Design Products MA: Platform 15 Project #1: Make a vase (a container that can be used to hold cut flowers)
My first project within our platform was a quick 2 week introduction to myself and my approach to briefs. We had a very interesting crit yesterday, it always amazes me the contrast and extreme differences of peoples response to projects at the Royal College of Art. Really fascinating!
Make a vase, a container of cut flowers. I considered on answering this brief with questions of why and how we, as a curious race, chose to capture moments of natural beauty out of context to its real existence. There is the view that it can be seen as the start of desire and not need, which brings us to consumerism and social impact our desires have on the world in all its facets. The can-of-worms wiggles out in all directions and bigger picture get even bigger..
The thing is, this opinion / observation is integral to who I am, and what I believe. The path I have made for myself is an expression of debate, mainly because I'm rubbish at verbal debate, I can only demonstrate. My reasoning for pursuing wood and hand craft is in response to these heavy issues. My ethos and morals are born from these realities. To some I might appear to be restricting myself to success and money, but that is not what I desire. I work to explore responsibility. Desire is a natural human trait, it is here to stay. However, it has grown to a point of distraction and destruction. Can we provide for our desire with a sense of responsibility?
So, it was a bit of a cop-out to chose to create my vase with wood, however, I knew my reasoning and debate was there in so much more depth than I think I could have presented in 5 minutes.
Essentially, a vase is a vessel to contain water. Besides tools and clothing, utilitarian forms to contain and transport was a change of man dictating his environment for his own convenience. The bucket or barrel, to me, is an incredibly important object. The idea to use the swelling properties of wood to create a watertight vessel represents the most intuitive use of material and it's properties. Wood is a living material. It comes from one of the most important living organisms on this planet. Nowadays the movement of a piece of wood is seen as a hindrance, an inconvenience. It's is engineered to stay flat and straight and square. Tamed for our desire. The wooden bucket is the product of skilled workmanship that only comes from an inherent understanding and respect for the material. It is very sad that this skill is becoming extinct. These days barrel making techniques are replicated by fast moving machines. When the last Cooper Master has gone, will the true understanding of cooperage and its unique understanding of wood be lost with him?
I wanted to explore the coopered vessel. Not reinvent it, just play with it. Stereotypically the bucket is defined by the structural steel rings that hold the swelling slats of wood in. Without them the bucket wouldn't work. However, I am making a vase, an object of desire and not utilitarian need. I wanted to create the vase without the 'bucket rings'. Ironically, my solution meant I had to CNC a precise bottom section that would replace the bottom ring. All the past coopers simultaneous turned in their graves!
For the tapered shape of the vase and for the success of a watertight product I needed to create precise side slats. There is very little room for mistakes. The angles are so important, half a degree out will not do! I made a jig with my hand plane and spindle moulded each slat as close to the finished width as possible.Replacing the top ring is where I got experimental. Flower arranging is great, but sometimes the flowers don't really stand up as well as you'd like. I figured a tension wire system on the inside could replace the top ring and provide a grid for the flower display. This is when doubt was expressed by a few members of the workshop. Wagers have been made, the stakes are high!
Bango machines and violin pegs were used for the pivot points. Two patterns of wiring was tried. The one with 2 machines worked best.
OK, it leaked! But I had suspicions this vase would, the bottom joints between slats weren't tight enough. I figured they would swell enough to compensate. However, the top part around the tension wire was fine, completely leak free. Does that mean I won the wager?! The test continues...
Final blog post of the Wedding Gift. It's been interesting going through all the pictures and remembering the extremely late nights and totally unknown outcomes. Ahh good times. But the plan finally came together, to a sigh of relief. Here's installment 2 of 2, Making the leaf relief picture. From the start of this project I wanted to combine the wedding seating plan with a wedding gift for the newly weds. The seating blocks came first, then the idea to set them in framed picture. It was tricky trying to think of an image that wouldn't be over bearing to the whole scheme, as well as being considered ugly by the bride and groom. It had to be subtle; white would be the colour, with detail pulled out with shadows - a relief in plaster! The subject for the image varied from shared personal interests of the couple to toally abstract forms. Neither seemed visually appropriate. Instead I looked for symbolism of all that I wish for the happy couple's future.
"The Oak is the mightiest of trees and symbolizes strength and courage. The ancient Romans thought oak trees attracted lightening and thereby connected the oak tree to the sky god, Jupiter and his wife, Juno, the goddess of marriage. Thus, the oak is a symbol of conjugal fidelity and fulfillment. The oak tree was regarded by Socrates as an oracle tree. The Druids likewise ate acorns in preparation for prophesying. In addition, the Druids believed the leaves of the oak tree had the power to heal and renew strength." Living Arts Original
"The Sycamore is one of the oldest species of trees on the planet. Given its age, the Sycamore is often referenced in the pages of history:
- In the Bible, the Sycamore is considered a symbol of strength, divinity, and eternity.
- In American history, a 168-year-old Sycamore tree is credited with sheltering large groups of soldiers during the Battle of Brandywine in Pennsylvania. Since then the tree has become a symbol of protection in the United States." 20-20 site
For ease of display during the wedding I worked out how many blocks would fit comfortably and clearly, evenly spread out and easy to navagate. Rounding up the number of blocks to 180 created two frames measuring 800 x 410 mm each internally. One Oak, one Sycamore. The rest of the scheme was built on from here.
Retreating into the clay studio I'm fortunate to have in our garage at home, thanks again Jan! It had been a good 11 years since I worked with clay, boy I have missed it. Memories of Carly Simon singing during A-Level Art classes came flooding back.
Working with plaster and solid wood was going to be heavy. To reduce the weight I had to make individual tiles so the plaster can be thinner and easier to handle without a risk of damage.
Music was set up and coffee brewed...
They were going to be individual tiles but I wanted to keep the image as a whole so the composition ignored the tile seams and the leaves overlapped them as much as possible. When I made a test of casting leaves from clay I was amazing by the incredible detail that is picked up. What I found was, if the clay remains moist, the leaves can be imprinted with a sense of movement and form.
Steve Younger, the furnitiure maker at DF Furniture kindly made the frames for me. Here, he is working on the finishing touches of the Sycamore frame, cutting away the excess veneer of the kerf joint. The tactile finish of Steve's work is always remarkable, certainly his particular trademark. Feeling is believing. (Louie the dog, I love him really)
There was one very hairy moment right at the end when the plaster was still considerably wet. Luckily a slow cook oven setting sorted it out just in the nick of time. Clay has been a joy to use again, plaster is exciting however it maybe a while until the next time I use it.
The scheme was amibious and a lot of enjoyable hardwork. It was fun designing for an event, a one off moment involving a number of people. I am eternally grateful to my parents for humouring me and my plans. For Oliver and Emma for asking me to be a part of their special day. A special thank you to everyone at DF Timber, Kim Butler, Jan Walker and those at the Square Orange that helped through the ups... and the downs. Couldn't have pulled it off without you. x
Here is 1 of 2 installments of the Wedding Gift. In this post I will whiz you through the process of creating the seating plan blocks and their etching. While planning this project I had in mind creating lengths of the necessary forms and then cutting them down to the appropriate size. However, when you are creating something fairly new and untested, plans are soon swiftly amended. I was fortunate enough to find all the timber necessary as off cuts in the machine room. Unfortunately, once they were machined and sanded to size, then passed through the spindle molder with the wobble saw, the lengths weren't as dead straight as I needed them. The natural tension in the wood is always at risk of giving way when it is brutally machined and shaped.
As soon as I had the lengths in the workshop and had set up the router table with a dovetail bit, it became clear I would have to fit the internal Sycamore strip to each individual block. It is in this situation that a fraction of a millimetre becomes magnified, and can make a break the quality of fit. By doing it in this painstaking way I could guarantee a perfect fit throughout the project, which was one of the more important details for me.
I wanted to create a patchwork of colour to show off the incredible natural colours of the material. Here they are in all their glory, from left to right: Oak, Yew, Cherry, Elm, Walnut and Ash, each containing the light coloured Sycamore strip.
There was a few days of hand planing the blocks. With a marker on the shooting board I trim them to size, while cleaning up the rough saw edges. My right arm was considerably bigger than my left afterwards!
On the final day of planing, a jig was made to hold the blocks while the Sycamore strip was planed back to leave a clean leave surface on every edge of the blocks.
Now, off to the Eden Valley to visit Joe Butler. Joe and his Father, Ian run Croglin Toys, the sweetest little toy workshop, based in Lazonby. They very kindly let me loose on their laser cutter, so I tucked myself up in their tiny little workshop to add the finishing touches to my Wedding Gift.
A grid was cut so the positions would remain the same. Each table was etched at a time, to avoid confusion or missing someone out. Final checks of spelling, number of names per group and laser settings, then *click sit back and watch. It's meserizing seeing the lettering emerge as the laser head darts left and right.As everyone in England is well aware, this summer has left much to be desired. Cumbria has had record amount of rain during June and July, exactly the time I was beaving away making these blocks. When I was about to head down to Gloucester for the wedding I did the final fine tuning to the sliding Sycamore bit. I convinced a little helper to pretend to play "wedding guest" and test the friction, and adjusted them accordingly. A quick rub with scented wax and they all slide wonderfully.
This project has really highlighted to me the difference humidity makes to this natural material. The temperature difference was considerable on the way South, and the blocks shrunk! I was gutted, my lovely fitting blocks were all loose. Ah well, the way of the material. They all looked smart lined up next to each other... and everyone managed to find their seats, which is the main thing.
I told myself I wouldn't cry, but when you attend the most the beautiful wedding of a very special couple indeed, it's hard to compose yourself. Emma and Oli have pulled an incredible event together in only 4 months, and if you were there, you'd know how impressive that is. The attention to detail and immaculate organisation was flawless. No cliché here; it was the most beautiful wedding ever! What a shame it came and went in a flash.
Sitting back home in the North Lakes and piecing together the memories and photos, I realise I have been in a World of Weddings. A few months ago the couple took me out for an innocent Dim Sum dinner in London. Little did I know it was bribery. I left sleepy and full of dumplings, with my head full of wedding plans and promises of church readings and to create the seating plan for their reception.
The brief was simple, 9 tables will be named after the destinations of their European roadtrip honeymoon. There will be around 180 guests.
I wanted to create something unique that would provide mementos to the guests and a keepsake wedding present to the Bride and Groom.
Many ideas came and went, including an 8 sided revolving picture frame. Eventually these blocks of wood, which reveal the table names, came about. They were created in 6 types of Cumbrian wood, each one with a contrasting Sycamore centre, dovetailed in to slide across. The names were lasercut into each one, fingers were crossed that there weren't any spelling mistakes!
The blocks were for the guests, but as they are removed they could be revealing something underneath too. It was decided the blocks could be contained in the wedding gift. Two frames; one Oak containing a subtle Oak leaf relief, and one Sycamore containing a Sycamore leaf relief.
I was honoured by so many people taking them home. Unfortunately the contrast of humidity between Cumbria and Gloucester during this crazy summer of ours affected the fit a little too much for my perfectionism, but overall I'm thrilled with how it turned out. The 'making-of' to be blogged soon.