Revisiting MMT

I have had several months to internalise Cari’s feedback at the end of MMT; returning to the work in order to prepare it for submission has been a rich and rewarding experience.

First and foremost, I was forced to consider the ‘Conceptual weight’ I placed on my ‘Final Piece’:

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Cari said: “The final piece develops well from the practical exploration but there is a conceptual weight applied at this point which doesn’t appear in the earlier development work”. In retrospect, I wholeheartedly agree with this comment. I struggled throughout Part 5 with the question: ‘What gives art value?’ and I think I came very close to identifying my answer early on when I discussed Formalist Principles such as harmony, balance and rhythm. The problems I had concluding the project seem to have come from the fact I lacked conviction in my own beliefs. As Cari pointed out, I was swayed by my reading as I researched art vs craft and formalism vs conceptualism. She reminded me to ground my reading by considering it against my innate strengths and interests, advising that I focus:

‘more on the design context to explore where formalism, aesthetic and process have more perceived value’.

This comment opened a new world of possibility for me, it feels slightly ridiculous to admit but it felt like the permission I needed to make the art I that I want. My perception of the word ‘final’ and a failing to think outside the walls of a gallery led to me explaining the piece conceptually. I also think it was a way to explain the looser, more sketchy aesthetic that I was developing. I spent a long time during MMT in pursuit of imperfection as a way to counter the over controlled nature of some of my pieces, the Sloppy Craft Movement seemed like a good way to explain what was happening but also brought to the table the need for a conceptual explanation.

With a change of perspective, I was able to view the prints I had made in a design context. I have begun to familiarise myself with the world of Surface Pattern Design, changing the places I seek visual inspiration. Mounting the pieces onto boards helped me see the potential that the samples have, I see them much more as a collection of related pattern designs than as a ‘finished’ piece of work.

Without the distraction of the ‘conceptual weight’ I can really appreciate how important the process was in the creation of my collection. I found looking at the way Laura Slater develops her designs really useful as she uses a similarly experimental approach to create random abstract patterns. The most important discovery in terms of my future work was learning that her process begins with observation, drawing and mark-making; I believe that these are my strengths and that I have not fully utilised them yet, I now have a greater understanding of how these skills can be used in a looser and less controlled manner and intend to use them to my advantage.

My collection is held together through an intuitive use of strong colour in a restricted palette. In an effort to adopt a less controlled and over-worked result I tried to apply the colour quickly and playfully. In my final piece this has resulted in informal blocks and sections, with or without stripes. In order to keep a sense of myself in the work it seemed important to retain a sense of order, so the freedom of the colour application is counter balanced by the repetition and regularity of the underlying structure which can be seen to create more rhythms and movement in a layer below the print.

The structure of the base or substrate was created by joining together multiple units of the origami Bamboo Letter Fold. I first recognised the attraction of joining multiples in Part 2 in Karen Margolis’ Sonograms (2009-2014) where she constructed huge columns from tiny individually coiled wire components. When Cari first asked me what I consider the value of art to be I answered: ‘time investment’ which led to months of investigation into Sloppy Craft as I struggled to understand why pieces I had made quickly and loosely were more successful than those I laboured over, if I did indeed believe that time investment equalled ‘good’ art. What I have come to realise is that the ‘finish’ need not be polished and perfected to reflect time, what needs to be present for me is a sense of repetitious labouring. In Buszek’s Extra/Ordinary¹, Paula Owen discusses Kathleen Whitney’s view that certain process arts are characterised by: ‘a fetishism of effort’ using the phrase: ‘the art of the difficult’, this is what I was alluding to when I said ‘time’. I like to see work that has an almost obsessive quality, like for example: Hilary Ellis or Roanna Wells use of repeated marks, I find these works meditative and calming as I associate the time investment with the pleasant repetitious sensations of perform craft. I think craft for me is gentle pursuit, I am not against artists using its associations and connotations for historical, social or cultural comment, such as Sloppy Craft or Craftivism as this can be extremely evocative and powerful but at the moment this is not where my sensitivities lie.

