And the eyes have it …

For some months, I have planned to begin a business upcycling furniture once we are in our own place and I finally have a studio/workshop again. As the months have dragged past, and the search for our own place continued unabated, it became increasingly clear I needed to alter my plans slightly. What could I do that did not need a fully equipped studio and workshop?

Sometimes a chance discovery is all you need to embark on something new and exciting. For me, finding Spoonflower was such an occasion. Spoonflower print your artwork onto a variety of different fabrics using inkjet technology. The possibilities were endless and very exciting! Especially when I realized that not only could use it to design my own fabrics, I could also make things to sell. It was the moment of enlightenment:

cue angelic choir heralding the moment of enlightenment

I have a sewing machine and a dining room table. I have decades of sewing all manner of stuff behind me. I know about Etsy and Ebay and Amazon stores. I subscribe to several design blogs. I have friends who make and sell their stuff. Successfully. Like all great solutions, you wonder why it didn’t occur to you ages ago. The ‘d’oh’ moment that often follows close on the heels of the moment of enlightenment. At least it frequently seems to for me.

Even better, I already had lots of ideas raring to go, and I knew how to realize them. Over the past 3 years, while I was working on my post-graduate studies at Sydney College of the Arts (Sydney University) I searched in vain for somewhere I could print fabric for my sculptures cheaply and easily. I ended up printing 10 cm x 10 cm squares on my home inkjet printer. And then sewing them together. One-at-a-time. Really.

Detail of 'Feel' fabric used in my work 'his deft fingers slowly unbuttoned ...'

Why didn’t I screenprint it, I hear you ask? Well I tried. Screenprinting gives a maximum of 150dpi, and that simply wasn’t detailed enough for me.

My Feel fabric was developed from a small drawing I did for my show Cusp at At The Vanishing Point in Newtown, Australia in April 2008.

'the pillow was still wet from her tears' 2008

I drew a repeat for it. Explaining how a pattern repeat works is a bit like trying to tell someone how to ride a bicycle. It is hard to explain verbally, but actually relatively straightforward. With practice most people can do it. Here is my attempt at explaining what at pattern repeat is: a pattern repeat is a motif that connects to itself on all 4 sides, it is how pattern designers create patterns. Clear as mud, really.

So each side of my repeat drawing connected to a side of the original drawing, continuing it, and thus enabling me to convert my original drawing into a pattern. Eeeesh, maybe pictures will make it more simple:

Pattern repeat for 'Feel' fabric

I scanned both drawings, then used photoshop to generate the pattern, to make sure it would work:

pattern test for 'Feel' fabric

Then I printed the single squares onto silk dupion and sewed them together – patchwork style – into a quilt. Then I made it into a sculptural piece. Here is the finished work (see my website for other images of my sculpture and installation work):

his deft fingers slowly unbuttoned ... 2010

his deft fingers slowly unbuttoned ... 2010

If only I had known about Spoonflower …

This blog is all about how my knowledge and love of art informs my projects. How it influences everything I do. Now it was time to draw on my own artwork, rather than that of others. To use it to create products of my own.

Recently I made some works using free-stitched machine made lace with a motif of eyes and lips that had been printed onto silk dupion.

Detail of lace using eye motif (generated in Photoshop)

The eye I used was taken from a photograph of Bernini’s work The Blessed Ludovica Albertoni

Gianlorenzo Bernini 'The Blessed Ludovica Albertoni' 1674

This figure, writhing in an ecstatic fit, on the verge of death, seemed an appropriate source for the eye motif in my lace. There are actually a whole swag of other reasons for using this eye from this particular work, but I will spare you a lengthy excerpt from my 56,000 word thesis and attempt to stay focused on the business in hand.

This lace design ended up in two works. One of which – even through her veil she felt his eyes follow her – is currently on display at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, in the exhibition Love Lace.  See it here.

Here is a detail of the other work her veil hid little:

detail of 'her veil hid little' 2010 showing lace edging

It seemed to me that the eye motif was a powerful one, and as a symbol has a long history across many cultures. Egyptians put eyes on the prow of their boats to ward off danger. Indians put the eye symbol on necklaces to ward off the evil eye. Yes, it is what we use to take in information about the world, enables us to stand at a distance, to analyse and think about what we see. It is, however, also a part of our physical bodies, as what we see can trigger a bodily response: a shudder of desire, stomach clenching fear, chest aching despair, tears of sadness.

Eye contact is vital for infant development. Infants are born with a focal length exactly that between mother and baby while feeding. They are drawn to faces above any other image. They seek out eye contact, and need it, in combination with a care-giver’s touch, in order to thrive and grow.

We make eye contact with lovers across a crowded room, with friends. We avoid eye contact when we do not wish to acknowledge such a connection. The eye is a powerful symbol precisely because it links mind, body, each other, and the world around us.

In the case of my lace works, the viewer looks through the lace to the work beneath, but the work looks back at them looking. I enjoy the conceptual jolt this creates.

A similar jolt occurs in Man Ray’s work Object to be Destroyed (Objet à détruire):

Man Ray 'Object to be Destroyed (Objet à détruire)' 1923, remade 1933, editioned 1965

This work, which featured an image of an eye clipped to the front of a metronome was first made by Man Ray in 1923. Writing of it later, he claimed that he would set the metronome ticking when he began working, and it acted to measure his work time, in the way it measures the beat of the music for a musician. He said the eye was like an audience, and he worked better with the eye of the audience upon him. Eventually he tired of its judgment and he smashed the work  (the title thus went from something a little whacky to being alarmingly prophetic).

Following numerous requests to exhibit the work, Man Ray recreated it in 1933. It was damaged by angry students in 1957, who were protesting the showing of his work, and those of other Dada artists. In 1958 he made it again, re-naming it Indestructible Object (which, after numerous reincarnations, it had indeed become); he then editioned it in 1965. In 1970 he made a further edition, but changed the eye to a lenticular one that opened and closed as it moved. These he called Perpetual Motif (due to the fact that the work seemed to keep regenerating).

Apart from its amazing regenerative properties, the power of the work itself lies in the use of the eye, and its backwards and forwards ticking motion. The metronome marks time like a clock, its watchful eye always on you. It is at once amusing and disturbing. The strange juxtaposition of metronome and eye seems funny, in a peculiar kind of way. The metronome ticks and the eye watches, almost accusingly, as time passes. ‘I am watching you, what are you doing?’ they say. The eye, and the way it seems to look back at the viewer, is what makes the work a potent one.

The eye, as a symbol of the unconscious, of dreams and visions, was popular with the Surrealists. Man Ray made other works using photographs of eyes (his Tears for example) as did Luis Bunel and Salvador Dali in their silent film Un Chien Andalou which features dream like sequences and a mixed up chronology. One infamous and disturbing scene shows a close up of a young woman’s eye, she sits there calmly as a man cuts her eye with a razor and the vitreous humor spills out.

Film still from Luis Bunel and Salvador Dali's disturbing Surrealist film 'Un Chien Andalou

This scene is confronting to view, it replicates those nightmares in which something terrible happens, but you remain frozen, your legs unable to move. We are powerless to stop this action; and strangely, the young woman seems completely unperturbed by it. The scene is powerful precisely because of the sense of horrified vulnerability it creates in the audience. Your eye waters as you watch. The whole thing made worse by the nonsensical dream-like chronology of the film, and the apparent randomness of the scenes that occur with only a vague relationship to one another.

The eye, then, has multiple meanings, has been used to protect against evil, as well as represent it. When an eye is present you cannot help but feel watched, for good or ill. I love the layers of meaning inherent in the eye as a symbol, it’s edginess.

Given all these connections, and the fact that I had used it before, the eye seemed like a good place to start working on a fabric design. Because it was to be my design, it didn’t seem appropriate to use the images I had of the eyes and lips of Bernini’s sculpture, so I began by doing some drawing. This was as simple as finding a photograph on the internet, and drawing it using charcoal:

Drawing of eye 2011

I particularly wanted that hand drawn effect. I then scanned in the drawing and began playing with it in Photoshop.

In the meantime, while I pondering what to make,  I came across felt that was 100% made from recycled soda bottles (or soft drink bottles as we would call them in Australia). Felt looks so amazing, especially dark charcoal grey industrial-looking felt. It has associations of factories and machinery, industrial chic, with clouds of steam and functional efficiency.

It occurred to me that I could make some really cool shopping totes, messenger and lap top bags by combining the felt with brightly colored ‘eye’ fabric in some way. Plus the recycled nature of the fabric fitted well with Quirk Street’s upcycling philosophy. Spoonflower uses environmentally friendly dyes, and where possible, organic cotton, so that fitted, too. Having decided what to make, and what materials to use, the design soon followed along.

I enlarged the eye, and angled it, which immediately made it more dynamic through creating a diagonal sense of movement. Like catching someone at the moment they bend down to peer in the key hole.

final Eye design

I decided on two different colorways; blue:

Eye in blue

And green:

Eye in green

And then, because it was there and Photoshop makes it so easy, I also experimented with orange:

Eye in orange

I added a grid around the outside, so they would work as a pattern:

checking the repeat

Then I uploaded the images to Spoonflower and eagerly awaited the samples. One week later, they arrived:

Fabric samples, freshly arrived from Spoonflower

I was so excited to see them. Why order samples and not the real thing straight up? For the same reason you shouldn’t buy paint from the hardware store without a) checking the color in daylight and b) painting a sample on the wall you intend to use it on. Color is tricky, and just like the paint chip in hardware store: the color you see on your computer screen is not necessarily the one that will come out of the printer.

Yes it takes longer, and that is tedious, but better to be sure before committing to a print run. Better to take the time now, and be sure you have what you want.

So, now the yardage is on order and we wait for the order to come in and then production can begin …

As for upcycling furniture, I am hoping Quirk Street is quirky enough to embrace that too, once we finally settle down in our own place. Watch this space for more information on that one, too …

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4 responses to “And the eyes have it …

  1. I love your theme, although I think it could use a tiny bit of cleaning up. No offense. I think I might switch as mine needs changing. Where did you get it?

    • Thanks for the feedback, I am so totally new to all of this … I am still getting things up and running, and would welcome any advice for ‘cleaning up’ … the theme is a wordpress freebie. It is ‘coraline’

  2. Lovely website! I’m loving it!! Will be back later to see more. I am taking your feeds also Hello. splendid job. I didn’t expect this. This is actually the impressive story.

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