Monthly Archives: July 2014

Laser cutting for Textiles at Central Saint Martins

A week of laser-cutting fun!

Regents Canal opposite Granary Square

Regents Canal opposite Granary Square

I joined the Central Saint Martins (CSM) short course on Laser-cutting for Textiles, located in Granary Square alongside the Regent’s canal.  This was a week long course introducing students to the process of creating electronic (Adobe Illustrator) files to be used for laser-cutting, the various effects and techniques that can be achieved with laser cutting, and an array of fabrics, materials and textures to experiment with. The title is, therefore, a little misleading, as it wasn’t just fabrics we worked with, however there was a slight more slant towards fashion.

Our course tutor was Laura Baker, a specialist in fashion and textile print. And our technical tutor was Franklin Mok, both staff at the University of the Arts London (UAL), of which CSM forms a part. We were also joined by Miriam Griffiths, a knitwear designer and alumni of the London College of Fashion (also part of the UAL).

Laura demonstrated pattern-making methods within Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. We were also shown numerous examples of jewellery, fashion, food, and everyday objects and furnishings that have been designed or made using laser cutting. There were many previously cut samples on hand and we soon learnt that what may work on one type of fabric/material may look terrible on another and that accidents can sometimes lead to interesting results. Some materials worked better and others were not strong enough for the laser to engrave for example.

 

We were shown the materials library where a huge wall was adorned with hundreds of samples of plastics, woods, metals, fabrics, stone, etc. There were also many reference books on fashion and textiles and future developments within this area. Experimentation was very much encouraged.

Materials Library within Central Saint Martins

Materials Library within Central Saint Martins

We were taken down to the laser cutting room where we were introduced to a huge Trotec laser machine. As indicated on the front it could not only cut but also engrave and mark/score.

Trotec Laser cutting machine at CSM

Trotec Laser cutting machine at CSM

We were shown that specific cyan colours (magenta, blue, green and black) are interpreted by the computer as being either an internal cut, external cut, engraving or scoring. These lines had to be paths within an EPS or AI file format and be only hairline thin (with the exception of the engraving).

The following image shows engraving, scoring, internal and external cuts:

Sample demo of laser effects on veneer

Sample demo of laser effects on veneer

We were also taken to a few shops in the Aldgate area where we discovered suppliers of rare leather pieces from various animals. See if you can guess what each of these animal skin is? Most leather pieces had been treated with colour and stretched or stitched so may not look natural (pink rabbit skin being a key example).

Miriam Griffiths brought in some of her final year work of knitwear. Within the designs she also added pieces of laser cut wood. These wood pieces helped with the structural design of her garments which were based on garments worn by a remote tribe in China.

More of Miriam’s work can be seen on her website: http://www.miriamgriffiths.co.uk/

The next day we got on with designing our first samples for laser cutting. I’ve recently worked with iznik flower motifs so following in this theme I looked on the V&A Museum’s website some inspiration. I liked the look of the carnations on this velvet fabric dated at 1600-50:

Velvet fabric with carnation pattern c1600-50

Velvet fabric with carnation pattern c1600-50 (Image from V&A website:

http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/t/teachers-resource-exploring-plant-based-design-through-the-jameel-gallery-of-islamic-art/)

I began working on isolating and redrawing the flower shape in Photoshop and then switched to Illustrator for colouring the drawn paths which would be where the laser would engrave and cut the material:

Preparing flower motif file

Preparing flower motif file

I chose to use the metallic leather sample piece I obtained from one of the leather shops we visited earlier in the week for the flower motifs:

Flower motif laser cut into metallic cow leather

Flower motif laser cut into metallic cow leather

I later realised that I should have changed the colour of the middle paths so that those would have been internal cuts. Instead I cut one of the motifs’ inner strokes by hand to see how this would look.

Flower motif laser cut from metallic cow leather

Flower motif laser cut from metallic cow leather

You realise when going through the process of designing, amending and laser-cutting the pieces that it can be very much trial and error until you’ve had a bit of practice with not only the design file, but also the material you work with. The same file worked well on stronger materials like the mirrored acrylic but not so much on the thinner sheepskin leather shown below:

Flower motif laser cut into acrylic and sheepskin leather

Flower motif laser cut into mirrored acrylic and sheepskin leather

Princes School of Traditional Arts Degree Show 2014

I managed to catch the Degree Show at The Prince’s School of Traditional Arts (PSTA), an exhibition of work produced by graduates of the postgraduate programme.

As you may have guessed, there are strong ties between traditional arts and crafts Islamic art. In fact ‘traditional arts and crafts’ is often the description provided for the term ‘Islamic art’, and it is usually these types of items that are displayed as examples of it. Rightly, or wrongly? It is debatable.  However, we must acknowledge that the link persists, and thankfully, the skills have been passed on to generations of artists and craftsmen today.

At the PSTA, students hone their skills of creativity and activity to produce contemporary artworks using traditional methods and materials, and always to a high standard.

Below is work produced by Ahmed Angawi, who comes from a product design background. His hand-made woodwork combined various woods to enable a mixture of shades and patterns within his pieces.

Close-up of woodwork by Ahmed Angawi

Close-up of woodwork by Ahmed Angawi

Woodwork by Ahmed Angawi

Woodwork by Ahmed Angawi

Also, on show were a pair of beautiful replica Hijazi doors produced by Sarah Al Abdali, using plaster.

Plaster replica Hijazi doors by Sara Al Abdali

Plaster replica Hijazi doors by Sara Al Abdali

Detail of plaster replica Hijazi doors by Sara Al Abdali

Detail of plaster replica Hijazi doors by Sara Al Abdali

Close-up of plaster replica Hijazi doors by Sara Al Abdali

Close-up of plaster replica Hijazi doors by Sara Al Abdali

The inspiration behind this piece was Sarah’s discovery of the original wooden doors within the Jameel Centre collection in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England.

Hijazi Doors, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

17th century, carved wooden Hijazi Doors at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Image and item details can be viewed here: http://jameelcentre.ashmolean.org/object/EAX.422

Cutwork pieces by Sarah Al Abdali

Laser-cut pieces by Sarah Al Abdali

Having viewed previous work produced from PSTA gradautes, it was great to see  students are now also experimenting more with new technologies such as laser-cutting. It’ll be interesting to see how much technology will influence the work produced by artists in future.

Another favourite was the Zouaq ceiling by Natasha Mann who learnt this unique method for decorating wood in Morocco:

Zouaq ceiling by Natasha Mann

Zouaq ceiling by Natasha Mann (for further details visit http://www.natashazouaq.co.uk)

Painting by Natasha Mann

Painting by Natasha Mann using hand ground natural pigments with egg tempera and 24 carat gold leaf.

Painting by Natasha Mann

Painting by Natasha Mann using hand ground natural pigments with egg tempera and 24 carat gold leaf.

Further images below demonstrate some of the incredibly intricate work on show:

Read more about The Prince’s School of Traditional Arts and both their taught and public programmes on their website: http://psta.org.uk/

 

Iznik: Ottoman Ceramic Design at PSTA

The Prince’s School of Traditional Arts (based in East London) runs a number of practical short-courses. I recently attended the Iznik: Ottoman Ceramic Design course where a small group of students learnt how to apply focussed and delicate brush strokes to ceramic tiles and plates. The class firstly taught us that concentration and a calm approach is key to producing the best results. We spent some time practising small lines and swirls. I honestly found this a little difficult, as I am used to applying deliberate and highly pressure movements through my tools, be it pens or brushes. As a result my brush strokes using ink came out quite bulky 😐 This technique called for dainty elegance for sure.

We soon moved on to experimenting with applying glaze to tiles. The change of texture was stark and proved even more difficult to work with. However the tutor, Nooshin Shafiei (very much an expert in the art of ceramic design) was able to depose some tips and eventually we cracked on with our final pieces – large ceramic plates!

Designs were transferred on to the plates by applying red powder dye to the back of the paper and then tracing over the top so that the pattern was drawn with the powder only.

Iznik ceramic design class at PSTA

Iznik ceramic design class at PSTA

We chose designs from a beautiful book full of photographic examples of Iznik ceramics: Iznik: The Pottery of Ottoman Turkey I chose the following design. I thought it was simple enough for my less than advanced skills but I soon learnt that even this was perhaps a little ambitious. In the following two sessions, conversation amongst students centred on one topic – the desire to make this final piece worthy of display in our own homes. The collective goal was to give it everything we had.

The various stages of my efforts are displayed below:

Iznik ceramic design class at PSTA

Iznik ceramic design class at PSTA

 

Iznik ceramic design class at PSTA

Iznik ceramic design class at PSTA

Iznik ceramic design class at PSTA

Iznik ceramic design class at PSTA

However, based on our tests on glazing tiles previously, it would not be until much later, once the plates had been fired that we would know exactly how our skills played out in reality…

Iznik ceramic plate design

Original plate that I was trying to replicate

Detail of Iznik ceramic plate design

Detail of Iznik ceramic plate design

The plate is now ready for it’s final coat of transparent glaze which will give it a shiny smooth surface.

Overall, the class was very enjoyable. I learnt new motif designs distinctive of the Iznik region within the Ottoman reign. I’ve not done much freehand, non-geometric art practice so this was definitely something new and challenging for me but I am very glad I decided to do it. The fellow students and the teacher Nooshin made it a very friendly environment with lots of interaction dispersed with the much appreciated tea-breaks (thanks for the biscuits Nooshin!).

I would highly recommend practical short-courses to anyone who either has a soft-spot for creativity, is looking for some inspiration, wants a break from their normal life routine or for the opportunity to meet new people. For further information on courses provided by the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts have a look on their website: http://www.psta.org.uk/openprogramme/