Extreme Synaesthesia – Muse at the SSE Hydro Glasgow

 

Muse at the SSE Hydro Glasgow

Muse at the SSE Hydro Glasgow – synaesthesia not shown!

I am often asked about how my synaesthesia works, and what I experience during it, and often talk about it in the context of my creative works. I have written a little about it before but am not sure why I have fought shy of writing about its more extreme form in detail until now but I recently went to see one of my favourite bands live and what I experienced means I probably should. I went to see Muse play at the SSE Hydro in Glasgow with a friend who lives in the Scottish Borders. I say one of my favourite bands they probably are my favourite band or at least the one I spend most time listening to. Their particular sound, a sort of baroque-gothic, psychedelic space prog gives me a very vivid synaesthetic reaction. I say one of my favourite bands as my official “Favourite Band” are The Manic Street Preachers, they got there first in my teens and not even the mighty Muse can knock them off that spot.

The way I experience synaesthesia is very vivid, pleasurable and memorable. I can pay attention to it and fully focus on it or ignore it at will. The shapes, colours and movement change with the music and last only as long as the sound lasts. It is easier to see if I close my eyes but still there if they are open. It occupies a sort of infinite cube headspace and is three dimensional often going into or coming out of a vanishing point. Mostly I use recorded music to listen, watch and then do a sketch of what I have experienced in my primary sketchbook. This sketch will then be used as a direct source for my jewellery or paintings. Recently I have been increasingly turning to live music as a source of inspiration too. Both in my live art project with solo-bassist Steve Lawson and recordings of live shows as they offer something different from a studio version. Sometimes it’s the little unscripted surprises that offer up the most interesting visuals and working with a musician who does nothing but improvise there are certainly plenty of those.

I have always been rather circumspect about “tuning in” to my synaesthesia at live events (particularly loud ones) as, when I was in my early 20s I had an unpleasant experience after being at the front at a gig that I can only put down to sensory overload and not realising that the extreme noise of a rock gig mixed with the peculiar state of mind synaesthesia induces is too much if you don’t understand what is happening. Since then I have kept my attention strictly to the show in front of me and have ignored the sensory stimulus of my synaesthesia, and stood to the back. ( I should probably explain sensory overload or at least how I understand it. Not a pleasant thing it is where, the executive function in my brain gets so confused by too much input that it basically shuts down and I find it hard to organise any sort of train of thought or speech, it doesn’t last long, all I need is a cup of tea and a quiet five minutes but it pretty unpleasant loss of control)

Things are different now, I have embarked on a live art project with Steve Lawson and have performed with him in a synaesthetic drawing and improvised playing feedback loop which has proved very successful. I use my synaesthesia daily in my artistic practice, I’ve even caught myself trying to use it while attempting to transcribe basslines. I know what it is and where it comes from and what effect it has on me. So about five songs in watching Muse I decided to see what would happen if I “tuned in” and paid proper attention to my synaesthesia.

So, the drummer was was quite possibly using the roof as a kick drum, you could feel the bass vibrating in your heart and the guitar was loud and distorted. The light show is complex and broad. It is already a very physical experience. I closed my eyes to focus more easily amongst the flashing lights. It was all there moving fast with the music but I didn’t want to spend the whole concert with my eyes shut and miss the show so I opened them and let the synaesthetic shapes and movement merge with the real lighting and movement. Bass is always more like a distortion in the space-time continuum and dark so actually quite tricky to see, as a bassist myself I am always hunting for the bassline, drums get every where, a sharp silver slash in the centre of the stage, a mass of red blood cell like shapes but it was Matt Bellamy’s guitar I fell back in love with. The golden and white hot shapes, curling and flashing, filling the bowl of the auditorium weaving in and out of the lights flashing and changing as quick as they did. I found my self so mesmerised I could hardly dared breathe. Then they played “Stockholm Syndrome” a song I have always found to be especially synaestheically productive. The world turned upside-down in the most fantastical way. It is a heavy song, and fast. I’ve learned it on bass, it is tiring to play and frenetic, distorted, relentless and soaring. The music, shapes, colours and lights filled my entire consciousness and the sound was trying to fragment it, momentarily there was nothing else. This was sailing dangerously close to the edge of sensory overload. Muse finished the song but kept jamming, once I thought they were going to end, but unbearably, fantastically they continued, I almost couldn’t bear it. Then they crashed their ending and moved on to the next song, the change in rhythm broke the spell and I rode with it, I realised I was trembling. After that intense experience I enjoyed my some what odd take on the show but was surprised at that intensity. Once Knights of Cydonia (the most preposterous rock song ever written and one that always makes me smile) had finished and the last white hot sound of guitar feedback had faded I felt drained, a bit shocked at the effect it had had on me. It took me until we got outside to be able to speak coherently about the show.

For me synaesthesia has its extremes it can be gentle and ephemeral but also has a totally immersive side to the experience if I let it. I can feel my interest in using live music over recorded growing. I like the unpredictability and it reflects my love of the distorted edge of the sound. The boundary between the sound and the breakdown of that sound is where the fascinating detail both in shape and colour lies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stories and Thinking Hands: A Masterclass with David Poston, Milton Keynes Arts Centre, 28th November 2015

I first became aware of David Poston’s work was when I was still at art college, I took a trip to the Craft’s Council’s flagship show, Collect. His sculptural bracelets made from recycled treacle and golden syrup tins really caught my eye. I still remember them in the glass case now a colourful, positive image of what jewellery could be. This memory along with memories of seeing Peter Chang and Adam Paxon’s works for the first time are burnt into my creative retina. I have always been drawn to colourful things.