¹BUSZEK, (2011) Extra/Ordinary. Craft and Contemporary Art. DUKE

 

 

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Part 5; Reflection on Tutorial

Firstly, I have to say that I pleased and extremely flattered by my tutor feedback. Cari has identified strengths in my work that I intend to use as I move forward onto Ideas and Processes:

  • Drawing skills
  • Eye for composition
  • Thoughtful analysis and reflection
  • Good use of descriptive language and context-specific vocabulary (for this level)

I have often found things that challenge me actually inspire the most learning. Mirroring this, the areas that Cari has identified as not working are really useful. For example:

“The conceptual weight applied [at this point] which doesn’t appear in the earlier development work.”

Right at the beginning of the project I stated I wanted to pursue a process-led investigation and identified my interest in Formalism above all else. I successfully used printmaking and 3D manipulation to explore pattern generation. Then as if from nowhere, I concluded the project with a Conceptual piece. My sketchbook work drops off suddenly, the empty pages stare blankly as if to illustrate my own bewilderment.

To say ‘as if from nowhere’ is disingenuous, on reflection I would attribute my deviation from the brief to two main factors:

The wording of a “Final Piece” – Early on I could see merits in my sampling and I knew I had some strong pieces, I simply did not know how to develop them into a ‘Final Piece”.

Having spoken to Cari, I realise a “Collection” would have been a more suitable conclusion:

“A series of refined printed designs- a family of patterns which share colour and pattern aesthetic but at different scales and density, exploring layering and density of pattern.”

Here I feel Cari is ‘speaking my language’ -this fills me with excitement -this is me!

I think I brought deeply embedded preconceptions to the term ‘A Final Piece’. Despite my project’s clear concern for design principles, I reverted to my Fine Art experience to justify the Quilt/Cloak. To add value I automatically tried to intellectualise it.

My reading and research: As I read about the Art/Craft debate and researched the implications of Sloppy Craft, I allowed myself to become distracted, falling into what Cari described as a ‘rabbit hole’. She is absolutely right when she says I was: “swayed by external perceptions of value” I have a naïve tendency to believe what I read and I need to be mindful of the sources I am using. For Example: Tate.org has a heavy bias toward art.

Since Textiles straddle Art, Design and Craft, there was nothing inheritantly wrong with my decision to work conceptually; many artists use craft materials and processes in their work. It just wasn’t the right conclusion to the brief I set and the preparatory work I did. I also need to remember why I’m here on a Textiles Course, doing something new.

“Try to ground your reading by considering it against your innate strengths and interests.”

I find it really interesting that my ‘Final Piece’ and the ‘Pseudo Final Piece’ both assumed a flat rectangular form: suitable to be displayed against the wall in a gallery. This seems to be a sort of default setting in me, I need to think more carefully about the context of my work. Think outside of the White Box!

I am keen to move onto my next course but I don’t feel comfortable leaving the project as it stands. I discussed my next steps with Cari:

ACTION PLAN BEFORE ASSESSMENT

  • The emotive conceptual reading of the Quilt/Cloak to remain as evidence that I thought about alternative interpretations and contexts.
  • Re-evaluate Quilt/Cloak without reference to concept, ie, using formalist principles.
  • Fill gaps towards end of sketchbook with regard to Quilt/Cloak.
  • Elevate earlier samples through presentation.
  • Support samples with photography.
  • Re-evaluate pattern-based, process-led samples, consider in appropriate context.

Having reviewed my feedback I have clearer ideas about how the project could have been concluded, I will be adding notes about this also. The extent of this remains unclear and I will reconsider when the work is physically in front of me again.

 

 

 

Part 5; Tutor Feedback

I had an extremely useful video call from Cari yesterday which has given me a lot to think about. I think I have fallen into the same trap as many other students: produced some great preparation work and fallen short with the final piece. I am not remotely deterred by this, in fact this discovery has provided me with much clarity moving forward. I have reproduced her written summary in it’s entirety here for ease of reading but I will be reflecting on it in depth in my next post.

Overall Comments:

This submission demonstrates your beautiful drawing skills and strong eye for composition, and resulted in a varied body of sampling. You’ve reflected on your personal approach to the work in depth, challenging your innate pull towards formalism by exploring conceptualism in more depth.

