Exhibition plan & research

In planning my exhibition show, I have always had in mind the idea of my work being presented in a way which encourages the viewer to interact and engage with the pieces. My set of bronze medal are specifically designed in order for them to be handled, and cannot be appreciated fully being displayed on a stand or plinth merely observed. All of my work intrinsically involves an intimate and personal engagement with objects, as extensions and reflections of ourselves, which can only truly be formed in their handling. In order to encourage this, the setting and display is extremely important, as we fundamentally know that the contextual setting of an object dictates our behaviour towards it. If an object is put upon a white plinth, it is clear that it is an object of significance, to be observed and admired, but certainly not touched. Even objects that are usually playful, or mundane, have the ability to be viewed in a completely new light and re-contextualised when placed in a different setting,

For example, Marcel Duchamp’s classic “Fountain” is a perfect example of the setting defining the object.


While the object of the urinal has obviously been taken off the wall and laid on it’s back, it is the setting that defines it as an art piece. If a urinal were simply laid on the floor of a bathroom, one would not regard it as anything other than an obstacle. It would not be examine in terms of it’s form, it’s values, the effect it has on the surrounding space or the motivations of those who placed it there. However, in putting it in a gallery setting the object is suddenly given an entirely new platform and a way in which for people to interact with it. It’s form is now regarded in terms of the sculptural, rather than utility; the exceptional, rather than the mundane.

This is the power that the presentation of an artwork holds, of putting an object on a pedestal to be displayed and observed, taken in with time and consideration rather than being merely a background setting for our lives. In this sense, this is almost something that I am trying to avoid. The fetishism of objects within the art world is something that is rife, with pieces being hailed as priceless, beyond all monetary value and worth, so exceptional that they could never possibly be given a value even within the millions or billions of pounds. It is this worship of artwork that separates the viewer from the artist, the god-like creator of beautiful and outstanding pieces that the laymen could never hope to create or even to understand, and can merely marvel and bask at the artwork’s glory. This worship-like regard of artwork, and by extension the artist, has always felt to me to be a largely self serving and self perpetuated ego boost within the art industry. To validate the whims of an artist as being incredibly important and influential, by making all those underneath them as lesser. The separation of object and viewer creates an atmosphere of value, in which the objects in the room inherently have more value than the people who are viewing them. They are the focus of attention, like celebrities on a red star carpet only able to be viewed at a distance by those lucky enough to be able to attend, those who cannot simply looking at photographs.

My ethos however is entirely opposite to these notions. My work explores the inherent relationships between all people and the objects within their lives. Some may hold a very personal significance tied to a person or event within the mind of the owner, while others may be seemingly mundane parts of a daily ritual such as making tea, with their significance and familiarity physically worn into the object through use. Rather than to separate the person from the object, I aim to embrace and exemplify that relationship, encouraging the viewer to engage with the objects on a personal level in order to examine their meanings, ties and histories. In order to encourage a viewer to interact and handle the objects I set out for them, I feel it is important that the objects themselves are not given too much prestige and are presented in a way where they were easily accessible to handle. Height of the object is very important in display; if a piece is displayed on a piece at chest height it may give the sense of a body, giving it a sense of importance and a need for personal space. However a piece displayed closer to stomach or hip height, which is in the range of most of our hand movements is instinctively more appealing to reach out and  touch, to pick up and handle, as this is how we are accustomed to interacting with objects in a domestic setting.

I feel the key for my display will be the idea of a domestic, informal setting, where the viewer does not feel intimidated by the nature of the environment (being in an art gallery) and that they are allowed and encouraged to investigate the objects in front of them.


Rather than a plinth or a shelf, I feel that perhaps a free standing desk would be more suitable for the display of my objects. A desk, rather than a plinth, are inherently more informal forms of display and we are entirely comfortable with interacting with objects left on desks in our daily lives.  We as humans have an internal framework for how to behave around certain objects or settings, and as we have established already we have been conditioned to treat plinths in a very particular way with a level of respect and awe. Desks however, are a method of display we are entirely familiar and at ease with, and do not feel intimidated by its contents.