David Poston, unlike the other two is not primarily known for the use of colour in his work. It is his forged titanium pieces that are his best known works. Just not the works I know him for. This opportunity to spend a day with such a well known figure of the contemporary jewellery world was one not to be missed so I called up and booked my spot. The day was part workshop and part exhibition tour as the masterclass was running in conjunction with David’s touring exhibition “A Necklace for and Elephant and Other Stories – The working lives of David Poston”.

It has taken a while for all the information and discussion from this masterclass to sink in and percolate and for me to draw conclusions and thoughts from them. The day was one detailed and thought provoking conversation between David and the six students in the class. The morning (and much of the afternoon) was spent primarily in a show and tell discussing and critiquing our work. Topics of discussion ranging through the nature of creativity, how pieces develop, to techniques, suppliers, skills, selling work and pricing. The quality of the work participants had bought with them was very high but nonetheless they were works in transition and their authors looking for their next step, investigating their creative process. I’m not going to go over the participants work here but will list websites below so you can see their work for yourself. Needless to say looking at the work of others and discussing their process is as important as discussing your own, their learning is your learning.

After a healthy lunch supplied by MK Arts Centre we went round David’s exhibition with him and had much opportunity to ask questions and discuss the methods and techniques he uses. Primarily laser welding and forging titanium. There is only one he does not divulge and that is how he makes his little, numerous and beautifully tactile looking silver beads. They look old, like they have been dug up with an ancient horde. Their creation is a very logical process apparently, that’s all he would say. He also asked us which was our favourite piece and which one we liked least. For me it was not so much a favourite piece but the “Touching Table” where pieces were attached to bungees so that you could actually handle and try them on, feel the difference between the materials. My least favourite piece was “Does My Neck Look Big in This” a necklace made from found plastic sizing cubes, you know the ones you get on hangers in shops. Not because I particularly disliked it as a piece but perhaps because it’s story is so obvious or it didn’t quite fit with the other work in the show it seemed out of context.

David Poston is big on logical progression and problem solving, he is very much an engineer. He is also a craftsman and story teller, each one of his pieces sparks a story either about the process of making the piece or the circumstances that gave him an idea. I won’t go into detail about his many working lives – go and see his exhibition it is in Birmingham in January and The Dovecote in Edinburgh in February and March 2016, well worth a look and get the catalogue it is comprehensive and it tells many of his stories far better than I can.

The learning I took away from the day was detailed but can be distilled down to one word, integration. There was much discussion about how jewellery makes the wearer’s body feel, not just to show off skill or wealth but to invest in the wearer’s experience. An experience that can be very private if we just stop showing off for a moment. Think, how do the rings on your hand feel when they are in your pocket? A necklace under a scarf. There was much talk about the body and how jewellery interacts with it. However, on reflection we all forgot about clothes in this equation, jewellery has to interact with clothes too, and the tasks of everyday life.  An example would be this; David is (as other jewellery designers including myself are) somewhat dismissive of the pendant as a way of wearing something. At college a pendant was considered facile design, not worth doing, a thing on a string. It was only when I was wearing a cowl necked jumper that I thought, no the pendant has its place and is a successful design result when used in the right way. I am going to come out in defence of the pendant, I admit it has been done to death so you will have to try very hard to break new ground using it as a design solution. However, it has it’s place.   The theme of the day was certainly that jewellery design needs to be integrated with itself (how it opens, closes and sits) and the life of its wearer which includes the body and the way we clothe it.

We also discussed the machine tool vs the hand tool, and I’m not talking 3D printing or anything hi-tech. Even the reliable pendant motor is a machine tool. David’s position is that the hand tool is slower and therefore the brain has time to make a conscious decision every time it is used. That way every file pass is a small decision in the making of the final piece.

For a while now I have been looking for a way of creating more paintable surface area, flow and integration in my work. So a day with David Poston gave me much to consider. I decided to make a cold forged ring with only a silver bar, a hammer, anvil, mandrels and torch to anneal. This “thought process” ring was a Christmas present to self, my conscious thinking hands experiment that came directly out of this masterclass. I worked straight from the source sketch, moving the metal and making those small decisions with every hammer stroke to make a ring. While not a new direction it is an interesting new development and one I will pursue.

Student websites:

Amanda Dennison

Mary Hart

Sandra Bornemann

Milton Keynes Arts Centre

 

 

 

Seeing the Music and Hearing the Image: Some Expeditionary Art with Solo-bassist Steve Lawson

The bass guitar is a wonderful instrument, if it were not for my learning to play it none of this would ever have happened. I am synaesthetic, I have a visual reaction to sound both musical and non-musical. This inspires my artworks be they jewellery you can hang on yourself or paintings you can hang on a wall. I could have spent my creative time listening to recorded music drawing what I saw and making my art from those initial sketches. These are finished objects that remain in stasis once complete and are admired, bought and enjoyed as objects by my clients. This is a good thing, they get an object they respond to and desire and I get to move on to the next project. Therein lies the essential nature of my creativity. It likes to move, to have the next idea and solve the next problem, to create the next piece of artwork.

My synaesthesia has not always inspired my creativity, it is only over the last five or so years that I have come to realise that this does not happen to everyone and have had the confidence to use my own very subjective inner life to inform my art. I refer to this change in emphasis my Strange Attractors Project. I usually use recorded music and barely considered doing a live art version.

