2.4; REFLECTION: The Purpose of Sampling

Exercise 2.4, was more important to me than any of the individual samples I produced. The exercise made me consider some of rules I have constructed about my work over the years. In addition I began to question the role that sampling plays in my practice.


Realisation began when I discovered this stack of off-cut factory waste paper in my stash. I loved the shapes and patterns the holes made and I could see the potential for exploring the dichotomy of space and negative space. However, something inside me told me this would be ‘cheating’, I should cut the holes myself. I challenged this preconceived notion by first thinking about a conversation I had had about Gregor Henderson, runner-up in Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year 2016.

I really enjoyed Henderson’s work, I thought it was a fresh way of reproducing the landscape, challenging the traditional scenes I associate with landscape art. I liked the layering and sensitive use of colour, my parents were fascinated by the reductive technique he uses. This is where things came apart- I could see the skill involved in cutting the layers and reconstructing the image in layers but he used a photograph! That voice inside me started screming, ‘that’s cheating, what happened to drawing?’ (As it turned out in a later episode Henderson demonstrated excellent observational drawing skills).

I had a similar experience when I recently visited the art college I attended many years ago. As I looked around the studios I saw a student making some large scale drawings of a fennel plant, her approach shocked me too. She had placed the plant in front of a sunny window and was tracing the shadow on the opposite wall. ‘Wow, no wonder its so good.’ As well as beginning rather impressed at her ingenuity, I was secretly rather appalled and believed she should be drawing ‘properly’. I don’t know where or when I formed these rules about drawing, I am convinced they exist only in my head. Surely as artists we must use all the tools available to us?

Many people believe that rules are only there to be broken (I’m possibly rather dull in my adherence to them!) so I gave myself permission to use the pre-cut holes. I would like to tell you that I did so with a sense of liberation, but actually I still felt apprehensive about this ‘short-cut’.

Did the results of the sampling change my perception? Yes, to a degree. I really enjoyed making it, the exercise became more about the materials and possible effects. What did I learn? Not to limit myself by dismissing ideas without trying them.

Once I had traced an appealing composition, I decided to cut the new distorted flower shapes myself. I started to look for a suitable piece of card or paper large enough to fit the entire design. I had a sudden moment of realisation- ‘I don’t have to cut the whole design, I can make a sample!’ This may seem obvious to most but it was honestly a revelation to me!

I think my learning here was assisted by reading K Greenlees’ wonderful book: Creating Sketchbooks¹. This was the second time I had borrowed the book and this time round it was this passage from P35, that had stuck with me:

“Whether you use sampling as a sketching process or as an extension of that process, it is important to consider the place that it has in your work. Is it a major vehicle for expression? Is it an ‘in between stage’ of problem solving and exploration? Or perhaps your ideas blur those boundaries. However  you use sampling, try to understand what it contributes to your personal practice and development.”

Initially, I found I that despite having adopted sampling in to my practice during ATV and realising its value, I still couldn’t answer WHY? Why do I sample? Hand on heart here, I will have to admit to producing samples because the coursenotes say: ‘produce 8-10 samples’. This apparent lack of understanding on my part made me feel quite cross with myself! ‘I did it because I was told to.’

At first I thought this attitude demonstrated passivity and a failure to take responsibility for my learning. However now, as I type this, I wonder if what it really shows is that I trusted in the course. Even when I wasn’t sure where things were leading I embraced the exercises and took what I could from them. If I were truly ‘passive’ I guess I wouldn’t be writing this!

So, (returning to the point) deciding to sample a small area of the distorted flowers, rather than the whole design, was a monumental moment. In the past, I would have gone out specifically to purchase a great big piece of paper, marked it up, started cutting, realised it wasn’t going to work, got fed up, cast it aside and never, ever finish it. No wonder I never used to finish anything! No wonder I have a pile of unfinished projects (that drive my husband mad). Each and everyone of those UFOs feels like a failure, each one feeds my fear that I am no good. If I sampled an idea before jumping in too deep I could avoid this!

In all the years I knitted, I never made a tension square, regarding it as a waste of precious materials. This now seems counter intuitive: if problems are solved during the planning (sampling) stage, much less material is wasted and the end product is successful (in that it is finished and not cast aside).

I find the constant cycle of sampling for OCA courses exhausting. I still feel frustrated when things don’t go right but actually given the quantity of time and materials invested in each sample it isn’t a huge failure after all. Strangely, I have observed that I sleep better since beginning the courses. I think sampling allows me to download some of my ideas, to reject some that that are doomed to fail and all without adding to my UFO pile. Knowing this I can afford (both emotionally and financially) to be more experimental.

Whilst I miss producing properly realised and finished pieces, perhaps I can take more enjoyment from sampling now that I can answer the Greenlees quote above?

¹GREENLEES K, Creating Sketchbooks for Embroiderers and Textile Artists (2005) Batsford

2.4; More Sampling: Cutting Holes

SAMPLE 2.4.4 (a) (b)

After the success of viewing the previous sample’s holes through a layer of tissue paper, I decided to explore covering a cardboard hole with a diaphanous material. For sample (a) I mounted the cardboard cut-out onto a base layer and adhered small pieces of tissue paper to it. The effect was disastrous! There was no definition and the motif was almost unrecognisable. I mixed purple acrylic paint with PVA glue and flooded the indentation.


I was so frustrated by the results of this process that I put (threw) it in the garden to dry. I wondered if the relief was too shallow? A week later, when I retrieved the sample and photographed it to include as evidence of failure, I found my feelings about it had changed. It doesn’t look nearly as bad now it’s dry (apart from the addition of dirt, dog hairs and sawdust!) Where the tissue paper had become very wet it has ruched and crinkled, the PVA/acyrlic mix has left it shiny. This texture is definitely something I could work with.

Not having learned my lesson about the relief being too shallow, I next tried layering sheets of the pre-cut waste. I was expecting a textural surface made up of tiny abstract shapes, something similar to a Maud Vantour’s geometric design. I was sadly very disappointed.

It obviously takes a great more skill and planning to create a Vantour’s style landscape! Even covering the surface with lovely lustrous Lumiere Textile Paint couldn’t enhance my result. Having said that I have a feeling that this sample is more of a starting point than a finished product, the addition of stitch or other embellishment could improve it.

SAMPLE 2.4.5

I guessed that the materials I was using were not thick enough to achieve the result I wanted. Sticking with the distortion theme, I had thought to cut holes in wool at the pre-felt stage and observe the changes: as wool felts it shrinks and the holes become bigger. Given that I already knew what would happen, I decided in a moment of madness, I would try the same experiment with salt dough.

The results from the salt dough are much as what you would expect. I had thought that if I cut shapes from a thick dough and then rolled it out further, the holes would grow and distort, as they would in felt. I discovered that actually they close up on themselves; I think I rolled too hard and the dough stuck to the surface (I’m not much of a pastry chef!)

Again, I found when I returned to the samples to record them, I learned something new. This time as I photographed one of them in front of the light, I noticed the way light shone through the thinnest layers; the flower motifs seem to glow and I began to appreciate the subtle grainy texture of I had previously considered a very smooth surface.


This observation of the slight grainy texture, inspired me to try to recreate it in my sketchbook. I used watercolour pencils and while the paint was still wet I ground some rock salt over the surface.


Starting on a yellow background produces a similar effect to the sample itself. I seem to have captured some of the glow and sparkle. The benefit of reproducing the texture in this way is that it doesn’t have the same weight as the original sample, which was rather heavy and clumsy.

On white paper the effect is more subtle. Paint pools around the coarsely ground salt and changes the way it dries, creating a mottled effect. I really liked the salt remaining on the paper (pictured left) as it provides a tactile surface that looks as delicate as it is rough. I brushed the salt away (right) because I felt it would eventually come off through handle and wear and I would rather be in control of this. The result still rather exciting, although not as pronounced. The effect is rather like an accidental spillage, suggesting the passage of time as it dried staining and spoiling the surface. Alternatively it could be viewed as a growth, multiplying and spreading.

Searching for yet another way to record the texture of the salt dough led me to apply some brusho to abaca paper.

These surfaces are characteristic of the type of painterly textiles my previous tutor identified during my previous course. His advice was that I combine this:

“very quick aggressive mark-making, with the delicate nature of your stitch”

I love this sample, it is wild and capricious yet tamed by areas of delicate french knots. I tried not to be too meticulous in the way I formed the knots, fearing this would negate the playfulness. I am left wondering: Is this response predictable? Is it a cliche? Or is it me I recognise in this recording?

SAMPLE 2.4.6

I have been carrying an image in my head of a piece by ElizabethBrimelow- Page 167 Kettle and McKeating, Machine Stitch Perspectives (2010) A&C Black. You can view other examples of her quilts here (Sole Bay is very similar to Blackshore and Shingle One). The piece fills me with excitement and curiosity. I want to keep looking at it, each time I do I discover something new. The regularity is pleasing but it is matched with a sense of exploration, of informality and imperfection.

This sample is my response to her work. I made several thin paper tubes and punched holes along their length. Restricting the palette to white meant I was able to observe the relationships between the holes in different layers.

I like the solidity of the sample created by the tubes, it is surprisingly strong. The holes provide glimpses of the ones beneath and then of the background behind. It is interesting that your view changes, sometimes you see the insides, sometimes all the way through. There are many tonal differences across the sample.

