Design for a commemorative plate

Design for a commemorative plate about Monet



I finished another learning journal or sketchbook yesterday in a sudden rush of glued in drawings from the British Museum. I did have a notebook with me which sometimes serves as a sketchbook but I also had a pocket full of postcards and I drew on these instead with a fountain pen. I should have taken some shots of the cards as a pile as it was quite nice to have this pack of shufflable ‘culture cards’ as it were. What I actually did was paste them into the current sketchbook along with other bits and pieces and some photo thumbnails that I had taken with a digital camera. I used this book at school when I was explaining to the pupils how we were going to design our commemorative plates.

I was using my plates, my current practice, as the instigator for the project so I was trying to share with them the inspiration behind my “Admiral Keppel” style plates of a doughty head of art on a sinking ship. As I did so I was thinking about how much the work that I did last summer on the learning journal module for ARU has affected the books. They are packed with huge amounts of detail, much improved referencing and layers of complexity. What I am trying to do is demonstrate something to a future self much more. I am packing up the ideas with a view to unpacking them in the future. I am using the book as a thought technology in a much clearer way than I was before. They make my old sketchbooks (ordinary ones) look utterly casual, letting the reading of them to pure chance.

I don’t decorate the books much, I don’t embellish them with much more than layers of notes and pointers. Beyond the odd bit of collage here and there I just lay them out with gaps for later notes and in fill. They remain pretty chronological, on the whole. I have had a run of using spiral bound books and quite a lot of glueing in. One of the books has black pages and is written in with silver and white pens as a nod towards the idea of journal as scrapbook.

I don’t know what the children make of them but the books do seem to be a much more deliberate presentation of practice than before.

With the year eights I am demonstrating a set of six plates, one for each group. I picked up on Grayson Perry’s ‘Heroes’ pot which I saw in the V and A a few weeks ago when I was drawing in the ceramic galleries. I had the idea (on the 15th January, according to my book) to do a plate about heroes of the Anstey library: towards a job definition. When I was a lad first getting interested in art and being told by peers and some teachers that ‘you really should be an artist, Paul’ I spent a lot of time getting all of the art books out of the Anstey library. I was a committed reader and I read my way round this little library from 1972 to 1977 a couple of times. I was fond of military history, sci-fi of the more cerebral sort, Orwell, art books, drawing primers (the best being Paul Hogarth’s ‘Creative Pen Drawing’), Huxley, and Alistair MacLean. I did not grow up in a house with a great deal of original art beyond my mother’s amateur oil landscapes. There was a print of a chuckling cavalier on the stairs, a couple of Canaletto prints and a writhing black bronze horse with a snake wrapped round it that gave the shivers.

So I had to come up with a job description myself. There was Graphic Design or Commercial Art which I was a bit too flakey for, really. Rather unbiddable for the commercial world. And then there were the lives of the Great Artists int he black Thames and Hudson volumes. What a great bunch of role models they were too. So my plates are dedicated to six wry art heroes of the Anstey library. I think this was all rather lost on the children who were with me as far as Admiral Keppel but stopped getting the jokes thereafter.

One of the things that came out of the physical process of making these designs was tracing the images. I traced the first one about Gauguin and realised that this simplified my source somewhat and seemed to make the possibility of carving it into clay way more achievable so I grabbed some old drafting paper out of the old DT room and found the old light box and we were away. I got the pupils to trace their pictures of Eric Cantona and Bobby Moore (?) and it all started to look a lot more likely to succeed.

The whole process of inspiration from Perry, Toft, and Keppel, of day dreaming in ceramic museum spaces and letting these ideas mull and intermix on bits of paper in books looks fantastically complex and individual. And a huge amount of work. I have been committed to this for some time, if not obsessed. I have really pursued these avenues of thought with pen in hand and the journals and helped me do it. I am modelling obsession, partly. And now I have turned it into a viable school project. It doesn’t look that self evident at all.

I lie awake at night planning sprig moulds of fruit gums.