Playing with plaster

As well as sculpting with stone, ESP has experimented with plaster moulding. But rather than carving his own moulds, he has unconventionally used things like discarded packaging.

This piece, which looks like a fragment of a Greek column, was made using some air-filled plastic packaging that protected bottles.

Over Easter we experimented with filling balloons with plaster. Because the plaster takes around 20 minutes to dry and we got bored of moving them around before that, the plaster settled and was thicker in some areas than others. So when we cut off the balloon the tension caused the very thin areas to break. They look uncannily like real eggs!

Then I thought I would try combining plaster and felt. I’ve worked before with the idea of the contrasting hard and soft textures by combining felt and stone here and here.

I started by dipping some felt offcuts into plaster – some just one layer, others more than once.

You can see above that the hairy texture of the wool is quite evident beneath the plaster in places.

I then made and dipped two spherical felt vessels. This one was merino.

This one was made with coarser cheviot wool.

I dipped each vessel four times but there is still a clear difference in texture. This may be more noticeable with fewer dips but then the plaster may be too delicate to withstand much pressure.

More experiments needed! 🙂



Felt rooster swap

When I attended the Violette Amendola workshop in Belgium last year I met a lovely Dutch felter called Henny. We were working on adjacent tables so we got chatting and we had dinner together in the evenings.

Henny is a great lover of British culture – she’s an avid fan of Great British Bakeoff and Masterchef, and has been to felty events such as Wonderwool Wales. She also organises a twice yearly felt swap between a group of British felters and a group of Dutch/Belgian felters. Each person in the group makes something in felt that they send to someone in the other group – the pairings change for every swap.

So I was pleased to be asked to join at the end of last year. Each felt swap has a different theme, and I usually enjoy the challenge of trying to come up with something to fit the brief.

The theme of my first swap, in April, was “rooster”, the current year in the Chinese zodiac. This proved to be more of a challenge than I expected, as making cute felt animals is not really my thing. 🙂

But then at a vintage fair I saw a ceramic egg holder shaped like a chicken – my mother used to have one of these.

As the swap was scheduled for April, when Easter fell, I thought I would make one of these in felt and fill it with chocolate eggs.

Originally I thought I would make the base and the top in one piece, but then I remembered a previous experiment with Russian dolls, and decided to make the base separately, with more robust wool (a Steinschaf and merino blend). The main body of the rooster was all merino.

My swap partner, Françoise, who runs Vrouwolle (where I did the workshop with Violette) took a more abstract approach, which I love.

It also arrived beautifully packaged, in a suitably nest-like box.

Thank you Françoise!

Entangled: Threads & Making at Turner Contemporary

Yesterday I went on a bit of a nostalgia trip to Margate, a seaside resort on the north Kent coast. Somewhere in the loft is a photo of me aged 5, grinning into the camera without any top front teeth, waving a bucket and spade on a beach that apparently stretches for miles into the distance.

Childhood holidays apart, in recent history Margate’s main claim to fame was as the home of artist Tracey Emin. Then, in 2011, the Turner Contemporary gallery opened on the seafront, on the site where the eponymous artist stayed when visiting his mistress Mrs Booth.

The current exhibition, Entangled: Threads & Making, was finally enough to lure me out of my metropolitan bubble – and it was so worth it.

Intriguingly, the exhibition begins in the lift, where Samara Scott has covered the walls with old carpet decorated with yoghurt, plaster and food colouring. Sounds bizarre – but it makes for a wonderful riot of colour and texture.

But I did wonder how long the artist spent going up and down in the lift while installing it! 🙂

The colour continues with Anna Ray’s Margate Knot – 2,000 intertwining padded elements tied together, inspired by the colours of the cliffs, lichens and buildings around Margate.

The exhibition includes pieces by big names, such as Louise Bourgeois, Sonia Delaunay, Sheila Hicks and Anni Albers, but here I’m focusing on artists I hadn’t heard of whose work particularly appealed.

Christiane Löhr has two pieces in the exhibition. Her Horse Hair Column connects floor and ceiling and took four days to install. In another room, eight incredibly delicate structures made from grass stalks and seeds are displayed on a low stone plinth. Her close observation and knowledge of her materials means that she knows exactly the right time to pick the grass so that it has the right degree of flexibility and rigidity.

