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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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:


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!


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


3.1; Playing with Mouldable Polymer

Aims: to explore a new and unfamiliar material.

Why did I select this material/process/approach? I chose the product Polydoh by Materialix, from a range of mouldable polymers available on Amazon. The decision was made solely because this pack offered six free mini bags of colour, otherwise I could see little difference between the products and their pricings.

Degree of success: What worked/What didn’t? Why? Almost all the samples I produced were ‘successful’, once I got to grips the temperature requirements! I quickly learned not to introduce or remove other surfaces whilst the plastic is too hot, which prevents unwanted sticking and distortion.


Although there was a fantastic level of detail, it took an incredible amount of strength to separate the materials. At first, I thought the problem was the similarity between the two types of plastic but I learned from experience this is not the case, the Polydoh was simply too hot when I applied it.

Sample properties: Look/Feel. Structure/texture/colour.

SET 1: Small samples made from impressing a variety of surfaces, natural/manmade, porous/non-porous:


The irregular shapes, that are slightly uneven and warped, won me over because of the level of detail they capture. Viewed individually, they look nothing special but as a group they are more appealing. The plastic has a wax like quality without the fragility.

SET 2: The flexibility of the polymer allowed me to impress the shell, partially enclosing it, I was then able to ‘unwrap’ it, stretching and distorting the organic spiralling pattern:



The resulting pattern can be better appreciated in my drawing, the impressions were faint and required viewing in a particular light. I included them because I like the idea of taking the surface of a 3-D object and stretching it out flat because the distortion causes an instant abstraction.

SET 3: Polydoh was surprisingly effective at capturing the pattern created by knitted stitches. Whereas Latex engulfed the yarn and was impossible to remove, Polydoh peeled away:


What these samples added to my exploration of a knitted texture was that some fibres adhered to the surface. Although this can not be very well perceived from the photograph, there is a light covering of ‘fluff’, almost like baby hair, embedded into the surface. This is something I would like to exploit because more than the pattern is being recorded. I think this would fit into my investigation of retaining memory from Part 2.

Did I feel comfortable with the materials/techniques? Was there anything I particularly enjoyed? I really enjoyed the immediacy of this product. I found it really quite liberating compared to the other mouldable materials I have tried. The reasons for this are listed below.

Could I repeat this using a different material/techniques? I suppose most of the samples I made could be produced using other materials but I found the polymer really rather unique:

  • It has similar casting properties to clay and Papier-mâché, without extended drying times.
  • When thin, it is flexible like a latex or silicone (although it is not stretchy)
  • It can be pierced or drilled without breakage, or splitting (a property I believe is quite unrivalled).
  • Compared to plaster and clay it is very lightweight.
  • It can’t be poured like plaster or silicone but it is very ‘squishable’!
  • It captures fine detail as well as any other casting material I have trialled.
  • It can be cut with scissors, and it’s surface painted.
  • It isn’t nearly as messy as all the other materials, so it requires less planning and preparation.
  • It doesn’t smell and is totally safe to use (just watch your fingers with the hot water)
  • Best of all it is totally reversible- if you don’t like what you’ve made, ‘recycle’ it by reheating and starting again. (I don’t know how many times this could be done!)

How does this relate to my contextual research? In a rather oblique way working with the polymer did relate to my research into one contemporary artist in particular: Phyllida Barlow. I have been considering a recent article in the Guardian (here):

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

This is the antithesis of my personal approach to date (perhaps excluding Washing Machine Spoon). I think the raw energy in Barlow’s work is something I could learn from. I am often frustrated by how long it takes me to make anything- my adherence to rules and meticulous nature. Richard Wentworth calls her “a bish-bash-bosh person” ² and that is a little bit how working with the Polydoh made me feel.

How could I use this material in the future? I’m not sure this material would be to everyone’s taste. It is a synthetic and it does have similar amateurish applications to Fimo, however, I really rather like it. It is incredibly immediate and versatile, I think it is a simple way to test an idea before committing to a more complex process.

Essentially, is a sort of three dimensional printing press, I think it could effectively used in conjunction with a Gelli Plate to produce prints.

What do I want/need to do next? The small samples suggest the need for presentation because in all honesty the number of samples I have already produced is driving me crazy! I am loathe to simply glue them to card, I wonder if I can incorporate some sort of puncturing (drilling) with stitch?

The success of translating the texture of knitted stitches with Polydoh has made me want to explore this further (incorporating knits in my work is a long term personal interest). I have decide to return once more to plaster but this time with more focus and the benefit of some relevant contextual research.

¹ and ²: