Sunday, 27 March 2011

Inspiring knit and project inspiration

On Monday I finally have to make the decision whether to specialize for the next 2 and a half years in print, stitch, knit or weave. I am drawn to weave at the moment. I think this is because it is such a skilled craft with a vast history which covers numerous different cultures. I find the whole process rather theraputic and the notion of actually creating a cloth from nothing is exceptionally rewarding. However, knit is a close contender! Knit excited me because of its possibilities in an experimental way and its ability to become 3-D and sculptural. I have already blogged on Laura Theiss, who's knitwear is incredible but here are a couple more inspirational knitters.


I am really fond of her alternative take on patchwork. Very original.


The sculptural quality of her knitwear makes them appear otherwordly and surreal. High impact and high drama. They have been inspiring in informing my current fashion project in which I am making knitted menswear trousers. They are going to be made up of panels of knitted ruffles as seen below. Despite being soft and rather feminine looking, I hope that bunched together en mass and their movement as our lovely male model shimmies down the catwalk will give them some va va voom.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Susan Hiller

Susan Hiller, a highly influential american artist who is known for her innovative use of ignored or overlooked aspects of our culture, currently has her largest exhibition to date at Tate Britain. The exhibition is in complete contrast to the other, 'Watercolour' exhibition also on display as it is not exactly what I would call aesthetically pleasing but instead is quite challenging and ambiguous.

The artist, much to my liking, uses materials which are generally considered unimportant such as old seaside postcards and utilizes them in a way which balances the familiar with the unexplained, hence inviting us to participate in the creation of meaning. Her almost obsessive collecting and documenting reminded me of the nature of our pop-up projects. Her practice also bizzarely incorporates subconscious processes such as dreaming, reverie, automatic writing and improvised vocalisations.

As a lover of the ocean, I was enthralled by 'Dedicated to the Unknown Artists'. It is a huge collection of painted, photographed or hand tinted postcards collected from British seaside towns captioned 'rough sea'. Hiller has meticulously arranged and grouped the postcards into different types of image and has even used charts to add further documentation. Playing on the idea that the British have a famous fascination with the weather is an important message. Her organisation also allows her to be seen as a curator, presenting an exhibition of these overlooked cultural materials.

Hiller's clever use of recycled materials reminded me somewhat of the Orzoco exhibition at Tate modern. 'Work in Progress, Tuesday', 1980 was a visually stunning sculpture made of unravelled canvas threads knotted and twisted. After my macrame workshop and technical blocks in knit and weave, I am particularly interested in constructing a fabric and am always eager to use alternative media. This clever use of old canvas threads is both original and resourceful.

Aside from their visual appearance, the message behind some of the works is often deep and profound. 'Monument', pictured below, was prompted by Hiller's discovery of a neglected Victorian monument to civilian heroes in a little-known park in the City of London. The haunting soundtrack the viewer must listen to when perched on the bench makes you become an active participant in the work. The haunting voice and repetitive words you hear hint at the idea that the dead can speak to us. I found the whole experience rather unsettling.

'From the Freud Museum', an anthology of collected materials- personal mementos, private relics and talismans evoked the display of an anthropological museum and was far more to my taste. Each box contained shards of memory archived in instinctive combinations of meaning. Though certain narratives linking the object, images and texts are suggested a significant amount of freedom is denoted to the audience to come up with their own interpretations.

As a language enthusiast, my favourite work has to be 'The Last Silent Movie'. Hiller presents the recordings of the last speakers of extinct or endangered languages. Buried in archives for years, these recordings have been given a voice again by the artist. Accompanying etchings are based on oscilloscope traces of the voices on the soundtrack.

Overall the exhibition was extremely interactive and engaging. Certain works were profound and presented thought provoking messages, however I personally found some too conceptual and far-fetched.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Craft and Craftiness

Can craft be a tool for achieving sustainability in your creative work? And
just how crafty do you need to be to make a success of it?

'Cyndi Rhoades, multi-award-winning social entrepreneur who's refashioning
approaches to textile waste and ethical clothing, Lizzie Harrison, whose
ReMade project is upskilling a community of women and producing a recycled
clothing brand and Sophie Thomas, co-founder of the UK's leading sustainable
graphic design studio and passionate advocate for sustainable materials use,
apply their collective design skills to unpicking how rethinking materials
use and traditional skills can help us to create a more sustainable approach
to making.'

