A film of Phase 2 by Bryony Stokes
Artists joined with local older people to produce artwork inspired by Rathfarnham Castle, Dublin and by the lives of the surrounding community. Participants drew on the location, contents and archives alongside their own memories and stories. For the CARE project a collaboration was developed with Craftspace in Birmingham and Makernow in Falmouth, allowing for cross-pollination and development ideas across social and cultural settings and introducing digital possibilities to traditional methods of making.
Wandering Methods is a craft project that takes its time. Artists Maeve Clancy and Liz Nilson worked with a group of local older people in Rathfarnham Castle, Dublin, on producing, on an incremental basis, artwork for exhibition. Together, the group has slowly learned new craft skills, explored different approaches and invested the time that is needed to make something beautiful for the Bealtaine festival. They have made some long panels for the castle based on impetus from what they’ve seen there. Here is Liz’s reflection on the panel-making process:
Wandering Methods, Dublin 2014
Long Panel Print Project, 1-2 May
This years Wandering Methods Project took place in Dublin Castle, a building steeped in history and culture. In continuous occupation since its establishment in 1204 AD the building has played a prominent role in Ireland’s history. Today, this prestigious city centre site hosts a conference centre and ‘The State Apartments’ which are among the most elegant official rooms in Ireland. During our first session together we had a tour of the building led by the fantastic Jenny who made the castle come to life for us. We felt very privileged to be working in a lovely room set alongside the offices on the first floor, close to the state apartments.
The three people who led the project this year were Lian Bell, Project Manager; Jenny Walsh, Product Designer; and myself, Liz Nilsson, Textile Artist. The stakeholders for the project were the Bealtaine Festival, Age and Opportunity, The Office of Public Works, Craft Space Birmingham and Falmouth University.
My ambition for this year’s Wandering Methods was to encourage the group to move away from individual making towards collaboration. I hoped to encourage the participants to think that the sharing of experience, skill, history and stories are all integral parts of craft making.
Since the start of the project in March my strategy was to stimulate interactive communication between the participants through shared craft activities. I actively encouraged the exchange of personal stories, ideas and skills. For example, in one session, I had prepared fifteen individual plastic bags with different materials and/or craft techniques inside (knitting needles and twine, rubber bands, play dough, different fabrics and glue etc). Each participant got one bag and could make whatever they wanted with the material that was in the bag. I played music for five minutes while each person worked. After 5 min the music stopped and the bag and its contents were passed on to the neighbour. At handover it was possible to give advice on technique.
I believe this activity both stimulated the sharing of ideas and broke down boundaries about ownership as all work had been co-created. The atmosphere was almost meditative at time. Conversation drifted across the table now and then and someone burst out in spontaneous laughter; but it was mostly quiet and reflective.
Another strategic activity was to introduce the idea of a skills bank. I asked everyone in the group about what they were good at. Some answered readily but others found it hard to think about something that they were good at in relation to craft. We extended the word craft to cooking, baking, writing and skills relating to problem solving. This session stimulated the group dynamic and we really got to know each other better.
During our first session of the project we had a tour of the building. Everyone was intrigued by how the carpet designs in the castle were inspired by the ceilings’ intricate plasterwork. The Australian-born architect and interior designer Raymond McGrath was in charge of the renovation of the State Apartments in the1960’s. He designed the carpets and had them made by Donegal carpets.
In a discussion with Lian and Jenny we explored the possibility of making two long collective prints and hanging them beside the ornate entrance staircase. We decided that the inspiration for the panels was going to be the shapes and pattern structure of the stair carpet; hexagons and diamonds. We asked Justin in the MAKERNOW Lab to laser cut multiples of these shapes in plywood as printing blocks to use in the fabrication of the panels.
Design and Planning
The drop from the top of the staircase to the floor dictated the length of the panels. We decided that the finished size was going to be 450 cm x 70 cm.
The first day was dedicated to design (in scale and on paper) and the participants were divided into three groups. Two groups worked on design for one panel each and the third group worked on the colour scheme.
We started the session with revisiting the staircase and examined the carpet and the surroundings. It is an advantage to work in the building which is your source of inspiration!
The design groups got A4 print-outs of different patterns that could be created out of the hexagons and the diamond. This was in the scale of approximately 1:30. We also had prints of the actual size of the shapes to help them understand the concept of scaling. The group found this quite difficult. They could not initially see the necessary relation between the small pattern structures and the final actual size. There were many lively discussions at the design stage. One of the groups had three very strong individuals who competed for their idea to be the one chosen.
The colour scheme group worked quietly and intensively. They mixed and matched different colours to see what worked best together. They came up with 4 colours that the other groups were going to use the following day to print with.
