Friday, 19 December 2014

Good things come in threes

So there you have it. I'm half way through my three year degree course in visual arts.

This week I made the finishing touches to my work - techniques and processes, and studio practice, For both I have done ceramics and loved every minute of it.

In the last few days I have enjoyed visiting my former colleagues on the textile course, and admiring their endeavors. A lot of beautiful woven and printed work there. As I looked, I realised that I had made the right choice to leave the course and go to visual arts, and that was a reassuring feeling to have.

I have also seen some snippets of work by other students who have worked in what is called the Painting Studio or Spinning Shed. There is Beth's cardboard life-sized horse, Ian (Dash)'s 3d painted pallet explosions, Maggie's ceramic wall of curved bricks; Kristof's intricate tiny village.

Here are a few pictures taken of my work as it looks now, ready to be assessed over the next couple of weeks (along with everyone else's work too!)

Three different balls of wool, dipped in liquid clay, fired and glazed.

Ceramic spools - clay extruder, hessian and felt fibres dipped in slip, fired, glazed

Handmade textile coil pots, slip, firing, glazing, glass bead added and re-fired

Friday, 12 December 2014


Ceramics is full of surprises.

This week we experienced the joy of raku, the firing technique traditionally used in the Japanese Tea Ceremony, most often in the form of tea bowls.

As with everything in ceramics, the process takes time.

First you need to make a piece to be bisque fired which is an overnight process.

Then coat it with three layers of slip. When that is dry - a good day or so later - you then add the raku glaze.

And leave it to dry.

So I made my pot last week and put the slip and glaze on this week. On Wednesday, tutor Martin fired up the outside kiln and we stood like strikers round a brazier in the 3 deg C chill.

Heating the kiln takes a mere 30 minutes; and initially we had to put the fired items on the lid to encourage them to dry out more. When they were finally ready to be put in, the firing continued for another 30 minutes. Then came the really fun bit ...

No-one else wanted to volunteer to put on the helmet and gloves and it somehow fell to me. My role was to pour buckets of sawdust over the clay items once they had been removed by Martin (also dressed up and armed with tongs) and placed in a metal bin. The first addition took me by surprise as the sawdust burst into flames and sparked violently out of the bin.
My bisque fired pot, decorated with a fork

Martin in charge

Firing the kiln

Like strikers round the brazier.

Martin and me in the gear 

My pot at back in the kiln

This continued for another 15 minutes or so as items were placed in the bin and I poured on more sawdust. Then the lid went on and guess what. Yes, come back the day after.

... the day after.

My blackened charred oval dish which I had thrown together in a hurry the previous week (and would shortly come to regret my haste) was retrieved from the bin. The next step was to chip away the slip, somewhat like scaling a fish, I should imagine. This is done for health and safety reasons over the extractor which sucks away the dust.

As I chipped, the dish broke. I was left with two pieces! It was only my first attempt so I wasn't disheartened, even though it then broke again, leaving me with a rim and several base pieces.

I had also not spread the initial layers of slip and glaze very competently - only patches of the opaque whiteness were visible amid the charcoal covering. But what did show through was intriguing enough for me to certainly have another go next year.

In the meantime I plan to do a 'Grayson Perry' with my raku bowl. He recently made a vase depicting shamed MP Chris Huhne (read more here)

The vase was smashed and repaired using an ancient Chinese technique, where the cracks are repaired using lacquer resin dusted or mixed with gold. And that's not quite exactly what I attempted. I do however have some Araldite (the goddess of repairs, says Martin) and some gold leaf. Here is the result ...

This final image is after I scrubbed away more of the charcoal residue.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Spools and wools

Monday mornings are magical - the kiln is opened to reveal its wonders; how will my slip-dipped knitted pieces look? Have the glazes worked? 

It's like Christmas morning for five year old me as I am handed my latest ceramic results. 
I'm pleased to say my work is improving as I learn and experiment with new techniques.

The kiln this week with all my exciting creations in it, just waiting to be devoured!