Another advantage of the desk is that it can be very versatile in its display. It can be free standing or against a wall, with a variety of different arrangements upon it. Another key factor of the desk is that they are often accompanied by a seat, but can be approached standing or seated. Having a seat is also a strong idea for my display, given that it both welcomes the viewer into the space and puts them at ease yet without putting them under too much pressure. An empty chair is an open invitation that does not have to be taken, the viewer can still inspect the objects from a distance if they choose to, they are not being forced into a foreign space or given an instruction to behave in a certain manner. If they do choose to then sit down, it hold them in place and immerses the viewer in the display, they are sat with the purpose of investigating the items in front of them. Again, this plays upon the domestic setting putting the viewer at ease, putting them in a position that they feel comfortable and familiar with and that they have chosen to engage with and therefore allows them to interact with the objects in front of them in a more naturalistic manner and explore their meanings in the way that you would when entering another person’s home and investigating the objects that they have chosen to surround themselves with.

Perhaps this is the atmosphere I should aim to emulate, the sensation of entering a new person’s house and taking a friendly curiosity in their surroundings. This would involve making the setting as informal as possible, and give the impression of somebody stepping into my own personal space full of my personal objects which are mid-use.

Considering that my work focuses around the relationships between people and the objects in their lives, it would make sense for the display to then emulate that relationship in its setting. Rather than being put on a plinth and admired as Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain” was, they should be understood in the context that they are displayed in naturally. The context in fact for these objects, it almost as important as the objects themselves for the viewer. While each of the objects in my work is a link for me personally in terms of memory or experience, these are not necessarily qualities that are obvious to another person, devoid of context. It is the setting in which they are used and displayed that can offer that suggestion of an object’s sentimental worth and value, and then encourage that person to question further the nature of that value to the owner.


Examples of this manner of display, the sensation of stepping into another person’s personal space in order to investigate the objects and environment they lived or worked in in order to gain a greater understanding of that person’s personality and values, is one that is seen widely in museums dedicated to people of importance throughout history. Their living environment is meticulously reconstructed, from either the real objects themselves and furnishings, or approximate replicas which convey the same meanings, displayed as if the person had simply stepped out of the room.
freud desk


One example of this suggested to me is the desk of the world famous Sigmund Freud, displayed in the Freud museum in London. Here we can see that the room has been entirely recreated, down to the decor of the carpeting, and even the papers and stationary on his desk are true to as they would have been in his life. From this we get a very clear sense of a man, not only his interests but his meticulous nature in the way in which the objects are displayed in a very orderly and precise fashion, which we can see is true in his life and is not simply a choice by the museum to display the objects in an orderly fashion.

my bed tracey emin

Another classic example of this style of display, but in a more relevant artistic context, is Tracy Emin’s “My Bed”, which is a recreation of her bed which she spent a week in after a traumatic breakup with her partner. The bed is truly an intimate insight into her life, strewn with empty vodka bottles, pregnancy tests and cigarettes, it is almost intrusively personal to the point of the viewer feeling uncomfortable. However, it is undeniably expressive of both her life, her experience, and in this instance her intense pain and turmoil, all of which are expressed wordlessly through a collection of objects in a contextual setting. Through both Freud’s desk, and Emin’s bed, we have a strong and holistic of two completely different sets of people, living entirely separate lives with diverse and differing values, all of which we can interpret entirely from their collection of personal objects and belongings, and the context in which they are arranged. Yet each creates a powerful sense of intrigue as well as understanding in the viewer, and a satisfaction in having made some small degree of connection between themselves and another human being, even if that connection is only ever one sided. It is inherent in our nature that we want to reach out and understand others, and the investigation of personal objects allows us to do this without the pressure of social interaction, and in a manner and pace which is comfortable to us. We are simply allowed to investigate, and to draw our own conclusion without any pressure to qualify or quantify our opinions.


It is this environment that I wish to emulate, a sense of personal space created entirely by personal objects, which hold both meaning for me and serve to facilitate a link between myself and the viewer in order to promote a sense of shared experience.




Research – Journal artists

Not only have I been having trouble with imagery, but I have also had difficulties in finding relevant artists to research. While I have looking at other art medallists, in terms of their use of the medal as an object, of front and obverse, but this does not speak of the actual subject matter of my work which I am trying to tackle; of personal narrative, growth, loss, change and development over time. I have found it very difficult to find artists relating to these topics, as when researching on the internet using these search terms doesn’t yield many relevant results, and I’ve found that most artists while they may have their work online, is largely presented purely as a set of images and titles with no explanation or context as you might get in a gallery. Because of this, while there are likely many artists who are relevant to look at in relation to my work, I am struggling to find them as I have no point of reference in which to search them by. On the advice of a tutor, I took myself into the library and looked through a variety of journals for the day.

This piece is a series of everyday hand held objects, all of which are linked to techonology (remotes, a modern day mobile phone) are carved from stone to create these beautiful, dead objects. The way in which they are half formed, eroded, yet still recognisable and clearly designed for the human hand, and yet are also from nature. To me this piece speaks of loss, and there is no other word I can use to describe these objects other than “dead”, inert. In their very nature is a heaviness and they are cold to the touch, they are no longer extensions of ourselves, but broken and their only purpose is to be disregarded and abandoned. I am unsure how I would tie this into my own work, and I certainly do not want my pieces to speak so profoundly of loss, but I found these pieces very striking nonetheless. Perhaps the weight and coldness of the bronze is something I could factor into my design in this manner.

"Each other" - Helen Carnac

“Each other” – Helen Carnac

Another piece that spoke to me was this series of bowls, or in particular the center bowl, by Helen Carnac. The use of patern, which is reminiscent of text, almost transcends being mere pattern and has an energy and expression of its own. The bowl itself seems to be merely a canvas with having little importance placed upon it, the white chipping off in large pieces around the rum, and having brown smudges across the white surface, the pattern is the focus here. Despite being the focus of the work, it does not lay where the viewer can easily observe it, on the rim or the inside of the bowl, but rather the lower two thirds, all the way to the underside of the piece and even seemingly spilling over onto the surface below. The pattern itself seems to have a sense of agency, its purpose is not to serve you and pander to your needs and desires. There is also the nature of the bowls being in a set, which is relevant to me as I am looking to create a set, although the other pieces in this set do not interest me so much.

"Hole from carrying wallet in pocket, number 1" - celia pym

“Hole from carrying wallet in pocket, number 1” – Celia Pym

"Norwegian sweater" - Celia Pym

“Norwegian sweater” – Celia Pym

Celia Pym’s work is something which really speaks to me of narrative. She is a textile arist who takes old and worn clothes, and brings them back to life by darning the holes with cotton. However, rather than using a colour which blends with the original piece of clothing, she chooses colours that are distinctly different and obvious. This creates a piece of clothing which is functional, and yet has been transformed in terms of narrative, and wears its history for all to see. The banal and ordinary, holes made socks and pockets through every day use are pulled into the foreground, made to be celebrated and witnessed, rather than an inconvenience to be discarded and forgotten about.

"Scotts Cumbrian Blues, Cow in a Medow" - Paul Scott - 2007

“Scotts Cumbrian Blues, Cow in a Medow” – Paul Scott – 2007

"Scotts Cumbrian Blues, Fukushima" - Paul Scott 2014

“Scotts Cumbrian Blues, Fukushima” – Paul Scott 2014

Paul Scott is an artist who subverts the classic blue and white ware imagery, often using willow pattern, and changing the context or meaning of the piece to something much more humorous. These always have a political and serious undertone to them, and yet the manner in which it is executed and presented with this play on classic imagery is inherently amusing, to see something being repurposed and recontextualised.

This reminds me of Banksy’s paintings in which he often takes a seemingly unremarkable, classic style painting, and adds elements into the background or foreground to completely change the context of the image

"Carwreck" - Banksy

“Carwreck” – Banksy

By doing this, these arists are changing the narrative and meaning of the piece you are looking at. It then has a sense of duality in that it still contains the original context and ideals behind it, but this has then been layered with a new meaning which has given the piece a completely new perspetive and message.

"Eight Unsaid" - Louise Boscacci - 2007

“Eight Unsaid” – Louise Boscacci – 2007

This is a piece that is in fact very relevant to my work, which is a set of eight cups. Each of these are designed to be held in the hand, and are functional in their use, but also fit together as a set interchangeably. Despite these cups not sharing an image, they still work very clearly as a set. This may be due to the fact they are hand cups, without a ringed base to sit on and so cannot stand by themselves, so it is a more natural assumption to fit them together, rather than having them stand on their own in a row. Although they may not have a shared image, they do very clearly have a shared aesthetic, both in their form and decoration, and are very distinctly part of a set. The cups are interchangeable, and unlike my previous ideas do not in any way have images that fit or link together in some way. While this works very well for this piece, I’m not sure that this style of disjointed patterns or images set in the same aesthetic would work for my medals for several reasons. None of these pieces individually strike me as representing any particular thing, and seem more visually decorative than conceptual. While I have read that this piece is supposed to represent a sentence, and each cup a word in the sentence, this is not something I would have gotten from simply looking at them or even from interacting with them.

"Bowl for 264 species"

“Bowl for 264 species” – Louise Boscacci – 2007

Much of Boscacci’s work involves the use of text, but is often made unreadable and forms more of a scrawl than legible text, taking on a life of it’s own much as the pattern earlier in Helen Carnac’s piece “Each Other”. This very physical use of text is something I find very striking, and considering that text is often a significant feature of a medal could be something to investigate and potentially emulate or synthesise into my own pieces.

"Ven Guapo #1" - Todd Cero-Atl 2007

“Ven Guapo #1” – Todd Cero-Atl 2007

I was most struck by this piece by Todd Cero-Atl, which consists of a pair of teacups and saucers, which are held together by a halo of safety pins and pom-poms. This piece is truly personal, with what may seem to be innocent teacups to the viewer representing the discrimination that Cero-Atl’s lover who was suffering from AIDs faced in a cafe having seen the waitress throw away their teacups after the two having used them. He then sadly passed away, and this piece is part of Cero-Atl’s reconciling with his grief. The halo of safety pins represents his grief, piercing and yet enclosing, binding the two together.

It’s the holding together of the two separate objects that interests me here, the fragility and the tension between them, and this directly influenced me to try and incorporate this into my medals.

handheld medal stack

In order to be held together, it then makes sense for the medals to fit the hand, the fingers, in a way that makes them both intuitive and comfortable to hold. In this way the piece is also responding to the viewer in a physical sense, and that sense of compromise, of the object adapting itself to you in a very obvious and inoffensive manner encourages the forming of bonds and attachment to the object, a sense of warmth and engagement. As the medals are looking to express the states of being in the human experience, and act as a platform or as a mirror on which the viewer can reflect, this physical relationship with the object is key. The medals are then seen less as “the other” and more as an extension of the self, and the viewer willingly picks up, engages and invites the object into their own personal space. This is also an excellent use of the edge of the medal, learning from the previous year where I had given almost no consideration to the edge and then when the physical object was made found myself completely taken aback by it, and certainly an idea I am going to carry forward with the design.

Research – Tessellations

When looking at the idea of interlocking medals, and in researching the work of M. C. Escher I stumbled on the term “tessellations”. A tessellating image consists of a series of repeating, interlocking tiles which contain no gaps or overlaps. As always, Escher is one of the main artists in the field with his mathematical and geometric based art. Tessellations can range from very simplistic geometric images, or as in the case of Escher become much more complex.

An example of tessellating shapes

An example of tessellating shapes

two set tessellation

The interesting thing about these shapes is that they can fit together in different ways, each shape can be put together when facing horizontally or vertically, and so with the context of forming an image could have different permutations.

Fish tessellation - M. C. Escher

Fish tessellation – M. C. Escher

This is another more complex tessellation, where the picture has been rotated around 180 degrees in order to fit with itself. While this is certainly interesting, this does not incorporate the reverse side, which is very important in the format of a medal. This would mean that either all the medals in the set would need to be the same side up in order to fit together, and so doesn’t allow so much for the idea of interchangeability that I was hoping to capture. However, perhaps this would be simpler, as they would still be able to interchange in a sequence, for example 5 medals face up could still be arranged 3, 1, 4, 5, 2, and I would then not have to be trying to make the images fit both sequentially and on the reverse side. But this does mean that there would no longer be a strong interplay between the front and reverse sides, which I have previously discussed is a strong feature of the medal in my opinion.

escher pattern problems

Here, using some of Escher’s designs as examples, I am trying to resolve some of the questions I have in relation to tessellations. Many of the shapes I have seen, even though complex, fit together only with rotated versions of themselves, as with the previous example. Others, while seemingly reversed versions of themselves, when analysed closely are actually different shapes which are made to look the same by the imagery on the front, which would involve making a set of medals of different shapes, an idea which I do not like. It is important to me that for the cohesion of the set, that all the medals remain the same shape (with potentially some, but not drastic variation between the form). I don’t think that having a set, several of which cast to a distinctly different shape, would add anything to the piece and would likely only cause more confusion. What is it about those pieces that makes them different to the others? This may change if I did in fact have a reason for making them different conceptually, but doing so simply for the mechanic of having them tessellate is not a strong enough reason in my opinion and would only disrupt the message.

Crane tessellation - M. C. Escher

Crane tessellation – M. C. Escher

This is a much more promising example, where the same pattern has been reversed, and yet still fits together with itself. This allows for both different orders to be made of the medals in the series, and the combination of the front and reverse sides of the medal to be shown and investigated by the user. However, while Escher makes it look deceptively simple, the concept of creating a tessellating pattern, let alone one that can be reversed on itself and still fit, is frankly mind boggling to me and I’m not sure where I would even begin. Another question is, if I were to make a complex pattern as Escher has, what would I make it? Again, this comes back to the issue of imagery and motifs, and this might perhaps become more clear once I settle on this issue, but as of now I am still working in hypotheticals and so can’t think of any shape or form that would inherently strengthen the message of the piece. There is also the fact that it would have to be the same shape across all of the medals, and so therefore would have to transcend the message of each individual piece, of a singular point of change, and express the uniformity and continuation of narrative of the piece as a whole. It would need to be reflective of the fact the medals are a set, which come together to form a whole.

transitioning tessellations

This is another excellent example by Escher, although not using both the front and reverse sides, but of transitioning image while the form of the shape stays constant. This is exactly what I would like to achieve in my medals in terms of transitioning image, where change across the surface is gradual and almost unnoticed, until you compare the beginning and end which are distinctly different from one another.

Research – Willow Pattern

While researching blue and white ware, I also came across the use of “willow pattern” in blue and white ware plates.

This is a pattern which originally derives from China, however it became very popular in England during the 18th century with the development of ceramic transfer prints, allowing the elaborate patterns to be mass produced and affordable.

In order to be defined as willow pattern, or at least “standard willow pattern” (there are variations), a piece needs to have a specific set of images, which relate to the original Chinese story which the pieces depict. These are an orange tree, a house, with a smaller side building, a willow tree next to a bridge with three people crossing it, a lake with a boat, another building on the shore opposite the house, a fence in the foreground of the image, and two birds in the sky at the upper center of the plate. The story centers around two young lovers, separated by the girl’s father due to class, and their plight to be together represented by various elements in the image. As with much traditional art, it is interesting to me that the image contains an entire narrative through the use of imagery and symbolism, but the viewer needs to be literate in the specific visual imagery of the piece in order to read the narrative.

While it is something that I admire and find interesting, I am not sure I feel comfortable with this very clear barrier to entry in terms of the work. It is a fine line I feel between having a piece which is not immediately clear, but can be grasped after a degree of reflection and contemplation, and a piece where the meaning of which may never be understood without explanation or context to the symbolism used. While every element of the story is quite clear when looking at the willow pattern with this knowledge in mind, I do not believe that a person would be able to determine the nature of the story by purely the image alone. Despite this, willow pattern is a strong example of the use of narrative in imagery, which is something I am looking to convey in my own work, although I will have  to keep in mind not to make it too obtuse to the layman and applicable only to me.

As with all designs which become part of the public psyche, there are many artists who take the classical imagery of willow pattern and subvert it.

Robert Dawson’s work plays with perspective and focus, often using willow pattern as a recognisable reference point to then be taken into a new context. When a single element from this pattern is blown up and made into the entire focus of the piece, as with “Garden” where only the pair of birds are present, or the three men crossing a bridge, does this still constitute willow pattern? Arguably it does not, as it doesn’t contain all the elements that constitute willow pattern, and yet at the same time it is unmistakably a willow pattern image. These pieces push the boundaries of our understanding of imagery, and question our definitions and categories. At what point do these images cease to contain the narrative which they have been given? How far can they be abstracted before they become something new?

In this respect, while they still carry the initial narrative and history of willow pattern, they also offer something to the layman who knows nothing of the history or imagery used in willow pattern. Not only are they attractive images, as is standard willow pattern on its own, it prompts the viewer to question perspective, context, scale and the nature of image by presenting them with something unexpected which they then are forced to engage with and evaluate.


Another artist subverting the willow pattern, which I have a particular fondness is Olly Moss.

Moss takes all the classic features of standard willow pattern, the house, bridge, fence, two birds etc, but has chosen to represent them using sprites from the classic GameBoy games Pokemon Gold and Silver.

overworld image from Pokemon Gold/Silver games

overworld image from Pokemon Gold/Silver games

These are games which I grew up playing and have invested hundreds of hours into, and so the imagery is not only immediately recognisable, but speaks extremely strongly to me. While some may see this as a very frivolous endeavour of little consequence, to me these pieces show a representation of a strongly culturally significant piece of work (the Pokemon games, and video games in general) in a contemporary fine art context. It has always been the case that art has mimicked, referenced, and played upon famous figures, cultural icons, and events, whether they be books, films or persons, and yet it is very rare that we see this applied to video games. Video games are often seen as merely entertainment, as if this holds no value, and are not analysed for their significance and cultural impact in the same way that books and film are. In his work Moss has combined two distinctly different forms of imagery, both have which have been adopted into the cultural subconscious without necessarily having any in depth knowledge of either (most people would recognise at least, if not name both pokemon and willow pattern imagery), in a way that gives each a platform to reach a new audience. Those who have a strong knowledge of willow pattern, may have very little experience with Pokemon, and vice versa, and this presents the question of whether it changes the narrative of the piece. Perhaps it is reflective of the viewer, as to me (somebody with a long history and experience of Pokemon) the piece speaks far more to me of Pokemon and loses almost all narrative related to willow pattern. Although that narrative is still present with the various imagery and symbolism, to me it loses all importance and focus and simply acts as a medium for the Pokemon imagery. However, to someone who is much more invested in willow pattern they may view the piece in a completely different context to myself.


An artist recommended to me by my tutor, who is in fact a graduate of ceramics in my university from the previous year is Katie Weyman. She uses willow pattern in her work as a representation for her romanticising of  place, specifically her home town of Bristol, and the willow pattern is used as a familiar reference point that can relate to a loved one or relative as it is likely that we have all seen representations of the willow pattern in the home.

What interests me about her work, is not only the illustrated nature of the pieces, which have been hand painted onto the surface (the manner in which I wish to work) but the way in which the image spills off from the surface and continues onto the ground. As with the work of Robert Dawson, I find this playing of perspective and context of image very powerful. Rather than the image being confined and viewed in a specific frame, it is actively controlling and altering its own surroundings, and speaks of the synergy in which we do not view our own personal narrative objectively in a frame, a moment in time, but that it in turn effects and impacts on us, and it is through this continual process of growth and change that we develop.

handheld teacup - Katie weyman

Handheld teacup – Katie Weyman

This piece particularly strikes me, in its tactile and handheld nature. This forces the viewer to engage with the piece physically, something which I have looked at in many previous artists and always found speaks to me on a personal and intimate level, as is the design of these objects. The piece is no longer something foreign, to be viewed at from a distance, but now an extension of the body to be handled, inspected, and becomes part of the self. In this way, the viewer is then made to consider the imagery and the narrative in the context of the self, of their position in relation to the piece and how it reflects upon their own personal narrative.

Considering that I am aiming in my work to express the experience and development of the self, and encourage self reflection and recognition in the viewer, this is precisely what I feel has been achieved by this piece, and others with a handheld and tactile element. This could be a strong influence in my work, and something which I will have to consider incorporating into the design of my medals.

Research – Blue and White ware

When looking at the concept of using bronze and porcelain as part of my medal, it has always been in my mind that the porcelain would be illustrated in some way. Although I have very little technical knowledge of ceramics, the image of porcelain painted with delicate patterns in blue glaze is one that I’m sure everyone is familiar with

blue and white plates

This is known as blue and white ware, and unsurprisingly has a rich history and tradition in ceramics, which is why I feel so familiar with it despite never having done any research into the area. It is a process which seems to have originated in china, and dates back as early as the 14th century, but has now become adopted worldwide as a technique for decorating porcelain works, especially forms such as plates and vases.

I was very surprised to find in my research, that there doesn’t seem to be any form of standardised flower pattern which is used. I had an image in my mind of “blue and white flower print”, assuming that there would be a typical pattern or design, a style of drawing the flowers. However, this is not the caseblue white flower royal_copenhagen_blue_flower_smooth_gold_large_rim_soup_bowl_P0000184784S0001T2 traditional-indoor-pots-and-planters

It seems that there is no standard formula when it comes to blue and white ware, no certain species of flower that is used, or pattern which the stems follow. Most are very stylised, and those that do attempt to be more true to life I often seem to find are poorly drawn. There are actually very few examples, if any of blue and white ware I have found where I like the drawings themselves. While I like the aesthetic overall of blue and white ware, the technical skill of the drawings leaves me cold, and although there is certainly a lot of technical skill that goes into making very intricate patterns, I can’t help but be aware of the heavy stylisation which just does not appeal to me personally. If I were to use blue and white ware in my work then I would certainly want it to be a very technically accurate drawing of flowers, as I have tried to do in my earlier sketch

flower pattern

I am not sure if this is going to cause difficulties if I am trying to emulate classic blue and white ware, or alternatively if it would make no difference the style I draw it in precisely because there is no standard format. It is a phenomenon that I have noticed a lot in terms of art and creative areas, that a lot of people seem unable to see past the subject of the drawing, and not see whether it is technically good or bad. In this case, as long as it is a blue painted flower on a white porcelain surface, the rest seems to be largely irrelevant. While this makes me uncomfortable, I can at least strive to meet my own standards even if they go unnoticed by others.

The traditional way of creating blue and white ware is by painting the design using a cobalt oxide glaze onto the fired porcelain surface, and then painting over the body with a transparent glaze giving the piece its glossy finish, and this is also known as “underglaze blue”. However, my tutor tells me that the large amount of blue and white ware made in modern day (likely all of the pictures shown above) are created using ceramic decals or transfer printing. This allows for many detailed pieces to be produced in bulk, and has largely overtaken the traditional process of painting directly onto the piece. Unfortunately for me this takes away a lot of the appeal of the work, and is certainly not something I would like to use in my own piece. I am far more comfortable with the concept of painting directly onto the piece itself, than painting in say a sketchbook, scanning the piece, trying to make sure the image is perfectly sized and matches the size and shape of my work, sending off to get it printed onto ceramic decals (which are also very expensive), and then carefully transferring it onto the piece. It seems much more complicated, time consuming, and expensive than simply painting onto the surface, and also doesn’t allow for much experimentation or trial and error. For example if I create a design, and it is not the right size/shape/resolution for what I have sculpted, I have then wasted £15-£20 on a decal sheet, roughly a week of my time on delivery, and have to do it all over again to send off for another one. I can’t say that this is something that appeals to me. It seems far more intuitive and part of the creative process to be handling the piece, brush to the surface. Then if something goes wrong, the design is not as I want, it is simply a case of either cleaning it off or making another.

If I do proceed with making blue and white ware this is certainly the method I will choose to pursue, but I would like to get my designs much more clear before I start experimenting with materials so that I have a goal to work towards while I am making.

Research – Escher & Transitioning image

While thinking about the notion of a transitioning image, the first visual reference that came to mind was the work of M. C. Escher. Upon trying to find more artists who use a transitioning image in there work, so far I have found very few and yet countless works by Escher kept appearing.


Sky and Water

This was the first piece by Escher that immediately came to mind, which I am particularly familiar with as my mother used to have a notebook with this pattern on the cover. The idea is deceptively simple, with the black birds against the white background of the sky gradually transition into pictures of white fish against a black background of the sea. I think this is one of the elements I like most about this image, not only the changing of subject matter from fish to bird, but the use of the background as becoming part of the image. This combination of two elements (in this case the colours black and white) could work well in terms of medium, with my medals being made in bronze and ceramic.


Metamorphosis II 01 - M. C. Escher

Metamorphosis II 01 – M. C. Escher

This is another excellent example by Escher of a transitioning image, which not only moves from one stage to another, but through a whole sequence of different images which are all clear and distinct from one another in a fashion that is smooth and natural. This is exactly what I would like to be able to capture in my work, however with the changes likely not being so extreme. I imagine the medals each having their own image, which is likely to be a variation on a theme which runs throughout the series but with a clear change of state on each medal. Using the idea of flowers as an example, each medal could have a particular type of flower pattern upon it (roses, lillies, etc) to signify a particular mood or experience, with one side perhaps being wilted, the other flowering. This then transitions to the next medal, which perhaps has the same, or a different type of flower, in a different state; they may be blooming, budding, withering etc. The main difficulty with this idea is making all images transition to each other, although this can likely be overcome by a shared boarder image by all the medals. As ever, it is very difficult to talk about these ideas in the abstract without any real motif to work with, and I can only hope that my issues with these ideas will become clearer in practice.

Scroll - M. C. Escher

Scroll – M. C. Escher

Another classic Escher style image, with a set of very basic shapes which slowly increase in complexity one stage at a time, until they become completely distinct and detailed illustrations. Altough I want to use a metamorphosing image, I would like to be able to avoid the formless stages and have each element of the image to be detailed illustrations. Perhaps this could be achieved by transitioning the shape of the image, as with “Sky and Water” and this example of “Scroll”, but the drawings inside the shapes remaining detailed and adapting to the shape.

changing tessellaytions

Here is a more mathematical approach to transitioning shapes, working almost in a kaleidoscope fashion changing the vectors of a shape so that it becomes another. While these types of interesting and demonstrate generally my idea, in practice I feel they are of little help as  they are clearly generated in a very mathematical formula, most likely having been run through a computer program. This likely will only then create shapes which while complex, are functionally meaningless and carry no real significance in their imagery aside from the fact that it is changing. If this is the case, I feel my medals would become very obtuse in their meaning and would likely be looked at more as an exploration of pattern and material than as a representation for the human and for the reflection of self.

pattern examples

Trying to illustrate my point purely with pattern alone had exactly this effect, of being entirely meaningless and representative of nothing. While I’m sure that with actual time and thought being put into the use of pattern it too could be effective, rather than my very quick and ill-concieved sketches. However, I certainly do not think it plays to my strengths as I am not drawn in any sense to the use of pattern in design, and do not enjoy the process of creating and drawing them in the same way that I enjoy illustrating imagery. It is imagery after all that my tutors encouraged me to encorporate more of into my work after looking at my sketchbook, and sticking purely to pattern would be a waste of my skills.