The participants were divided into two groups and got a design sketch from the previous day. They were told that the sketch was their starting point only and that they were to observe what occurred as the print developed, and see if the process itself threw up any ideas. All of the participants had done some block printing during previous sessions so the technique were familiar to them. To save time I had already mixed the fabric dyes to match the colours that the group had chosen.
The two groups took different approach from the very start. One group did a colour plan on the paper sketch and the other decided to just get stuck in with one colour. I had given instruction for the group to start to print from the middle and work outwards. This would allow more people to work at the same time. One of the groups appointed two leaders who carefully led the design development without being bossy or dominant.
Both groups had lots of internal discussions throughout the printing process. The first two hours were spent getting a plan of action in place and getting used to the repetitive tasks assigned. They also experimented with how best to apply the dye to the block and how best to apply the block to the cloth.
After lunch the printing process got much quicker. Everyone seemed to have got into a printing synchronicity, and knew exactly what they were doing. A few mistakes became apparent and this dismayed the participants. I reassured them that when the whole print was finished those mistakes would not be visible.
Hester Scott, one of participant expressed the notion of mistakes like this:
“A team of four printing the panel. The first person makes a mistake. ” Oh, heavens, how terrible!” The second person makes a mistake. “Oh, dear! ” The third person makes a mistake, “it doesn’t matter”. When I make a mistake, nobody notices!!!
The afternoon passed hastily and the two prints advanced from two long pieces of white fabric into two different but coherent block printed panels. This was not an accident but something that I had both planned and hoped for. By using the same limited palette of colour and the same shapes as a structure, the panels automatically had certain visual correlations.
After all of the fabric had one layer printed the groups reflected on how they could improve their artwork by overprinting with their own rubber stamps.
Both groups worked really hard and it was clear that they were both proud and surprised about the end-result seven hours later. If a single individual working alone had block printed these long panels it would have taken several days. The speed of producing something in a group is one advantage of collaboration. I believe that the interaction and discussion between the group members refined and improved the resulting artwork. As in all collaboration there were moments of both frustration and euphoria, but on the whole I think this approach worked really well. Some members did more observing then actual printing, but when it was finished they took as much ownership over the finished pieces as the more active members.
Hanging the panels
Finally we brought the panels into the hallway to see how they fitted, and how best we could hang them. It was exhilarating to see them being rolled down from the banister to the floor. I encouraged the groups to discuss if there was something that they wanted to add to or change the panels, now that they saw the pieces in place. One group had lively discussions about possible changes. One person took on the task of doing some tests during the afternoon to see if any additional layering could be done to make a better connection with the colours in the carpet.
The panel printing processes were arduous, enjoyable, educative and successful. Two related products emerged;
1. the panels themselves are aesthetic, stand-alone collaborative art works.
2. the participants’ learning and development in regard to collaborative work, as evidenced in this evaluation and the sample comments below, will shape and inform their subsequent practice.
On one of our workshop days we were presented with a fabric printing project ie to design 2 hanging banners to hang in the entrance hall of the main reception rooms of the castle. I thought, how can this work with a group not experienced in design? Liz in her wisdom and teaching experience foresaw this problem and came armed with a system of diamonds and hexagons to form the basis of the design and circular and other motifs that had come from drawings or photos in some earlier workshops in the castle.
We were divided into three groups, one for colour research and two to design a banner each. There are six persons in my group, each group with a roll of paper to create a design to be scaled up to full size. How to begin, who makes the first move? There were some tentative decisions and lots of discussion as to how to proceed ie how to place or group the basic shapes, how much background space to leave, if any, would the busy areas need the quietness of the empty space for contrast. We are making progress but someone feels strongly that it doesn’t look right, so we agree to start again, even though we are up against the clock. More alternative suggestions are made, and some shapes have to be cut to fit a space. When all the shapes are in place and glued to the base sheet, the work moves forward to colour and printing at the print studio.
Each person has experienced the design process, from struggling with it, and from having to compromise with others. We have made design decisions, we have learned about colour, repetition, contrasts, balance, and harmony and especially about negotiating agreement.
I think for the future, we will look at the world with more of a designer’s eye.
We started on our banner as a group of five. We used shapes of hexagons and diamonds to create the grid, which would give structure to our design. We then added decorative stamps to create interesting patterns. The carpets and the architectural features of the Castle inspired these stamps.
We had much discussion as to how we each felt the design should be. By the end of the first session we reached agreement and we felt ready to print on fabric on our next session.
Next session was the important one. We all enjoyed this process. There was some banter and a bit of competition between the two groups, which added to the fun. We made a few small mistakes along the way but we managed to cover them up.
In all this was a great team building exercise and there was a great feeling of support from the team members. This support was carried forward into individual projects, where many offers of help were received.
During the process of making the banners there was many frustrating moments. Working with five other people I found a bit frustrating at times. I had certain ideas and of course I felt they were the best ones. Then I reflected that the others also felt the same.
