Friday, 6 May 2011

End of Year Show!

After the disaster that was Glossop Trip I spent the following Easter holidays refining my wor, reshooting and editing parts of the film and fleshing out the development. I had decided for my show that I wanted to show my film on a plinth and then have the phoenix puppet hung around it as if it was a contextual frame. I didn't really want to fill walls with images of my work because most of it is referenced in the film anyway.
When I got my space however there was a lot of wall space. I carried on with my original idead, hanging my phoenix puppet with fishing wire from a plank and then sticking it to the plinth, with wire in it's hem to add strength and support to the wings. However, it did look very bare and after a nudging from my tutor on the last day I decided to put up 3 white shelves and on them display my dragon puppet, horse puppet and my butterflies in jars.
I chose this items because they were in the best state from the film (except the wax horse was broken and had to be fixed) and they also had the muted colours that I think blended them all together well. The actual putting up of the show was very stressful as there were many technical parts with hanging thigns that had to be tweaked and adjusted but ultimately it was finished, I was happy with it and I actually enjoyed the week with everyone milling about helping each other out.

Glossop Trip

The day of the Glossop trip came. I had my bird puppet made and my film done to a showable standard (but with tweaks needed before exhibition time). The morning was planned to be flying kites on the moors in honour of Ludwig Wittgenstein's Glossop Flying School and we had to bring something to fly. However, due to spending far too much time on my puppet and film I had no time to make a kite and so had to make one on the coach. This meant my kite was a Metro newspaper with my Red Riding off cuts attached to wool to create ribbons. Admittedly, not my finest hour.
The actual flying was fun, however, and it was great to see people's kites who had actually used this as a project and had made weird and wonderful kites.
In the afternoon was when we were supposed to be doing our performances and as I needed a table on stage to hide me while puppeteering, it was decided that I would go first and so got ready and in position... but the film never came on for me to start.
This was a big learning curve for, to never trust a Mac. Or, more to the point, check that you have your film saved in the right file format and none of the three I did save it in actually work. This of course meant I had to leave without doing my performance or showing my film, but the work would not be wasted as now I would display it all in my end of year show...

Bird Puppet

After my mid-year review I was convinced to continue with the original plan to have a live puppet performance alongside with the showing of my film. It was going to go along the same line of having a phoenix born on stage and then flying before being set on fire, however, this time I would have the brd perched on a table and the wings flying behind it.
If it was to fit in a papier mache egg then I knew it must be quite flexible so I made a latex base for the head which I stitched to a cloth sleeve where my hand could go manoeuvre the head. For the feathers, I tested a variety of methods such as cutting them from paper, making them with string and making them from wire. To create a base coverage I went with the idea of cutting them froms trips of paper, using a fabric feeling paper I purchased from a craft shop in Chinatown. The strips I cut from this were then stitched to the main body of the bird.
To build on this I bought spray cans to cover it. The colours I chose were blue and burgundy that when mixed created a purple colour and I chose these because I wanted the phoenix to look regal as it is a mystical bird and I always associate these colours wit this idea. I also chose to use spray cans as I think its has the ability to be soft and add hundreds more tones to the object than a paintbrush could and I really wanted the feathers to look like they shimmer.
To add to the shimmering effect I also used the tooling foil I used for the dragon puppet to emboss feather shapes and add to the body. This was from a performance point of view as hopefully the little shrapnels of metal will catch the light and glisten onstage. To continue this trend I also made the beak from tooling foil. Originally it was to be a long, stork-like beak from latex but this looked more comical than anything so I changed it to a more parrot inspired look. The tooling foil for the beak was also helpful as it was sturdy and had little friction between the hinges.
Also to make the puppet more interesting from an audience point of view was to use paper wrapped wire on the heads which I made to resemble flames (referencing the origin of the phoenix). If the bird has a striking shape then hopefully the shadow it will create will be more interesting as the plan is to project against the puppet, to create a larger, more defined shadow.
The signature part of the puppet was going to be the wings as they were planned to be huge and are over a metre long each. The production of these was relatively simple as I carried on the experimentation from the bird's head into the wings so that there was some continuity and they looked like they were a part of the same being.
Again, thinking of what would make the wings more interesting onstage I cut holes out of them which I filled with straggly wire and feathers. This was to make the shadow less of a big block and because the Phoenix is a mythical creature I didn't think it mattered much if I cut a big hole out of it.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Future of Money Project

During the second term, former Interactive Arts student Austin Houldsworth came into uni to give a talk about a competition that he was helping to run called 'The Future of Money.' The brief was to design a new currency to get rid of hard currency and one example shown was to have electronic money.
The deadline was in 3 weeks, so it wasn't masses of time but I decided to give the project a go, focussing to begin with on the electronic side. I was thinking about how everyone has an iPhone or a Blackberry where they can download apps to play games etc. I began designing a device that had a resemblance to handheld game consoles with a flip up screen and the general idea was to have an electronic debit account and a barcode scanner on the side that would scan items and immediately debit the money from your account. For security reasons, the device is also attached with a fingerprint scanner.

I made a prototype of my idea from clay and then painted it in black latex to give it the protective rubber look. The brief also said that it wanted us to explore the possible consequences of such a dramatic change in currency and wanting to make my submission different from other possible ones I decided to create mine like a dossier from the future. I wanted to have random clippings from newspapers, letters etc that would slowly piece together the story that I am trying to put across. I found this interesting because it was a different way of storytelling, giving me a break from my other projects and it let me be a bit more loose and creative with what I produced.

I got to use a lot more digital work in this than my other projects which are much more craft based. I enjoyed being able to put in the little quirks like making the paper look folded and used or having masking taped corners to make it look like it had been tacked into the folder. I enjoyed this because it was the details that made the piece and I had the chance to try and make my own future.
I was fairly pleased with the final result, if I had more time before the deadline I would have liked to have neatened up my ideas but I knew I had done my best in the time. Although my submission was not shortlisted I did get an email to say that it was close which I thought was a nice thing to be told as I they didn't have to do it.

Red Riding

To jump to the other end of the film, I had also decided to end the film on a Red Riding Hood theme contrasting it with the idea of missing children. I didn't want to use the idea of missing children to sensationalise it and try to stoke up controversy but I wanted to be respectful and create a sombre mood that will leave the audience in a reflective mood.
The signature element of the Red Riding tale is, of course, the red cloak that she wears and so I created my own cloak with red fabric. I had previously sewed some stuff and so I mocked up some simply sewing patterns. For the fairytale element of this part, I wanted to created a mood that was quite disturbing so that the audience are not quite sure what is happening at first. The woods are a big part of the story and I looked at the handheld camera feel of The Blair Witch Project, although I didn't want to create a horror I thought it was important to make it a little sinister as the whole point is that the girl is in danger so this isn't a typical happy fairytale walk in the woods.
I cut little Red Riding figures out of the hem of the cloak as I wanted to give the look of deterioration; Red Riding is in trouble and disappearing. However, when looking at the final images I think this was a little unnecessary as the images are fairly sinister on their own.
When in the woods I hung the cloak from trees and did not have a model wearing it. This was because Red Riding is missing and therefore she isn't in her cloak. I think this gives the cloak a ghostly aspect and I think if you were to walk in the woods and come across this cloak hanging there you would be a little surprised if not disturbed. I know that when filming I got a little spooked myself particularly as from behind it looks as though Red Riding my actually be hanging there.
The above images were taken from the shoot and have been processed on Photoshop to mute the colours of the woods and to bring out the red of the cloak as I believe this s the most important element of the images.
To address the real world side of missing children I was originally going to fade in headlines of real cases but instead have decided to have headlines read over the backing music as I think that sound can be more effective in creating a sinister atmosphere. I will show this part when I upload the film in its entirety as I think it is better to be viewed that way.

Book Animation

I worked out of order on my current 'Ordinary vs Extraordinary' project but storyboarded a long time ago to know what I would be doing and when. I always planned to open the film with the change between the growing of the plant with the growing of a beanstalk. I wanted to state the fairytale reference quite clearly at the start of the film so that the audience were aware that that is where the inspiration has come from so I decided to make the flwer and beanstalk grow from a book as if they are growing directly from the Jack and the Beanstalk story.
This was primarily set out to be a puppetry but on thinking about it, if I was to create this piece with puppetry I would need holes in desk to hide in and string pulling everywhere and I came to the conclusion that it would be neater and more interesting if I did it wit stop motion animation anyway.
I had never used stop motion before and really wanted to give it a go so I started out with some test runs, practising making the initial flower 'grow' out of the page. I did this by taking photos as I cut the shape out of the page and then as I slowly peel it away. My first attempt is above and it is fairly jerky and slow moving but I thought it was best to make these mistakes now and improve on them.
After about 4 attempts I seemed to get the hang of it and continued t do the whole beanstalk part. I took inspiration from old 60s B-movies with the direction of the animation having quick shots of rumbling pages and then tentacles breaking out made from the book pages. I wanted to build up the growth so that it does seem like this beanstalk is a big contrast to the little flower, that is shown quivering as it grows.
The actual beanstalk is a cloth sleeve that has ripped book pages stuck to it and then to give the effect of it growing from the book I cut a hole into the book and tucked the sleeve into it and then photographed it as it grew out.
For my first animation, I was actually quite surprised by it and I will definitely use animation again.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Cross Course Crit 2

Each term we have a 'Cross Course Crit.' As explained in my last Cross Course Crit post this is where a group of students, some from every year, get together to discuss each other's work and give any suggestions for what direction they may take.
It is always an interesting opportunity to get to see other students work, especially from different years as we are often not in the studio at the same time. One project, I found interesting was a project on masks, something I had briefly looked at in past projects. This particular project was decorating craft masks with different objects, such as googly eyes and I think it caught my eyes the most because of it's theatricality as I am looking at stage puppetry. It also made me think of doing a project myself on masks but making my own stage masks. This would have to be after my own project has ended, however.
As for my own project I showed my butterfly and apple developments and people seemed to like the fairytale element. There were not so much suggestions on what I could do specifically but just suggestions that I should continue down the fairytale road and I think that the direction of my film has started to lean that way.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Into Dust - The Blue Link Submission

The Link Gallery is a student curated gallery at Manchester Metropolitan University. This year it is curated by Interactive Arts student Elisa Artesero who sent out a call for submission for a week long exhibition based on the theme of 'Blue.' It could be any medium or idea but it had to be in some way, blue influenced.
The same week I heard about the call for submissions, I also ran into Tongyu Zhou -a researcher at MMU and also the interpretor at my workshop with Lu Schengzhong last year. After having a catch up and hearing about Professor Lu I really felt like I wanted to do some paper cutting again as I really enjoyed it and it influenced a lot of my work after the workshop.
Although I couldn't see a way in which it could fit into my current project I decided that the Blue submission would be the perfect time to create a piece and as we only had just over a week to hand in our work it couldn't be a side project that would take over the rest of my project - which I could not afford to do.
Because of the tight time frame I needed to really jump straight in and while working at the gallery I began to think through possible ideas - I wanted something striking and simple, and I have always been interested in using the cutouts from a paper cutting in the piece (a big part in my final Foundation piece). I thought it would be nice if I could cut out of blue paper and then scatter these on the floor beneath and I began to think of the decay that this brought to mind. I tend to go to music for inspiration whenever I am lacking and this immediately brought to mind Mazzy Star's 'Into Dust.' The song is a gentle, acoustic record and has the line 'I could possibly be fading..' which I've always found quite enchanting and mysterious.
I now had my idea and set about to create it, centring the lyric in the middle of an A3 sheet of blue handmade paper (not handmade by me however). To reflect the nature of the lyrics I wanted the to slowly disppear - as in I stop cutting out as much of the shape. This makes it harder to read and hopefully creates more audience interaction. The offcuts from the piece were then all collected and scattered on the floor of the Link.

The Dragon

'The Extraordinary vs Ordinary' - Do we create fantasies to escape the harsh realities of the real world? In my ongoing project I have furthered tried to illustrate this point and ask the audience this question by looking at the dragon.
The Dragon is a staple of mythical stories, appearing in Athurian tales and Chinese myths. It is, more often than not, the villain of the piece, imposing a threat to the masses only to be slayed by the hero. As part of this section of the project I am continuing to look at mythical threats and comparing them to similar threats in our real world and for The Dragon I want to look at the plane - not necessarily a fighter but any kind of plane. The plane now populates the sky, just as Dragon's allegedly did in myths, but can also be airborne terrors wreaking terror and destruction.
For the first part, I am focusing merely on the dragon and began by researching the Chinese Dragon - an easily recognisable design and also a design that has close connotations with puppetry thanks to processions that take place during Chinese New Year. Fortunately, at the time of undertaking this part of the project, Chinese New Year was also occuring so I went along to Chinatown and picked up this puppet as well as looking at the various design that were scattered about.
Looking at this puppet, the Chinese dragons around Chinatown and through books in the library I made initial sketches of how I wanted my dragon to look. From the above puppet I knew I wanted it to have two poles on either side but I also wanted to take inspiration from the traditional English dragon design by adding wings as I thought this would make the airborne-plane comparison a smoother fit and also create a more interesting shape as with puppets whether they are for stage or screen must be appealing to the eye.
As with most things I initially made a paper maquette version to see what works and what needs tweaking more specifically with movement. I had decided with this puppet I wanted to work in metal. Again this would make easy comparison with a plane and with a metal dragon seeming the more equal counterpart of a plane. It was also interesting to try making a puppet from a material I had not used before and after researching and looking into the best type of metal to use, I came across aluminium tooling foil which is more often used for jewellery and embossing but is thin enough and plyable enough for me to shape how I wanted while also being sturdy enough to keep its shape.
Unlike the Chinese dragon puppet, my main body was made of separate components as the accordion effect is just not possible with the tooling foil. Each part was then tied to the next with a very thin metal wire, again, more often used in jewellery making.
The two rods that prop up the puppet are bamboo sticks that are painted a charcoal grey so that they are less of an eyesore and the wings are attached to each other with wire so that they can be manipulated from beneath.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Holocaust Exhibition

I received an e-mail that a play based on the Holocaust was taking place for one day only at Manchester Victoria Baths. It would be an interactive, walk around play and the director was looking for art objects based on the Holocaust to be in a small exhibition at the start of the play. The brief was to focus on the hope behind the tragedy, on the family units that stayed together.
Keeping this in mind I began to brainstorm ideas, I wanted the main focus to be on a family that stick together but are surrounded by tragedy. To represent the harshness of the conditions I thought that barbed wire would be appropriate and I decided that this should be in an orb so that it seems all encompassing around the family. The family would be made form clay initially, and then paper mached around it and the figures would all be blended together. This would hopefully have a dual effect in that the family are welded as one unit and hold together against the terror of the Holocaust but also the vague and slightly deformed look of the figures would hopefully show that they are ghosts, and keep in the back of the mind of the audiences that these are still victims but aren't defined by it.
As I only had just over a week to the deadline when I received the e-mail, I decided to send a sketch of my idea and why I want to do it to the organisers beforehand to save me wasting time if I am on the wrong track.
The idea was accepted so I went full steam ahead on with the creation. I used brown paper to cover the clay for the family and was originally going to paint this a charcoal grey with blue tints, however, on completion I thought that the brown paper was quite complete on it's own. I thought it looked quite antique and to add to this effect I shaded in pencil and then washed that out with water which made it looked a bit more battered.
For the base, I bought three birch wood circular plaques that I drilled holes around the edge of two for the barbed wire to be placed in. For the barbed wire I used a 0.8mm aluminium wire for the main part and then a thinner 0.2mm wire to wrap around for the sharp points.
The piece was accepted and I went to see the show at the Baths to see my piece and the show I did it for. It was really exciting to see my piece in an exhibition with other people's work, although one of the barbed wire strips had become wonky. The show was also very effective and emotional and I was very pleased to take a small part in it.   

The Poison Apple Part II

After deciding to focus on ideas focusing on the blood aspect of a red apple, I brainstormed ideas that this could translate to screen. The most effective and obvious idea I had was to have the apple melt onscreen so that the skin bleeds across the surface and the only way I could think of successfully do this was to create a wax apple candle.
After using wax as a sculptural material with the horse puppet I was already aware of how create an object with wax, however, this would now be a more advanced version as I would need a wick and a two tone colour - a white core and red skin. I could have simply created one big red apple but as the act of eating the apple is what makes it dangerous, I felt it necessary to show a bite taken from it.
Like with the horse puppet, i started the apple by creating a wax version which I then split in half and cast in plaster. I then used this plaster mould to create the two wax halves of the candle and welded this halves together with more melted wax.
The original wax apple
I then melted another bowl of wax and dyed it with red candle dye, then dipping the white wax candle into it. For the wick, I tied it to a nail that I then screwed through the apple whole. Admittedly, this is probably not the professional technique but it was the best way to not make the apple halves mishapen. Using more wax I then fixed the wick into place. Finally, I attached a paper leaf to it in the hope that when I lit the wick for the candle to melt the paper leaf would also burn up as this is supposed to be a more negative and dangerous 'mystical' element the more destruction the better.

The Apple

At this point the bite has not been taken out as this will be a part of the film, showing the act of the eating. I will update with the results of the filming when it takes place.

The Poison Apple

The idea of my 'Extraordinary vs Ordinary' project began by looking at the mystical things in books and the real world counterpart, with the aim of showing how we do not need to make up these creations as we have beautiful things in the world. However, as stated in previous posts I would like to look at the darker side of reality and why we may want to move into the fantastical world. The initial transition of this is through the use of a poison apple - a classic weapon used in fairytales. This I wanted to juxtapose with the cold and metallic gun - a real world weapon, and arguably a much harsher and grittier weapon than the poison apple.
To start this part of the project I painted a red a apple that I wanted to try working in different ways to blend with a bullet hole. This was not necessarily an idea for a part in the film but more something to help with brainstorming through experimentation. After painting the apple I scanned it into the computer and printed smaller versions which I then transferred onto different materials - canvas sheets, cardboard, a wood/paper material from a wardrobe and acrylic sealant - using white emulsion paint.

The original Apple Painting

Acrylic Sealant

Wood/Paper material


Canvas Sheet

I found some interesting results from these experiments, from how successfully the transfer is completed on the various surfaces. The emulsion paint works by painting onto the ink of the printed image and then pressing it against the surface you want the image on. I then iron the back of the image to help seal it down and then to make the image appear rub the paper away with lots of water. The acrylic sealant worked surprisingly well, I suspect because it is a smooth surface, however, the kinks where the spreading of the sealant was not totally smooth, creates a crack in the image which I think was quite effective. The wardrobe wood material was the least effective as it was the grainiest and creating a successful transfer was nigh on impossible.

While thinking of printing methods I also remembered the sellotape technique of sticking strips of sellotape on to the ink of a printed image (again the apple). Like with the emulsion paint, you then rub of the back of the image with water. I tested this four times on the same materials as in the last experiment but this time with the rough colours and shape of the apple on the material. I then stuck the printed sellotape to the top of these.
Acrylic Sealant

Wood/Paper Material


The advantage of this technique is that you have the black and white tones in the sellotape print intensifies by the paint behind it which I thought created a starker image. Also, the more messily painted images also give the impression of blood which puts across the danger of the poison that was originally intended.
However, throughout this process I was aware that this would not translate well to a film but I did pick up on the 'blood' red idea and began to think of ideas I could expand on this, in a filmic process...

Thursday, 21 April 2011


Continuing on my theme of the 'Extraordinary vs the Ordinary' project I have moved on to the topic of 'Butterflies vs Fairies.' As with the previous horses section of my project I aim to create a parallel between butterflies and fairies in my planned final film in the hope of planting the seed of the idea that we have beautiful things such as butterflies in our 'real' world so why do we need to fantasise about fairies. Although, I am open to the idea that fairies exist...
I knew that I wanted to create the butterflies with paper, as paper has always been an integral part of my work after doing a week long paper cutting tutorial with Lu Shenzhong last year. I therefore began by looking at different ways of creating the butterfly, that would be most convenient for what I wanted. I did this through a basic cutout shape, a paper cut pattern, a burnt pattern, a wax resist and watercolour patter and an icing pen drawn pattern.

As the idea began to develop I realised the most effective transition between butterflies and fairies was if I was to have a 'flutter' of butterflies. Because of this, I decided the easier way to create a mass of butterflies was to go have a simple cutout. This would also make a mass of butterflies more easily distinguishable without being to busy with lots of cut/burnt parts. From this point on I set about cutting lots of the same butterfly shape and then stringing the ends together to create a 'curtain' which would eventually be used to create a flutter.
After my previous puppet research I had decided that these cutouts would work as a shadow puppet part of the film so that the shadows can merge with that of the fairies which I think would create quite a magical mystical effect which is appropriate for the subject matter. To practice this I photogrpahed the flutter of butterflies with a spotlight, testing how I could manipulate the shadows.

I was pleased with the results and so I will develop this thread for my film later on in the project. As a side note in this particular part of the project I was also intrigued by the shape of the butterfly cutout and I wanted to make it look more lifelike. I have a habit of keeping small green beer bottles and when I saw these on my shelf I decided to create a piece that had small butterflies trapped in the bottle. This was just a small development in the project and I created it using invisible thread and paper butterflies.

Table review
At this term's Table Review I showed my butterfly experiments, the flutter and a set of jars. The butterflies in jars seemed to get the most enthusiastic response with people liking the delicacy of the pieces and although I cannot think of a way to incorporate this into the overall 'Extraordinary vs Ordinary' pproject it is definitely an idea I am going to continue to develop in it's own right.