Saturday, 31 August 2013

Log Baskets

Log Basket II    2013

A basket that I originally made in 2011 has recently been re-worked. I used to think re-working things should never be necessary, now I accept that I don’t always get it right first time, usually because of a lack of time.

If I finish a piece just before the opening of an exhibition I sometimes don’t have enough time to really look at it to establish whether there is anything that needs adjusting. Obviously, if I made sure everything was finished weeks ahead that would not be problem, but I find that some of the best ideas come when I am under serious pressure because of a deadline.  I don’t want to cut out that source of inspiration. When this particular piece came back from the exhibition it was made for, I realised there were some things about it that I wasn’t happy with.

It is a handbag/basket made of two flat circles of cut and assembled oak and ash discs  joined together with  a ‘gusset’ made of little strips of wood. It was really difficult to join the three parts together, physically awkward, and as a consequence it seemed to have a slight twist in the form that I had not intended. Because it didn’t sit well I then added two feet on the base but I really wanted it to be a clean circle without the feet. 

Original version
It also seemed to me that visually it lacked something and usually that ‘something’ for me is a third element or material. Perhaps it’s to do with odd numbers? The original was just wood and copper wire and I realised that what I really wanted to add was coloured plastic. The mix of natural materials and brightly coloured plastic excites me.

My somewhat unconventional technique for judging whether a piece is visually interesting or not is to imagine I am ill in bed and cannot move much. The only thing I have to look at is this piece, for hours, days or maybe weeks.  If I think that I will keep finding new things in it for my eye to rest on and my thoughts to explore  then the piece works for me.

Reworking this piece involved  experimentation with lots of different bits of coloured plastic. In the end, some of the mysterious little plastic wheels that I found on a beach last year were used, along with some strips of plastic cut from detergent bottles, to fill in some of the bigger gaps between the discs.

The sides were completely re-done, far more precisely and without overlaps, and the piece now sits well without feet.  I am much happier with it now and have sent it off today. It will be on show with the work of  other Yeomen of the Worhipful Company of Basketmakers' alongside the Company's own collection of baskets. It will be at the Guildhall Library in the City of London and the details are in the side panel.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013


There are two things that make me want to spend 24 hours in my studio, one is the desire to experiment with a particular material or technique and the other is the prospect of an exhibition. Of the two, I think the latter is the more powerful motivator, perhaps that makes me an exhibitionist?

Money has never really motivated  me to work, though occasionally selling something can.  But selling, I have found,  has its negative aspects in terms of creative autonomy and,  if it involves middlemen/women  they invariably  make more money out of your work than you do.  It also impacts on how viewers perceive and value your work, (I will come back to this another day).

Trusting that life will bring what you need when you need it has, therefore, been my guiding principle for dealing with the uncertainty of never knowing when or where the next opportunity to exhibit or teach  and, possibly earn some money,  will come from. Very occasionally  I feel this philosophy is failing me but then, out of the blue and usually from a totally unexpected source, comes an invitation to participate in something or other.

At the moment I am working on pieces for two exhibitions (see side panel), neither of which were anticipated and there are not enough hours in the day. I want to spend all day in the studio but there is a house and its garden that also demand  some engagement on my part. Now it’s  plums that need stoning and drying whilst the sun shines. Housework is basic at these times and the spiders are content that I have a deadline to work to and they are happily creating delicate lacey multi-storey palaces in every corner of the house.

Sometimes the collected and donated materials in my studio build up to a point where I know I will not ever use them all and some discriminatory clearance has to be done. This can be a good way to discover what I want to use so, for the current work,  I have employed this tactic.  It’s hard for me to throw out materials  but knowing that I can take them somewhere to be recycled in other ways makes it tolerable. This time I disposed all of the bits of dead computers and cameras that I take to bits just because I am curious to know what is inside. Consequently I now know a lot about the trickery that goes on inside these things, for example the £300 computer that has its vital connections held together with rapidly deteriorating sellotape.  I also got rid of  some  things  that I didn’t really love because, although it is sometimes possible to transform them into something that  I do love by really working hard at the relationship, it is much easier to start with something that immediately attracts me… a bit like people really!

During this clearout I came across a large roll of white polypropylene tape that I acquired in about 1988. Its time has come now and I decided  that I either had to use it or bin it.  I couldn’t see it being used well once it had been deposited at the rubbish dump, there is a lot of it and in mint condition, so I felt obliged to try and honour it by using it to make a big piece. I have taught a lot of people how to do hexagonal plaiting with this tape, because it is a perfect combination of material and technique, but I have never really exploited this mix myself. So, having been reminded of its possibilities by Susanne Whittingham, who was in my class in Denmark and is a master of this material and all plaiting techniques, I  decided to work with it, but I am mixing it with other materials. I am not going to show you what I am making until I have finished, but the picture at the top is a hint. It will be a large modular piece, either free standing or wall mounted, and it will  pack up into a very small flat parcel! It won’t use all the white tape but the sack of coloured tape will be almost empty when I have finished.

As there is only  a month  until the exhibition opens  I am off.