The Group Critique

This is the second of two blogs I’m devoting to the HNC Year 1 February weekend. It’s Group Critique time! This is where the members of the group present a digest of their project submission in front of the ‘group’ and our two lecturers. We are supposed to have just 15 minutes maximum each, but right from the start this stipulation went awry. We all learnt an important lesson: if we overrun this session we all lose out – individually we all want to show what we’ve done, but frankly there’s only so much most of us can take (and take in) at one go! This is ‘such’ an important and valuable opportunity to seek a critique from tutors and fellow students that I think we all agreed it was a shame for us to defuse the potential of the session by telling the whole story of every personal project adventure. I’m reminded of the way I was encouraged (by an experienced colleague) to work with my composition students when they met for such sessions: only choose the golden moments, imagine you are doing a radio / TV interview and you can only show/play examples in 10 second (max) bursts.

I’m planning here to give a brief review of all my colleagues work. No more than a 100 words each and one photo. My review has to take in the sketchbook, the mood and market research boards and the swatches. If I fall out of line I expect lots of comments of censure! So here goes. Just to say the order of presentation almost reversed the order at the first ‘crit.


Anne's Collection

Anne is a weaver and she chose the antiquities of Ancient Egypt. Her sketchbook was just amazing – such a feast of colour, research, experimentation, and in so many media. Studies of location photos (sun and shadows on pillars), the use of candle wax as a base with acrylics, food colouring, PVA and corrugated paper, all kinds of mixed media. All very tactile, all very accomplished. She’d tried rya knotting and very irregular leno. Her colourscape was pretty convincing too. I’d been in the British Museum quite recently – in the refurbished Egyptian galleries so I can vouch for this!

Anneli's Collection

Anneli's Collection

Anneli is a weaver and had chosen Portmerion, the Italianate village in Snowdonia. Inspired particularly by the (‘summery’) colours and designs from the Portmeirion pottery she produced a substantial collection. In an interesting contextual twist to her presentation, she referenced her work’s subject to the social changes in the 1960s. I’m very inspired by Anneli’s weaving skills, her work is so beautifully executed and finished – as it was here. Using rya, leno and inlay her colours seemed brighter than the gaily painted houses in the village. I’ve been inspired by Portmeirion too: in my double-bass concerto subtitled The Prisoner.

Laura's Celtic Collection

Laura's Celtic Collection

Laura is Italian, and a  professional weaver living in Ireland. She had focused on Celtic sources: ancient crosses, calligraphy, the colours of the southern Ireland coastline. Her presentation was a model of conciseness, giving us a very revealing insight into the lengths she had gone in experimenting with weaves, designs and proportions. Her table mat collection was impressive in its coherent colouring (of subtle veridian and lemon greens) and intricacy in the play of inlay, warp and weft. She admitted having trouble with the market research presentation, probably because her own professional experience in this area had yet to be developed. 

Jane's Collection

Jane's Collection

Jane chose a sculpture by Henry Moore after a visit to Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Her visual research was bold and comprehensive: lots of different media explored and techniques used from 3-D paper maché, collage and rubbings from the sculpture itself. She really had deconstructed the sculpture! Her woven swatches included all the handcrafted techniques on our list, including soumak and Spanish Lace. Rya featured prominently. But, she revealed, she had not enjoyed the project, despite presenting a most effective and convincing display. I’ve been inspired by Yorkshire Sculpture Park too – but in music – particularly the sculpture of Barbara Hepworth,

Bridget's Collection

Bridget's Collection

Bridget was the first of the knitters to present her work. She had focused on Malingware, and a pink vase from her own collection. I had never seen this pottery and was intrigued at her ‘knitted’ response. Although pink dominated her colour thoughts, her keen attention to exploring structures was evident through Photoshop manipulation, watercolour, edible lustre dust (?!), and wax and metallic crayon. Her knitted pieces were decorated with paper flowers and were thoroughly convincing as a collection.

