Monthly Archives: October 2015

Corn dolly braiding with willow

I’ve been testing out the method for properly preparing my dried white willow and seeing how well I can manipulate it – initially using the same pattern as I did for the last ‘desire line’ experiment. It has taken a few attempts to test the soaking and mellowing times, and I’m still not able to get the simple weaves done without some stems breaking. Not sure what (whether my skills or the dryness of the wood) is causing this yet. It is also really hard to get the new weavers in neatly unlike the invisible joining you can achieve with straw.

Some pics of the latest tests are below – you can see clearly where some of the weavers have snapped mid-bend.

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My initial reaction is mixed: firstly, I really like working with the willow. There is something mysterious and elegant about it as a wood which I really enjoy. However, with the spiral braiding, I am really not sure what this offers that the wheat straw doesn’t already. I wonder if doing a modern corn dolly plait works better for me with the corn itself. This said, I will continue to try some different forms using the willow. Perhaps something more suited to it as a material. Also, I have a whole bundle of steamed willow as well, so that’s something else to have a look at too.

This all brings me back to my current ‘challenge’ which is to try to understand other sources of inspiration for forms. I did try something based on a new idea which has been floating about my head, that of interlocking identities through interlocking repeated forms. This was an initial 3d sketch (for lack of a better description). Is there something to work with here?

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Stripping the willow

I have been looking into the work of contemporary basket weavers, initially to see what people do with willow as a material, and see who resonates with me – both as inspiration and also as new references for my project proposal. I have also been keeping an eye on how these artists create their form – what inspires them, how do they decide on the form? I think now that I have begun to understand the ideas of materiality, grasping how I can develop form is my next target.

Lizzie Farey

I am fascinated by Lizzie’s work – the forms appeal to me a lot. Her statement tells that she has “a fascination with living things and natural form. For me, willow has become a medium for an interaction with nature that is deeply personal….my work ranges form traditional to organic sculptural forms”. I also noticed with interest she calls herself artist / designer / maker. These photos were of my favourites. I particularly liked the site-based one below, called ‘spirit of air’.


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Lewis Knauss 

Lewis doesn’t generally work with willow, but I spotted his work and he works with ideas of identity and place. I noticed immediately that his statement sounds like my essay!: “The significance of place in our lives is central to my work. The textures, materials and processes of textiles allow me to explore ideas about landscape, identity and belonging…The time I spend attentive to landscape translates into process and the labor of making. Images are created thread-by-thread, line-by-line, so that my work can be viewed as landscaped textures that are naturally created, blade-by-blade, leaf-by-leaf”.

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Caroline Sharp

Her work uses natural materials and is strongly influenced by natural forms, containment, growth and movement. Materials used include: stone, clay, chalk, willow, poplar, birch, hazel, and dogwood stems, leaves and wood. She also notes that she has been making work “in response to the craft of charcoal burning and my auto­biographical journey in relation to walking the land and the memory of place”.


Joe Hogan

Joe’s work is strongly influenced by the landscape of Connemara, where he lives and works. His robust, increasingly sculptural pieces are woven from native willow, and often incorporate twisted bog wood – reminiscent of bleached horns or antlers – from an area of bogland near his home. They are strong, physical pieces with a raw beauty. I also quite like the traditional baskets he makes as well.

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Tim Johnson

Tim has a fascinating website with a wide range of stuff he does. He seems to make baskets out of everything (from willow to rushes to grasses) and all over the world. Here were a couple of my favourites. I particularly like the idea of the ‘woven paths’ (first photo) and wonder if I can make something inspired by this – it completely resonates with my desire line concept I think.

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The annual outing to Ally Pally

The Knitting and Stitching show at Alexandra Palace is one of my indicators of Autumn having arrived in full swing. I didn’t go this time in mind to buy epic amounts of yarn and fabric as per usual, instead focussing on visiting a couple of specific exhibiting artists who were there. (I did come home with a stuffed moose, a few yards of fabric and a dress pattern mind you!)

I’ve been starting to get very worried about the impending assessment, which is now exactly 4 weeks away. I am not sure how to tell my story of the last year yet – there is so much which has happened, how on earth can you condense this into a 2″ x 3″ display space? Anyway, visiting the Knitting and Stitching Show was meant to be a distraction – it didn’t work. I did however see some interesting work from the artists I went to see.

First up, Helen Pailing, MADM alumnus, who creates objects out of found / waste materials, and has been doing some ‘stitching’ using glassblower’s waste. I liked her work and was fascinated to see how this has progressed from her earlier works and what she created as part of the MADM course itself.

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Next up was Stella Harding, who had a basketry display in one of the larger galleries. She had a lovely range of small works and some really large scale pieces. I really need to make something big – they are so impactful! Also note the use of the traditional spiral braid weaving – these ones made from painted/dyed rattan.

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While looking at Stella’s work, one thing I reflected about my own work, is however much I love the use of colour, I also like to keep the naturalness of a material – it’s purity and essence perhaps – in the work I make with it. The drawing made with only one ink, the basket made of only one material: showing only what is inherent in itself. Something from the roots of my philosophical nature I suppose?

