Souvenir

/ˌsuːvəˈnɪə/
noun

  1. a thing that is kept as a reminder of a person, place, or event.
    “the recording provides a souvenir of a great production”

A project this semester revolved around the idea of a souvenir, we were tasked with replicating an object, preferably something we made ourselves. The Project revolved around methods of replication, and reproducing, which as a printmaker is something I consider whenever I’m making work. My main studio class was actually called out of the matrix and saw us consider the way our prints are made, and how we can make that central to our practice.

After considering the topic only briefly, the day to propose our inspiration snuck up on me. I looked around my room and tried to figure out what souvenirs I could find, but I’m not a big collector of ‘things’. One item that was quite abundant though was little sprigs of lavender, during out lockdown walks my partner would snap lavender from a bush to smell on the walk. She would always bring them back to my house, sprinkling them around the room like she was preparing for the most one note potpourri.

My first instinct was to just start creating lavender sprigs from wax, it seemed the simplest place to begin. Because I thought it would be impossible to make an imprint from lavender given how soft it is, I figured trying to carve out a clay mold might be the best option. From a printmaking perspective this process is interesting, as with print there is always the matrix that we create to generate the image. In this process you’re creating a matrix in clay, to create a matrix in wax, to work into the final product through casting.

Each sprig is slightly different, you might notice the runt of the litter from my first attempt at a mold. This random difference in how the objects are treated after the mold gives each a more organic look, from working with print there is a certain forgiveness for irregularity that I’m well accustomed too by now, and even seek out when creating.

To build on this concept I thought about the uses for lavender and expanded to herbs in general, again my partner had just left inspiration lying around. I found a small pipette bottle of hers with rosehip oil inside, after getting permission I transferred the contents to another bottle, cleaned everything out and began trying to replicate it. First I got some two ingredient putty to mold the opening of the bottle, my goal was to make the top and bottom not only separate, but functional. I tried to squeeze in the putty as tight as I could around the opening but it proved quite difficult. Nonetheless as you can see below, the original lid does fit onto the wax bottle.

I finished the rest of the bottle off with pink sheet wax, and it was a fairly straight foreword process. Unfortunately when it came time to mold the lid, I broke the mold before I got a successful wax from it. Thought maybe there’s some kitsch value to a sterling silver bottle with a plastic lid. Either way the tactile fun part of this work would survive, either the satisfying coarseness of metal on metal, or the decadence of draining liquids from a silver bottle.

Some other directions I went can be seen above, one method I tried was to warm up pink sheet wax, and mold it over one of the blue wax lavender sprigs. I did this same motion up and down the wax, finally wrapping it over, trying to imitate the shape of lavender. While this looks less like lavender, there was a really nice frailty to it, and it would be difficult but satisfying to cast, though I suspect a lot of the wax would buckle or burn out. The second idea I followed was similar to the bottle, a tactile object, and related to plants and medicine. I made small mortar and pestle’s, one traditional and attempting to be accurate, and the second playing around with the concept. I enjoyed this, I think it’s really fun to create smaller functional items, and make them really decadent.

Investment

Since I last talked about making wax sculptures of hands for casting I’ve made a lot of progress. I’ve started streaming my art making process on twitch.tv, and cast a few pieces. If you’ve no read my previous post, I explain my journey into twitch streaming and how it fits into my practice, more specifically wax sculpting.

My teacher asked me to look into the symbology behind hands, what they mean, and why i might be so interested in recreating them. So I did the logical thing, made a playlist of videos all about hands, sign language, muscle structure, symbology, and body language, then streamed myself making wax hands while i watched it. Such is a modern art practice. You can find the original stream at twitch.tv/greatjobjake the playlist on my YouTube channel. I’ll touch briefly on the first video on the playlist, which unfortunately I cant embed in this blog, It’s on the symbolism of hands in the Del Toro movie Pans Labyrinth.

Small tangent, this type of video essay might be a little foreign to some, but it’s becoming a more and more competitive genre. I became really obsessed with this style of video at the beginning of Melbourne’s first lockdown through creators like Contrapoints and PhilosophyTube. I really enjoyed how people would break down a topic, attempt to cite sources, and it really just made YouTube feel like more of a reliable source of information. They even have their own version of peer review in the form of referencing, debunking and responding to each others videos.

Something I enjoyed about this video was the constant reinforcing of the position hands took in the film, they use a technique of presenting a simpler version of the answer that is slightly incorrect, in order to help guide the viewer to their final observation on the concept. A common theme throughout all these video, or at least my take away from watching them, was that hands are symbolic not so much in a visual sense, but through our understanding of their versatility, functionality and historical context. For example, the video above references cultures that keep one hand for ‘holy’ tasks such as eating and praying, and the other hand for unclean tasks, like wiping and other sanitary issues.