I had planned to thread yarns and fabrics of a variety of colour and texture along the lengths, meaning each hole would reveal something different. It proved impossible to pass anything other than a pipe cleaner down the tubes because of the rigidity of the paper, reinforced by the double-sided tape I secured them together with.


Stitches added detracted from the transparency the holes provided. I abandoned this line of thinking and chose instead to investigate coloured tubes.


My favourite combination of coloured papers was the complimentary blue and orange pairing. Before forming the tube I noticed the lozenge shapes inside, created by light pouring in through the single row of holes above. I love the way they seem to dance with joy inside the containment of the tube.


This effect reminded me of Josef Albers: Interaction of Colour, in Chapter 4 he challenges his students to find a colour that suggests the deception of transparency where two colours overlap. I explored this by trying to record the effect within the tube using gouache paint.

I’m sure my painting has many technical faults, but I am pleased with the results. The section of lozenges do seem to shimmer and glow, once again I am forced to appreciate the role of light and shadow upon the sample, without it the tube is merely one shade of orange.

The two individual holes I painted make quite exciting motifs by themselves. They have a retro appeal like 1970’s wallpaper! I could imagine using these as a starting point for a print or repeating pattern


2.4; Sampling: Cutting Holes

Exercise 2, forced me to consider the process of sampling and its role within my work. It also made me consider some of my beliefs about the way I work and the rules that I should follow. This insight made the exercise so much more important than the results themselves. I have decided to record the samples in this post and will reflect on the thoughts I had about my working practice separately.

SAMPLE 2.4.1 (a) (b)

I began by using up the coloured paper I had laminated for 1.4.13. Yhis seemed important to me because I wanted something good to come out of these materials (having felt despondent at the results of the previous application). I approached the task with Patrick Heron‘s abstract paintings in mind. The series of photographs below (of 2.4.1 a) shows how I cut holes and then introduced colour in layers behind.

Although the plastic laminate allowed me to explore holes in a very simplistic way, I have come to the conclusion that laminated paper is quite limiting. When I look at Heron’s seemingly simple paintings I can still see the texture of the canvas and subtle variations where the paint has started to mix, some have an even more pronounced mottling. Sample 2.4.1 has none of these slight imperfections and is worse for it, there is not enough textural contrast in the flat, shiny laminated plain paper.

The second sample (2.4.1 b) was constructed in the same way, but this time I added spacing between the layers.


Instantly, the sample becomes more interesting to look at, the spacing adds depth whilst still allowing the colours to freely interact. Shadows also break up the surface, creating a wider variety of tones of each hue. Although it is more interesting it is certainly not exciting!

SAMPLE 2.4.2

Having looked at Maud Vantours concentric circles that take the form of craters in the paper. I began wondering: what if the holes remain the same size as the layers build up? I cut a series of regular sized circles from corrugated card and glued the layers together directly on top of one another.


I felt that although this was a simple design, I found the edges of the holes appealing. I like the way the internal structure of the cardboard is revealed inside the hole, it contrasts with the smooth surface top and bottom. If more care were taken in the cutting and construction of the layers this effect could be made more effective.

Inspired by Fred Baier‘s design for a banister in the House of Commons Library, I thought about adding colour to the inside edge. I did this first with acrylic paint (purple) and then with a piece of coiled paper (yellow).

I was pleased with the addition of colour, which was surprising because it actually detracts from the texture at the edges, which was the thing I originally found most appealing. The sample suggests that in order to be successful it would need to be produced in a more sophisticated material than I have the capacity for, perhaps perspex or metal?

This desire for alternative materials makes me question if I am doing this right. In 1.4.4, I started asking myself about folding mirrors or glass, now I want perspex and metal. I have ambitious ideas but perhaps it would be better to consider what the materials I do have, can do and are suitable for?

SAMPLE 2.4.3

I has a real sense of happiness as I created this sample. It was not what I had envisaged creating but came together as I observed what was going on in front of me, letting the materials do the work.

As I searched for some suitable paper to cut circles in (inspired by Karen Margolis) I came across the factory waste (photographed below). I noticed the beautiful shapes created by the stacked paper and thought about how the cut-outs flower shapes had been objective and I was left with the negative space around them.

I felt a bit apprehensive about using pre-cut holes for the exercise but a conversation with my Dad about Gregor Henderson, who won Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year 2016, gave me the confidence to push the boundaries. (As I said at the top of the post this is discussed in more detail here).

As I shuffled the papers, thinking about gluing them together to form a textural surface (2.4.4) I happened to notice the shadows on my desk. I loved the distortion of the shapes and decided to trace them. I rigged up a rudimentary scaffold in front of a lamp drew round the shadows.

