In this post I am going to evaluate my experiment using plaster to capture the textures of a savoy cabbage leaf. I will be using my recently developed pro forma to try to analyse rather than recount what happened. This is part of me trying to make my blog work as a tool, following feedback and discussion with my tutor.
Aims: to preserve the transient. To mould directly from the surface of an object with plaster, without imprinting texture into clay first.
Why did I select this material/process/approach? Previous attempts to press air drying clay into the pocket-like, puckered texture of the cabbage leaf failed. The clay was too hard and stiff. The photographs below demonstrate that what detail I did pick up was elongated and flattened:
Sample properties: Look/Feel. Structure/texture/colour.
I produced a cast of the top of the leaf, the dome structure, left; and the underside, the bowl structure, right. Both have picked up lots of accurate detail regardless of whether the curve was concave or convex.
Both structures remind me of coral, the top is quite sharp and scratchy because of the way the plaster has settled in the undercuts. The underside has smoother lumps and bumps that are almost like bubbles.
Both are brilliant white in colour, where the plaster has been shielded by the leaf. Around the edges where the plaster has come into direct contact with the supporting clay some discolouration has occurred. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing, it adds interest although it does alter the way light reflects across the surface.
Degree of success: What worked/What didn’t? Why?
Overall, I am pleased with these two samples. They are firm and weighty, portraying and accurate representation of the detail texture found on a cabbage leaf. The variety of texture is interesting as the ‘pockets’ in the leaf are smaller around the edge than in the centre. I really like that they are a ‘matching’ pair, there is a definite relationship between the two when viewed together.
I had some difficultly with undercutting, particularly on the top of the leaf. As I pulled the leaf away, I heard lots of alarming ‘ping, ping, ping’ noises as plaster broke away, I think most of these pieces were very tiny as it didn’t seem to make much difference to the overall finished sample. The other problem with undercutting was pieces of leaf remained stuck in the cast; this occurred mainly around the edges (where the cell structure is very tight). This frustrated the perfectionist in me, but I really don’t think it that big a deal, eventually they will decompose and brush away.
How does this relate to my contextual research?
Actually, physically working with plaster and natural objects made me realise it is not just the absence of colour in Rachel Dein’s work that gives me a melancholic feeling. My early comment about ‘mausoleum’ tiles seems even more fitting now I have appreciated that the organic materials in this process are sacrificed. They become immortalised, forever frozen in the moment they were deemed at their best. They don’t get to wither and die, but nor do they get an ‘Autumn’. The time of year I would actually describe as most aesthetically pleasing. The cyclical nature of organic matter has been broken. I think this makes me sad.
Did I feel comfortable with the materials/techniques? Was there anything I particularly enjoyed?
This is quite a simple straightforward process, that I found quite satisfying. I found kiln clay much easier to manipulate than air drying clay, it formed a secure supporting barrier that was easily removed afterwards.
Did I discover anything new or unexpected?
I already knew that plaster could create really smooth surfaces but I was impressed at how sharp the definition and edges can be. I found the number of bubbles produced the mixing stage were quite alarming, for the second sample I tried to knock out as many bubbles as I could before I poured. Curiosity makes me wonder what happens if you don’t do this, or if you intentionally create as many bubbles as possible?
How could I use this sample/technique/material/research in the future?
This technique is very versatile, I guess plaster could be used to capture the texture of a wide variety of objects, with or without clay dependant on whether the object is porous or not. Porous objects would soak up plaster and allow it to travel through… Rebecca Fairley adopted a similar process casting with concrete- perhaps I should look into this. In order to seal a porous surface and prevent seepage, I could seal it or use a non-permeable layer (latex? cling film?)
How could I have approached this differently/What could I do differently next time? Could I repeat this using a different material/techniques?
Try using red clay to add a subtle warmth to the sample.
Was I experimental/logical/controlled/expressive enough?
The technique is very simple and straight forward so my logical approach was justified. Now that I understand the process, I should be able to be more ambitious and experimental.
How does my learning relate to tutor feedback/personal development?
I was worried about the tiny pieces of leaf stuck in the casting, until I realised I’m not supposed to be looking for perfection. My tutor report provided guidance for Part 3, reading: ‘Push yourself to keep exploring imperfection and irregularity’ made me look at the additional samples below in a new light:
Waste plaster was poured into the bottom of drinking bottles, I naturally assumed the one on the left was the better casting. Considering tutor feedback, I would say actually the one on the right is more successful, the imperfection that reveals the slightly bubbly, grainy texture beneath the smooth surface offers an interesting contrast. It speaks of decay and degeneration.
What do I want/need to do next?
This was what I didn’t think about carefully enough. Answering these questions in hindsight has highlighted to me where I went wrong. Since I didn’t plan what I wanted to explore or achieve next, I drifted into some irrelevant research which inspired an investigation with a planned ending. After discussion with my tutor, I can see now why it is important to keep research pertinent to practitioner, materials and method. More about this here.