Thursday, 26 July 2018

3D Printing: Solidified drawings

The advent of the 3D printer has in several ways changed the relationship between two and three dimensional thinking. Several years ago I had to learn AutoCad, a software program that at the time was a top of the range 3D thinking and visualisation tool. The software enabled you to build simple solids around an x, y and z axis. Once an image had been built you had an easy to read wire frame model that could be rotated on screen and printed off. This was back in the 1980s and I used it to draw simple perspective wire frame objects that I then exported into a 2D drawing program and added to images that I was then developing using a paint program. I was essentially using these early computer programs as printmaking tools. At the time I clearly remember using a wax layer thermal printer that deposited transparent wax that combined colours optically in the same way that a 4 colour printer does now, but of course the layering process meant it was much thicker and the wax suggested a physicality that contemporary printers have lost. 

Wax print: 1987

The image of a tank in this print was drawn using AutoCad, I was trying to replicate the cigarette packet tanks my father used to make for me when I was a boy. The image looks very dated now but I find the excitement of 3D printing possibilities feels similar to the excitement generated 30 years ago by the introduction of painting programs and basic AutoCad wireframe modelling tools. 
More recently I had to learn 123D Catch, a 3D wireframe modelling software. This was software that allows you to take photographs of an object from as many different positions as possible and then load them up to a cloud; they were then processed in order to make  a wireframe 3D model of what you had made. I tried it with a pig model I had done as part of something else and then played with the image to see how it could be manipulated. Once you had completed the editing phase you could then export the information into 123D Make, a program that was linked to 3D printer outputs. All now obsolete as 123D Catch has gone the way of many programs before it. 

I did use some of the wire frame drawings I made of fires to make prints, but I never really got to grips with the technology.

Screenprint: 2014

However I have recently returned to thinking about how 3D printing can be used to extend my ideas. This time I'm more interested in the decision making processes involved and as someone always worried about things, I have begun to reflect on whether or not computers will eventually be able to take over creativity from us and that consciousness, that quality that all creative people love to cite as being central to their work, is perhaps over valued.

I came across an interesting way of thinking about 3D printing a couple of years ago at a drawing conference and this rekindled my interest and made me think about the potential of working in this area again. Corneel Cannearts was working with what he termed 'allographic machines'. He had adopted a Nelson Goodman term, ‘allographic drawing’ as a way to think about drawing and its relationship to drawing technologies, citing the first drawing as being done by tracing around the edge of a shadow. It was however when he introduced the term 'encoded matter', that I became very interested in the process. I have often used the term 'material thinking' when talking about drawing and his concept of 'encoded matter' felt very close to what I was thinking about. (You can find my original notes on Cannearts presentation here)

The creating of 3D forms digitally is totally different from making objects directly by using physical interaction with a material. However I have been making quite a lot of ceramics lately and at the same time I have been thinking more and more about the role of human beings in relation to the bigger picture of how things interact. (See my posts linked to object orientated ontology) A few months ago I wrote this, "What Object Orientated Ontology is proposing to do is to help us to step outside of our human centred framework and to consider how things might be if everything was simply about 'objects'. For example, the 'life' of a stone is a life that inhabits its own timeframe, a timeframe that we as humans would not be able to understand or perceive, our lives in comparison to a stone's existence being as short as a mayfly". I was thinking more and more about how creativity can be seen as 'things coming together', not just about something that only humans can do. 

Back in the studio this morning, I'm making drawings using water based paints and inks. As the grains of material flowed over the now buckling paper, pools of liquid kept forming and previously drawn on surfaces were emerging and disappearing as these pools developed, all mainly out of my control. It was a sort of dance, whereby I needed to learn to move and flow with the materials and their own inclinations. In effect my contribution is just one part of a process that also includes what water does, what paper does and what pigments do. When I make ceramics I'm very aware that my fingers are very limited as to what they can do, arthritis prevents any fine control, so I have learnt to follow what the clay needs to do. So how does this way of thinking work when using 3D software?

The first time I used the technology I very quickly became interested in how the hollow shells could be manipulated, and in the image of a divided pig above, you can see that the surface that the pig was on when I took the initial photographs has become an integral part of the new image. What interested me at the time was that the camera could not differentiate between one thing and another, a fact that seemed to ask questions of our word orientated world view. We separate the ground from the object because we have separate words for them, but what if there were no defining words? The technology was in some ways 'thinking' without my intervention.

This time I felt more prepared for these issues and wanted to be able to control or at least set up an illusion of control within the situation.

I began the process with a drawing, I have made several of these images of people wrestling, their heads merging together as they feel out each other's body, ready to throw as soon as they find a weakness in the other person's stance. I'm always searching for images that I can use as allegories and this was one I felt was getting somewhere. I was thinking that in opposition we become more and more like the person we oppose. So the next stage was to make these images in clay.

The figures became more merged as I made them, arms belonging to both figures and I thought these were a better resolution to the problem that the initial drawings. It was at this stage that the possibility of going on to use 3D printing presented itself. I had been fascinated by the way that clay's 'clumpiness' sort of controlled what was coming out and I was interested in how when you fire things, you have to let go and see what happens. The surfaces were finally resolved by applying two different types of wax with soft cloths, again something I hadn't predicted, but which came about as a result of me trying things out.

So how could I use the computer technology and still allow for the material to think for itself?

The first stage is imaging and I was using a special camera that had 4 sensitive lenses.

The ceramic was placed on a turntable and the camera on a tripod. (You don't need to do this in order to get 3D information, you could simply move the camera around the object and take images but I felt this too random). What was interesting was that you could set the object up to be scanned in such a way that part of it was always hidden, or in shadow as far as the 3D camera was concerned. I.e. you can control how much information to give the software to work with. Gradually as the image is rotated the 3D skin is built up and you see it emerge on screen. 

Sometimes the missing areas are due to reflection but the more the object is rotated the more information gaps are filled. However a 3D printer abhors a vacuum and when there is a hole, as can be seen emerging in the image above between the neck/head and the arm, the software will deduce that something is needed to fill the gap. The blue image below, shows what happens when the software begins to render the image for 3D printing, it somehow deduces what to do by responding to surrounding surface details and fills in the gap with its own 'invention'. 

When you come to set the image up for 3D printing there are a series of options that allow you to engage with the areas of missing information. One area you can manipulate is the orientation of the image in relation to the base plate. Once set, (and this is always necessary because the x, y, z axis as set on the camera is not the same as on the printer), you can ask the computer to add supporting structures to any areas that would in effect be floating and these are the columns that are  holding the structure up. The strange rounded 'feet' are the result of the camera not having the bottom of the legs on one side of the ceramic in the frame when images were taken. The computer software has 'guessed' what these would be like. This combination of actual readings, the computer guessing how to resolve areas it didn't have any information for and the fact that it needed to invent structures to hold up 'floating' forms, finally resulted in the images below. 

I am now beginning a second set of models, whereby I'm trying to increase the sense of scale that the supporting structures provide. Can I trigger a reading that is even more like a 'monster attacking a city'?

The process has moved the idea on quite a long way. I'm fascinated by the way that the more you let go of a process the more it seems to run in directions that make much more sense than if you were in control. In particular in this case it has taken me right back to films I saw as a boy in the 1950s and 60s. They must still haunt my imagination. 

Model of the monster in the film, 'The Angry Red Planet'

Rodan from the Godzilla films

Both these films rely on model making and filming the models from a low angle so that they appear much larger then they really are. I have done exactly the same with the 3D printed model, an aspect of 3D drawing and thinking that I put up a post on a couple of years ago; 'when making models to work from'. 

See also:

Sunday, 22 July 2018

George Condo and Glen Brown: From parody to pastiche / transcriptions and impersonations

George Condo

I have been away and while in Athens saw a George Condo exhibition at the Museum of Cycladic Art. It was interesting to see contemporary art alongside a wonderful collection of Ancient Greek figurines and pottery, and Condo's work I thought stood up surprisingly well in such august company. Below are a few photographs of his drawings, of which there were quite a few on display, as well as sculpture and of course paintings.

The exhibition was housed in a particularly hard to exhibit in environment, (see paintings reflected in a mirror) but the strange personages that Condo constructs were somehow able to inhabit the spaces very appropriately. 
I have posted before on the continuing relevance of old masters. However in a post-modern world cartoonists are as important as classical painters. George Condo's drawings are typical of an artist that moves freely between influences as he searches for his own kind of truth. Therefore I thought it worth a more detailed look at how his work sits alongside images that I feel bear direct relationship/comparison to him. If you look at the drawings above it is easy to see a relationship between Condo and Picasso.


Condo sort of riffs with elements of Picasso's way of working but adds into the mix other ways of image making that have influenced him. Don Martin was an artist I was fascinated by when I used to read MAD magazine as a teenager and I suspect Condo was too.

Don Martin

Look at the ears of Condo's 'cubist' heads and compare them to Martin's. Martin's head shapes are always elongated and his mouths are usually open too.

George Condo

The way the ear is stuck onto the side of the head in Condo's drawing above is I believe an echo of Don Martin, and when we come to look at the mouth I think Martin's cartoon work is referenced again. Not necessarily consciously but I know myself that after years of reading the Beano and the Topper as a very young boy and then being fascinated by the drawings of Jack Kirby as I grew into being a teenager, certain ways of making an image are inbuilt into my own sensibility, and I'm sure this is the case with other artists. (See my post on Hardeep Pandhal

Don Martin

George Condo

I can also sense the influence of other artists such as Wilfredo Lam and Gorky. If you look at the drawing above I think it shows a certain familiarity with some of Lam's early images and Gorky's drawings.

Wilfredo Lam


It is also interesting to compare one of Lam's portrait heads with Condo's. A similar orchestration of elements is going on and the way Lam uses line to break up the image bears a direct comparison.

Wilfredo Lam

Not that this is anything new, you can go right back through the history of art and see how artists have improvised on and with the work of other artists. Even Picasso will at times go back and look at how other artists' work can be reinterpreted.

Velazquez and Picasso

Glen Brown is a contemporary artist who has been looking at how a dialogue with older art traditions continues to be a rich vein to tap into. In a recent British Museum display Brown's work was presented alongside the Rembrandt etchings that Brown was responding to.








Glen Brown: After Freud


Some of the images above were photographed by myself and they were behind glass, this brings in an added issue. No matter how hard I try there will be some reflection. Frances Bacon insisted that his work was shown behind glass. In the 'All Too Human' exhibition recently at Tate Britain, I was forced to keep moving in front of Bacon's images to avoid only seeing myself reflected in them. The same of course was happening when I was trying to look at Brown's work. Is this therefore an example of the continuing ongoing process of a work's becoming? Once the artist has finished making something, it continues on into the world and changes and becomes something else with each showing. Just as the artists making these images are responding to seeing other artists' work, the works themselves are responding to changing exhibition spaces and the changes in attitude that each new generation of visitors brings to looking at the work. Brown was responding to Lucien Freud's work, I was responding to my experience of looking at Brown's responses to Freud. I thought the reflections added another layer to Brown's layers of etching overlays and made the idea more about the impossibility of ever 'seeing' what an earlier artist was getting at. As you look at the images on this blog, you will be responding to them in your own way and will bring to the responses different experiences and associations. And so it goes, one thing rubs off against another, things are in constant flux and whether these images are parodies or transcriptions, impersonations or appropriations, in the long run they will all become part of a past that is constantly receding from a future, a future that will become more and more distant and therefore will read its past with further diverging narratives, narratives that will be needed by future peoples to understand themselves but which will often draw inspiration from what happened earlier. 
One narrative will draw upon another, one story will influence another and the stories of art are very potent in a world that values art as a type of narrative trope for certain aspirations for the human condition. Condo and Brown riff off narratives that have already been retold many times and will be so again. In your own work you will already be deciding on a narrative that seems to be giving your practice meaning, as a story this can be something you shape and the more you are aware of it as a story, the more you will be able to shape it. 

Monday, 9 July 2018

Drawing using clay

Over the weekend I went to see the 'Material Environments' exhibition at the Leeds Tetley for the final time. This is an exhibition I have visited several times because it both demonstrates how to build an exhibition around very particular spaces and how to embed a theme across a variety of artists working in quite diverse ways. As someone focused on drawing and with an interest in ceramics I was fascinated by the work of Phoebe Cummings. She makes organic ceramic environments using unfired clay. In order to preserve the work she was doing, the whole area had been encased in a temporary polythene structure, which meant that you had to enter the space as you would a field hospital operation area or temporary on site police forensic lab via a pull aside transparent plastic doorway. Her title 'A ripening surveillance' suggesting perhaps poly-tunnels for forced plant growth, conjoined with a paranoid need for constant vigilance.  Cummings draws with clay, linking one botanical idea to another as she combines both hand made and shallow relief cast forms into imagined landscapes of 3D drawings of seemingly alien flora. The fact that you had to enter her space in the way you did, emphasised its alien nature, reminding me of the way in the film ET the government operatives sealed off the domestic middle class home environment, thus signifying that it was now potentially toxic. The alien is always seen as dangerous. We have this week been reminded of how potent the nerve agent novichok is, and images of makeshift plastic environments have again been dominating the media, as police seek to find the source of novichok contamination. Cummings in making her triffid like constructions reminds us of the continuing unsettling presence of things we don't really understand. Clay, that primeval substance, the basic building material out of which according to the Bible God created man, still has a deep resonance as something that comes up from the bottom of river beds and allows us to think about a chthonic inception of forms. As it states in Job 10.8-12, 'Remember that you have made me like clay,' but so is a golem also a clay made creature. As a material clay holds within itself infinite possibilities, like all forms of drawing, the maker needs to first of all attune themselves to the nature of the interrelationship between a material and the way it can be shaped.

Phoebe Cummings: A Ripening Surveillance (2018)

Richard Long encounters clay on his walks through the natural world. He collects the clay from river beds and uses it to form hand drawn images on the walls of galleries, thus reminding us of the tension that exists between the geometric structures erected by people and the constant grinding of materials down into mud, which will eventually be the fate of all earthly materials both human and non human made. Location is very important to him and his works remind us that what is in the earth has had a powerful impact on how human beings have survived.

Richard Long

Richard Long: detail

Richard Long: Cornish china clay on wall

In the image directly above, the fact that Long is using Cornish china clay is a very important aspect of the meaning of the drawing. China clay is called 'China Clay' because porcelain was for hundreds of years only available from China, and kaolin, (China Clay) is a fine grained white clay found in Cornwall, a fact that was responsible for the development of Cornish clay mining. The drawing suggests the map of an underground labyrinth, its simplicity however suggesting a symbol for a labyrinth, rather than a reflection of the complexity of real underground mining tunnels, such as those set out in the map below. 

US Geological survey: Shafts and tunnels of the Comstock mines

A coin from Knossos depicting the labyrinth

If you compare the image on the coin above to Long's work, you can see that they are part of the same image family. The coin depicts a symbol for the labyrinth, again all complexity and asymmetry is removed in order to facilitate the clarity of the design. 

The artist Yusuke Asai uses locally sourced clays and dirt to construct his complex mythological images, which he develops into immersive environments by drawing across floors and walls. He is interested in the fact that, “Seeds grow in it and it is home to many insects and microorganisms”. It is, he states “A ‘living' medium.”

Yusuke Asai

"I accepted the ephemeral nature of dirt as a medium from the moment I started painting with it. Once dry, paint cannot be wiped away, but with the addition of water dirt can be removed from a surface. I have been doing this type of earth painting since 2008 and most of these works have already disappeared! There is a desire for artwork to be permanent, but to try and keep it forever would mean that my painting would become unnatural. When I erase the painting it is sad, but within the context of the natural world, everything is temporary".
Yusuke Asai

Asai taps into his own subconscious when creating these drawings, drawings that sit somewhere between a sort of imagined folk art and the images of a previously undiscovered culture. This is world creation at a vey high level. By using mud, clay and dirt, (dirt when wet is mud) Asai is able to feel much more connected to nature and he accepts the fact that his work will only be temporary. When I went to see the work of Phoebe Cummings this weekend it was already cracking and falling apart, all of these artists embrace entropy. As soon as any drawing or other artwork is made it is beginning to slowly fall apart, but this process is usually so slow that we don't notice it. However by embracing this as part of the artwork the artist can open out the connections that the work makes into the natural life path of those who experience it.

Rudolf Arnheim wrote a classic essay on these issues; 'Entropy and Art: An essay on Disorder and Order', which was an attempt to reconcile the contradiction between our need for order and the fact that everything is in reality in a state of entropy or chaos. Clay it would seem to me embodies within itself all of the issues that Arnheim unpicks. It comes from the soil, or from river beds, in many ways it is sourced by removing it from the chaos of nature. It has an ability to be formed when wet into a variety of forms because of its plasticity, and is hard and brittle on drying. The processes of creative formation are flexible and malleable, but once the forming stops, the clay begins to dry and become brittle, in its rigidity it becomes fragile and suspect to entropy.

So finally what am I getting at here? Bergson used the concept ‘élan vital’ to describe a force inside all living beings that motivated them to continue, what we might call 'the life force'. Bergson was suggesting that life itself was a creative process, something that Prigogine calls a self-organizing dissipative structure, driven by non-equilibrium flows of energy. I.e. the active forming process is a self-organising one, one that reflects the possibilities in the organisational structures of life itself. This ‘élan vital’ it could then be argued is something that runs through everything, not just living things and that all materials have the potential to be formed into others, they just need to be in interaction with whatever they find themselves in contact with.

If you want to read a much more scientific description of how this works an excellent article is "Scientific Élan Vital: Entropy Deficit or Inhomogeneity as a Unified Concept of Driving Forces of Life in Hierarchical Biosphere Driven by Photosynthesis" by Naoki Sato.