Paola Auziché’s Natural Fibres consisted of 37 pieces made from fibres such as chenille, hemp, raffia, cotton, jute and hemp, inspired by minarets in Baku, Azerbaijan.

Next door, Laura Ford’s Penguins looked on in bemusement.

More animals – ceramic sculptures of a lizard and a crab by Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro – were covered with handmade cotton crochet by Joana Vasconcelos.

Ursula von Rydingsvard cut cedar beams to resemble thick thread or reams of fabric for her work Thread Tremor.

I also loved Aiko Tezuka’s Loosening Fabric #6 (Entangled). The photo doesn’t really do it justice, but she has unravelled the threads of the central part of this piece of fabric so that it seems to flow down the wall and onto the floor. It can take an hour to unpick just 10cm of fabric!

Entangled: Threads and Making runs until Sunday 7 May – sorry for the late review.

While I was in Margate I also visited the extraordinary Shell Grotto. Nobody knows who made it or when, or why – it was discovered in 1835 and opened to the public in 1838. The walls of the passages and rotunda are covered with mosaics of around 4.6 million shells, most of which are British, though not necessarily local – the main shell used in the backgrounds is not found in Kent but around Southampton.

I even made a start on my own shell collection with a hearty bowl of spaghetti al vongole at the wonderful Hantverk & Found! 🙂


Spiral and Twistie with Pam de Groot

I realised at the weekend that I hadn’t written up the rest of the Pam de Groot online workshop on texture and dimensions.

For obvious reasons I’m not going to give details of how the Spiral and the Twistie were made. But I will say that I found both methods extremely innovative, and Pam is to be applauded for her ambition in trying to teach them through an online workshop.

Unlike face to face workshops, the tutor can’t advise during the making process that, for example, you need to lay out the fibre more finely. She can only judge from the finished piece, and Pam was very good at doing that.

Here’s my first Spiral, made using one colour. The curvaceous bottom led to it being named a Beyoncé spiral!

Then I had a go at a double ended version, with a colour change.

The final piece was the Twistie, and I had few problems with the structural support for this. I also probably laid out the fibre too thickly. Like the Spiral, it relies on a lot of shrinkage, so I might have another go at this on a smaller scale.


Metal and textiles taster

Last weekend ESP and I attended a workshop together for the first time. The workshop, held at Morley College’s Pelham Hall, was billed as a one-day “Textile Metal Taster”.

Pelham Hall is an amazing converted Victorian chapel equipped for clay modelling, wood and stone carving as well as metalwork (there’s even a forge). ESP has done stone carving courses there, but this was a first-time visit for me.

Pelham Hall

I was expecting to be working with wire, mesh and textiles, but this was very much an introduction to proper basic metalwork techniques. We started with cutting, using tin snips and air tools. I had a few problems with the air tools so stuck to cutting by hand with the snips, where I felt I had more control.

Then we did a bit of beating with hammers, hole punching and soldering. I cut a circle of steel, punched a circle in the centre and pierced some holes.

As you know, I hate waste, so I then used the spot welder to attach all the tiny metal circles produced by the hole puncher.

One of the tutors said the tiny bowl on the right reminded him of a dalek!

In the afternoon we had a go at heating metal so that it changed colour – you can get some lovely rainbow effects, like oil patches on the road after rain. Naturally, I spot welded some more circles onto mine!

I didn’t do any proper soldering, but played about with the solder to produce different textures instead.

While I produced various small samples, ESP combined lots of different techniques in one piece. This included bits of metal that were left over after I had cut out more spots!

He also played around with a piece of flattened copper tubing, heating it with flux and punching it.

I really enjoyed the workshop – the tutors were enthusiastic and encouraging, and it’s surprising what beginners can produce in a day. One of the students made a bird bath; another made some angel fish.

However, I did think that the textile content was fairly token. There was a pile of fabric scraps, and we were shown how to rivet and attach textiles to metal by soldering with a copper strip. Rather than treating metal simply as a way of holding up textiles I guess I was expecting the two media to be combined in a sculptural piece. I realise this is a lot to ask in a day, but a collaboration with Morley’s excellent textiles department could produce some interesting results.

There was a box of embroidery threads and ribbons there, so I did make an effort to introduce a textile element to one of my samples! 🙂

I’m also thinking about how to incorporate some of my samples into felt, so there may be more to come on this!