Cheryl's Japanese hanging

Cheryl's Japanese hanging

Cheryl is another knitter. She had based her collection on her love of things Japanese. Her knitted pieces showed evidence of connections with martial arts, traditional dress, and calligraphy. There was an inscribed hanging scroll that made quite an impression. In discussing her work one of our tutors mentioned the unique local collection of Japanese fabrics at Redbrick Mill, Batley, which seems a great source of exotic fabric inspiration near at hand. Cheryl had sensibly chosen the on-line craft site as her market research focus. 

Kate's Japanese Collection

Kate's Japanese Collection

Kate’s presentation had something delicately special about it. A Japanese theme, based on a lovely old jar, but a world away from Cheryl’s striking martial reds. Here we were in the world of the faded tints of the ukiyo-e (the floating world of images) and the pictures of Hiroshige. The lengths to which Kate had gone to replicate the subtle greens of her jar were fascinating to behold. She also produced a separate picture book of images upon which to base her visual research. Her knitted pieces were as delicate and restrained as the designs on her jar.  

Mark's Collection

Mark's Collection

Mark had chosen his 16C home in Devon as the basis for his woven work, what he described as a ‘near at hand’ project. It was a captivating presentation enhanced by his own mood board photos and anecdotes about restoring and living in such an extraordinary house. The woven swatches were based on colours from tiles in his home, and the leno work wonderfully and effectively echoed window tracery. His sketchbook was a rich collection of drawings and mixed media experiments, including rubbings of window frames, all in all showing a convincing progression towards eventual design.

Marina's Collection

Marina's Collection

Marina produced an Arabic wedding dress at the beginning of her presentation – its embroidery the starting point for an impressive collection of swatches in vivid reds. I was intrigued at some of the inlay effects she had managed to achieve. There was one swatch with a lightning-like arrow in three colour – I would love to know how it was done! The visual research was very comprehensive and ranged from references to Paul Klee to the use of hand-made paper. 

Gail's Collection

Gail's Collection

Gail’s ‘Inspired by Matisse’ woven collection I found quite captivating. The colours were definitely ‘right’ – that slightly bleached Mediterranean look. There was some impressive (and very loose) leno and in one piece she had used Theo Moorman’s technique of inlay and overlay to great effect. She’d used a range of yarns from dress-making threads to felting wool. Gali’s sketchbook showed an adventurous journey of visual research – lots of cutting and sticking of coloured paper just as Matisse did in his final years.

Jo's Collection

Jo's Collection

Finally, Jo had focused on architecture as her theme for woven work. In particular she had chosen that extraordinary hotel in Dubai, the Sail. She produced a large and rich collection of responses to this image, many of the pieces full of beautiful and intricate working. The colours she’d chosen were exactly those you see on those travel brochures for the Arab Emirates. Her sketchbook showed the use of photo and collage, and how to employ an empty white square frame to illustrate and highlight colours.

Well, what about me you may ask? My collection was the only one that was not well received critically. It was described as too minimal, the colours muted, the visual research not comprehensive enough (the subject not really considered quite appropriate), lack of evidence of experimentation with yarns and fabrics, and the presentation (which used some innovative digital media) difficult to assess. My first response was a) to defend myself (a mistake!), and b) to consider resubmitting it.

Nigel's presentation 'in preparation'

Nigel's presentation 'in preparation'

If you’ve followed this blog my rationale is all therein. I don’t regret doing the work the way I did, but I certainly recognize that it had serious shortcomings and the critique has given me much to think about. I continue to feel the minimal nature of the woven outcomes made it possible for my work to be aligned convincingly with my market research and this was, according to the project brief, not an ‘add on’ but a necessary part of the project thinking – which must include the subject chosen. At the moment the demands of another creative occupation make it necessary for me to interleave visual research with my weaving of swatches: this is not the expectation. When I can find a way to complete the research before weaving, then perhaps the presentation and outcomes of my work with be more effective.

If you want to see some of my colleagues impressive and varied work in more detail do go to my on-line gallery here. Remember you can enlarge any picture on this blog by clicking on it!


6 Responses to “The Group Critique”

  1. Dot Says:

    Nigel, I think you started this course at a disadvantage because of your very limited experience of weaving and having not previously taken a particular interest in textiles and design. I don’t think you should be disheartened. I think this is a time to sit and think about what is expected from students on this course and routes for getting on track.

    I had a similar upset when studying for my legal practice certificate 4 years ago. It was so many years since I’d studied full time, I had to learn to be a student. I failed several assessments at the end of the first term. I had to put aside my work experience and the things I thought I knew and understood. I had to listen to my fellow students – who pointed out various things like I was used to working very independently, but had to learn to co-operate. I had been doing what I thought was expected of me, as such interpreting instructions, not following them. I was inclined to wander off to explore paths that interested me instead of being focused on meeting the course requirements. I had been used in my work, for many years, to being an expert, this course stripped me naked – my experience not only didn’t count but I had to learn to be a novice. I managed to change my approach and fought through the re-takes, eventually getting some top grades in some subjects.

    Might sound daft, but I wonder if it would be easier to pick a starting point of less personal interest? e.g. get one of your family to chose something they like, then work as if on a commission.

  2. Cally Says:

    Grrrr, how frustrating for you. I don’t know how you find the evaluation process, having already trained in a creative subject, but for me (a mathematician) I found that the hardest thing about the course was knowing what was really wanted. I couldn’t find my way through the maze of visual research and design development – I always seemed to have done the wrong things and in the wrong order! Then quite by chance at the beginning of the second year I somehow “pressed the right buttons” in design development and I was so pleased, even though the outcome of the project was my least favourite collection of swatches.

    Generally it seemed to me that there was an unspoken art school norm that the tutors found it difficult to articulate to people like me who had done no art at all since about age 14. When I was able to learn from it, fine, but when I wasn’t I just set it aside and got on with the weaving.

    Three cheers for brave novice weavers!

  3. rustjewellery Says:

    Honestly…I have to say that your weavings are amazing in my opinion. I had the same kind of problem at group crit at Art college, the ‘proof’ of thinking maybe seems more important than the work itself?
    I have no patience to go through ideas on paper first, just want to make it straight away! I’ve always worked liked that and I think some people are used to doing the ‘visuals’ in their head, then have to try and make up some rough ideas afterwards to please the tutors!

    I had a notion that weaving textiles was all ‘multi coloured’ new age stuff! and your swatches are like re-inventing the ancient, creative and functional weaving into a intellegent use of colour and textures…minimal or maybe ‘refined’ is a better word?.

    I think your talent for colour and design goes much further than just weaving…it can’t be taught. Its very inspiring to me!

  4. Margreet Says:

    You must be frustrated by it all. But it sounds familiar to what happened in our year too. As Cally has already mentioned, knowing what is wanted is important to know and complying to it.

    The cross over seems to work with having weaving-knitting-embroidery together in one group when reading your Critique overview.

    Keep enjoying your Bradford weaving journey! I really enjoy reading about it, bringing back memories.

  5. Dot Says:

    Just picking up on Cally’s comment about how as a mathematician she was at a disadvantage, here’s a tip from my O and A Level art days. The most talented students did not follow through the linear design method (by which I mean taking the starting point, list ideas, collect information, produce sketches, choose idea(s) to develop finished design. They did it largely the other way around. Knowing what they wanted to achieve, they then backed that up with the reasoning / research / sketches to get to that point. They got top marks.

    I’m not saying that route always works better, but if you can get a visual impression in your mind of what you are aiming for at an early stage in the work then you’ve got a better chance of getting a coherent presentation together with a good final design choice.

    Hope this helps!

  6. Jane Says:

    Nigel, I think you are being a bit hard on yourself. Your samples were good considering that your time at college using the looms was limited. I don’t have other creative things to whizz round my brain – so I probably do a lot of thinking about the project – you might not have time to do that.
    My method of working is a bit like Dot says -some times working forward to an end result, sometimes working backwards. I honestly think, that i must have done it all the chronological way in my head to have got to that point anyway.
    I go and see what my object is really early on – do art work quickly and let it settle in your head a bit. If I have to order yarns, then I know what colours/textures I need. I really feel an urge to get weaving quickly but I do a lot of playing around. If i were you I would do more weaving at home – if you can do 10 mins sampling or playing around everyday, you can plan what you want to do on a different warp (possibly at Bradford). hope that is helpful -see you at the next weekend

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