To keep away the Wednesday blues I decided to work from my recent train doodles, enlarging them and working into the drawings with pastels, oil pastels, gouache and marker pen. Perhaps the next step is, how do I transform these drawings into three dimensional objects?
These two still life compositions were inspired by seeing Chloe Peytermann’s ‘atolls’ at Collect earlier this year. I layered coloured slips and leftover glazes thickly on top which created bubbling, marbled surface colours. The thrown bottle forms on top reference vessels but are not containers in themselves. I’d like to make similar compositions in porcelain with bottles on top referencing the cheeky ‘wonky wine bottles’ illustrations I did for Dylanwad Da’s recipe book a few years ago.
The bottles in my drawings below look a bit like little people, crowds gathered together in conversation on floating ceramic icebergs. I like the idea of playing with function – although the small bottles might be able to be used, they will be secured together to a base which makes them impractical. The upside down thrown forms act as plinths or tables on top of which other objects can be displayed.
From the rough-hewn and rustic to Roy Lichtenstein – Mick’s next challenge, to make a set of pop art inspired oil lamps, came as a surprise. Pop art is generally defined as an art movement that emerged in the UK and US in the mid 1950s, drawing inspiration from pop culture and advertising and characterised by the use of bold colours, consumer goods as subject matter, the combination of text and image and a change of focus from abstract to representation. It’s ironic, it’s tawdry, it’s Warhol’s ‘Campbell’s soup’ it is, to quote, ‘the inedible, raised to the unspeakable’.
A few years ago there was an interesting culture show documentary called ‘Pop go the women’ about all the forgotten female artists involved with the pop art scene during the 50s and 60s, who’s work is, sadly, overlooked.
‘Petticoat’ tin oil lamp
I began my research into oil-lamps by using the V and A and British museum collection databases, but found my spark of inspiration closer to home while scouring through metsearch. It’s a tin ‘petticoat’ oil lamp about 10cm tall from Texas. Apart from this there’s very little information but the elegance and asymmetrical balance of the form captured my imagination. The shape struck me as something that could me assembled from a series of thrown cones and bowl forms and led me to explore sketching composite thrown shapes in my sketchbook.
I went on to throw and turn a variety of shapes on the wheel in White StThomas clay, then played with placing them together like stackable children’s toys, cutting some of the cones and cylinders at jaunty angles like Walter Keeler suggested in his masterclass, in order to give the lamps more character. I then attached pulled handles which will make them easier to use and emphasises the asymmetry which I find attractive.
To decorate, I wanted a design that wouldn’t detract too much attention from the forms. Roy Lichtenstein’s polka dots have always felt iconic of pop art to me, so I tired cutting circular stencils from newspaper for paper resist, but was unsatisfied with how organic they looked. Pop art was about mass-production and sharp, clean graphics, so today I spent some time in soft modelling workshop learning how to use the laser cutter to cut out ‘halftone dots’ into paper. I was advised newspaper might catch fire and blow around too much but standard printer paper is ideal. Like newspaper it can be wet and attached to a rounded surface so slip can be painted over easily. I had to cut it to 600mm x 400mm then masking tape it to an MDF board of the same size for the laser machine, which only took a couple of minutes to cut the design. The singeing on top was caused by the first Adobe Illustrator vector file having too many layers of lines.
I’ve painted the lamps above in blue, orange, yellow, green and black slip, using the cut up laser cut stencil to make polka dot patterns. The effect wasn’t as clean as I hoped but I found leaving the slip to dry before removing the stencil stops splodging. I might try using the stencil with underglaze colours to add more pattern, Pop art after all seems to be a bit about going over the top.
This second week field project was an introduction to colour theory and the screen-printing process, and for myself an induction into the printmaking workshop.
We started with a colour mixing task. Each person in our group of six was given one of six primary colours in acrylic paint – phthalo blue or ultramarine, cadmium yellow or lemon yellow, cadmium red or magenta then we mixed the exact complimentary of this colour. So for lemon yellow which is towards the bluer end of the spectrum we would make a purple that was more red/pink. Next we mixed the complimentary colours together to get a third shade, and to get a black mixed all three primary colours into one.
Before beginning the screens needed to be cleaned with a water jet set on high and the aid of a cleaning agent. These were then left to dry by the radiator in the darkroom. Once dry a thin layer of emulsion was scraped up to form a rectangle in the centre of the screen using a trough and was left to dry for 45 minutes.
During this waiting time we cut shapes and patterns from black sheets of paper ready to expose the emulsion in the vacuum screen printing press. The cut out shapes were arranged on top of the glass box and the emulsion covered screen was put face-down on top, with a small tube placed inside to aid the vacuum. The screen is exposed to light for 2 minutes during which time the UV light burns away any unwanted emulsion to leave the stencilled shapes. Afterwards we used masking tape to tape around the edges of the screens, leaving a rectangle the size of the paper we were to print on in the middle.
Our acrylic colours were mixed with the same volume of printing medium and the screens attached to frames over vacuum printing beds. A taped down piece of acetate helped to gauge where to place the paper and then paint was pulled firmly through the screen using rubber squeegees held at an angle. Once we’d ran out of a colour the tape was removed and screen was washed again with the water jet (on a low setting to preserve the emulsion). We layered patterns from the two screens we’d exposed to create prints like the ones below on coloured paper…
The next step was to transform these 2D prints into 3D sculpture. We were shown a Powerpoint about how artists in the past have used colour theory and were particularly drawn to Victor Vasarely’s geometric op art forms. Our final piece is made of 8 separate components which can be seen below, together forming a space-ship shaped mobile. The placing of squares of colour on top of one another was inspired by German artist Josef Albers’s ‘Homage to the Square’ series.
The process of screen-printing feels quite laborious but once the emulsion has been exposed the screen can be re-used thousands of times. It’s also quite a fast printing process once you get going. I struggled with the technique of pulling down the paint and my first results were very uneven but I found moving to a lower table helped. There’s scope for me to experiment with screen printing slips or glazes onto acetate which can then be transferred onto rounded forms and clay vessels. Slabs could be printed onto in the same way we printed onto paper, then cut up and re-assembled. We used coloured paper and I could even add pigment to the clay itself in the same way to see if this changes the printed surface colours.
Last week’s constellation day on Thursday we took to Llandaff fields, braving the raging Storm Doris and the threat of rain to create indexical drawings. Indexical drawings record that something has happened and document the activity involved rather than being ‘icons’- resembling the thing they are drawings of or being conventional symbols like music notation. It could be argued a piece of sheet music is a drawing of music but we know it has no relation to the way we experience music, it is just symbolic.
The road to the park was scattered with broken branches, victims of the storm the night before and the trees above us swayed precariously. However, we decided to use the blustery weather to our advantage, harnessing the power of the wind to create a drawing that would be impossible to capture on a clam day. Our group of four gathered together our tools – some old violin strings to tie things together, brightly coloured sharpies to draw with and sketchbooks to draw on. We were attracted to the movement of the trees swaying but how could we capture this energy and activity when the branches were meters above us? In one corner of the field we spotted a sapling, about four feet tall and decided to use this tree for our exercise. We tied a couple of marker pens to a swinging branch, held a sheet of paper underneath then let nature do its work.
The image below shows the results of the branch’s movement over 10 minutes. As the wind blew the plant, the sharpies swayed over the paper in a random pattern, stopping and starting, tapping here and there then sweeping over in long calligraphic lines like a miniature Jackson Pollock. What is the result? A collaboration between uncontrollable natural forces and human intervention? A drawing of what wind looks like?
Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson made a fascinating series of kinetic drawings called ‘Connecting cross country with a line’ (2013) in which a drawing machine drew’journeys’ between train stations. An ink coated ball rolled around a sheet of paper, documenting the topography of the country as the train winded and juddered. The varying darkness of lines as the ink runs out is beautiful.
The randomness of line quality in both our work and Eliasson’s reminded me of a workshop I took part in a few years ago with artist Zoe Robertson. We set off machines that vibrated, filled with felt pens onto a sheet of paper and they created abstract patterns of coloured lines, pooling where the robots got stuck and forming dotted, tentative lines where the pens weren’t laid flat.
These unconventional methods of drawing are exciting and I like their move away from dependence on human agency to create them. I think it’s the same reason I like the unexpected results of raku and saggar firing. The lack of control makes the outcome feel like more of a collaboration between myself and the forces of nature rather than forcing materials to my will.