Saturday, 31 March 2012

Getting into my stride as a student

I'm starting to feel more in control of the workload now.  We are into week 5, the expectations in most classes are clear and I've mentally defined the requirements for each class and visualised how to pace myself for the assorted assessments. 

Having delivered my presentation for History of Art, I realised I had completely forgotten the essay for Indigneous Studies which is due on Good Friday - about 10 days hence.  So on Wednesday I got a good book from the library and spent a large part of Thursday doing the background reading, and wrote about a third of the wordcount for the essay.  I can't say I wrote a third of the essay, as it is first draft, but I'm starting to get my thoughts in order.  I will spend most of this weekend working on it, and hopefully will be done by Sunday night.  I'm looking at the relevance of traditional Aboriginal art, its connection with Indigeneous identity, their land, belief systems and how it functions as a cultural literacy.

I have refined my plans for my textile module.  I am focussing on textile print, having dropped the idea of working with acrylic.  I have worked up a repeat border design that will fit on a print screen (the first ones were too large!).  I emulsed my screen, exposed it, washed it off - and discovered there was something wrong because the emulsion shed from the screen.  It was the first time I had used the screen so maybe the screen was greasy, or I had not dry wiped it properly so the emulsion was too thick to fix properly.  Anyway it failed!  So back to the beginning.  I asked Mark, the technician, for a bucket of emulsion, opened it, and gave it a good stir.  There was something wrong.  It should have a thick, syrupy, smooth consistency.  This was like jelly on the point of setting. Lumpy, granular and elastic.  A bit like very wet bread dough.  I called Mark, and he was horrified, because he said it had been exposed and was unusable.  The bucket of emulsion costs about $300!  Although the bucket was "new", the plastic seal had been removed when it was given to me, and looked like a tiny amount had been used.  He was appalled at the waste.  I could only imagine that someone has emulsed their screen, then left the open bucket in the studio, and not left it in the screen room, where where we work with a safe light that does not expose the emulsion.  Fortunately I am working early, so the delay while more emulsion is ordered is of no concern to me.

Yesterday, Friday, I received my feedback for my History of Art presentation.  Elizabeth, our tutor, said I did really well, handed my written feedback over and I discovered I scored 68%.  I am puzzled that I think the feedback is completely fair and accurate, yet I am disappointed.  The scores and rationale are exactly what I would have said and are completely fair comment, but are considerably lower than last year, when I scored much higher (and said clearly that I thought the scoring was over-generous!).  As usual I dropped points on depth of analysis (because I covered a lot of ground), use of abbreviations (I've worked in an environment where we used abbreviations and jargon all the time) and not enough quotes from other informed writers.  I achieved 10/10 for personal presentation style, and also scored highly for having an informed personal opinion and taking a clear stance for my argument.  So it was pretty typical for me - I know the things I do well, and I'm making small improvements in the things I find difficult.  I'm better at the broad brush coverage of a subject, than micro analysis and fiddling about with the details.  I do try, but I just hate fiddling about with silly little details.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

More angst about my Banksia project

I've struggled all weekend about my Banksia project.  I've read my project proposal, and evaluated the work I did on Friday regarding laser cutting into acrylic.  I loathe laser cut acrylic.  For the following reasons.  It is hard, sharp-edged, plasticky, unnatural, and unmalleable.  I have thought long and hard about how to incorporate it into my project and have concluded that I don't want to waste my life working with materials that I intensely dislike.  Decision made!

So what to do instead?  I have decided to continue working in pattern, in positive and negative, but to focus wholly on printing onto fabric.  My work is hand made.  I do not want to be a computer operator, or a computerised-machine operator.  I've debated more about how to link my homesickness for England with the banksia motif, and how to incorporate my specifically English textile skills with what I have learned in Aus.  After much thought, I've realised I want to use my embroidery skills in stitch.  I am working with a very long evolved Australian plant, and I want to match this with a long evolved English embroidery technique - maybe blackwork, pulled thread work or simple line stitches such as stem chain stitch. 

