Tag Archives: design

Is selling ‘selling-out’

Art versus craft versus product……Where are the lines? Are they (or can they) all be the same? What matters for what market?

In the turmolic washing machine that is now life at Canny Maker HQ this is the current question of the moment. I am standing still but beginning to look forward and wonder which way to turn next. This summer will mark 4 years since I left my office job to look towards a new pasture. The various life changing events in between have somewhat delayed arriving at the new pasture I had in mind, but we must still move on and persevere, There is now no way back. But what next? After finishing my MA I was set on working in the art world, making works which reflected an inner poetic expression, seeking to offer a personal experience shared with the external onlooker. I moved away from the making of map string, a natural shift but one originating in a creeping feeling of something being too contrived. The poetry of my work I shifted back to the writing and calligraphy – its natural home – and one where there are still so many worlds left unexplored.

But again, a pause.

As time passes, idealism fades into reality, and the reality of life with a family is one where the family must come first. Ideals are all very well when all I’m wasting is my own time. So I am back asking myself what I want to do – do I want to go back push my art, making work for exhibitions (of which I have not been in any) or do I want to make work which can actually sell. For money.

Someone once told me that they would be really sad if I ended up “just selling stuff on Etsy”. Lately I have been wondering why? Is there something so wrong with making handmade products and selling them online? Is it some elitist thing which means I need to only be making and selling in Liberty, not in some other small scale way? This is the question isn’t it – why do so many people see selling work as selling out. I could be just as much a designer maker as being an artist. Or both, at the same time. Its all just a matter of labelling isn’t it?



Practitioner lecture: Merel Karhof

Interesting visiting lecture from Studio Merel Karhof who talked to us about her work. She described herself as revealing the unnoticed and creating awareness of obvious things such as the colour of water, or the urban wind. There is a strong emphasis on the process which I really liked.

She started by talking about her wind knitting factory which came out of a class exercise while she was studying at the RCA. An interesting premise for a production process: a wind powered knitting machine which creates raw knitted materials she uses to form textiles, for fashion and upholstery.


She was very interesting to listen too, although I must admit I’m wasn’t entirely convinced by the wind knitting idea. I felt she isn’t pure enough with the process to make it capture the full serendipity of wind – instead, manipulating the outputs in order to make more commercial products (e.g. felting the knitting afterwards to reduce the holes/impurities in the wind knitting, or using chemical dyes mixed in with natural dyes as the colours are brighter). Is this really a business model, or just a gimmick? If it makes money, does it matter – or is that part of the different between art and design?

What I did like however, was her description of her process as an experience of visualising the intangible. Her other works were more interesting, and she showed some work from a month long residency in Italy. I particularly liked the scarf made to reflect the different colours of the water in the Venice canals over the course of the 30 days.


A conversation between maker and object

I have had a few days away from the studio visiting family, giving me a chance to catch up on some reading while travelling. A couple of very interesting things sparked my attention, both on the topic of the meaning of objects and materials.

First, the book Designing Things (1). This is one off our MADM recommended reading list (which I have not yet had a chance to really look at in depth).

The general gist of what I highlighted was a discussion on meanings, and how they are not “an inherent property of the things themselves, nor are they total fabrications of the human mind; they are suspended in the spaces between us and all that is around us”. I was very intrigued by the description of a reciprocity of agency between things and the makers of things. Although I am not sure I really understand properly what agency means. Another key point was on objects as signs, and how the form and meaning of an object are interrelated and how is is a fundamental concern of what an object says. Something must have a form in order to be seen, but it must also make sense in order for it to be understood and used.

“…designers do not create meanings – they create form; it is users who create meanings. The network within which things exist serves as a location where designers in the process of design and users in the process of use construct meanings. Each actor – designer, user, thing, meaning – in the context of the network and in interaction plays its agentic role in making.”

Meanings do not exist within people’s minds, and neither are they embedded within things. Meanings exist in a non-physical, non-psychical network that includes people and all things. Meanings should not be thought of as entities, but rather as structure in motion constantly evolving, heavily context-dependent and generated by individuals, social groups and things themselves.”

So, I can but simply suggest meaning in my making by choosing certain forms, materials, colours and textures – so to nudge users into constructing certain meanings. This brings us back to my Challenge of the moment – better understanding the materials I am using. I need to look at the suggestive meaning of materials beyond just its obvious touchable qualities. On the train home, with a surprisingly good 3G signal, I found an article by textile artist N. Nimkulrat (2). She talked about the material and its role as an active participant in the creative process. (This is what I think agency is essentially about – is that right?). Anyway, the core of the article was about giving consideration to the expressivity of a material in a given context.

Materials are not passive, nor are they instruments, but interact with the maker’s artistic intelligence when his or her hands, mind and eyes are engaged in a creative process….through the act of [making]…meaning was embedded in the physical material, gradually transformed into an artefact, which in turn articulated this meaning through its physicality back to the maker.

So again, the message to me is that I need to explore the expressive qualities of a material – knowing that materials with different tactile and visual qualities will express different things. On top of that many fibres have a long history and complex social context around their usage. This may be a help or hindrance to what I am trying to say.

