual piece.

3. Although I have completed the various Research Points of my current course I have continued reading, particularly on the subject of “craft”. In an essay on the genesis of “Craftivism” Betsy Greer writes about the impact of a parade she watched in Greenwich Village (1). Puppets floated along in the parade, omitting words but powerfully conveying anger and frustration on a range of issues. The tangible visual imagery seemed potent, hard to dismiss, more powerful than raised voices.

I don’t think my work really fits within Craftivism and it’s not a term I would choose for myself. However I did stop and re-evaluate my purpose and whether the use of text could weaken rather than enhance any impact of the work. For me a critical point is that the text itself does not contain the protest. Instead I am showing the words of others and the consequences of those words in practice. These words, however well-intentioned, however much based on deeply held beliefs, are trapping individuals who themselves are voiceless. The contrast of the harsh impersonal words to the experience of the voiceless individual is the whole point of the piece. So the words stay, in the hope that one day they will change.

4. Having decided to keep the words, I wondered if it would be more effective to make them less prominent. The focus should be on the trapped figure. Perhaps the nature of the trap should be less obvious, only understood at closer range and with some effort on the part of the viewer. I experimented stitching with various values of grey on the black tape, and found intriguing the darker values that looked more like texture at a distance then revealed their message when close.

Unfortunately when I did an initial trial wrapping of the final figure in the container using my prepared tapes the result was awful. The black tape was just too dominant, even when just using the narrower version. I would try a new wrapping, walk out of the room a while, come back – still ugly and uninteresting, concealing the figure way too much.

5. After some walking and pondering I decided to try organza – ribbon and torn strips of cloth. Shopping fitted into a lunch break didn’t produce many options. I couldn’t find black organza ribbon in a width that just fit the sewing machine stitched letters. The white organza looked great at first, but reflected too much when I used stronger lighting. Another problem was legibility. Using a wash-away stabiliser helped the sewing machine to form the stitches, but they distorted and became unreadable. I quite like making the viewer work a little to gain information, but I don’t want them to get frustrated and quickly turn away. Torn or handcut edges didn’t seem to fit the harsh impersonal nature of the words.

6. I tried writing by hand on the narrow black organza ribbon using a variety of pens, pencils and crayon. It was difficult to make the lettering legible. Also it felt important that the text had a impersonal machine-made look.

7. A way to print on organza ribbon was needed. Next lunchtime I was over to the art supply store where they recommended Grafix Rub-onz. On the way back to the office I remembered a very early idea about red tape – perhaps I could find red ribbon in a good width. While making a short detour to the fabric/craft store I realised that since I would be printing from the computer I could scan in my spikey yarn and use that image in the gap between printed phrases. Suddenly I was very excited.

Using the Rub-onz product is fiddly but do-able. There’s a bit of a plastic sheen from the film – but since the ribbon is organza the lettering film could show through from the back, much reducing the problem.

8. (not shown). There was quite a bit more thinking and experimenting with the extra choices now available. What font to choose? I chose Arial – bland and impersonal. All upper case, all lower or a mixture? I chose all upper – to me it looks more spikey, harsh and angular, plus there’s the idea that these phrases are being shouted out so that the individual can’t be heard. The end result also reminds me of police tape around a crime scene.

Earlier today I finished creating text on 5 metres of tape, which is now in a test wrap on the container. I look at it every now and then, wondering if I’m happy with the placement or how it could be improved.

(1) Greer, B., 2011. Craftivist History. In: M. E. Buszek, ed. Extra/Ordinary: Craft and contemporary art. Durham and London: Duke University Press, pp. 175-183.

Project 10 Stage 4 – part 1

This Stage involves making all or representative part of the designed textile. I should be able to complete my piece in an amount of time appropriate to the assignment – fortunate since it would be difficult to isolate a representative part!

I started by making the figure – the most critical element and also the one most technically challenging and beyond my existing experience and skillset.
figureconstruction01First up was the head, which you might be able to see middle left in the photo – a core of the purple merino, then a “skin” of the blend I chose in the earlier colour mixing process in Stage 3 (posted 28-Jan-2013). Next the torso, needle-felting using Border Leicester wool. At this stage I didn’t incorporate the wire frame, thinking that it could cause broken needles and also repeated flexing of the wire could weaken it.

figureconstruction02Inserting the wire proved difficult, but after some tense moments not impossible. There is one wire running from the head, through the torso to the right foot – a spine. A second wire forms the arms, with a twist around the spine. A third wire is the left leg, one end twisted around the spine. Most of the mass of wool above the shoulders was cut off later.

figureconstruction03Some additional pieces of wool were added to give some additional shape to the torso. The mouth has been cut, revealing the purple interior. I intended to make the figure slightly larger than the plasticine model, but at this stage was concerned at just how much bigger the figure was becoming.