The development work is full of strong repeat patterns and interesting samplings. Your consideration of the printing plate having as much value as the print itself was interesting, as was the effect of 3D manipulation on the printed patterns. There are lots of gems which could have been extended for a refined outcome. We discussed the potential for developing a series of refined printed designs – a family of patterns which share colour and pattern aesthetic but at different scales and density, exploring layering and density of pattern. There’s a beautiful stitched sample which also could have been extended into a series of embroidered print designs. The 3D forms could also have been extended in a similar way to create proposals for a series of hard material forms.

The final piece develops well from the practical exploration but there is conceptual weight applied at this point which doesn’t appear in the earlier development work. Your key concerns early on are process, colour and pattern. We discussed whether the idea of a ‘final piece’ swayed you to produce something with more value or intellectual merit. You’ve research heavily into art vs craft and issues relating to value (stemming from our conversation about you viewing time = valuing in part 4). The final piece uses the printing and pleating processes and has an interesting repeat structure. The conceptual narrative is interesting but review whether it was necessary.

Learning log and contextual research sketchbook:

Really thoughtful analysis and reflection, both of your own work and your contextual research. Great to read you making links back to your earlier evaluations and my earlier feedback as you wrestled with the focus of the final project. The Donald MacKinnon quote perfectly summarises issues explored through feedback and tutorials!

You’ve spent a lot of time thinking, evaluating and making sense of your work in this final project, which drew on threads from earlier parts of this course. You’ve thoughtfully followed up questions posed in our last tutorial about the value of craft and time investment. Your descriptive use of language and context-specific terminology (e.g. formalism) is very good for this level. Your integration of theories relating to art, design and craft and your discussion of artists work to answer questions about your own practise is thoughtful, reflective and clearly developmental. You’ve fallen down a context rabbit hole in researching art vs craft and formalism vs conceptualism in this project and you acknowledged it had influenced the final piece. Focus more on the design context to explore where formalism, aesthetic and process have more perceived (and financial) value. This is an ongoing debate in textiles, so try to ground your reading by considering it against your innate strengths and interests, rather than being swayed to heavily by external perceptions of value and what is “good”. It was fascinating to discuss this with you, and I look forward to perhaps seeing the fruits of the ongoing discussion in the Ideas & Processes work.

Areas to continue working on:

• Maximise the use of drawing! You draw beautifully, so use it more regularly to gather research, visualise your ideas, explore compositions etc.

• Continue to reflect on the context of your work, considering art, design and craft, and the value of aesthetic and formal qualities alongside more conceptual approaches.

Pointers for assessment:

• Reflect on this feedback in your learning log.

• There are lots of gaps in the sketchbook towards the end as you wrestled with the final piece. Complete these to make sense of the final piece and review the value in your more process-led and aesthetically driven work.

• You identified that the final piece was swayed by reading about conceptual art. Your earlier work is more pattern-based and process-led than the final piece, so consider elevating some of the prints by presenting them in collections of designs.

• Lots of your pleated samples need to be seen in 3D to be fully appreciated, so consider submitting photos along with the samples.

Part 5; Self Assessment

DEMONSTRATION OF TECHNICAL AND VISUAL SKILLS:

Throughout Part Five I sought a less refined aesthetic, inspired both by my recent research into Sloppy Craft and my continued pursuit of irregularity and imperfection. My Final Piece represents what I have learned about the importance of incorporating experimentation and play into my process. The implications of this are that I had less control over the outcome. I used to think this was a weakness: a failure to dictate exactly what would happen meant a lack of skill but MMT has changed my mind.

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It was easier to put aside my preconceptions about finished work being time consuming and constructed ‘properly’ in theory. In practise it was more difficult, I found making the series of canvases that could act as a final piece if things went wrong acted as an emotional buffer between me and the real task ahead. I did this extra step because I still find it difficult to commit to spontaneity; to trust one’s intuition requires courage. I fear someone will look over my shoulder and ask “I wonder why she’s not doing it properly?” Now I realise the person asking is me! When I am in less control of the materials and processes there is also a greater chance I will reveal something more raw and primal. I think being willing to expose something deeper has led to a more powerful and dynamic result.