Tutorials with Maiko / Shane

I was in on Wednesday for a tutorial with Maiko. Definitely feel like I am finally able to discuss sensibly what my project is trying to do. It’s nice to be less tongue tied when talking to Maiko at last!  I was pleased that she seemed happy with progress and also found the weavings that I have been doing interesting. This was followed by a sneaky chance tutorial with Shane this afternoon, who I was keen to discuss my weaving with given his background and knowledge of basketry. Between the two of them there are a few things to consider:

(1)  Have I finished experimenting directly with the road maps? 

Well my first reaction was to say yes, I’m done, I have been trying to get the expression of my concept directly into raw materials, with the traditions and connotations within them broader and more accessible than the already provided representation of place through formal mapping. I did like the ‘woven fabric’ I made with the thin map yarn and wires during the interim show, but I would naturally treat this as a textile, so not really sure what I would do with it usefully for now.

(2)  How much of the ritual associations of straw do I want embedded within the piece? 

Both Shane and Maiko saw the local traditions (corn dollies, harvest rituals etc) that the material spoke of straight away and questioned how much I wanted – particularly since I had been generally keeping the ears on the pieces so far. Shane commented on the rural-ness of this as well, and asked how well this resonated with being displayed on the blank white of an art school wall. Maiko also suggested I look more into artists/craftspeople working with straw weaving.

(3)  There is still time to experiment with new materials 

I mentioned that I felt like I had been ‘anxious’ at trying out using willow to weave with (possibly as I felt that I wasn’t skilled enough as a basketmaker to do so). However, we are still in experimental phase, so why not try out a new material. This would remove the heavy ritual symbolism, but still keep the ancient (local) basketry traditions and rural aspects of the history inherent in the material. An order is now placed with a Somerset willow grower… we’ll see soon!

(4)  How do you create form?

This was more of an unanswered question, as this is what I had been asking myself already. I don’t want to dictate the form from data, but neither do I just want to make an expression of how I’m currently feeling without planning some better intent. I am wondering if I should explore the idea of footsteps as form. A sculptural dérive perhaps?

(5) What about site-specificity?

This has been something on my list which I have been avoiding, as it seems quite difficult to get right. Shane brought this up (and rightly so) and it’s probably time to get to grips with testing it. He commented on how important displaying the piece is, and even wall v table v installation is critical. You will get a different response in different places (straw seen in an urban environment compared to a wheat field for instance). Shane suggested some Goldsworthy type temporary installations, which I have wanted to do this anyway, having started to get excited about my new (however foundational) photography skills.

(6)  There is no box

A few thinking outside the box ideas from Shane (as always!) including the idea of locality and the body (wearable weaving) and performance – perhaps of making in action.

Overall, I was pleased in particular that I do finally understand some of the points Maiko has been making all year, and that I am getting much more focussed down on what I am doing. Shane commented on the simplicity/purity of materials I’m using – only one material in the weaving (even down to the string), and only one colour and line of ink in my drawings. I like this type of aesthetic in my work: elegance, emergence and authenticity. (I will need to define these some time!)

Desire Line: what next

So then. In between finishing my research paper and the collaboration project, making has taken a back step this week.  I have done some thinking about my last weaving experiment and need to now decide what next steps to take with it. Three categories for reflection came to mind: concept, material and process.

  • Can I make the concept any stronger within the piece?  I think it is a rich idea so I should stay with it for a while and try to improve it, rather than switch to a different premise.
  • I think the piece embodies a sense of local history and culture within the process of making – in terms of the history and customs of weaving with this material. Does this resonate as well with the concept though? What about a different material?
  • What about the choice of weave? Its traditional and some people have commented that it resembles DNA slightly. I don’t mind this comparison I think it fits with the overall idea. Is there any other weave (or mix of) which would add to the piece though?
  • Should I continue to use ‘serendipity’ to shape the weaving structure of should this be planned beforehand based on something?

This last point got me thinking about sculpture based on real data. Having come across the history of the aboriginal songlines, my thoughts went to the idea of translating different sounds into the 3d form – the beat of different footsteps on the path for example. I did some googling on different art sculptures based upon real mathematical data. Hmm….most were interesting, but I didn’t find any of them particularly engaging – they seemed more like pretty 3d infographics rather than anything with artistic intent. One notable exception was this piece of work from Daniel Sierra, a digital artist who created this video “Oscillate” as part of his MFA. Completely captivating:

My goal with “Oscillate” was to visualize waveform patterns that evolve from the fundamental sine wave to more complex patterns, creating a mesmerizing audio-visual experience in which sight and sound work in unison to capture the viewer’s attention.  The concept of universal building blocks that can be assembled to form complex structures is something I find very exciting and alluring. Sound follows this concept in that any sound, for example a snare drum or a human voice, can be deconstructed as the summation of varying sine waves

I have a tutorial with Maiko tomorrow, the first one since before the interim show, so perhaps her feedback will help me decide which avenue to explore next – or it may just give me a bunch of completely new things to think about!