I've been working up some textile designs, which are laborious to produce, but I love creating them manually.  I think hand techniques are my forte.  Soft materials are also my forte.  I can see them made up in silk velvet and polycotton (for devore print), and on pure cotton and linen (for simple colour prints).  I would love to be able to dye into the silk velvet as well. I can also see experimentation with foil combined with devore.  Quite a few will be embellished with hand stitch.  I think some of my feelings of homesickness will be assuaged if I can sit and stitch for a while.
Banksia repeat border design

Interestingly, while a few of us were in the textile studio, talking to Jessie, our technician, some of the management team came into the studio.  They did not notice Jess talking to us, and they were quite obviously discussing the removal of the two large print tables with the repeat printer.  The Textile Major is being phased out, with remaining students finishing their textile specific modules as electives.  From the behaviour of these managers, it is obvious that the textile tables will be removed soon.  I will be really upset if the 8m print tables are removed before the end of semester.  The managers were quite surprised when Jess turned around and asked how she could help them.  It really looked as if they had sneaked in to plan their intentions for the textile studio, without keeping the current staff informed of planned changes to teaching facilities.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Tired after a busy day

Today, I feel as if I have been on the go, all day long. 

The plan was to find a computer with Adobe Illustrator and work out how to draw motifs on this package; go to my History of Art tutorial and give my presentation; and then meet with Lauren and Mollie to do some laser cutting of acrylic. 

The first part of the plan fell apart, because I could not find a vacant computer at university, that had a scanner available, and the Illustrator package.  I went back to the textile workshop, and fortuitously, found a copy of the Cloth & Habitable Space specification, left lying around.  I spent an hour reading the assessment specification, reflecting on my project and working out sensible questions that arose from the assessment schedule. 

- Conduct experimental work that explores textile processes in innovative way.
I'm worried about laser cutting - because of my limited computer skills in this package, access to computers and laser cutter, access to materials.

However, Mollie showed me how to draw an image in Illustrator, and I might be able to run with the single banksia leaf that she demonstrated, just by adjusting scale, and repeating in different forms.  Also, later, the technician had some good ideas how I could apply my ideas, and make them work on acrylic. 

To make the experimental work innovative, I might combine laser cutting and print; laser and stitch; stitch and print; or maybe use stitch to create a screen print.  Or maybe print on acrylic/acetate.  Lots to be innovative there.

- Translate practical and theoretical knowledge of textile histories from different cultural contexts into innovative contemporary outcomes and ideas.
Which cultures use laser cutting, devore, print and stitch? What is the history of these respective techniques? 

- Synthesize ideas and theories from other practitioners to inform own practice
Find out banksia leaf symbolism/textiles; and oak leaf symbolism/textiles
Look up laser cutting artists and installations
Find Selvedge and Textile Journal of Cloth & Culture.

- Reflect and respond to critical feedback from peers
Feedback received has been helpful.  "Stronger concept required; focus on one idea; research more laster cutting artists/installations; consider use of key word 'simplicity'". 
So, concept has developed into "homesickness".  Valuing the differences of being here in Aus, but missing home.  Want to make positive work about Aus, while including a symbol of home.  Maybe link Banksia leaves with an oak leaf from home (UK). 
Drop 'simplicity' completely.  Or change to 'simpler'. 
Work in monochrome.  Or use a pattern with a single motif.

As we need to document our work clearly, and research and experiment extensively, I need to set up some files to create order for my research.  I think the research listed above will give me plenty to be thinking about this weekend. 

I then moved on to my History of Art tutorial.  I was the first to give my presentation to the group, on the subject of Representation of Women in Art.  I burn a lot of nervous energy, and prefer to get presentations over and done with.  Miraculously, I was spot on with the timing - 20 minutes precisely, and I think it went ok.  The whole group provide written feedback, give their notes to Elizabeth, our tutor, and she reviews them and adds any further points they have missed.  This is the first time feedback received has included written details from the tutor, and I think this is excellent.  Peers tend to be quite gentle with feedback, and Elizabeth seemed to write a lot during my presentation.  I receive the full written feedback next week. I hope I met all the criteria.

Then I moved on to the wood workshop, where Mollie and Lauren had got started on their laser cutting.  Mollie had some lovely flower shapes cut out, and Lauren had created a page of laser cut beads for her fashion project.  The technician, Nick, used my banksia leaf to try out, and it cut perfectly. He also told me how to use a border design to wrap around a perspex box so that the border wrapped over the sides onto the top. He also had suggestions for how to etch the design, as opposed to cut it, which gave me another range of ideas to explore.  The only limiting factor is my computer skills.  The techs only set up the laser cutter to work - they don't do the design stage for you (unfortunately).  I have lots of ideas but very limited computer design skills. 

But at least I have a range of ideas for exploration.  Having done all this, I came home, Jim met me at the bus stop, and I collapsed with exhaustion into a chair.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Struggling with my Banksia Project

The Cloth & Habitable Space class had to give their presentations for our projects yesterday.  My project is based on banksia leaves, working in shape and line, keeping it simple, working with the laser cutter on fabric and acrylic. 

I was a little put out when one of the assessors said that as so many of us wanted to use the laser cutter, we would do well to find commercial venues that offered laser cutting, as there is only one laser cutter on campus and it would be overbooked as it is shared between textiles, woodwork, furniture and other design disciplines.  I only decided to do laser cutting as it is one of our set techniques this year, and I thought I would do well to follow the syllabus (rather than focussing on print which is what I want to do).  It also turns out that we get no assistance to work up our designs in Illustrator, which is the programme that the laser cutter uses.  We also need to source and supply our own materials, which is difficult for me, as I am dependent on public transport and suppliers are at least 2 bus rides away.  Fortunately, Lauren, one of the students, will ask her boyfriend to use his car to go to a supplier to get us some acrylic.  At the moment, all I can see is problems in achieving the outcome of my design ideas.

We all received written feedback from other students on our presentations.  I found my feedback really helpful.  For this week's homework, we have to show how we have used the feedback.  The main feedback for me was that although the inspiration of banksia, and 3 key words - simplicity, repetition, and presence/absence - were clear, there was limited concept.  I can go further - there was no concept behind the work!  So this morning, while I cycled to and from the pool, and swam 1000m, I thought about a concept behind the work.  It was a lot of angst.

I have been feeling really homesick over the last 10 days or so.  Yet I have/am enjoying my time in Australia and have gained so much from being here.  I have enjoyed seeing things that are specifically Australian and this is why I want to work with Banksia leaves in my artwork.  I value my presence in Aus, the quality of education, the way in which it has expanded my mind.  But I am aware of my absence from England, from my home, from my familiar environment.  So how do I link my positive feelings about Aus to the Banksia leaves, while also representing what I'm homesick for?  I started thinking about plants that are specific to England and/or me.  I thought about the trees in my garden that have distinctive leaves - rowan, plums, hedging plants.  None of these grabbed me.  Then I thought of the most obvious English tree - the oak.  This has interesting leaves, that are very different to the banksia.  As usual, my work is going to have a strong emotional content that is specific to me.

If I can incorporate something about an oak leaf into my work, it might represent how I feel.  I want the banksia leaf to be the main focus, (ie positive, presence), whereas the oak leaf would be secondary or subtly represented (ie negative, absence).  I can see this worked up in acetate, as a clear box.  I've created a border design, that I had visualised wrapping around the sides of a clear acetate box, with the design extending from the border, onto the top of the box.  And maybe a circular design on the middle of the top, for a top view of the banksia flower.  But if I wanted to incorporate a feeling of what I'm missing, I could put an oak leaf motif on the bottom of the box that only shows what I'm missing, if people choose to look closely.

I can think of lots of ways of incorporating bold banksia prints, with an oak leaf.  I hope to do some printing, and actually, if I encounter too many problems with laser cutting, I will change the project direction to print. 

From my ramblings above, I think I may have to change one of my 3 key words.  I need to drop "simplicity".  My work is just not simple.  The more I see of simple work, the more I think it is highly evolved.  And on further analysis of my presentation yesterday, even the inspirational artists I chose, did not do work that was simple.  They had a simple idea, that once repeated in pattern, was complex or busy.  I may focus on my work being "simpler" but "simplicity" would be a misnomer!