figureconstruction04A merino skin has been added to the torso. This photo shows the process of wet-felting the arms and legs. There are four layers of merino, long but just one fibre-length wide. The dark blue “veins” are only in the final layer. I’d been thinking of trying to keep a wrinkly look to the skin, or perhaps that falling away from the bone affect from loss of weight and muscle, but found it too tricky at this scale.

figureconstruction05The basic figure pretty much finished – and much larger than the plasticine model. That’s a 30 cm / 12 inch ruler on the left. There were some technical issues getting to this point.

shape_sample_05I had wanted to get a wrinkly neck like the earlier sample (posted 6-Jan-2013), but while putting it on decided that could only have been done by starting at the head, because the torso was pretty much fixed and I couldn’t move it to compress the felt.

I then partly proved this wrong by changing the way the head was attached. Relying on the strength of the felt alone seemed dangerous given all the travelling this figure is going to do. Eventually I put the wire entirely through the head and bent the end at an angle (covered by a needle-felted “toupée”), plus a dot of hot glue at the base of the head.

The big concern at this point is that the figure looks like a puppet alien in a low-budget movie.

figureconstruction06Next a dress was created, first shaped and slightly attached to the body using the felting needle. This worked well in terms of shaping, basically breaking down and softening the structure of the cotton fabric so it conformed quite well to the torso shape. I snipped away unneeded material as I went. It wasn’t well attached, so after some experimentation I used a dilute glue, painted all over the fitted fabric.

figureconstruction07This is almost the finished figure. The arms and legs are unfinished because I wanted to do some dry-fitting in the container, see what shapes could be created, before making a final decision. I’ve also put a few stitches in the skirt of the dress, hoping to hold it in place while travelling, plus couched some black yarn winding its way up one leg. Those details can wait for the final “reveal”.

Overall making the figure went well. A few details didn’t go as planned, but given I was taking multiple leaps in dark, unfamiliar territory it went better than I expected. On a more sombre and real note, the greatest difficulty during the making of the figure was a health challenge for Nancy last weekend – probably a Transient Ischaemic Attack (TIA) from what one of the nurses said. I was visiting her at the time. Without going into detail it was very disturbing to witness and I was relieved later to find that she has no memory of it – just woke from a little nap to find I had vanished and nurses were bustling around her with an oxygen tank. One of the hardest parts was trying to understand or know what Nancy wanted. I know she’s refused medical or hospital assistance in the past, that she not infrequently says she hopes that each day, each night, will be the one she dies. At one point early in the attack she was trying to say something but was incomprehensible. Did she want help? I couldn’t sit there passive. I went and got the nurses. I feel a hypocrite and that I failed her, but more important is what Nancy is feeling – and that’s unbearable to think about.

Exhibition: Alexander The Great

20130208_alexander_01Today I went with my mother to the Alexander The Great: 2000 Years of Treasures exhibition at the Australian Museum in Sydney. Mum brought us to this museum pretty much every school holiday when we were young. We’d be set up with a clipboard and fact sheet to fill in, then mum would go off to do her research (something geological presumably) while we explored. There was a beautiful minerals collection and dinosaur skeletons and a mummy in a sarcophagus and lots more wonders, plus high ceilings, tiled floors, polished wood and a huge staircase – I loved it. After a few hours of fun and interest we’d go up to the cafeteria to meet mum for lunch. It was only in the last few years I learned mum’s “research” involved going straight to the cafeteria, a cup of tea, a good book, feet up and some peace from the five of us!

20130208_alexander_02This part of the complex didn’t exist in those days. Stonework from various phases of building from the 1840s to 1910 is seen here next to a 1980s addition (the sections from 1963 and 2008 aren’t in shot).

The Alexander exhibition is from the State Hermitage Museum of St Petersburg – around 350 items dating from before 500 BCE to the 1840s. To be honest I was overwhelmed. I don’t have a mental frame of reference to understand what I was looking at, I’m not familiar with the sweep of history. I tried to read everything, watch the videos, concentrate on the lines of each piece – and I got lost. After maybe 90 minutes we stopped for lunch (the cafeteria has moved in the last 30 to 40 years 🙂 ).

sketch20130208aAfter lunch I took a different approach. I dug out a little sketchbook and a biro, then wandered through the exhibition just looking. If something took my eye I’d try a quick sketch, take a couple of notes. Some were things I thought could be translated into motifs in a textile. I was also attracted to lines of drapery (lots to choose from in that category).

sketch20130208bPaintings on vases, amphora etc were interesting. Most of the large statues seemed to be warriors, philosophers or gods in idealised, heroic poses. It was refreshing to find on a vase a woman, resplendent in jewels, leaning languidly on a pillar.

sketch20130208cThere were a number of textiles, quite a few small woven tapestries in linen and wool from the 4th and 5th centuries AD. There was also a massive tapestry from the late 1600s, Alexander the Great and the family of Darius, which was one of three interpretations in the exhibition of the same painting – the others being an engraving and an enamelled wine goblet. A major irritation was caused by the labelling of a woven panel that was block printed. The accompanying sign called it a tapestry (many exclamation marks of horror!) (note: just checked the catalogue and it’s OK).

sketch20130208dI’m planning to take Understanding Art 1: Western Art as my next OCA course, and today’s experience has made me even more keen to complete my current project. Alexander is on until late April and I would love to see it again with a bit more knowledge and understanding.