I have created more than 20 bobbins and spools so far. The first batch were based on extruded lengths which I then wrapped with hand-rolled wool. I also dipped balls of wool in slip, fired and glazed them. You can see the results above. My next batch of spools are awaiting their first firing but this time I have wrapped slip-dipped felt and wool round the extruded lengths. 

It's getting close to final assessment for this first semester (grrr, they are called terms) so I am now putting my finishing touches to this project. I am thinking of ways to display all the spools and wools! 

Meanwhile, I have gone off on a flight of fancy with a new project, based around collections.

So I have been making display units out of old boxes and wooden containers. The nooks and crannies and cubbyholes will contain an ambiguity of objects - some made from clay, some collected, fossils, man-made and natural found items. It's a work in progress and at the moment I'm excited about it but I am aware of how easily I get distracted by other ideas!

Juxtaposing boxes and objects

Upturned note and pen rack, thimble stand,
spoon rack.

Pencil box and small box opened to create display

Watch this space!

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Second year - ceramics and new discoveries

Back in college for a few weeks now. Hard for me, as at the start of the new 'semester' (grrr, we are in the UK. It's 'term') my mother had died. I was in a bubble for the first month, not really taking much in.

Ceramics has filled a void. This new discovery has helped me to deal with bereavement, helping to take my mind off my mum (while thinking of her most of the time.)

I am, excuse the pun, fired up! I have to say, most of this enthusiasm is nurtured by tutor Martin, along with incredibly sweet and helpful technician Michael. Both have been supportive, full of great suggestions, and patient. I have learned so much in a short time - how to mix glazes, make a plaster mould, a slip cast bow, use the extruder. Still a lot to learn but I am confident that with what I know so far, I can indulge myself in clay to my heart's content.

Ironically, my step-mother was a potter, and as I grew up with her pots and vases would appear around the house. This was the 70s, an experimental period, and she created harsh texture, random glazing, a technique of her own. She had a kiln, a wheel ... but it all passed me by. I had no interest in learning - a missed opportunity, I now realise.

However, it is never too late to teach an old dog new tricks or do discover things you can do with clay.

As a textile artist, I have tried experimenting with some of my coil pots. I made these during the summer, producing baskets full of plates, mats, pots and hanging decorations using strips of cotton fabric and a washing line.

textile coil pot

hand stitched coil twine dipped in slip and coiled into a plaster mould
before ...

embroidered doily dipped in slip
 These I rinsed in water, then dipped into casting slip. Allowed to dry, they were biscuit fired. And disintegrated.

Most of them crumbled, but a few were more or less intact so I have since carefully glazed them and submitted them to be stoneware fired. Watch this space ...
...and after.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

How I learned to love Lichtenstein. (Not really)

Lichtenstein was not my choice.We all had to pick a piece of paper out of an envelope; on each was written the name of an artist. My colleagues got Klimt, Klee and Rothko. Delauney, Josef Albers, Rauschenberg. I got Roy Lichtenstein.I've never been a fan of his work; subconsciously aware of WHAAAM! and the ubiquitous reproduction of his iconic images commercially, but it's not my sort of thing. Our brief for our BA hons Surface Design and Textile Innovation was to create textile samples inspired by a particular artist. Not only was I miffed to have been landed with someone who did nothing for me, but when all the names had been drawn I commented (well, actually I ranted) to the tutor that they were all men. "What about Bridget Riley?" I moaned. "Louise Bourgeois? Paula Rego? Frida Khalo?"One of the group piped up: "I've got a woman! Joan Miro!"Anyway.I struggled to create textile pieces inspired by Lichtenstein's bland two-colour dot paintings, his Brushstrokes series, and his Mondrian copies. While everyone around me was creating dainty delicate stitches, on chiffon, velvet and silk, I was lost in a chasm of disengagement. An inspired moment of combining pages from comic books into my knit, stitch, and textile work kept the boredom at bay, and I managed to pull together an excellent (in my opinion) samples book for the final assessment.
Hand felted Lichtenstein 'Eye'

Although I got a B for my project, I wasn't happy. I felt I had really worked hard with a limiting brief, and had created something out of nothing - something varied and beautiful. At least, I thought, I could forget about Lichtenstein for ever now. After the festive break we started on a new brief: again, just up my street (not). To work on woven designs for cushions for the choral area of Bradford Cathedral. We would be weaving samples based on our drawings and interpretation of elements within the building. However, my interest in the course was starting to unravel.On a cold January morning, all three year groups met up in the centre of Leeds to be sent off to research fashion fabrics. We got denim. Yawn. We spent the afternoon debriefing; two hours of monotonous chitter chatter about baby clothes, lingerie and coats.It was Kate Moss who saved me from more of the same; forced to watch a video of her at a lecture, her inane gushing over textiles and fashion left me cold. It was then, in a flash, that I finally realised - I was doing a degree on fashion design. WTF was I doing?Not creative textiles, as I had envisaged. There had been no real opportunity for experimentation. The lovely people in my group, and the second and third years I got to know too, were all warm and friendly. But they all ooohed and ahhhed over pictures in Vogue; had photos of designer dresses up on their cubicle walls. I was not of their ilk.Immediately after Kate imparted her exquisite knowledge, I went straight off to get a college brochure outlining the other degree courses at Bradford School of Arts and Media. Visual Arts jumped out at me immediately, and it was like an Eureka! moment. This is the course I should have taken! There was no time to waste. I managed to talk to tutor Heather, who encouraged me to go to see Wendy, head of department. Wendy was busy and I spent a good 15 minutes waiting nervously outside her office before she was able to break away to see me. I blurted out that I was on the wrong course and wanted to swap to visual arts. "Come and see me tomorrow at 1, and bring a portfolio of your work," said Wendy, and vanished back into her office.I could hardly contain my excitement. Bursting, I managed to get through the rest of the afternoon where we were painting colour schemes of textile fabric colours  in our sketchbooks. Dull.At home, I pulled together a few bits and pieces that I had done over the years and which I felt could qualify as visual arts. Some large drawings, a zine, some altered books and a painting. In the event, Wendy loved my work and said she would be delighted to have me on the course. The relief was incredible; that was it, no more knit and weave and bloody fashion design.It was strange, swapping courses half way through. I didn't know anyone on the VA course and the early days were uncomfortable; I felt like an outsider. News of my departure from the textiles course was greeted with indifference by the tutors, with one snapping at me that I would regret my decision. It had been hard enough for me to find the confidence to return to an educational environment after so many years, so I put the negativity behind me.As a latecomer, I had to fit in where there was space, and thus a section of wall and a wobbly table were found for me wedged between year 2 and year 3. For the first few weeks I didn't really have a clue what was going on; however In 2D and 3D drawing I have surprised myself with my mixture of mark-making and collage; in print I have discovered a whole world of surprises. I was really starting to enjoy studying.
'Life' drawing

Then Lichtenstein reared his ugly head again. To be fair, it wasn't entirely his fault. My brief in VA was entitled 'transcription', and was very loose, to the point where if you didn't like it you could set your own brief. I had a few ideas, but somehow ended up thinking about dear old Roy and coming to the realisation that a) I had done a bloody hell of a lot of work on him for textiles which had gone unappreciated b) I could transcribe that work to fit the brief.For my presentation I put together a show entitled "How did Roy Lichtenstein engage with comic book art?" It went well, and some weeks later I was informed that I had got a B+. The next stage was to write a 2000 word essay on the same subject, incorporating feedback from the presentation. Duly submitted, and some weeks later I was informed that I had got an A-. Roy even managed to creep in to my modules of studio practice and techniques & processes. Experimenting with lino, intaglio and letterpress blocks, I printed a variety of satirical artworks mimicking Lichtenstein's work. A collage of lips, train tickets with beautiful women and speech bubbles, and I even managed to sneak in some of my textile pieces from the previous course.For my final modules I received an A and an A+. Pretty good letters to end a sporadic but ultimately invigorating first year on a university degree course. And I owe it all to Roy Lichtenstein.
My studio space with my final work on show