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

From woeful to wonderful

I've felt quite downhearted for the last day or two.  I'm not sure why really - but I just feel a bit homesick.  I can't really explain why - I've not felt like this before, and why I should feel like this after 8 months, with only 10 weeks left, is completely beyond me.  I'd just like to be in my own home with my own things around me.  I'm not particularly materialistic, so having lots of things is not an issue, but I'd like to have my own books to hand.  We are told at uni that they don't want all essay references to be from websites, but to include books and journals. As I like to work at home, rather than in the uni library, this makes referencing books quite difficult. 

I stayed indoors all weekend.  Not intentionally.  I had planned to go to Perth on Saturday, but that never happened, and on Sunday had planned to go for a swim but felt quite out of sorts so that never happened either.  Also the dry skin rash on my face that I've had for about 3 months all flared up again.  It had improved with the cream the pharmacist gave me, but as soon as I stopped applying it, it came back.  So instead I stayed in, and worked up some patterns for the Banksia project.  They did not turn out particularly well, but I mastered the principles of irregular spot patterns, even if they contained a few mistakes.

However, today, Tuesday, I got up feeling like I could jump over the house!  I think I was fighting off some sort of a bug, and was lethargic at the weekend because of it.  So Jim and I leapt on the bikes, and went for a swim.  We each swam 1000m  and it was the first time since we've been here, that I did 400m (8 lengths) non stop. My stamina is improving.  400m front crawl and 100m back stroke, twice.

Jim then took himself off for a bike ride, while I took myself off to Curtin.  I went to the woodwork workshop, and was a bit put out by the offhand manner of the technician when I wanted to find out how to work up my patterns in the Illustrator format for the laser cutter.  So as he obviously did not want to talk to me and Ellie, despite us having turned up at the time he asked us to, I went back to drawing patterns in the Textile workshop.  This went really well.  I'd been working in line, on spot designs, at home.  Now I moved to designing a stripe pattern with my banksia leaves.  I started working in line, then copied it and blacked out the negative areas.  This makes the pattern leap forward and gives a completely different effect.  I photocopied it and made the single stripe into a multi stripe pattern.  I think it is very effective, dramatic and eye catching.  I can see so many ways of developing it further into a fabric design.  I know I've said the banksia project should be really simple in its outcomes, but really I want to work with busy textile patterns.  I will work up a couple more stripe options then move on to a border design, then an all-over repeat.

Vertical stripe

Now it looks like wallpaper

Close-up showing definition of overlaid leaves

In the past I've been upset when I've copied design work with a lot of black areas, and discovered that it uses a lot of printer ink.  So today, having blacked out the background, and made 80% of the design black, I took the A3 design to the university print shop and printed half a dozen copies, for about 20c each, instead of using a whole print cartridge of my own, costing about $20.  As Ian Dury would have said "Reasons to be cheerful!"

All-in-all, I've had a lovely day.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

A diligent student

I have made good progress over the last few days.  I've worked hard on the Cloth & Habitable Space module.  I've written my presentation for my Project Proposal. I've decided to work on a theme of Baxter's Banksia leaves, which are an interesting zigzag shape.  I only need to speak for 5 minutes, but already I can show a fair amount of development of the theme.  Banksia leaves were about half of my holiday sketchbook theme, and when I show it during my presentation, I will be making the point that, although there is considerable development of the idea, all my exploration is very busy.  This Banksia project will develop my pattern making by using the banksia leaves in a simple way. 

Today, while Jim went shopping and on a couple of bike rides, I've been working up simple pattern repeats for irregular scatter repeats.  I have explored scatter patterns on 3x3, 5x5 and 7x7 grids.  The banksia leaves are sketched in pairs, crossing towards the bottom of the stems.

During the process, I found an A3 page of banksia development that I completed about a month ago, that I had totally forgotton.  It does not fit in the A5 sketchbook, and is not within the simple theme of this term's work.   So I decided to cut it up irregularly, and send it to Lisa as part of the postcard project.  Provided all the pieces get there, Lisa can put the whole pattern together, like a jjgsaw. 

Looks better in reality than in the photo.  The shaft of sunlight does not help either.