Project 10 Stage 3 – part 5

The last couple of days have been spent working through colour and material decisions – on the figure: skin, open mouth, dress; on the binding: type(s), colour(s), stitching colours. In Stage 2 (posted 28-Dec-2012) I wrote “orange is the major colour on the moodboard, but in the sketchbook pages I chose earlier there was a preponderance of black and purple, with just flashes of green and orange. As mentioned above the idea of legal red tape, and blood red keep returning, as does institutional drab”, but there’s been a lot of development and constraining choices since then.

p10materials04I have three of Nancy’s old dresses plus a worn-out nightie (nightdress?), and very much want to use one of those. Black has long seemed the most likely contender for the binding, and I’ve put together a range of tapes and ribbons which might be useful. The dress fabrics are all 100% cotton, the bindings include cotton, synthetics and a raffia.

You might be able to see some lines drawn on the fabrics in the photograph. I spent some time identifying the pattern repeat, just to build some familiarity with them. The pale nightie was smallest at 9.5 x 12.5 cm (assuming I found the repeat – it’s quite faint and non-descript), up to 19 x 19.5 on the large scale print at the top of the photo.

p10materials01This photo shows the bindings around a cellophane box. The box has been crushed out of shape – a possibility I mentioned last post – and as hoped some interesting reflections have been created. It also creates some space for shadows underneath, an unanticipated bonus which makes me happy. The black looks good on the cellophane box, and I don’t feel any need to explore other colours.

The sample wrapping above is much too confused and visually distracting. The final wrapping will be more considered and less messy, but I won’t be able to fine-tune placement until I’ve made the actual figure and can see the interaction and shapes created. Final decisions must wait until then, but at this stage I’m planning on using just the three different sizes of cotton tape plus the spikey yarn.

p10materials02Some small swatches of the four fabrics have been added here (caught between the back of the box and the bindings. I’ve chosen the second from the left for the figure. A lighter fabric will contrast with the black bindings, and I think will probably be more visible inside the container. The large scale print is much too big for the scale of figure I am making. The nightie is nice and light, but I prefer the more identifiable Liberty dress fabrics. They were always a favourite of Nancy’s. The green-based print is darker than the others, so not as suitable. I think the scale, light background and bright colours of the chosen print will work well. As well as the personal association (having been purchased and worn by Nancy), in my eyes at least this fabric suggests an older wearer.

p10materials03In this photograph I’ve put in some bindings showing text stitching. The effect on the sample is even more busy, but it shows that two lines of text can be fit on the largest tape. Again the final decision can be made later, but the current thought is to stitch in colours that can be found in the dress fabric, adding a kind of visual connection to the words and to their subject.

p10materialscomboI spent some time using gimp to combine various photographs in layers, just to give a sense of what I’m aiming for. It actually looks pretty dreadful, in particular the shape and scale of the body is all wrong, but it provides a kind of summary of what I’m attempting.

p10materials05Missing in the discussion above is consideration of the figure’s colour. The wool felt was by far the most successful of the samples I made (post 6-Jan-2013). I quite liked the colour of the sample at the time, but now it looks too clean and cheerful. I made the colour samples on the left yesterday and today, and most of them are still damp (it’s the Australia Day public holiday today, so naturally it’s raining). I wanted something just a little off, not natural, but not wildly unnatural. For the open mouth I went back to those initial colour ideas and tried a few reds and purples.

p10materials06The early felt figure samples are included on the right in this photograph. The chosen fabric is in the centre, and you might be able to see the little black lines included in the pattern, which give another visual link to the bindings. Top left is the selected mix for the skin colour. There’s a bit of an old, drab, slightly dusty or grubby look, and the pinch of dark blue in the mix suggests the raised veins visible. There’s also a pinch of a darkish brown, which gives a slightly mottled, aged-spotted appearance. For the open mouth I’m tending towards the dark purple at the moment, with the dark red as runnerup. The purple should be a little unexpected, a little jarring – and also a little jarring in that it isn’t quite the black of the bindings.

After all the planning and sampling it’s now time to see if I can actually make this thing.


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