Last night I attended the final lecture in the Royal College of Art's sustainability themed talks. The lecture was of particular interest due to our current project which involves creating a garment with sustainability in mind. In a fashion and textiles capacity am a strong believer in the need to look back at traditional craft and skills to inform our practice as designers. All of the speakers were designers who have chosen to approach designing in an alternative way to the majority. Instead of producing more, they utilize what we already have.
Two main points of interest that I picked up on during the evening were-

- The importance of not mixing different materials as this makes them so difficult to return to their original elements and therefore are nigh on impossible to recycle.

-The idea that a designer can offer a service. A few of the speakers spoke about the importance of traditional craft in their work to create consumer goods. But as well as offering these goods, the idea of teaching people to create these goods themselves is of equal importance.

I was particularly struck by the simple yet highly effective Kitigunia chair-bag by Dejan Mitrovic, a recent RCA graduate. When set the brief by the RCA to design a chair, Dejan was overwhelmed by the amount of chairs already in production in the west. He therefore decided to design for a country that did not have any chairs already, Uganda. His design is simple, lightweight, portable and extremely useful. He chose to use materials that would be in abundance in this African country- bamboo, coffee sacks and straw and has created a simple image only manual so that the people of Uganda can construct these chairs themselves.

Cyndi Rhoades' fashion brand 'Worn Again' has corporate partnership at its core. The company primarily works with recycling old uniforms which on average are worn for 18 months before being sent to landfill. This common phenomena within corporate ware creates extremely large quantities of waste and poses a real issue to tackle. 'Worn Again' transforms the old uniforms, e.g. old Royal Mail storm jackets into desirable consumer goods. Cyndi's aim is also to instigate the idea of 'Corporate buy back'. This is the idea of making products out of a company's waste which is of need to them. An example of this is her work with Eurostar. She asked the company which product they were looking to buy for their staff. The company were searching for specialist bags for ticket issuing staff with many compartments etc. So 'Worn Again' set about designing and creating these ticket bags out of old, waste Eurostar uniforms. In simple terms, they want to work towards the idea of closed loop supply chains.

Lizzie Harrison, another speaker has established a recycled fashion company, Antiform and also 'Remade in Leeds', a community project which draws on local skills and resources to create innovative fashion for her Antiform seasonal collections.

During her talk, she mentioned two brands of interest-

1. Droog.

Droog, Rag Chair.
'This chair is layered from the contents of 15 bags of rags. It arrives ready made but the user has the option to recycle its own discarded clothes to be included in the design. Each piece is unique; a treasure-chest of memories.'
This design company has extraordinarily innovative and original approaches to sustainable design.

2. Prick your Finger.

Based in Bethnal Green, Prick your Finger offers sustainable, UK produced yarns but also knitting, spinning and crochet classes.

Prick Your Finger Electric kool-Aid Acid Test DK yarn

'A 100% Swaledale yarn In DK weight designed by Prick Your Finger and spun by Roger at one of the small mills still operating in the uk. Its dip-dyed by us using Kool-Aid the fruit drink!'

Antiform uses waste fabric sourced from scrapstores, depots, factories, millstores etc. Some fabrics are overorders, leftovers (an insufficient quantity to create another print run) or test strips. An interesting example of this are the winter's coats which are made from the test strip material of a tweed fabric company. This explains the changing gradation of colour which gives each coast its own unique twist.

She also approached a tannery which had a whole store room of leather swatches no longer used. Lizzie used these swatches to create hand crafted belt buckles. Despite there being a phenomenal amount of post-consumer waste, Lizzie draws our attention to the fact that 50% of the materials she uses are pre-consumer waste from industry.

An important part of the designing process of Antiform is the involvement of the local community. Lizzie scoured womens' clubs (W.I.'s, Embroiderers Guilds, Asian community clubs) and found a whole wealth of ladies with an incredible set of traditional skills. Combining local manufacturing and resources (all materials are sourced within 20 miles), traditional skills and a strong co-design ethic has shown the extent to which craft can intercept fashion.

