Tortoise bottom

After a break to recover from making the tortoise shell, I started thinking about the base (or “tortoise bottom” as ESP referred to it – oh how we laughed 🙄).

The first issue was how high should it be? My original idea was to have the sides of the base quite low, to represent the idea of the tortoise being close to the ground.

But when I made some cardboard moulds of different heights to see how it looked, I felt that the lid rather swamped the lower bases, so I decided to make a higher base of around 5cm.

I also wanted to make a tortoise design on the bottom of the base, which would be revealed only when the lid was removed. I found a fair few coiled turtle designs in African and Native American baskets, though most of these were round and mine had to be oval.

In the end I created a striped pattern to match the lid.

Base in progress

I kept testing the base with the lid as it grew, to check how the proportions were working.

I wanted the sides to be plain black so as not to distract from the lid, but there seemed to be an awful lot of black as the base grew higher. So in the end I added a small border of yellow triangles to match the border on the lid.

And here is the finished piece.

I will always think of this as my Covid piece, as it occupied most of my time during lockdown! And it struck me that it was rather appropriate in so many ways, evoking a tortoise’s ability to withdraw into itself, seeking shelter and protection.

Stay well!

Lockdown week 9

I wondered if I should call this post Semi-lockdown week 9, as the traffic in my part of London seems to have reverted to normal levels, and the fine weather has brought many more people out on the streets. But my situation remains the same, so I shall stick to lockdown for now.

After all the sampling for my coiled tortoise piece I’ve done in previous weeks, this week I’ve focused on actually making it. Having established that linen thread was my material of choice, I ordered some in colours closer to the radiated tortoise and set to, making 10 individual scutes.

Then I joined them all together.

That’s as far as I’ve got this week. Next I have to make the overall border and then start thinking about the base.

I realise that I forgot last week to post the link to the online Prism exhibition In Search of (Im)Possibilities. The exhibition has been divided into three themes – environment, materials, and place – and each day a post is published featuring four or five artists relevant to the theme. Here is a link to all the posts so far. My work is featured in Chapter 2, Day 1 – Materials. Click on an image to see the artist’s statement.

Finally, although I’ve stopped posting about the V&A kimono exhibition, you can now watch a series of five short films of the show with the curator Anna Jackson. Even better!

Stay well!

Lockdown week 8

I said last week that I would post more information about the coiling project I’m working on for my City Lit basketry course. The original deadline to finish was today, but because the course is currently on hold, the deadline has been extended indefinitely. Just as well, because I haven’t finished yet! 🙂

I’ve been working on the project in fits and starts over the past eight weeks. There’s been a lot of sampling to get the effect I want, but I think I’ve finally nailed down the materials and techniques to use.

The theme of the project is animal markings. From the start, perhaps leading on from the pattern on the cane platter I made, I was attracted to the radiated tortoise (Astrochelys radiata) and Indian star tortoise (Geochelone elegans). Both are endangered species.

Radiated tortoise
Indian star tortoise

It’s not just the pattern – it’s the domed form of the individual parts of the shell (called scutes) that appeals. My plan was to make several individual units and then join them together to create the shell.

Looking at the shapes of the individual scutes, I could see that the central ones were hexagonal, while those at the edge had five or four sides.

I made the first samples with raffia, both with a wrapped core and an exposed core. I decided I really don’t like wrapping with raffia – it always seems to fray, and it feels quite plasticky. Shame, because raffia comes from Madagascar, like the radiated tortoise!

I liked the idea of an exposed core evoking the concentric ridges of a tortoise shell, but it was tricky getting a defined pattern this way.

I also toyed with the idea of creating a more openwork shell, to represent the fragility of such an endangered species. But this came out more domed than conical – more like a jellyfish – so although I loved the effect I decided to put that in the box labelled “Ideas to pursue later”.

Then I moved onto working with a solid core, using sash cord wrapped with knitting yarn. The pattern here was very distinct, and though this started as a sample I couldn’t help myself and carried on to make a complete bowl (as reported in Lockdown week 3).

The scale of this was too large for my tortoise (unless I swapped to a giant tortoise!), so I replaced the core with thinner string plus copper wire (to help shape the pieces) and started experimenting with different wrapping materials – soft string, fine hemp, linen thread.

In the end, I concluded that the finest pattern was obtained using linen thread (shown in the sample at the back in the photo above). The wire in the core enabled me to shape it into a hexagon.

Next was the problem of how to join the individual units. The first samples I made had no border, so the edges were a mixture of black and neutral stripes.

I tried joining them together with figure of eight stitch in neutral thread, but this looked messy against the black. Overstitching was less messy but somehow too intrusive.

So I made more samples with the outermost round entirely in neutral-coloured thread, and joined these with figure of eight stitch, which was much neater.

I then joined all the samples I had made together to test out how an overall border, enclosing them all, would work.

The joining on these samples isn’t very neat, for the reasons explained above. But I learned two things from joining them all together.

  • The overall border will undulate because the angles where the individual scutes meet is not sharp. I don’t mind that – in fact, I think it adds more movement and fluidity.
  • With three central hexagonal scutes (as in the page from my sketchbook above), the overall shape would be disproportionately long and thin. So the final piece will have only two central hexagons. This will mean making 10 individual units rather than 13.

Phew! Just have to make it now. And as I envisage this being the lid of a box, there’s still all the planning to make that work. More to come!

 

 

Unusual presents

On a visit to ESP’s parents yesterday I received two unusual presents.

June and Ray used to have an antiques stall in Covent Garden, and spent their time visiting auctions, fairs and car boot sales picking up items to sell on to dealers as well as retail customers. They’re retired now, but their house is filled with interesting and unusual bits and pieces.

And old habits die hard – now that most professional auctions now have online bidding, Ray can sit at the computer and put in a bid at the press of a button, without having to drive miles!

Anyway, on learning about my turtle project, they presented me with a complete tortoise shell that they just happened to have lying round the house! It’s pretty much intact and will let me study the texture, shape and form much more closely.

tortoise shell

They also gave me a handmade roll full of embroidery floss, which they picked up at another sale. It includes many colours I don’t have, as well as lots of needles.

embroidery rollembroidery silks

Many thanks to both for both!