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The printed colour appears quite wild and aggressive but I have tried to use my knowledge of design and composition to provide overall coherence. Repetition and pattern have been used to provide rhythms that seek to hold attention; their presence is what I believe makes the work uniquely my own.

QUALITY OF OUTCOME:

I sent my sketchbooks and a small selection of samples to my tutor, unfortunately the Final Piece is still hanging in my kitchen. I had hoped it would fold in the manner of a concertina sketchbook but construction difficulties led to a change of plan. I was able to conceptually justify this by proposing the comfort offered by the ‘blanket’ be replaced by the protection of a ‘shield’, however, I am still disappointed that Cari won’t see the work in person. The main reason for my disappointment is that I know I took a risk returning to a familiar format. It is really important that this final piece is seen as more than a quilt. The choice of materials and the method of construction are not typical of a well made quilt specimen, the format was used only as a vehicle for the communication of an idea.

 

DEMONSTRATION OF CREATIVITY:

In some ways the final piece seems a huge leap from what I proposed in the beginning, hopefully my sketchbooks and blog explain how I reached my conclusion. To begin with I was concerned about the relationship between 2-D and 3-D in printmaking, wondering how I could use folding to manipulate printed pattern. I did a range of samples using pleating, origami and nets but I was really only considering the Formalist properties of the work, thinking about pattern in design terms.

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I think the real turning point was when I considered my plaster cubes, I started to question why I made them: the answer “because I could” not longer felt satisfactory. I thought what Rachel Whiteread’s sculpture means beyond it’s physical presence. A thread on the OCA Forum provided clarity: I learned Personal Voice goes beyond formal qualities, it is about what you want to make and why.

I had been experimenting with folding techniques using pages torn from a book. I began to rekindle my love of literature through Virginia Woolf. I thought about my day job, where I teach language and communication skills to young children. -All of these ideas amalgamated and became the concept for a final piece than held meaning beyond formalist principles. Given that the work had meaning I felt my use of a less refined aesthetic was justified.

CONTEXT:

Really, the entire project was driven by ‘Sloppy Craft’. Having been a perfectionist and a control freak for most of my life, I really struggled to understand why a maker would chose to make something ‘badly’, particularly when their prior work shows they are capable of doing things ‘properly’. I spent quite a lot of time re-evaluating what I believe gives art value; I came to the conclusion that often much of the work is done before the final piece is even started. If the idea is solid and the materials and processes are understood, the final piece need not look like it took forever to make. For Example: Thomas Trum’s paintings look like they were knocked up in an afternoon, however they require much thought and preparation, on top of a lifetime spent as a house decorator.

An unkempt appearance can be dynamically visual, I found myself looking at painters who inspire me, particularly the Abstract Expressionists and Minimalists. I could apply the principles of Sloppy to these without any problem, it is only when the word is associated with Craft things become more slippery. I tend to think of Craft as being masterful and refined, I worry that it’s traditions (which are often closely related to culture and heritage) will be weakened by this trend. Art has always pushed the boundaries of what is acceptable so perhaps this is an attempt to close the divide between Craft and Art?

I hope that a combination of my research (both in sketchbook and on my blog), my sampling and the final piece reflects my exploration of Sloppy. Although I chose to work with an ancient craft, I think the result is contemporary. I am happy that I upheld my Formalist values while at the same time tried to introduce a Conceptual twist. Do I consider it Sloppy Craft or is it Art? Is this distinction important? What is important now, moving forward, is my acceptance of imperfection and willingness to play.

Part 5; Reviewing My Final Piece

The most important thing about my final piece was that it surprised even me. It continues to do so. It is currently hanging in my kitchen and each time I enter the room I get a little shock. The thing is: it’s me but then again it’s not…

I feel excited by the piece but wonder if my judgement is clouded by an overwhelming sense of relief that it is finally done? The piece symbolises the end of an uncomfortable journey (cliché, I know, sorry) through Mixed Media Textiles; I have been forced to confront many entrenched ideas about making, which in turn have led to me questioning my very character: my need for perfection and quest to do everything properly.

It was my aim to try to separate myself from the work and review it as objectively as I was able. I think maybe I got a bit carried away!