Another interesting tangent the videos took was that of how body language can change how people perceive us. One video gave three demonstrations ways to address a crowd, and in each he changed how he gestured towards the crowd, but kept his verbal message the same. In the first he kept his palms open and facing upward, gestured softly towards the crowd, and used sweeping motions, this gave a softer more open feeling. People felt inclined to do what he said, in essence because his body language was kind and inviting. In the second, he turned his palms downwards, gestures became sharper and more pointed, the crowd resisted him more with this motion, he explained this body language comes across as an order as compared to the previous ‘pleasant request’. The final gesture was a pointed finger and closed fist, this was above an order, this makes us feel not only directed but small and stupid. These subtle ways we hold ourselves can have a huge effect on how we are received.

These are the first cast pieces I made, you can see they’re pretty rough, but I ended up really liking this look, it gives the impression that parts have been warn back from excessive rubbing. An old photography teacher of mine David Van Royen once told me that if you’re unsure about a photograph, to keep it on your fridge at home so you see it everyday, and have to consider it constantly. I like to take this approach now with a lot of work I make, I leave it laying around in my space, so I have to interact with it and confront it. I did this with the hands, I kept them on my work table so that while I was using my computer, in a zoom call or streaming, I could play with them and roll them around in my hands.

I’ve been doing this for about a week now, and I know it’s super corny, but all I think about when I hold them is how nice it is to hold a hand. When collecting my thoughts about this project I was actually reminded of a song from a band I loved in my early twenties that I’ve posted below. Your Hand in Mine is an incredibly sentimental song, Explosions in the Sky really know how to convey a sense of sincerity through their instruments. Before lockdown I was never really a touchy person, I probably would of told you that i would prefer people never touched me. As devastating as these lockdowns have been, they have absolutely opened me up to the idea of human touch being integral to maintaining good mental health and social bonds. I’ve come out the other side of this event a much more sentimental and physical person.

Following on from these casted pieces, and with that sense of sentimentality in mind, I made a small sculpture work from another set of hands. I was thinking a lot about a potential future outside of lockdown, the prospect of starting a family and feeling closer and more supported by my friends. I also thought about how when making a work about hands, it’s interesting to consider how they’re going to interact with your hands and each other. I really wanted to introduce a sense of tactility with this work, I like the idea of stacking and arranging them, feeling heavy metal sitting on top of more heavy metal.

Finally I sent off three items to get cast by professionals at Lenrose Jewelers, thought I haven’t got these back, I’m pretty confident that they’ll be of a very high quality. With these newest works I was trying to practice and perfect the hand ring and the hand pendant. With the pendants I like trying to make them as realistic as possible in their articulation, while keeping the surface more of an impression of skin instead of an accurate representation. I didn’t take any images before I sent them off, but the VOD of me making them can be seen in my last post.

Overall I’ve really enjoyed this process of working with wax and silver, but while the casting process was interesting I think what I enjoyed most was working with three dimensional mediums. Going foreword I think I will explore this aspect of carving, molding, and shaping.

Wax, Twitch and Videos of Insects

I wrote most of this post before realizing I hadn’t actually explained what twitch is or how it works, and for a lot of people not into gaming or being online, it may be something new. Twitch is a live streaming platform, predominantly known for people streaming video games. More recently the site has also become a popular place for art, political content and IRL streams (which involve the streamer recording from out in the world). The easiest platform to compare twitch to is YouTube, which boasts around 2 billion users, Twitch though only has a modest 140 million average monthly users. Unlike YouTube, which has started to move into live streaming, twitch’s format is reversed, with live streaming being at the forefront, and recorded content being accessible but not the focus.

For people unfamiliar with Twitch it can be daunting to interact with, and maybe hard to see the appeal, it certainly took me a long to understand how I could enjoy the platform as a viewer, let alone a creator. My partner sometimes watches me streams and talks to me from the chat, she has never used twitch before but is super supportive, she’s likened the experience to having a nice low effort podcast on in the background, but one you can interact with in real time. This is really the selling point of twitch, and how people monetize the platform, with each streamer basically being in control of their own schedule and programing. ‘Chatters’ as the audience is commonly referred to on twitch have a direct line to the streamer, and a whole array of options to donate and support them. For some bigger streamers a donation or subscription becomes necessary to interact with the streamer and have your message stand out, though this meta is always evolving as attitudes change, along with the interface of the site itself.

Each streamers goal really is to create a community under themselves, to support their stream, and create an ecosystem of viewers who will create content and reinforce the stream. This is just a basic rundown of how twitch works though, I think to explain deeper we would have to get into the dynamics of para-social relationships, but that’s not really what this post is about. If you want to learn more about these relationships there is a great video by Shannon Strucci that gives a brief introduction to the concept.


At the start of the first lockdown, I decided to give becoming a twitch streamer a go. It was a chaotic time, and a lot of the conversation surrounding lockdown revolved around how best to use this time, and how you could maximize your output with a totally free schedule. I started streaming painting, I had a plan all laid out, I would paint on stream and turn the streams into time lapse videos, creating a pipeline of content I could use to help grow my online presence. It didn’t last long, I remember doing about 5 streams before my mental health rapidly started to deteriorate from the stress of lockdown.

Time-lapse from my 2020 stream

Something was missing in my first foray into twitch and live streaming. While I had thought a lot about how I would use the content and what I would create on stream, I hadn’t thought about how this process could be enjoyable to me. Something that has become clear to me over this last few months of streaming, is that unless the process is fun for me, there isn’t any point in doing it.

My most recent dip into the twitch ecosystem has been more relaxed, and with less pressure for it to be productive. There are a lot of nice thing’s I would like to get out of streaming, but I’m worried speaking them out loud might scare them away. At the moment with each stream I’m reacting to how the last one felt for me. An example, in my first few streams, if there was no one in the chat, I got really bored, so I put music on! But then parts of my audio kept getting muted due to copyright, so then instead I put on some interesting YouTube videos, not only for me, but for everyone watching. Now I’m getting overwhelmed by media when I stream, so things are changing again. The key point is that the streams serve my enjoyment first, the audience second, and my practice third.

Here is a VOD (video on demand) from one of my latest wax streams, I wouldn’t recommend watching the whole thing, from memory it was pretty dull, but it gives an idea of the kind of content I’ve been streaming. It’s not obvious from a cursory glace, but the whole process of creating publicly changes how I make work. This happens in two ways, the first being from the instant feedback of people in chat, usually I will make something and post it, trying to gauge how people are feeling about what I’m making. The second is that I’m constantly consuming content on stream, this wouldn’t usually affect my work, as like most millennials I surround myself with media and screens at all times, but when streaming I feel the need to interact with the media so much more for the audiences sake, and this bleeds more and more into what I’m currently making.

Currently this practice of streaming what I’m working on heavily revolves around projects done for my degree, though after this semester I’ll have to figure out what’s going and what’s staying. In keeping with the ethos I’ve laid out above, it will really come down to what is enjoyable for me to create on stream, but it would by unfair to myself not to consider how the content translate through an online platform. Something I notice when I see other creatives who present work made through traditional methods on digital platforms, is that they have trouble communicating exactly what is interesting about what they are doing. I know as someone who paints the joy of applying paint to canvas, the subtle sounds, and seeing the work emerge, but translating that experience to an audience is a difficult task. In my streams I’m trying to capture wax work, which is quite hard to do without a lot of great equipment and a versatile setup. The odds of wax work being a staple of my streaming moving foreword is low, but sculpture as a medium for stream holds a lot of potential; the immediacy of clay and other malleable mediums means a lot of room for bombastic motions and spontaneous creation.

Two wax’s made during a recent early morning stream

Looking back on this last month of streaming, I definitely see it as a valuable addition to my practice, not only for the work it’s produced but for the archiving and community aspects. For the moment my main goal with streaming is to be consistent, I think a lot of people drop out of these projects because they don’t see results fast enough. I truly believe the people that are most successful in any industry, besides the lucky few, are just the people who stick around.

Can i give you a hand?

So this post will basically be talking through my early design process in creating a Covid charm, see my previous post for what a charm is. Initially we were told to think about what had defined our time in lockdown, and therapy came to mind. I spent probably about 15 weeks in sessions with a student therapist from Melbourne university, It was easily some of the most intense sessions I’ve ever been a part of, and by the end felt like I was more mentally exhausted by the therapy than the lockdown. We did this one exercise called chair work, where I would address the chair sitting next to my therapist on the screen as if I was also sitting in it? does that make sense? this was all over zoom.

I showed up late for class, and totally unprepared the morning these sketches were due, luckily I was on the far end of the room, and double lucky I find it easier to pay attention if my hands are busy. So I tried to come up with some ideas that would be fun, but maybe easier to execute. I always get kind of annoyed when I see peoples art diaries and they’re these perfectly maintained books, each page a masterpiece. Most of my visual diaries are 90% half finished pencil sketches, 5% slightly more fleshed out ideas, and 5% notes to myself, sometimes about art, but mostly like phone numbers, quick math and maybe an important password or two. So I don’t really enjoy showing them, but here’s my starting point.

Waxing relaxing all cool

Despite this being my first time using wax, I’ve spent countless hours at work playing with blu-tac on the tills, making tiny sculptures in my down time (if I work for you this is a lie and I am a model employee) so this felt kind of like an extension of that, only the wax was a lot firmer. The thing I was most interested to make was hands, I always love drawing hands, getting a hand right feels like an accomplishment. So I started making hands, these ones below were a combination of brown and pink sheet wax, I focused on getting them as small as I could while still feeling substantial and recognizable. I learnt ways I could make them smoother and look cleaner, but I actually really liked the rough handmade appearance. To me they have the appearance of carved stone, which I think gives off a more masculine vibe.

I’m most proud of the clicking hand on the far right, it came in at 0.7 grams of wax, which I think turns out to be 7.3 grams of silver. There’s something so fantastically fiddly about working with objects this small, people forgive inaccuracies on a smaller scale, and adding too much detail might end up making it look messy.

Another style I attempted were these rings down below, it might be difficult to see but they are flat little hands wrapped around to make a ring. These seem to be the most popular thing I’ve made, I think I get that, they’re super simple and especially the smaller ring has just enough variation to look human, but still stylized.

Francis Upirchard

When my teacher mentioned this artists name, I thought it was spelt Francis Oop Richard, I don’t if anyone ever has had the middle name Oop, but you can see it in my diary photo above.

UPRICHARD’s practice involves design, sculpture and traditional craft methods. I can really see why my teacher recommended her work, it’s very bodily, and has a really nice tactile . In the video linked below she also talks about smaller scale being intimate, and an intuitive process of creating, both aspects I very much admire and relate too.

At this moment two of my wax pieces have been cast and are ready for collection, but unfortunately medical issues have kept me homebound for the last few days. I’m excited to see how they turned out and will post when I have them in my grubby little hands!

Resources

  1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MOAL9Hcv6ME
  2. https://www.katemacgarry.com/artists/52-francis-upritchard/

Covid charms and where to find them

I don’t have a lot of experience with jewelry, I dislike the feeling of metal on my skin, so that rules out necklaces and rings. I only just got my ears pierced last year, in a post lockdown identity crisis, and have not yet brought myself to wear anything but sleepers outside the house. This semester I was lucky enough to get into the Casting and Metal Alloying, a class that would probably benefit from some basic knowledge of jewelry.

Having said that, I do think I understand the appeal of charms, though I’ve never worn them. I’ve always had trinkets and baubles, and little objects of importance, strewn around my room, kept safe in small boxes. Badges, shells, polaroid’s, leaves, tickets and toys, but this class deals with charms in relation to jewelry, so first!

What is a charm?

A charm is a small artifact, or object, that has some significance or meaning behind it. They’re often designed to be attached to a bracelet, or other piece of wearable jewelry.

During World War 2, soldiers would send home charms that reflected their experiences while stationed overseas. In the image above, sourced from the Museum of Fine Art in Boston, there is a combination of army signifiers, like a jeep, and artillery gun, but also coins from several allied nations.

This type of charm became incredibly popular post WWII in America, as servicemen would bring home these charms from local artisans overseas. My father served in the Australian army, and as a child I remember seeing lots of small charms including Akubra hats, Australian crests, and indigenous animals, all made from silver, or sometimes even pewter. My family home had huge cabinets filled with trinkets, ceramic elephants, tiny glass dogs, and these small charms of Australiana.

I remember having one charm in particular that I attached to a keychain, I can’t for the life of me remember what it was, but I knew it was made from some kind of rough metal or stone. I remember being obsessed with the idea that if I rubbed it enough, I could wear down over time. This somehow made it more valuable to me, that it would eventually disappear.

How is it different to an amulet and a talisman?

Traditionally an amulet is an object with apparent magical power, it’s purpose often to protect the owner from the evil influence of others. This can be worn, or simply held in a location, in order to confer it’s powers. Amulets were originally made from natural material, such as animal bone or gemstones, but in more contemporary settings could be made out of any material.

A talisman is thought to be an object of great power, the can provide energy, luck or connect someone to a sense of spirituality. Traditionally made from the bones and trimmings of predatory animals, but more modern totems could include a piece of clothing with significant value, a tool that has proved incredibly useful, or really anything to which a person could form a strong emotional recognition for.

In summary
A charm is for remembering, or tradition
An amulet is for protection, or comfort
And a talisman for power, luck or spirituality

All these functions may apply to each, and the definitions of each seems pretty mailable

Covid Charms

The first class project is titled “Covid Charms”, and it got me thinking about what my charm was. The only item I feel gave me power was my FitBit. I got really into running about halfway through, and it was really good for my mental health. Every time I left the house with the FitBit on, it was a physical reminder of my commitment to self care.

(this is not an advertisement for FitBit)

References