The whole experience was a good learning one for me. Stepping back and letting others take a lead is not easy for me. We also had one person who never had been printing before and he was quite nervous. I decided to help and encourage him, and the best bit came when he asked me what if he made a mistake. And then I placed my stamp in the wrong place! In a funny way it relaxed the whole group and we had got so much more enjoyment from the printing.
Subsequently, as part of the CARE project, members of the group, with Liz, have developed a partnership via Craftspace with another group in Birmingham, and both groups met in Falmouth to share and develop digital ideas.
Liz made a wonderful powerpoint about the group’s journey up to the Falmouth visit:Liz also wrote a great report of the group’s time in Falmouth:
Wandering Methods 2014 – Dublin Castle: Study Trip to MAKERNOW Lab,
Falmouth University, May 2014
Liz Nilsson, Lead Artist for the Dublin Group
We met representatives from the Birmingham ‘Wandering Methods’ group, the Co-Create CARE Research Group and the staff at the MAKERNOW Lab. It was three days of intense and enjoyable interaction, explanation, formation and development. Justin, Katie and Andy, the staff at the Lab, were highly supportive and made the time we spent there productive, creative, and memorable for all of us.
Meeting the Birmingham group face-to-face was also an enjoyable and instructive experience. I felt as if I already knew Viv, Robin, Alex, Natalie (lead artist) and Deirdre (project manager) from our previous meetings on Skype. It was interesting and inspiring to see what they had been working on, and how this had developed, during their day in Falmouth. Many ideas were shared and discussions took place about how to develop the work further.
During our day at the MAKERNOW Lab, the two Dublin participants gained a substantial understanding of the digital fabrication method. Before our visit Shay and Yvonne were both struggling with the concept of digital fabrication; they found it too technical, and too far removed from their own experiences. With excellent one-to-one mentoring from the staff they were encouraged to explore milling and laser-cutting at a pace that suited them. The way Shay and Yvonne were talking about the processes by the end of the trip showed that they had clearly grasped both the techniques and the technology. Shay thoroughly enjoyed the milling process and really appreciated Justin’s willingness to share his expertise. Together they created a Celtic cross that Shay had designed. Yvonne worked with Katie to explore laser-cutting into fabric, and came away with ideas that might open up opportunities for her own practice. My role during this day was to encourage, support and document the process. My previous experience with laser cutting fabric was useful for Yvonne’s work.
As the lead artist for this project I gained a better understanding of what the research project is about. In the group discussions involving the Dublin and Birmingham groups, and Fiona and Mary of Co-Create CARE, we reflected on the process of co-creating, and on how ideas develop within a group. Everyone was fully involved and was given an equal opportunity to express their experience and feelings. These conversations reinforced my convictions that making, and talking about how you feel while making, are wonderfully symbiotic and synergistic processes for both individuals and groups.
Even the long journey to and from Falmouth was part of the learning experience – we built trust, shared ideas and stories and really got to know each other. Back in Dublin, Yvonne and Shay enthusiastically shared their experience with the rest of the group and proudly showed the work that they had made. Shay summarised the trip perfectly;
“It was a really great trip – but it was not a holiday!”
“I was delighted to represent Wondering Methods, Dublin Castle crafts in Falmouth University. The project was very informative and well organised but our time there was too short. An unexpected aspect was the similarity between the Birmingham group and our group. They also were designing jewelry and lampshades. I was especially interested in the CAD software which allows the cutter plotter to cut thin materials. Also the laser cutter which can draw on surfaces taking the image from photographs and cut out the designs and engrave on materials like wood and fabric with a thickness of up to 4 mm. The milling machine is a reductive process depending on the tool shape and size. We saw how to manipulate and explore very intricate patterns with the laser cutter and we could see the potential for producing creative and economical designs. Falmouth University textile department is an example of how craft based skills and new technologies can come together producing new and exciting designs. These new skills are thought in an impressive, modern, well equipped facility.
Thank you to all the group for the opportunity to visit Falmouth.” – Yvonne Furlong, The Dublin Wandering Method Group 2104.
“In the few hours I was in the Falmouth University, I acquired knowledge on two machines and the programs that went with the computer.
The assistance I was given and shown by the staff in Falmouth was very supportive for me.
Before I went there I never even heard of the machines I was working with.
To my knowledge, these machines have shown me how advanced technology is and can be for future references.
Computerized laser and milling machines are required and helpful in today’s life and future generations.
I do have to add that Liz (coordinator) was very supportive.
The day I spent at Falmouth University was an interesting and educational experience along with the helpful staff.” – Shay Delaney, The Dublin Wandering Method Group 2014
Here are some images of the group working in Dublin in earlier stages: