Assignment 1, Reflective commentary

19 October 2016


One aspect of the old style of course which I miss is the questions posed at the end of each assignment. These helped to concentrate my mind and focus my attention on what had gone well, what had gone not so well and why. Once I had answered these, writing the reflective commentary was easy. The re-written course instead asks students to reflect on their performance against the four assessment criteria. If I were to list examples in support of these criteria, I would probably not adequately probe and interrogate my strengths and weaknesses – it can be difficult to see what you could have done better, by asking a simple question like ‘how could I have been more creative?’ I started by posing myself some questions, which I hoped would help to tease out the information I needed.


Self posed questions:

Did you feel that you explored all the possibilities? Can you see a route from sample to finished piece?

Although I made 141 samples, I didn’t feel that I explored all of the possibilities. However, I honestly don’t think this is practical given that some artists base their entire practice on just one area of surface distortion! Instead, I tried to be systematic and build on what I had learnt from previous level 1 modules. This meant that for some exercises, I made intentionally basic samples, varying just one aspect (such as shape, size or placement) at a time. This allowed me to understand the relationships between these variables and build up an awareness of how changing them might contribute to the success or otherwise of the outcome.

Later in each exercise, and particularly for Project 5, exercise 2 (stitching), I allowed myself free rein to combine techniques, introduce, colour, pattern and contrast. These were more innovative samples which better reflected my personal voice, however because of the many different variables, they were not as useful in teaching me what about the success of visual outcomes. 

I was surprised by just how many of the samples promoted an emotional response or analogies with objects (either animate or inanimate), and I have noted these down in the exercises against each sample. This was particularly aided by my research, which also prompted thoughts about possible development and applications (be it textured surfaces for interiors, fabric, sculpture). For the first time in this assignment, I have integrated comparisons with other practitioner’s work in my blog posts whilst I have been making and documenting the samples (this being in addition to stage 1 which is a dedicated piece of research) . This immediacy has helped me to relate better to my sampling and see many more connections and possibilities for development. Although this assignment has not required me to demonstrate a route from sample to finished piece, I can clearly see lines of enquiry emerging, which I have documented in my blog posts for stage 2&3 and stage 4 (sorting).


Did you feel that you made effective use of materials? Were there any other materials which you would have liked to try?

In the beginning, I purposely started with basic plain paper to help me understand the relationships between size, shape and composition. Although I did use other materials later in the exercises, I still have plenty more that I would like to try! As a general observation, I would say that sampling with different materials was more risky and often I was disappointed with the results. This confirms that my tendency to seek out complexity over simplicity, often does not result in the most successful outcome. This was backed up by my research, which suggested that surface distortion of basic, untextured, unpatterned materials is often extremely effective. In my own experimentation, I found that plain materials showed up shadows and subtle tonal variations particularly well.

How did colour effect the outcomes?

As I have alluded to in answer to the previous question, the use of colour (and particularly pattern) has to be considered carefully in the context of surface distortion. The temptation is to use exciting textured and patterned materials, but these often detract from surface distortion (in itself a form of patterning) and the shadows and tonal variations which it produces.


Did you see opportunities for combining techniques?

I saw many opportunities for combining techniques and investigated some through sampling. For example, I used folding and puncturing in combination with stitching, cutting flaps and stitching in Project 5, exercise 2. In my themed sketchbook on ‘The Garden’, I used scratching in combination with cutting holes, stitching in combination with cutting holes, and stitching in combination with twisted pleats. There is so much more scope for combing surface distortion techniques, not just with each other, but outside the discipline. For example, photographs of heat set fabrics could be printed onto acetate or fabric and developed further using other techniques. A scratched surface, for example, could be used as a printing block, in combination with mono-printing, or as part of an appliqué piece. The possibilities are endless.


Did you feel that sketching helped your analysis? If so, How?

When I first started with OCA over 2 years ago, I was timid about drawing and sceptical of the benefits it can have for textile practitioners. How far I have come – in feedback for my previous course, my tutor strongly suggested that I continue to develop my sketchbook work, as she recognised it as a vital component in my working methodology. Building on her suggestions, I have produced a dedicated sketchbook on the theme of ‘The Garden’, extending my stitched sampling with layering, transparencies and recycled materials. This work also draws inspiration from the exhibition by artist Martin Kinnear, which I visited in August, and supplements the exercises in this assignment.

I sketched 25 of my samples (approximately 18%), spread across all the exercises. It is a concept which I was only introduced to recently, but which I find extremely valuable. It helps me to understand complexity, but can also give training in the skill of simplification and selecting the most important visual elements of an object. It is not possible to make a drawing without understanding the subtlety of variation and the nature of lines, be they sharp or diffuse. Colour matching and representation of texture are also tested and explored in the process. The act of sketching gives new insights for development as well as the possibility for using the sketched image itself in a textile piece.


Measurement against assessment criteria:

Having answered my questions, I now feel able to address the assessment criteria and make better judgement on my performance, strength and weaknesses. 


Demonstration of technical and visual skills

I explored 10 exercises in surface distortion in depth. Design and composition was less important because many of these samples were purely experimental, and chosen so as to teach myself technical skills. It is difficult for me to assess my technical competency as I am not sure what the expected level is at this stage of the course. I can say that I have made good progress and feel confident to extend and develop the skills through my future practice. 

I would like to think that I one of my strengths is visual awareness and I have made efforts to explain this through my blog entries for each sample. Sketching samples has been an important elements of developing this understanding. My sketchbooks are developing and improving, but when I look at the contents of sketchbook on “The Garden” I can see scope for including even looser drawing and more mark-making, which I feel would enhance my design ideas further.


Quality of outcome

This is a really difficult to make a self assessment in isolation of other students work and given that the focus of the assignment was on experimentation. However, I feel that I have produced some samples which are visually very strong. My exploration of the effect of lighting has been essential in showcasing the transparency and shadows generated by some of my most successful samples. This is an area where I can see that I have developed. I am considering the malleability of samples a lot more and I am developing an understanding of how visual outcome can be changed depending how they are configured for display. I have learnt that simple ideas can produce a better outcome than more complex ones, and that this is especially relevant for surface distortion.


Demonstration of creativity

My starting point was to learn techniques and understand the relationships between size, shape and composition, so I did not always seek to be especially creative, particularly in my early samples for each exercise. Some samples did demonstrate a greater degree creativity (and also risk taking). I was able to demonstrate my creative voice, particularly in Project 5, exercise 2 (stitching), where I combined several techniques. I was pleased to be able to build on the work of artists such as  Kazuhito Takadoi, Anne Wilson, Jacob Dahlstrup and Carlos Amorales, and think about how I might make the techniques my own through interpretation and variation.



Instead conducting the research topic in isolation, I have made an effort to integrate and extend it into the project exercises. As well as the dedicated research of 6 practitioners who used surface distortion in their work, I have also made mention of relevant practitioners as I have conducted my sampling. I have looked not just on the Internet and in books, but also in current magazines, which has put my research in the context of trends in fashion and homeware. Outside the course, I have documented TV programmes and other areas of research have which I have found relevant and of interest to my studies.

I have continued to meet regularly with the local OCA support group ‘East Anglia Extreme’ and have continued to seek the opinions of my peers through OCA Facebook Groups, and The Print and Stitch Group (a local exhibiting group to which I have belonged for over a year). In the last few month I have discovered the OCA forums and have joined two Mixed Media for Textile group handouts and formed new relationships with students on my course. 

In the period of completing this assignment I attended The British Art Show 8, and an exhibition of Norwich Shawls curated by The Costume and Textile Association. As a result, I have decided to join the group which will give me access to their programme of events, talks and workshops, trips to exhibitions and collections, and an introductory tour of the Clothing and Textile Study Centre.


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