Lizzie quoted an example of clever adaption of the old into a new desirable garment. She visited a hospice shop and asked the ladies volunteering there what they could not get rid of. The shop had a whole pile of jumpers with a customary cup of tea stain down the front! In addition, they had sack fulls of crochet doilies. The ladies were so upset that no one wanted to buy the old doilies despite the hours of love, attention and exquisite detail that had been put into them. To solve two issues in one, Lizzie decided to customize the jumpers by adding the lace doilies onto the front. It may sound like an extremely crude and botched together idea, but sometimes, simplicity really is best and the jumpers are really subtle yet beautiful.

Antiform also offers classes and workshops so that the community can customize and give new life to their old garments. Truly inspirational!

The final speaker, Sophie Thomas was extremely environmentally conscious and challenged ones perception of the role a designer should play. In our theory lectures we have recently been investigating the modern consumer driven society and its harmful repercussions. Sophie is a strong anti-consumerism campaigner. In order to promote 'Buy nothing day' she worked in collaboration to create a pop up shop, the 'No Shop' which was essentially not a shop at all but an empty space.

She told us about one of her most prized possessions, a Citizens Advice Notes book given to her from her mother. Written at the height of rationing in 1942, what she found particularly interesting was the section on Salvage. It was illegal to dispose of numerous materials and goods such as rags, rope, paper etc due to a lack of resources and imports and people were encouraged to be imaginative with a 'make do and mend' attitude. Today's generation could not be more different with throw-away goods dominating our lives.

The toothbrush was used as a fantastic example of our flawed consumer goods. A simple, common toothbrush is made up of around 5 different types of plastic, making it impossible to recycle. It is recommended that we dispose of out toothbrush every 3 months, despite the toothbrush having a lifespan of around 200 years. Here, the words of Kate Krebs, Executive Director of the National Recycling Coalition really ressonate-

"Waste is really a design flaw".

A huge amount of our waste plastic ends up in the Pacific Ocean in a soup of waste known as the Pacific Garbage Patch. 100 meters deep and twice the surface area of Texas. Shockingly, the plastic, plancton ratio here is 6:1! The sheer sight of this converted wildlife camerawoman, Rebecca Hosking into an avid environmental campaigner.

"Hosking was on a beach on Midway island, a remote Hawaiian atoll. But instead of finding some pre-lapsarian wilderness, she and a colleague were confronted with the horror of hundreds of albatrosses lying on the sand.

The great birds' stomachs had been split open by the heat, and bits of plastic were spewing out between the feathers and the bones. All kinds of plastic - toys, shopping bags, asthma inhalers, pens, cigarette lighters, toothbrushes, combs, bottle tops. The birds had swallowed them and choked to death.

It got worse. There were humpback whales, seals and turtles - all dead or dying from the plastic. Wherever they went the sea was full of tiny pieces of plastic and every tide brought more. On the leeward side of Midway they found thousands of albatross chicks dead or fatally weakened. Hosking picked up one still alive. It pecked her and then died too. At that, Hosking broke down in anger and distress. Most people would have left it there, but Hosking proved as tough as the bits of old toothbrush she saw. She went home to Modbury, the south Devon town where she was born and has always lived. She finished the film for the BBC. Then she set about banning plastic bags. Just like that. " Guardian online.

This photograph shows plastic found in the stomach from the carcass of a Laysan Albatross fledgling.

As designers, we must recognize our role in the creation of this waste and search for ways to prevent contributing to the situation. This talk has given me so much to think about and will make me question my whole approach to designing.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Challenging life drawing

This week, the tutor Henry decided to start us off with a countless amount of 2 minute poses- what a nightmare! As soon as you were just getting into the drawing the model would move. It helped your brain process key information quickly and figure out which lines are most important in capturing a pose. We then did a number of poses of which we did not know the length. This proved tricky for most of us but did succeed in us concentrating on the essential qualities instead of getting bogged down with unnecessary detail such as the hair.

The model was extremely flexible and her poses were often obscure and unnatural looking. Henry told us to concentrate on drawing exactly what we saw, even if it did look inhuman!