Current thoughts are definitely focussed on fibres. I have started working with paper, predominantly for its ordinariness, and looking at using silk for its extra-ordinariness. My intention is to try to stay limited to allow me to explore more making processes, and not get too distracted by shiny new things again. I’m missing stitching though. Possibly I should also look at how I can utilise stitching with these two different types fibres.

(1) Designing Things, Prasad Boradkar, Bloomsbury 2010
(2) Nimkulrat, N (2012). Hands-on intellect: integrating craft practice into design research. International Journal of Design 6(3), 1-14

Getting going workshop

Resulting mind map from today’s getting going workshop with Bridget.

Photo 11-09-2014 16 33 08

A proper reflection to follow when I have had time to take it all in.  Immediate reactions (in chronological order):

  1. This is fun
  2. I have lots of words on my bit of paper
  3. Hmm.  None of them relate to one another
  4. I know more artists than I realise!
  5. None of these lines join up with my current practice
  6. What am I going to do with all of this?
  7. Experiment for a year doing what??
  9. Meep.
  10. Bridget says just keep making, just keep making
  11. Bit like that fish film
  12. I like fish


Design basics 2 – thematic postcards

Hello there ,

As the next part of this series on the design basics I’ve been learning, I wanted to talk about thematic postcards. Sounds grand, but essentially I’ve found it is just an easy way to start developing ideas around your theme.

First off, if you haven’t already, get yourself a sketchbook!  If you’ve never used a sketchbook for designing textiles (or designing anything in fact take a look at this wonderful blog – The Sketchbook Challenge.

My project theme for the summer is Tree, Root and Branch. After drawing my mind map (see this post for the history), I found a few ideas which I thought were really good to investigate.

Step 1 – colours

In order to develop your idea, it’s good to start thinking about what sort of colours associate with it, so you can start to develop a small colour palette for your theme.  To help me choose my palettes, we created a whole load of small coloured squares – essentially like a home made dulux paint strip!  You can cheat by just getting hold of a whole load of ready made paint strips and cutting them up, but it’s good fun (and good learning) to mix all of the colours yourself.  (I’ll talk more about colour theory in my next design basics post).  These were the sort of coloured squares I had laid out ready to investigate…


Step 2 – colour palette 

The first idea I had was around the rich green-ness of summer trees, leaves and canopies – the idea of the dappled light which you see on a sunny day in the woods. The colours I associated with this were a mixture of rich and bright greens with shiny white of the sun peeking though the trees.

I called this palette “dappled”


Step 3 – textures and patterns 

Now came the really fun bit!  Once I had my colour palette, I started to look around for patterns, symbols and pictures which emphasised and embodied the theme. Some of these came from my photo collection and others from the internet.  This is where a pinterest board comes in handy!

Once I’d collected some good ones, into the sketchbook they go, and this gives you your “thematic postcard”. You can add other stuff to these as well as pictures – drawings, poems, textures – anything which helps you describe your theme. Here’s a few close-up pictures for dappled, and part of my sketchbook page.




 This is the start of my postcard page for dappled – still needs more work but it’s a start!

This technique is fun as a activity in itself as well as being very useful for starting of a project idea!

I’ve been doing some fabric dying for my first tree quilt project – next post I’ll have to show you!

Happy stitching!


Design basics 1 – exploring a theme

A few weeks ago, I started a textiles courses at City Lit focused on colour and pattern.  It has been a great eye-opener!  Through that and the directed study I’ve been doing as ‘homework’ I’ve been learning a lot about the basics of design.  It’s bit of a pandora’s box, as I’ve now got a list of things to look into and learn which never seems to stop.  I’ll be creating a series of posts on design basics to share as I learn more. So we have to start somewhere – and that somewhere is an idea, or a seed of an idea for you to develop.

Exploring a theme

The first technique we were shown at City Lit was mind-mapping.  As a former management consultant, this sits very well in my brain, as I’ve used this endlessly in workshops as a brainstorming technique. The idea is pretty simple – you start with a central idea (this could just be a word or a few words). From this idea, you identify a number of main ideas which branch out from the centre. These can be whatever comes to mind that is connected with your central idea. Each new word can spawn new connections and idea which can branch out in an infinite number of ways.  Connections and themes will very soon start to emerge from your map.

Angelique's mind map

Central idea for my trees mind map

If you’re a very visual person you’ll get on well with mind-mapping, some people love them and others just never quite get them! If you want to see some great mind maps, which are almost an art form in themselves, check out this site which I came across: http://www.mindmapinspiration.com/

We were given our course theme for this term as Tree, Root & Branch

There are so many ways to interpret this!!  I tried following two things – one capturing how trees appear in nature throughout the seasons and two – picking up on the mythology and symbology of trees in English folklore.  Just starting very simply with the obvious things (roots, branches, seeds…) the map turned out pretty interesting and not at all how I expected!

My trees mind-map

Once you start to see patterns in what you’ve come up with, some themes to explore may start to jump out at you.  I found two things which I started to colour in on my mind-map. First one was leaves and canopies – the idea of the dappled light which you see on a sunny day in the woods. The second was the Wicker Man – fire, fire burning bright!  Great inspiration!

In my next ‘design basics’ post, I’ll show you the technique of thematic postcards, as a great way of expanding your ideas with colours, textures and patterns.

Happy stitching,