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.

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