This is where my learning bass guitar comes in. I met the intriguing solo bassist and lateral thinker Steve Lawson via his tutorials at scottsbasslessons.com and then in person at the London Bass Guitar Show. What started as his suggestion of a blog post topic spiralled into a realisation that we needed to get together and see what would happen if I tried to draw what he played live.

We did and this is one of the results (on Soundcloud)

Steve Lawson/Poppy Porter Synaesthetic Journey pt1

There’s only one image up with the first Soundcloud track here are a couple more done on the day.

The experience was a totally new one for me. I am a results driven artist and I was suddenly plunged into working in a totally process driven art form. This really was jumping in with both feet, the synaesthesia bit is the easy part, it’s just there. The translation of those fleeting images into something concrete that you can hold up and show to someone and relate to a specific sound on the fly is hard. Luckily it is pretty immersive so I lost my nerves and just got on with it. As we went I was aware of Steve trying to provoke me, surprise me and question me through the music he was playing.

So what was happening here? How had this music/visual feedback loop set itself up so naturally and easily? What is my mind doing during synaesthesia, what is Steve’s mind doing? How is he essentially doing the reverse of what I am doing and translating visuals into sound.

I can’t speak for Steve but this is roughly what I see when I hear sounds, music, birdsong and F1 engines are a favourite noise too. It is like having eyes in another dimension, I often think of what I see as a space-scape and will often paint it against a background of stars. The “place” is three dimensional a sort of infinite but very personal box which often has a central vanishing point that sounds either start from or go to. The visuals are animated and colourful coming and going with each sound. The colours are usually light colours for high notes and dark colours for low notes, the exact colours vary and I can never find exactly the right one amongst my pencils. The pitch often determines the position too, low notes at the bottom, high at the top. The shapes I see are three dimensional, they have edges and if I am really immersed I can “fly” with them and see them from different angles the sense of movement being very strong. Sometimes I am not sure whether I am drawing an object or a movement the images are so fleeting.

I have no control over whether it happens or not, it is always there. I either tune it in or tune it out so it does not affect what I am doing. If my eyes are engaged in another task they override the synaesthesia, so does concentrating on, say, playing my bass. I’m so taken up with where my fingers are going and keeping rhythm that any synaesthesia is ignored. Having said that I have discovered myself using it if I’m trying to work out a drum pattern or where to come in on a drum pattern. Snare drums, toms, bass drum cymbals and hi-hats all look very different. In fact drums get everywhere if I let them, percussive things are very synaesthetically productive.

Distorted sounds are also excellent which is why Steve’s playing works so well for me. His extensive use of looping also helps me see a sound repeatedly which means I am more likely to be able to draw it. The hard part of the process is the catching, remembering and drawing on the fly. There is no rewind button as with recorded music. I can’t go back and look, I have to go with the strongest images.

There are two parts of my brain at work here the synaesthetic brain which is concerned with the image precisely as it sees it and my artistic brain which has the job of translating this on the fly into something that looks about right. Whatever my artistic brain puts down on the page my synaesthetic brain considers it to be very wrong. Wrong shape, wrong colour, wrong position, just wrong. There is a point at which I have to ignore my pedantic synaesthetic brain and make artistic decisions about what makes a good picture.

I’ve often wondered what all this abstraction actually means, to me it holds enormous importance. Synaesthesia comes with a sense of euphoria and certainty that what is happening holds real meaning but is this just a function of my odd neurology? Art has to connect with other human beings in one way or another. When I put all these images down on paper does it mean anything to anyone else? Are they just pretty patterns peculiar to my brain with no particular relevance? Do all synaesthetes see the same thing? Why are people so intrigued by it? Music is of course the ultimate abstract art form, it communicates in a direct way with our emotions. How does it do that? Can my visual representations of music tap into that same emotional pathway?

In reading round the subject of synaesthesia recently I came across an excellent book “Wednesday is Indigo Blue” by Richard E. Cytowic and in that book is a page on generic forms. These are shapes that always occur during synaesthesia and for people in other altered states of mind such as during a migraine or induced by drugs. These generic forms are certainly variations on what I see. Why would they be the same in all people and people who are not synaesthetic if there was not some similar function going on? There was also discussion of how both synaesthetes and non-synaesthetes associate high notes with light colours and low notes with dark colours. So what is that about? Interestingly the book goes on to argue that perhaps synaesthesia is a normal function of the brain that is merely conscious in synaesthetes and unconscious in everyone else.

For me an artwork in any discipline has to connect as without that emotional reaction an artwork has failed. That human connection and desire to move and be moved can work across centuries and formats otherwise how can I stand in front of a portrait and feel like I am sharing a joke with a long dead Belgian painted by a long dead artist or feel the wordless communication from over a century ago through an abstract painting. Why does a video recording of a live performance of Muse’s “Hysteria” make me feel excited or the writing of Hunter S. Thompson in a second hand paperback weird me out? The artwork can be anything you like but the communal, human experience of it, that is the important thing.