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The piece is reasonably large at 100×70 cm, it is made from individual pages of a book that have been folded using an Origami Bamboo Letter Fold. The multiple units have been brought together to form a relief surface which is unified by a sense of rhythm and pattern. The pattern, however, is irregular and fragmented and will only lead the eye so far before it discovers another path to follow. In places portions of the original text are revealed. Their meaning is obscured, they can not be read but they invite the viewer closer… There, irregular stitching in sympathetic colours help traverse the uneven surface. The comfort of tracing the tiny innocuous stitches is shattered as the sinister nature of the crime novel throws out the occasional wordy gem: ‘unexpected’, ‘fingertips’, and ‘dead babies’. Repelled and retreating to a safer distance the colour palette can be questioned. What initially felt bright and full of joy seems wilder and perhaps threatening. The yellow and black draws to mind poisonous creatures that seek to cause distress and to wound. The wildness of the mark-making adds to the feeling of fear. Something has been unleashed and has not quite been contained. Yet there is hope. Evil can be defeated. Fear can be overcome. The regularity of the structure that lies beneath remains strong and grid-like. The repetitive construction from multiple pieces harkens the safety and security of a patchwork blanket… Take it, wrap it around your shoulders, wear your fear..

Okay, so I did get a bit carried away! What I wanted to convey is that far from relying on technical ability, on a trusted process or material or indeed making that focusses on Formalist properties. I did step out of my comfort zone. I tried to counter a looser aesthetic by introducing a conceptual element to the work through the use of a found object: the humble book. Another reading of the piece could be that worn like a blanket, it repels the evil and madness of the modern world by permitting escapism. Unfortunately, last minute alterations make it stiff like a shield or a superheroe’s cloak rather than an ethereal and amorphous as I had imagined.

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Rekindling my love of language and literature through reading Virginia Woolf helped inspire the rhythms of both construction and printmaking. Strangely enough it was only after the completion of the piece I discovered this passage in To The Lighthouse where Lily says:

“Beautiful and bright it should be on the surface, feathery and evanescent, one colour melting into another like the colours on a butterfly’s wing; but beneath the fabric must be clamped together with bolts of iron.” ¹

This is in effect what I was trying to do. It felt like the confirmation I was looking for, something can be one thing, whilst at the same time being another. Have I balanced Sloppy with Control? I have been open and willing throughout MMT to addressing the part of me that is too controlling. I have embraced ‘play’ and encouraged work that comes from a rawer place inside me. I researched Sloppy Craft and considered the implications of a less refined aesthetic BUT I still want to be me. It could be argued that the piece is controlled: too rectangular, too flat, too regular, too stiff. However, the inclusion of the grid-like structure, the repetition and the pattern are how I can still identify the piece as my own.

“It was a thing you could ruffle with your breath; and a thing you could not dislodge with a team of horses.” ²

¹ and ² WOOLF V, To the Lighthouse. (1927) WORDSWORTH EDITIONS. P128.

Part 5; Constructing my Final Piece

After performing a little trick on my subconscious, preparing canvases that would serve as a final piece if everything went wrong, I was prepared to make my final piece. This post details the schemes I employed to force myself not to fall back into old habits as I created it.

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I set up a situation that lent itself to the chaotic, because I wanted to create something bolder, with much more energy than the canvases. On the morning of Christmas Eve, amid piles of presents and food, with people in and out of the house all rushing around, I laid out 150 Bamboo Letter Folds and started printing.

This sounds autobiographical but I include it because it was instrumental to the process. With all this going on around me I couldn’t fuss over minute details, I had be fast and economical. In Part 4, when I studied Matisse I learned that you can’t copy spontaneity, you have to commit to it.

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Once the Bamboo Folds were laid out I tried not to fiddle too much with the arrangement. I wanted a sense of rhythm but didn’t want it to look too forced or organised. I felt the piece below that I had previously used as a print block was too orderly and static.

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I also used a new Gelli Plate, which was much larger than I am used to. This unfamiliarity was useful in the same way as drawing with your non-dominant hand, it invited the unpredictable. It also allowed several units to be printed at once, I taped the blocks together but mindful that I wanted an all over effect I tried to avoid regular shapes.

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This led to much mirth in the house: “Mum’s playing Tetris!” but in reality it was me trying to control colour without predetermining the outcome. Pre-planning is a habit I have been trying to break since the Paolozzi affair in Part 3.

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Yes, I was still plotting on paper but this was different- I was containing the colour palette for continuity not deciding what the finished product would look like before the sampling stage.

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I was really pleased with the printed outcome. Engineering an environment for things to go wrong and accepting the imperfections that occurred, worked really well. As such I am content that the piece reflects the most import lessons MMT has taught me.

The project, however, had one final sting in the tail. A problem occurred as I sewed the pieces together, I am hopeful that I caught the issue in time. I set about joining the pieces using the methods I had practised below:

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It hadn’t really occurred to me how quilt-like the piece had become. It was intended as a wall hanging that could also be worn around the shoulders of my bookworm, symbolising how wrapped up one can become in a good book… or the power one can attain by learning to read. (Remember, I work in a Primary School)

It wasn’t until I had stitched almost half the piece together I realised what I was doing: After being so conscious of avoiding any making that felt comfortable, I had slipped back into old habits. The functional stitching that was supposed to be slightly rough and ugly, encouraging the formation of scaly spikes, was become decorative or worse disappearing entirely. The whole thing was becoming flattened, it looked better when the units were further apart. I stopped.

I had this issue in the back of my mind over the next two days. I recalled an article about Phyllida Barlow in the Guardian, earlier this year:

“She uses the shortest route to get something done. She improvises, makes shortcuts, disregards time honoured craft techniques.” ¹

I decided to glue the whole thing to a sheet of muslin and have done with it! I had a solution but perhaps more importantly I had finally uncovered a heroine of Sloppy Craft. Barlow appeals to me much more than Josh Faught who is held as an exempla of an unkempt aesthetic throughout Patterson and Surette’s book. I never thought I wanted to be a “Bish-bash-bosh” artist (as Richard Wentworth calls Barlow²) but on reflection I can see the attraction!

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I tried to blend my ‘almost’ mistake by adding some stitch over the left hand side that wasn’t sewn together. I think I rescued it in time. The unfortunate consequence of changing the plan at the last minute means it is now rather stiff. It also won’t fold. I had imagined sending it to my tutor in a box, packaged with tissue paper, like expensive dress. The lid would be lifted and this light, amorphous ‘fabric’ would spill out. I imagined it would be soft and drape – instead it is like a great big board. It will still bend around my bookworm but it will be more like a shield than a cloak!

¹ and ²  Charlotte HIGGINS writing in The GUARDIAN, 9/5/17

Part 5; A Little Trick…

As confident as I was that I had formulated a plan for my final piece I knew it was going to require a leap of faith.

 

I did the ‘easy’ bit, I folded 150 pages of a book into Bamboo Letter Folds and laid them out- the trouble was letting go, just letting it happen. The next step had to be spontaneous, I needed the printmaking to be a little bit wild and chaotic to counter the order I had imposed on the substrate. I was in danger of over planning…

So I played a little trick on myself…

I made a final piece. A different final piece. A piece I knew was ‘good enough’ if all else failed…

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When I added photographs of these samples to my blog, (here) I realised they made an attractive series. I printed the pictures on to Abaca and pasted them to canvases covered with a rough layer of gesso. They are only small (7x5inches) but they give the impression of what the prints would look like transferred to this format.

I think they are punchy images that seem to invite you into an imaginary landscape. There is a stillness and decorative quality about them that speaks of their evolution from an origami print block by referencing a Japanese influence. The colour is strong and belies the diminutive size of the canvas; As it changes across the series I think about the constant change of light as the day progresses. I get the impression of bitter coldness, despite the warmth of the orange/yellow, like the sun bouncing off ice.

They aren’t perfect but I was happy ‘enough’ with the result to persuade myself to take a risk and commit to my ‘real’ final piece. I wasn’t going to mention this ‘little trick’, it seems so silly but it really did help. The thought of producing a ‘final’ piece can be daunting, I know it has made me self conscious and controlled in the past. If I was to  achieve a looser, less refined aesthetic I needed to really go for it. Having these canvases behind me helped me take more risks when I was tempted to play it safe.