Research – Flowers in art

Having looked at the idea of using flower pattern and imagery in my work as a motif, I thought I should spend some time looking into the symbolism between various flowers. Flowers have been used in art as symbols throughout the gothic and the renaissance periods, and provided layers of narrative to the paintings of the time.

"Young Woman with a Pink" - Hans Memling - 1485-80

“Young Woman with a Pink” – Hans Memling – 1485-80

Surprisingly, it seems as if many of these meanings have engraved themselves into my subconscious already, prior to any research having been done. I suppose this is a testiment to the power of visual language in art having embedded itself into culture. For example, we know that roses (specifically red roses) represent passion, and that white roses show purity and innocence in contrast. However, yellow roses are used to show infeidelity and jealousy. White Lillies, as well as the white rose, are often used to represent purity, chastness and the Virgin Mary. Lillies are also often linked to the notion of motherhood.

There are also many other interesting flower meanings that I was not previously aware of. There are several which are of particular relevence to me, in terms of my project, whereas many of the flower symbolisms in western art relate directly to Christianity, which is not relevant to my work. For example, the dandelion is a symbol of childhood, nostalgia, and longing for the past, which could be incredibly relevent in expressing my sense of loss in terms of my own childhood and has the very obvious and interesting imagery of seeds which are blown away. Conversely, Lavender symbolises desire and loss of innocence, however this was also used as a symbol by medieval prostitutes by wearing it in their hair, which I’m not sure I want an association with. But nonetheless, I think it could tie in well with the notion of the Dandelion and childhood then coupled with new desires and loss of innocence. Rosemary is used in weddings as a symbol for fidelity and faithfulness, this could be used in terms of self as representing integrity and loyalty. Pink carnations are associated with motherhood, again the association comes from a religious basis with the virgin mary, but it is a link still made today by the layman and is the emblem of mother’s day. The forget-me-not, unsurprisingly is a symbol of rememberence, although the story behind its naming varies wildly from different sources. The flower of the Hawthorn represents hope, and was also used to fend off evil spirits in ancient Rome.


While I am sure there are very many more flowers with interesting and pertinent meanings, I am coming up against a few problems in my research. Firstly, the meanings of each flower and their representation and use, can vary wildly throughout history and depending on context. Do I use only the symbolism of flowers in classical renaissance oil paintings? Or do I use the meanings of flowers in British folklore? Or perhaps modern day meanings and symbolism of flowers used in weddings, funerals and bouquets? Secondly, there is the issue of trying to make these flowers into a transitioning image. Initially in my mind, this seemed a simple task of creating a pattern of flowers and having the flower heads interchange from one to another. I failed to account in this plan for the fact that many flower heads are vastly and distinctly different in shape, size and form from one another. For example the difference between a daisy and a lavender, one cannot simply be swapped out for the other.

Perhaps in this case, it would be better to use one species of flower, shown in various states across the medals. However this begs the question of, what flower should be used? Given that every flower is loaded with symbolism of one form or another, the link to those qualities will always be made. However the set of qualities each flower is linked to is often very narrow, and so if I were to use say a white lily, for purity, that begs the question of what do I do when those qualities aren’t present in what I’m trying to express? Maybe at certain points in a person’s life they are pure, others they are not, what then? The lily could become withered, but then that gives the impression that purity (or whatever characteristic is being depicted) is the only quality of importance, and when that is gone there is nothing else left to show. However the entire notion that I am trying to explore with these medals is how the different qualities of a person can grow and change, some aspects may die or retreat, while others take their place, some may resurge later. Using a single flower would not be fitting for this.

While not entirely off the table, and with a distinct lack of any better ideas, it is looking that there are a lot of obstacles in terms of using flowers as imagery in my medals.


Sources: Folklore and Symbolism of Flowers, Plants and Trees – Ernst and Johanna Lehner

Art Symbols Dictionary: Flowers and Plants

Obscure Symbolic Meaning of Flowers in Western Art History