Steve Lawson is a solo bassist who makes beautiful music and thinks a lot about life the universe and everything – read his blog post on our collaboration

Go and immerse yourself in his music at www.stevelawson.net

It’s Been a Good and Bad Winter for Art Jewellery – MIMA Opening Night and Lesley Craze Closing After 30th Anniversary

As Editor of Findings (the bi-annual magazine from the Association for Contemporary Jewellery) I was lucky enough to be invited up to the opening night of the new contemporary jewellery gallery at The Middlesborough Institute of Modern Art (MIMA). Contemporary jeweller Frances Julie-Whitelaw got in touch to invite me and see if I wanted a piece written on the opening for Findings. She and MIMA artist in residence Jan Hinchliffe-McCutcheon are both ACJ members and Middlesborough based artists.  It was quite an ACJ gathering as members Muriel Wilson (editor of Jewellery History Today and my predecessor at Findings)  and Norman Cherry (contemporary jeweller, author and educator) were there too.

The contemporary jewellery collection at MIMA is a nationally important one so I jumped at an excuse to visit. MIMA have created a permanent gallery space for the collection and if you want to know more about the collection there is plenty of information on their website about the history of the collection, the building of the gallery and the contents of the collection. 

I arrived at Middlesborough Station (which incidentally has a gorgeous vaulted and wood panelled ticket hall) and met up briefly with Julie before heading off to my hotel in one of the many cabs in town who never charged more than £2.50 for any journey. My impression of Middlesborough itself (in contrast to Sheffield) feels like a town that has not really found itself again after the big steel, coal and shipbuilding industries of the industrial north were taken away in the 1980s. The University dominates the town centre and the MIMA building is a striking contrast to the Victorian Town Hall Building.

The opening evening was a mixture of local government figures, university top brass and jewellery lovers. It was easy to spot the jewellery lovers, they were wearing an interesting piece of jewellery. One chap was wearing a large Adam Paxon brooch, I hazarded a guess that it might be the artist himself and introduced myself. It was him and it was a real pleasure to meet one of my jewellery heroes, we had several chats over the course of what turned out to be a very genial evening.  I love his work it holds a real fascination for me both aesthetically and technically. In a recent interview with jewellery collector Alan Firth he referred to Adam Paxon “Making the material sing…” I could not put it better myself.

There were a few congratulatory speeches and then we were free to roam the gallery and look at the jewellery. It is a stunning collection and one worth a visit. About half the collection is on display including many famous names and pieces which are now historically important from the early days of contemporary jewellery.  The Wendy Ramshaw Rooms of Dreams exhibition was also on and I’ll post the review I did for Findings here once the next issue is out.  The evening was rounded off with an excellent Turkish meal in a nearby restaurant with my fellow ACJ members.

Rather than go on at length describing the jewellery here is a gallery of my favourite pieces from the exhibition:

The second exhibition I went to see was 30 Years In The Making at the Lesley Craze Gallery in Clarkenwell, London.  This was a celebration of the 30th anniversary of the gallery and had a broad spread of the artists that have exhibited there over the decades the gallery has been running.   Each artist had a piece from early in their career and one from this year (2014).  Some artists early work is very different from their current work but many you can see the glimmers of the development of their signature style.  Nora Fok for example.  Her early piece was anodised aluminium but there was a tiny thread of the nylon mono-filamnet that came to dominate her work later on.  Several artists were there themselves and it was as always good to appreciate jewellery with other makers  Tanya Clarke- Hall, Ute Decker and Jeremy May were all exhibiting and were a joy to share the exhibition with.  A big surprise was my UCA college classmate Polly Horwich (also exhibiting) who I have not seen in ages, hardly surprising as she has just completed her MA at the Royal College of Art.  I got the distinct impression that this had been an amazing but exhausting experience!  The highlight of the exhibition for me was the fascinating and layered work of Jeremy May. He reads a book then painstakingly cuts a shape that has come to him during the reading from the pages of the book and builds a ring interleaved with coloured paper.  The result is a fluid, polished and enigmatic object.  The first one he made was a gift for his wife.

It was with a real sense of sadness that I discovered by a recent Facebook post that The Lesley Craze Gallery will be closing as of 31st January 2015. After a huge contribution to the world of Contemporary Jewellery Lesley Craze decided to retire from the gallery and with such a personal drive behind it leaving the gallery had to shut.  The Lesley Craze Gallery Facebook page said the following ”

Lesley is soon to celebrate her 80th birthday and now seemed the right time to close the gallery. She will continue to support contemporary jewellery by giving lectures to students, judging, visiting exhibitions and wearing as much as she can! Though, this certainly does leave a big gallery shaped gap in London. We look forward to seeing how the industry evolves in the coming years.”

A loss indeed but it may leave space for something even more amazing in London in the future.

Here is a gallery of a few of my favourites from the Lesley Craze 30th Anniversary exhibition (all images courtesy of Lesley Craze Gallery):  Merry Christmas 2014 and looking forward to a sparkling jewellery filled 2015!

Sound, Spacescapes and Some Fairly Psychedelic Jewellery

I am synesthetic so I work with sound to create abstracts from what I “see” when I hear sounds or music.  I’ve been working with two sounds at the moment one is a song and one a recording of an F1 engine I made at one of my visits to the Festival of Speed.

I love my airbrush, it is helping me create the pieces as I imagine them with more accuracy than any other tool outside my own hands.  I’ve been experimenting with colour, form, effects and different kinds of paint both on two dimensional panels and three dimensional forms (jewellery, my bass etc).

The first and more complete series of works is derived from the bassline, guitar and synth parts from “Stockholm Syndrome” by Muse and comprises a ring, brooch, necklace and an imaginary album cover, a 12″x12″ painted panel.  The second series has started with an imaginary album cover 12″x12″ painted panel and will be derived from a BMW F1 engine.

“Heavy Bassline (Stockholm Syndrome)” focuses on the bass sound which is initially a little hard to see, baselines tend to be dark colours and fluid shapes deep in the soundscape.  It often looks a little like magnetic ferro-fluid.  The guitars are easy to see white lightning, the synth sound that appears half way through the song form “bubbles” on red vertical lines. There are other things I could have included, the drums for instance but it all gets too cluttered if I try to translate everything, and that’s not the point either.

I start by listening: repeatedly.  Drawing my brain’s synesthetic response to sound is essentially trying to draw an abstract animation set in space, which is tricky.  Luckily the same shapes will repeat themselves as I listen over and over again.  I’d compare it to trying to draw a galloping horse. Sometimes I do large fast sketches of one aspect sometimes I amalgamate several impressions into one aggregated sketch. Below is the aggregated sketch for “Stockholm Syndrome”  and the large quick sketch of the F1 engine.

Stockholm Syndrome aggregate sketch

Stockholm Syndrome aggregate sketch

BMW F1 Engine - big quick sketch

BMW F1 Engine – big quick sketch

With “Stockholm Syndrome” I started with the bassline and drew up several sketches of jewellery that I had no idea how I was going to make!

Heavy Bassline Ring sketch

Heavy Bassline Ring sketch

There followed plenty of modelling but I eventually settled on using Polymorph which is an amazing thermoplastic that is a gel at 62C so you can hand model it, but hardens to become like hard white nylon.

Sketch, model and unpainted Polymorph ring

Sketch, model and unpainted Polymorph ring

Unpainted Polymorph ring

Unpainted Polymorph ring

Sketch, necklace drawing and unpainted bassline form for necklace

Sketch, necklace drawing and unpainted bassline form for necklace

 

Unpainted Heavy Bassline Necklace form

Unpainted Heavy Bassline Necklace form

Then I airbrush painted the bassline forms layering and working back using reds, purples, pinks and black to achieve the effect I wanted. Once painted I then used an epoxy resin to create an anti-gravity drip/liquid effect so that when the piece is worn the bassline shape looks as if it is subject to some strange invisible force.

Necklace Bassline form painted and resined

Necklace Bassline form painted and resined

A little completion with tourmalines, carnelians and garnets to represent the distortion effects on the bassline.

Heavy Bassline Brooch (Stockholm Syndrome) 2014

Heavy Bassline Brooch (Stockholm Syndrome) 2014

Heavy Bassline Ring (Stockholm Syndrome) 2014

Heavy Bassline Ring (Stockholm Syndrome) 2014

 

Then for the necklace the guitar and synth parts needed adding in the form of cut and painted pieces threaded round the stones.  These were to look almost line drawn in contrast to the fluidity of the bass part so were stark black and white.

White necklace pieces in progress

White necklace pieces in progress

 

Heavy Bassline Necklace - showing carnelian and bubbles synth part

Heavy Bassline Necklace – showing carnelian and bubbles synth part

Heavy Bassline Necklace - showing guitar part arrows and garnet distortions

Heavy Bassline Necklace – showing guitar part arrows and garnet distortions

Heavy Bassline Necklace (Stockholm Syndrome) 2014

Heavy Bassline Necklace (Stockholm Syndrome) 2014

 Next up is the “Imaginary Album Cover” its seems appropriate that images derived from sound should go on their own album cover so I paint onto a 12″x12″ aluminium composite panel to feel as close to a record as possible.  I may also do a few little 7″ too. I paint on both sides. the background is always a spacescape as I “see” the abstract shapes against a dark background and it feels like a big space so where better to set these weird shapes than the outer reaches of the universe?  Here is the finished Stockholm Syndrome album cover and the in progress BMW F1 cover.

Heavy Bassline Imaginary Album Cover - Stockholm Syndrome

Heavy Bassline Imaginary Album Cover – Stockholm Syndrome

BMW F1 engine imaginary album cover sketched onto masking on panel

BMW F1 engine imaginary album cover sketched onto masking on panel and ready to paint

BMW F1 Engine Spacescape

BMW F1 Engine Spacescape

On a bit of a side note, I found the below in a very old sketchbook (around 1995), I think it must be the first synesthetic drawing I ever did.  I remember doing it before I knew anything about being synesthetic.  I just had this abstract in my head and had to get it on paper.  It’s been a longer journey than I thought!  I mostly used oil pastels back then.

Sound Sketch 1995

Sound Sketch 1995

The Space Bass – Step by Step Custom Painting My Bass Guitar

When I learnt how to custom paint it was essentially to use in my jewellery, however, being a bassist I couldn’t resist painting a bass just because I could.  It was a complex design for my first go but it worked out in the end. The bass itself works fine and sounds great so I’m happy.

The first thing was to find a bass to paint, EBay obliged with £30 worth of slightly abused Fender Squire P-Bass.  It was in a bit of a state but I cleaned it up took it apart and sanded it back. I took it almost back to the wood taking off the heavy commercial lacquer as I knew the gloss coat I was going to use on the top was thick so to just paint over the lacquer would have meant none of the fittings would have gone back on properly.  I used an electric sander and ended up looking like a Smurf with all the blue paint!

 

This is the Space Bass in its original state after I bought it off Ebay

This is the Space Bass in its original state after I bought it off Ebay

 

Bass Dismantled

Bass Dismantled

 

Bass sanded back

Bass sanded back

 Once cleaned it was now ready to start the painting.  First I needed to decide on and plan the design, I used one of my sound sketches as a starting point.  It is based on a song – Muse’s Cave (Remix).  Its on YouTube here  I took the initial sketch and fitted the design on to the bass on a 1:1 scale drawing.  I knew I wanted it to be an abstract spacescape so the background was a starry sky and the Milky Way would appear on the back.

 

Original "Cave" Sound Sketch

Original “Cave” Sound Sketch

1:1 Scale Drawing of the Design

1:1 Scale Drawing of the Design

I undercoated the body of the bass white with my mini-gun, I masked up the headstock and painted that white too.  (I love my mini-gun, it’s a beautiful piece of pink anodised aluminium).

Undercoated white

Undercoated white

My lovely mini-gun :)

My lovely mini-gun :)

Now comes the complicated bit, a bass turns out to be an odd three dimensional shape so covering the whole thing in masking tape evenly was a bit of a challenge but once that was done I could sketch out the design directly on to the tape.  I worked out which order I wanted to do the painting in, what I had to keep masked, when.  Look on the image of the 1:1 design drawing above and you’ll see my notes.  I also made a titanium pick guard at this point. I wanted it as minimal as possible, just to cover the electrics.  The masking tape was cut to do the deep space blue first.

Design sketched on, pick guard fitted

Design sketched on, pick guard fitted

Masking tape cut for painting deep space blue

Masking tape cut for painting deep space blue

Once the deep blue was sprayed both sides, much masking and re-masking ensued to paint the purple hoops and green spheres.  I wanted the spheres to look vaguely earth like so they are painted in swirling green and blues built up with the airbrush and taken back with a cotton bud soaked in reducer then built up again.  I used my hand as an organic stencil which worked well.

 

 

Blue done, building up the spheres

Blue done, building up the spheres

How does a sphere catch the light?

How does a sphere catch the light?

Building up the spheres

Building up the spheres

Spheres almost complete, hoops completed

Spheres almost complete, hoops completed

 

From here I keep stripping the masking tape off each piece of the design and painting as I go, next up was the lightning flash (this is the harsher sound of the electric guitar to the mellower purple bass hoops and electronic sounds of the spheres).  The lightning flash is shaded with a bevelled edge to give it a three dimensional feel like the spheres and hoops. Then jagged line around the edge which was originally to be yellow but I decided it would look better with an icy look so toned it down with some blue.

Lightning Flash

Lightning Flash with bevelled edge

 

 

Lightning and ice flashes completed

Lightning and ice flashes completed

Now for the Milky Way.  I had already spattered stars on the front when I painted the dark blue/black background but this has to look like a specific feature of the night sky rather than just generic starry sky.  I used several images of the Milky Way as source material and amalgamated them to fit the back of the bass.  I loved painting this part best I think, the airbrush works so well for this kind of painting. Again I built up with the airbrush and worked back with a cotton bud soaked in reducer.  I also painted the headstock with a starry night sky.

 

Milky Way and Starry Headstock

Milky Way and Starry Headstock

Milky Way Complete

Milky Way Complete

Now followed a bit of touching up and wrapping the green pipes? Tethers? Snakes? (I’ve no idea what they are!)  around the top cutaway horn.  This was actually the most complicated three dimensional part of the design and too a bit of juggling to get it all to connect.  Happy with the painting now so time to gloss coat.  I lack the equipment (air fed mask and a spray booth) to use the usual gloss coat so I decided to experiment with the epoxy resin I use in my jewellery.  It is actually used as a flood coat in surfboard making so there is no reason I shouldn’t work on a bass.  It creates a thick gloss coat that is very satisfactory although if there is the slightest bit of grease it will pull away and leave a little crater!  I had to redo this coat twice to get it right!  Some further finishing and polishing with Auto-Glym resin polish and it looked great.  It then went off to an exhibition in the New Ashgate Gallery in Farnham.

Once it returned form a spell of hanging on the wall so all that remained to do was get it working. Luckily my husband is good with electronics so a bit of soldering and it was working.  I got it properly set up at my local guitar shop and we were good to go.  There’s a link to a couple of YouTube videos of my practicing La Sera’s “Love Is Gone”  & Muse’s “Nishe” on it below – I haven’t  learnt “Cave” yet so not the perfect debut for it but these’ll have to do!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UDqClzh6bDE&list=UUvvQvp9fHcClr5vce_jxgvA

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G5WHLpIr-vI&list=UUvvQvp9fHcClr5vce_jxgvA

 

“Icons of Formula 1″ and “Over Easy Rider”: First Custom Painted Jewellery

New skills are always inspiring, particularly when you know where you want to go with them and just require a bit of practice and experimentation to get there. My last post covered the course with Simon Murray and learning airbrushing and custom painting. Since then I’ve been busy applying my new found knowledge to a few projects.

 The first is the Association for Contemporary Jewellery’s exhibition “ICONS: Jewellery for the the Famous and Infamous” up at the National Centre for Craft and Design, Sleaford. The second I’ll cover in another post.

 I had two ideas for this exhibition one was successful the other was not but I completed both pieces. The successful idea was “Icons of Formula 1” a necklace of miniature custom painted helmets signifying the greatest drivers in F1. Racing drivers often adopt a distinctive helmet design so they can be recognised on track, these designs become iconic in their own right and in many cases stand for the driver with no further explanation needed. My favourites are the graphic bi-coloured helmets from the 70s and 80s like those of Prost and Villeneuve.

 The challenges for this piece were ones of scale and simplification and I had to adapt the designs to fit a spherical fake pearl bead rather than an asymmetrical helmet.

 The design was finished off with what will become my signature “R” clip clasp. In titanium and silver. Heat treated to give the impression it has been used near a hot engine. I like this utilitarian looking clasp, it echoes clasps used in motor-racing and has been a while in development. This is the first iteration of it’s design. No doubt it will change and improve in the future.

Icons of Formula 1 Necklace

Icons of Formula 1 Necklace, Poppy Porter 2014 – clockwise from top: Graham and Damon Hill, Moss, Lauda, Mansell, Senna, Vettel, Schumacher, Prost, Alonso, Fangio, Hamilton, Gilles Vilneuve.
Photo:Ray Spence

 The second piece is the one that did not make it into the exhibition (feedback indicated I had not presented the idea clearly enough – there’s a lesson there).  “Over Easy Rider” references the iconic 60′s film “Easy Rider” and imperial Faberge eggs. An odd combination but one that is inspired by a custom paining technique that resembles the guilloche enamel that was used extensively on Faberge eggs. Plus it makes a good pun, I love a good pun in a title!

 I’ve painted the egg on one side with stars and stripes like Henry Fonda’s “Captain America” Chopper, the other is painted with hot rod flames like that of Dennis Hopper in the film except these are done in the guillochet enamel style. The neck piece then references Dennis Hopper’s tasselled suede jacket with wooden beads to add colour and complete the 60′s counter-culture feel of the piece. I’m going to be wearing this piece when I go up to visit the exhibition and symposium in June.

A Trip to Belfast to Learn Airbrushing and Custom Painting

I’ve been wanting to learn how to airbrush for a very long time, I seem to remember both at school and art college being told not to try it, I don’t remember the reasons given but my recent experience would suggest that it was too technical to teach in general art lessons.  Now seemed like the ideal time to learn.  I want to introduce automotive manufacturing techniques into my work such as carbon or glass fibre lay up and learning how cars and bikes are custom painted is a logical step for the surface decoration.

I was hunting around for an airbrushing course that was comprehensive and had good teaching facilities, I came across Simon Murray of SM Designs in Ballymena. It looked good, I gave them a call with a few questions and booked on the three day beginners airbrushing and custom painting course at the end of November 2013.

I arrived in Belfast, it was raining (the weather would continue through winds and snow before I left) but the cabbie was chatty and the Broughshane B&B was comfortable, very reasonable and as I would discover in the morning very, very good at the breakfast bit!

Firstly, despite the title of the course I had no idea that airbrushing and custom painting were two separate things.  They are and are and have a very different approach.  During the three days (three very long days, we were there 10am to 8pm one evening!) I had more knowledge stuffed into my head than I have in a very long time.  There was also plenty of hands on practical and technical experience.  Simon has plenty of stories and tips on how to work efficiently, cleverly and with flair.

The amount of planning required before you start is an eye opener, as a jewellery designer I’m used to having to plan how a three dimensional object will fit together and it is much the same with the airbrush artist and custom painter.  Like an analogue Photoshop you work in  layers but unlike Photoshop there is no undo or rearranging of those layers if you get it wrong.  There are many different kinds of paint, each of which will demand their rightful place in the order.  Unlike painting with acrylics which are all opaque or watercolours which are all essentially transparent, the airbrush or custom painter is working with both transparent, opaque, semi-opaque or the fun ones exotics (mostly they have sparkly bits in them).

Unlike using a paint brush or pencil, the airbrush paints in three dimensions.  How far the airbrush is from what you are painting is critical to the effect you want, then there is the complication of how much paint you want and what air pressure you need, oh and the consistency of the paint to gain proper atomization, and finally what type of paint.

If you are a jeweller and can remember learning how to silver solder, it is a skill comparable to that. Fiendishly difficult to learn, then natural as anything once you’ve got a bead on it!  From that point of view, I had a brilliant time, learning a new skill has got to be one of the best feelings when you feel yourself begin to “get it”.

Then there was the next part – the mini-spray gun an airbrush on steroids, this was the main tool for custom painting and essentially the same as an airbrush but scaled up.  Many of the masking and stencilling and even freehand techniques used in airbrushing are just as applicable to a mini-gun.

The projects we undertook on the course were very satisfying and on coming back and setting up all my brand new kit I was glad to discover I still remembered what I’d been taught.  Although I was really glad I’d taken copious notes and lots of photos.  I’ll post again on this topic when I’ve started painting my new work.  In the meantime here’s some images of what I’ve achieved so far.

 

 

 

 

The Strange Attractors Project Starts To Take Shape…

I’ve finally started work on my Strange Attractors Project, its been on my mind for a while now (you will notice it is also the title of this blog and is a phrase I use to describe my creative process, it is actually something complicated to do with maths but that’s not necessarily relevant) and will be recording progress and posting updates here on my blog.  I will be revealing the ideas and creative processes behind the development of this project.

It’s time for a different direction with my work and while the general inspiration is familiar the source of my inspiration is totally different and has started to branch out beyond my initial starting point.  Yes you guessed it F1 cars again!  This time rather than the physical appearance of the cars it is the sound of their engines.