Yesterday Jim and I went to Perth and bought a Macbook Air.  He had researched it over the last week, and spent a lot of time in the Apple shop, asking questions. He has discovered that the Macbook Air is a little larger than the Ipad, only a little heavier, but significantly, he can upload photos to it easily.  He identified that, as a student, I was entitled to a $50 discount, so I was required to be present when we purchased it.  Also, the receipt is in his name, so he can claim the tax back in Perth when he returns to the UK.  I think that the fact that the Macbook is so light and uploads photos, clearly indicate he has another extended cycle tour in mind.  The destination has not yet been announced!   Jim is now sitting in bed, studying the latest Macworld magazine intently.  Not my sort of thing, so I'll let him get on with it!  I'll read my History of Art homework instead.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Textile Class is starting to show some possibilities

I had been feeling a little lost with the group project for Cloth & Habitable Space.  We were working with foam rubber (yuk) to alter the architectural feel for an interior.  We ended up playing with adding and subtracting shapes to change the effect, but really it never felt quite right.  Now the project is complete, I'm really glad it is over.

We are looking at machine embroidery (does not appeal to me), laser cutting (has some potential) and tufting (never done this before).  Last week's machine embroidery session left me completely cold, but this week's laser cutting induction was quite interesting and showed some dramatically different ways of applying cut shapes to hard and soft materials. 

By next class, I need to produce a 5 minute presentation on my project proposal.  I've decided to continue my theme of working with Australian plants, this time working with Banksia leaves.  I want to explore how pattern evolves, dependent upon the materiality of application.  I'm interested in laser cutting into perspex, contrasting lines and shapes.  If I cut completely around a shape in perspex, the shape falls out, but if I leave the line around the shape unjoined at some point, it will remain in place, because of the rigidity of the material.  If you do the same exercise with fabric, you either create a lacy (ie holey) fabric or you create shaped flaps - which might be quite interesting. And combining the two might be quite intriguing.  So I want to explore the materiality of perspex, felt and silk with laser cutting, and polycotton with devore.  I'm thinking about presence and absence - what happens when you cut patterned holes into perspex, felt and silk, thereby absenting areas; what happens when you cut lines in the same pattern, so that the areas are defined but still present.  What happens when the fabric is soft so the shape falls forward/backward so both the presence and absence are apparent?  What type of patterns work best with presence, absence or both?  And I have to explain all of this in 5 minutes in my presentation.  Time to master the skill of being precise and concise!

Over the next couple of weeks, I have to master the computer programme.  We have been advised to use Illustrator, but apparently Corel Draw is the best of all, and is available in the machine room.  First I need to create my pattern.  Or rather patterns.  I can visualise several different applications, and have some good design exercises I want to work through.  Given the number of options in my head, I need to manage my time in order to get all the work done. 

Sunday, 11 March 2012

A profitable day on homework

Today, the temperature reached 43C.  I was out early, rode to the pool, swam 1000m and was back at the flat by 9.30.  It was quite hot enough by then.  Jim went for an early morning run with the Running Club then pottered about until late afternoon when he went for a bike ride and found some Sunday afternoon footballers to watch (in 43C - lunacy!)

I spent the rest of the day, working on my History of Art homework, in our coolest room - the bedroom.  I will be the first to carry out my presentation to our tutor group.  I will be reviewing Representation in Art, considering how our culture unconsciously identifies with particular representations in our culture, and how this identification can change according to how art portrays specific groups.  I am analysing Marc Quinn's statue "Alison Lapper Pregnant", the Dove advertisements and the National Portrait Gallery annual portrait awards.  I have thought about it for about a week, and know what I want to say. 

I spent all day writing the presentation.  The presentation needs to be 20 minutes long - which is the longest I have done for many years.  However, I have struggled with internet access today, so although I have the script complete, I don't have any of the images yet.  Internet access was very, very slow and I am not sure whether this is because extreme temperatures affect connectivity, or whether everyone was indoors because of the heat, and subsequently entertaining themselves online, which was overloading the internet.  Whatever the reason, I gave up trying to find images and upload them.  I need to be ready by Friday 23 March, so at present I am ahead of schedule, but I think I have one more day's work to complete it.  Finding and uploading images could take half a day, and getting the detail right in the bibliography could taken another half day.  I find these details really tedious and irksome, but don't want to drop marks due to sloppy practice.  Still, I've broken the back of the work.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Australian weather

February is usually the hottest month in Australia.  This year, it was hotter in January, when our friend Maurice came out to see us.  So Maurice had freezing weather when he left the UK, and arrived to 3 weeks of heat reaching 41C, then returned to the freezing UK. 

February, to me, seemed a little cooler than January.  Plenty of days at with temperatures in the high 30s but few reaching 40C.  The last week of Feb was really nice with temperatures in the low 30s.  I was relieved that we were approaching autumn.  Then on the news last night, it was announced that there had been 11 heatwaves since November.  A heatwave is defined as 3 consecutive days where the temperature reaches over 35C.  And there are normally only 3 days in March when the temperature reaches over 35C.  So far this March, we have had 4 days over 35C, and we are heading for another 5 day heatwave over the weekend.  I wish it would cool down.  I can cope with the low 30s quite well, but I find the higher temperatures a strain.  Today was cooler than yesterday, as the wind had changed.  Yesterday, the wind was from the east, blowing from the desert and was like being in a blast furnace.  Then the buildings warm up and start radiating heat at night.

The news also showed a massice ice cave breaking up in the antactic.  I am not surprised that this is what global warming is creating. However, I look at the change in building styles and I am not surprised. 

I travel a lot by bus, through older and newer areas, and I look at a lot of domestic architecture and gardens, as well as offices.  Perth strikes me as an area with a lot of space.  Compared to London suburbs, Perth is a compact city.  Older homes were built with a verandah to shade the windows, which reduces the temperature of air coming into the home.  Then plants were grown around the verandah.  This also shades the area, and I think the plants cool the air further, by transpiration.  It creates a shady area around the house.  Also the occupants can see out through the plants, but onlookers cannot see in.  Most homes had a large garden at the back.  However over the years, people have developed their land by putting another property at the rear - so that neither home has a garden.  It must be like the UK, where if you cover the garden with brick/concrete, it creates problems with run-off of water.  In the UK, planning regulations state you cannot build on more than 15% of your garden area, which I think is a good rule.  Here, the planning regs are obviously different.  So now, homes are being built with no verandah, no space for plants around the house, and the windows are larger, and on the immediate periphery of the building - not recessed at all.  And in order to keep the buildings cool, everyone has aircon.  We all use computers that throw out heat, then use aircon to push hot air out of buildings, and we wonder why we have global warming.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Review of Week One for new Semester

As Jim so sagely observed, this week I have oscillated between being enthusiastic and relieved to be back at Uni, and worried and angst ridden about workload and ability to keep up. 

I was worried about the History of Art tutorial, because the tutorial seemed overloaded with people and the tutor seemed disorganised.  When I attended the History of Art lecture (brilliant as usual with Simon Blond as the lecturer), I worked out why the tutorial seemed overpopulated.  There had been an 0800 tutorial advertised, but it had been cancelled without notice.  So all the people for the earlier tutorial, waited for the 0930 tutorial, and joined that.  Therefore there were at least 25 people in the tute.  I made a few enquiries and discovered that there were other tutes on Fridays that had places available, so I moved to a tutorial on Friday at 1.30-3pm.  This tutor is Elizabeth Hammond, who studied at University of Falmouth, UK and is now working in Perth.  She seems just my type of person.  Very crisp and business-like.  Fully in command of what she wanted to convey in the tutorial, and directed the tute clearly and concisely.   Now I am clear about the expectations, and what we were meant to gain from the video in the tutorial (in the first tute we did not even get to see the whole video, let alone discuss it).  And it makes much more sense to have the lecture, then the tutorial.  I have an idea on what I want to cover in my presentation - about how women have been represented in art, historically, and the things I want to focus on in how women are portrayed now - looking at the sculpture, Alison Lapper Pregnant, the Dove advertisements, and evolution of women portraits in the National Portrait Gallery annual competition, as led by strategy in GLA policy. 

So to sum up, I'm quite happy with Indigeneous Studies; I'm happy with the group that I am working with for Cloth and Habitable Space; and interested in the subjects to be covered in History of Art.  And I'm very, very glad that I'm only studing 3 modules, having done the Drawing module during summer school. 

And I'm very content now that Jim has returned from his month in the UK.  My cup runneth over.