The tortoise and the cake
Having got myself deeply embroiled in discussions about passion in textiles both on and off this blog (thanks for those who emailed me directly) I return to a safer topic this time, or is it?
One of the main aims of Textiles 1 is the structure, the framework which constitutes the design process, which will then becomes embedded for life as students adopt professional attitudes and good working practice. Naturally the process usually becomes more organic with experience – but the cake won’t even rise if the ingredients are not right and steps missed out. By the time the recipe becomes second nature, its safe and a whole lot easier to throw new things into the mix, to create sumptuous new dishes. I say this (and here comes the controversy) because I still get asked why its important to work through these early exercises in the first assignments slow careful, tortoise pace steps, why don’t we get straight into making something or concentrate on technique instead? Students often ask me to photocopy or draw examples to illustrate progression through the design process. I couldn’t do better than show you the work of Judith Smith, a student on Textiles 1. Judith has quite extensive prior experience of various textile techniques, so please don’t be phased, her work is excellent, but its the actual process I want you to look at here. Judith is fascinated by patterns, quite strong ones like the patterning on this large species tortoise, which she fell in love with.
One of the first thing Judith did was to do quick sketches of textures, colours and shapes in the tortoise shell. Notice how (as taught in the exercises) a drawing can be a paper collage, anything which captures the feeling of the texture for you. She records the colours she observes as blobs of paint and describes shapes in the same way. Doing initial studies like these are an important step as they help to anchor down our reactions and feeling early on. A few written notes always help with this process as well, in fact the more you can say at this stage the better, really try to pin down what it is you love and why and isolate these factors clearly – its really all about having that point of view and carrying it through in the work.
After playing around with lots of ideas, placing the patterns within shapes, etc and thinking over some initial ideas of what to make, Judith tried splattering bleach onto fabric to get the feel of the pattern marks (not direct imitations note).
There followed lots of sample making trying different techniques. Alongside this, Judith was beginning to have some ideas about the final shape of the piece, thinking in terms of interlocking plates reflecting the shell structure. Often these ideas do unfold gradually as you work, in quite an intuitive way connections and associations feed into one another. Recording these thoughts as and when they arise is quite important, its a matter of trying to make those unconscious elements come to the fore so we can work with them alongside more practical considerations like technique – hand, heart and head all working together.
Here is just one page of sample making – I would stress this is very competent work on the technical front, we don’t seek virtuosity for its own sake, samples can be quite simple to be effective. Their function is as a test bed to see if ideas work (before you begin work on the actual finished piece) visually and on a practical front (even in an art piece) can that material actually be attached without fraying or be stitched through or will it tear, etc. They can be two fabrics quickly stuck or sewn together, they don’t need to be beautifully finished pieces, think of them as models of how things work (or not) and write notes about just why they do or don’t work and if not how things could be improved, where you might go from here.
At last, the final piece, a very decorative wall-hanging, as it happens, beautifully executed. The chances are, yours won’t look like this the first time, mine certainly didn’t – no matter, its learning that process which is so important at this early stage. You will improve, I guarantee you that, once those good foundations are set in motion – even if at a very slow, tortoise pace.