The simple five petaled flower became strange and tropical, so much more interesting! Now that I had created a composition of these distorted flower motifs, I began looking for some card to cut the shapes from. As I searched I had a moment of realisation: why cut the whole design? I could just do a small sample!

I cut some of the motifs from a sheet of soft craft foam and experimented with layering them over different backgrounds.

The craft foam was really lovely to work with. It cuts easily and is much more flexible to manipulate than paper. I did have to be careful that my fingernails or the point of the scissors didn’t mark the surface as it is extremely soft.

After layering on white and crumpled silver foil, I placed the sample on top of hot pink and lime green tissue paper.

The flower shapes over coloured tissue work well, as I think their tropical shape suggests something a little bit quirky. When I placed them over white and silver I felt they looked a bit like wedding stationary. Given the research I did into Maud Vantour’s work I think these samples have a strong design aesthetic. However, they  make me feel a little uneasy: I feel like I shouldn’t like them, but I do. Why is that? 

Finally I viewed the sample from the back, when held up to the light it came alive!

These images haven’t been ‘photo-shopped’, this is genuinely what the sample looked like. I love the vivid colour and the diffuse outlines. I am excited by the patterns that have been created, I want to touch the soft velvety surface, yet it looks hot, I feel afraid I might burn my fingers.

I am left wondering what I am going to do with these samples, since I can’t actually decide if they are any good or not. It reminds me of my ATV Assignment 5 presentation box (I thought it was a great idea, my tutor really didn’t agree!) Whatever the reception they get, they were still a lot of fun to make and filled me with much joy. When I look at them I am reminded of the thinking that went on ‘behind the scenes’ and what I learned from them. I wonder if that is why I can’t separate myself from them, enough to judge their success? I would be interested in another perspective, any feedback would be very welcome!  




2.4; Initial Thoughts and Research

Holes are exciting!

As they reveal snippets of what lies beneath, holes fill me with curiosity. I wonder if the base material is the focus or the holes themselves? This plays with the dichotomous relationship between space and negative space. Making holes alters the stability of the base material, it changes the way it looks and feels. A substrate bearing holes will become lighter and more possibly flexible, it may become more delicate and prone to breakages. Holes can appear accidental suggesting damage or be planned to reduce weight, add light and suggest movement.

For this exercise, I researched two artists who explore holes in paper: Karen Margolis and Maud Vantours.

Karen Margolis

I was particularly drawn to Margolis’ work with  Maps and Holes, where she cuts out cities, traces roadways and layers to produce ‘new territories’.

I found that I was able to appreciate the pieces without the information I discovered as I researched her work. It was very interesting to read about her approach which combines her experience in the world of Psychology (neurotransmitters, chemical reactions and emotional responses) it made me understand the pieces on another level. Once again, I find myself asking: ‘How much do we need to know about a piece?’ I liked the pieces at both at face value and given their context.

In my sketchbook I considered the difference between Salt Lake City and Ostia (both can be viewed at the above link). The uppermost layer of Salt Lake City is a harmonious mix of cool blues and purples, these analogous colours are enhanced by glimpses of complimentary oranges and yellow in lower layers. Ostia is made entirely from layers of white, although because the reductive process has been achieved using a soldering iron, the holes have a slightly darkened edge where the paper has burnt. These darkened edges on layers of white abaca provide enough colour for me, I don’t need the complexity added by the maps and roadways, however pleasing. The second piece looks like it would feel brittle and crumple under my touch. Its organic structure almost seems to be growing into the shadows, spreading, seeping and taking over…

Maud Vantours

Maud Vantours also works predominantly with paper, cutting holes into the surface and superimposing layers. In contrast to Margolis, Vantours work seems rather more formal and definite. It has a graphic quality I found very appealing. Whilst Margolis spoke to the artist in me, Vantour’s addressed the designer. She has an impressive portfolio of work for high-end luxury brands.

Vantour’s is a skillful pattern maker, I liked her geometric and floral designs but saw evidence of pattern even in such a simple design as Spirale. The decreasing concentric circles are not truly round and the jagged edges where the layers are misaligned are really textural, much more interesting than a smooth edge would have been. I feel that I would like her designs even if they were flat (ie, a print) but the 3-D relief quality make the pieces much more interesting, I am drawn in deeper and deeper until I get lost in the pattern. Her bio describes her creations as “multicoloured and dreamlike landscapes¹” which I have to agree is a good description.

How are these artists relevant to me?

The key seems to be in the layering. I already thought holes were inspiring but my research showed me that holes, beneath holes, beneath holes is even more interesting!

I am particularly drawn to circular holes, I think the fact they do not tessellate leaves interesting spaces between them. I am not only looking forward to cutting holes but to finding out what happens to the base material after multiples have been cut.

¹www.maudvantours.com bio