Watercolour holds a respected reputation, primarily for its delicacy and precision but the exhibition at Tate Britain, devoted to the medium showed me the wealth of variety and different techniques that can be expressed through watercolour. Interestingly, watercolour originated in cartography, miniature painting and manuscript illumination. It was key in recording and retaining information hence was highly regarded for its practical and informative role. As well as disseminating knowledge, to draw with colour was seen as key in conveying vital information.

When I think of watercolours, what immediately comes to mind are quaint, picturesque scenes of landscapes or flower gardens. However in the 18th Century, watercolours main role was that of scientific accuracy in capturing new, rare specimens integral to the study and understanding of the natural world. The paintings are extremely exquisite and intricate, succeeding to capture microscopic detail.

I especially am fond of Rachel Pedder-Smith’s ‘Bean painting: Specimens from the Leguminosae Family’, 2004. The different life stages of the beans reminded me of my current work on growth and transitions. Instead of being displayed in a documenting format, the artist has used an extremely playful, collective composition, which I believe animates the beans.

Bean painting: Specimens from the Leguminosae Family, 2004

Another section within the exhibition explored the use of watercolour in capturing the spirit of a place. I found this particular work interesting as watercolour has been used in a far more expressive way, reflecting the gritty, harsh qualities of the landscape as opposed to a pretty, wishy-washy painting. I suppose it also reminded me of home and before seeing this image I would never have thought it possible to use watercolour to capture elements of the rugged Welsh landscape.

John Piper
Glaciated Rocks, Nant Ffrancon, 1944

The exhibition investigates the array of tools used by watercolour artists. The conventional tools, brushes, paints and paper exploit and control its two most distinctive qualities, its liquidity and transparency. However we are also introduced to contemporary uses of watercolour with unusual tools, which challenge and reinvigorate the medium.

One of the most obscure tools used was Rebecca Salters’ incredible pattern composed of marks made by applying colour to a damp surface using a sharpened chopstick. Despite each mark spreading in a different way and leaving a unique flash of colour, the marks overall formed a definite, controlled pattern.

I particularly like this use of watercolour onto damp paper to encourage spread as there is something so organic and unexpected about the result. It also struck me as a possible way of drawing the mould in my current work. Jenny Franklin exploits this method in a considered way, which successfully reflects her subject-

Jenny Franklin
Scorched Earth, Regeneration, 2001

Another technique which sparked my imagination, was the removal of colour through scraping and scratching through a layer of applied watercolour paint to create a white line. This reminded me of my current experimental approach to life drawing- the use of applying charcoal and then removing it to add tone.

I learnt that the earliest watercolours were painted on vellum, fine animal skin burnished for a smooth surface. It is so interesting to look back and see the true extend to which we used animal products to aid our artistic creations and I was reminded of the whale bone corsets displayed by the Foundling Museum
War, despite being a horrendous atrocity led to some very interesting technical experiments within the medium. Artists used denser materials such as chalk and crayon to convey the shock and true extent of the horrors they witnessed.

Watercolour is also highly regarded for the ease at which it can be applied and its immediacy. Interestingly, many artists felt colour made the use of line unnecessary. This theory is demonstrated perfectly through David Austen’s playful people-

David Austen
Untitled, 2005

It resonated with the words of my life drawing tutor- Although outlining around the body may create a scientifically accurate drawing, it is the tonal qualities inside the outline that are really important when creating a representation of something.

I was extremely curious about Lucy Skaer’s graphic, eye catching painting and whether the negative space held more importance that the positive.

Lucy Skaer
Cell #1 (with rules and exceptions), 2005

The 20th Century saw the phenomenon of abstraction with images based on mass and tone rather than linear outline. This enabled watercolour to be used as a powerful tool for personal, emotive expression. Two paintings, which were in my opinion particularly inspiring were-

Patrick Heron
January 9: 1983:11, 1983

I feel this image captures the essence of sporadic mould growth. Unfortunately I cannot find an image of it so you will just have to visit the exhibition first hand!

Ian McKeever
Assembly Gouache, 2007

This exhibition taught me so much about a medium I feel I had taken for granted and lacked considerable knowledge about. I would certainly recommend it to anyone who is vaguely interested any form of painting or mark making. The diverse work demonstrates extreme skill and inspiring innovation. I have heard many talk of watercolour as something an artist does at the beginning and at the end of their career, a misconception that the medium can only be banal will be totally banished by this exhibition.