Sound is all around us and mostly we pay little attention to it but there is so much to be gained from just closing your eyes and listening.  It’s quite revealing and there is so much to discover.  However the sound of an F1 car engine is a sound that cannot be ignored and I find it symphonic in its complexity.  Now there’s a problem with trying to listen closely to an F1 engine the sound is so loud you have to wear ear plugs or it is truly uncomfortable!  So I kitted myself out with one of these and set out to record some sound and video.

Living in the South of England means I am lucky enough to have access to F1 cars once a year in July at the Festival of Speed.   Last year’s visit inspired my Racing Wings collection launched at the beginning of the Summer. This year I left my sketchbook aside and recorded some sounds.  I’ve put a few of the best videos and sound recordings up on my YouTube Channel, go over and have a listen, an F1 engine is a curious beast.

However, engine noise is not the only sound my ears love!  I have always enjoyed listening to music and have a large collection of albums, I also love to listen to birdsong in the woods while I’m walking the dog.  There is so much to hear once you open your ears.

So, now where am I going with all this?  Sound waves are not exactly wearable.  Back to the sketch book but this time with my headphones on and what happened was that some rather curious landscapes and abstracts started to emerge.  Some of the below are based on songs, some on engine noise and one is a lark rising….but which is which?

Sketchbook pages, abstracts based on sounds. Some are songs some are engine noise one is a Lark rising.

Sketchbook pages, abstracts based on sounds. Some are songs some are engine noise one is a Lark rising.

Sketchbook pages, abstracts based on sounds. Some are songs some are engine noise one is a Lark rising.

Sketchbook pages, abstracts based on sounds. Some are songs some are engine noise one is a Lark rising.

Sketchbook pages, abstracts based on sounds. Some are songs some are engine noise one is a Lark rising.

Sketchbook pages, abstracts based on sounds. Some are songs some are engine noise one is a Lark rising.

Sketchbook pages, abstracts based on sounds. Some are songs some are engine noise one is a Lark rising.

Sketchbook pages, abstracts based on sounds. Some are songs some are engine noise one is a Lark rising.

Sketchbook pages, abstracts based on sounds. Some are songs some are engine noise one is a Lark rising.

Sketchbook pages, abstracts based on sounds. Some are songs some are engine noise one is a Lark rising.

 

Sketchbook pages, abstracts based on sounds. Some are songs some are engine noise one is a Lark rising.

Sketchbook pages, abstracts based on sounds. Some are songs some are engine noise one is a Lark rising.

Down to the Waterline – “Stain-Less” in Sheffield

They like their fountains in Sheffield.  The first thing that greets you on leaving the railway station is a wonderful cascade of water.  I walked across the city centre to my hotel and the peace gardens had fabulous fountains and children leaping around them, it seemed every courtyard was running water for the newly warming Springtime.

Fountains outside Sheffield Station

Fountains outside Sheffield Station

This watery theme was appropriate as the reason I was in Sheffield was to attend the opening of The Association for Contemporary Jewellery’s 2013 members exhibition “Stain-Less” at the Sheffield Institute for Arts Gallery as part of Sheffield’s annual Galvanise Festival of Contemporary Metalwork.  2013 is the centenary of the invention of stainless steel and you will have read about my designs for the show in my previous post.  My two pieces were now complete and installed in the gallery, and I was excited to see the company my work was in.

The other exhibiting members of the ACJ had produced some fabulous work using just about every interpretation of “Stain-Less” from the deadly serious work of Maria Hanson “How Many Years Without Bloodstain?” reflecting on the few years between 1913 and 2013 that the UK has not had armed forces engaged in conflict to the light hearted “Ultimate Stainless Tie” by Jodie Hook.    There was work by Dauvit Alexander “Empire State Human” highlighting the moment when Sheffield lost it’s steel industry, pieces by Chris Boland, Gill Forsbrook, Nicola Turnbull and Zoe Robertson focusing on the internal chemical make up of stainless steel or its production and work by Rachel Colley and Grace Page extolling the stain removal properties of soap.

My two pieces were based on the Songs of Innocence and Experience by William Blake.  Experience – The Lily is the sharper looking of the two and incorporates some stainless steel dinner knives, a familiar domestic form of the metal.  Innocence – Bubbling Brook mimics the innocent action of swishing your hand in a stream.  The ink inlays refer to Blake’s pen dipped in the water staining it to write “…songs that every child may joy to hear.”

Song of Experience - The Lily

Song of Experience – The Lily

Song of Experience - The Lily

Song of Experience – The Lily

Song Of Innocence - Bubbling Brook

Song Of Innocence – Bubbling Brook

Song Of Innocence - Bubbling Brook

Song Of Innocence – Bubbling Brook

Of course half the fun of going to an event like this is not just the pieces on display but the people you meet and the jewellery they wear.  There were several ACJ members there; our chairman Terry Hunt who was wearing an interesting brooch depicting an x-ray of the stainless steel pins and plates mending the show photographer’s broken ankle, Annette Petch, Tam Saville, Chris Boland (whose “Flux Rings” were amongst my favourites at the show), new board member Jo Garner and outgoing editior of Findings Muriel Wilson who was wearing Maria Hanson’s “Order and Chaos” 1997 armpiece and a lovely little Ute Decker Brooch.  The Lord Mayor of Sheffield and the Master Cutler where also resplendent in their gold chains of office.

Visitors enjoying the exhibition

Visitors enjoying the exhibition

The exhibition runs until 31st May, details here but if you can’t make it the catalogue is available from the ACJ by contacting enquiries@acj.org.uk