Contextual Research

As this project is a visual exploration focusing on memories, it is necessary for me to contextualise my thoughts.

Annette Messager is an installation artist whose body of work encompasses elements of drawing, photography, needlework and sculpture. Messager’s artworks are unique within the choice of material, often reusing clothing, badges, stuffed toys and synthetic hair to create an unsettling effect on the observer. The main interest in Messager’s practice is her creature creations which are neither animal nor human, reflecting the shadows in our personality. These creatures are both beautiful and unnerving as they have recognisable and ambiguous features combined together. These creatures are exhibited in multiples and are spread amongst the space by hangings and floor installation. Motion is a key consideration within Messager’s recent work and the creatures are often accompanied by fans which will disturb the stillness of an object. Other movements include inflating ad deflating materials and hanging pieces so as the air movements of the viewers will sway the exhibit slightly. Messager’s work is therefore transformed into an interactive experience and is an inspiration when considering how my illustration will be exhibited. Within this project I am looking to create endearing creatures which represent the exaggeration of the memories of the animals at ZSL London Zoo. The response which I have already had from my work is that people start to guess my drawn/textiles forms and associate these to an animal. The issue which my textiles experiments at the moment is that they are becoming increasingly like the original animal due to the making process. By scaling up my design I am hoping to gain back the organic forms which my drawings possessed (as there will be more scope for detail) and exaggerate certain features further.

I have mentioned the work of Louise Bourgeois previously during the Self-Initiated Project, however her work is now relevant to my textile experiments. Bourgeois’ work is currently displayed within the Artist Rooms as the Tate modern (Switch House Level 4 East.) The exhibition is a collection of Bourgeois’ late autobiographical work which covers other experiences such as birth, death, love, loss and fear. Through drawing and sculpture the artist tells honest personal stories and memories which have affected her life experiences. Bourgeois often experiments with one idea in a number of different forms including cast bronze and stuffed fabrics so as to produce a strong parallel between concept and process. Like Messager, Bourgeois’ textile sculptures often have a human or animalistic quality, making strong references to body parts. Furthermore, the colour pallet featured within the work is reflective of the human body and flesh. This could be something to consider within my outcome, especially if I am to produce more abstract forms, colour could create a link.

Experimenting with Felt

After researching into Jon Burgerman and Felt Mistress’ soft sculptures, I purchased a number of felt sheets so as to experiment with the material. The idea was to create a smaller mock-up of a creature created from photocopying my Indian ink drawings. I collected felt sheets which were vibrant in colour and would create a complimentary contrast when placed within one shape.

The main purpose of this experiment was to consider colour pallets, final shapes and how to work with the unfamiliar fabric. I started the process with cutting a basic shape out of two layers of felt, with a seam allowance added. These shapes were then flipped to the opposite (finished) side as when the fabric is sewn together, the pieces will be turned the right side round. This finished side will then have no pencil markings on, but will also have appliqued shapes to create the features of the originally designed creature. Following the ink version, I cut shapes from coloured felt and layered sections so as to replicate the personality of the creature. These were then sewn onto one piece of the main fabric with a similar colour thread to be invisible. The most challenging part of the appliqueing process was matching the stripes on the point of the face so as they would run in a circular format when stuffed.

After the details were sewn, I placed both pieces together (with the insides facing out) and used the original pencil marks as a sewing guide. This line was important as it will form the outline of the final shape and therefore smooth curves without any sudden changes were required. I left an open space for the fabric to be turn the correct way around and for stuffing to be placed inside. For the mock up I created two sections of the creature, both the face and foot, so as I could practice joining the two parts together.

I was pleased with the outcome of this experiment as the material was easy to manage and the finish was professional. After discussing with my tutor it is now necessary to further contextualise my concepts and the purpose of my soft sculptures. I am looking to create more creatures of the same size as the mock-up, perhaps to hang when exhibited, and also consider creating a larger sculpture. It is clear that this project is a visual exploration, focusing on memories and exaggeration of the original observations. These are elements which need to be emphasised through the next sculptures so as to improve my visual communication.


Artist Influences

After considering the concepts surrounding my visuals, it was necessary to look at artists whose imagery contains animals, characters and creatures. Furthermore, I wanted to consider where my characters could fit within contemporary visual practice, and what is there purpose.

 SKWAK is a graphic illustrator who creates a ‘manic world’ full of monstrous creatures and characters. His work is widely popular and has been commissioned by Microsoft, Google and Nike to produce an array of product. The most striking aspect of SKWAK’s illustration is the colour pallet and the interaction between each character. The creatures are recognisable as living beings as they have similarities to real life animals, such as limbs and wings. These characters are then placed into a black background, which means that they are taken out of context and allowed to function in a surreal environment. An outcome typically consists of a number of individual creatures or patterns flowing and existing together. This is the reason why the illustrations are engaging, as the eyes are directed around each detail. SKWAK has used these creatures as his visual identity, allowing them to exist on t-shirts, toys, trainers and other surface designs. This is something I am looking to achieve with my creatures as I want to bring them to life and enhance interaction.


Oliver Hibert creates striking digital illustrations which are surreal and psychedelic. Hibert’s work is unique in context as he takes influences from the past to suggest the future. The interest for my project is found within the alluring figures and bold patterns featured within his outcomes. Furthermore, these characters are a combination of imaginative, animalistic and human-like features which together create an individual personality. My most successful visual experiments are the illustrations with a narrative and attitude which project to the viewer. This is something which Hibert creates effortlessly within each character through facial expressions and body language, so as to personify and relate the creature to human emotions. Hibert is also a commercial artist commissioned by BBC, Disney and Addias to work across a number of mediums.


Jon Burgerman is commonly named the king of doodles and his illustration has appeared on I-pad covers, jigsaw puzzles and children’s toys. The most recognisable piece of work is a colour yourself wallpaper which proved popular amongst all generations of people. The aspect of Burgerman’s portfolio which I am particularly interested in is the collaboration with Felt Mistress in 2009, where the company created a range of soft sculptures of Hipster characters.  Felt Mistress creates bespoke creatures in collaboration with illustrator Jonathan Edwards and other artists. These felt characters are an example of an outcome idea for this project as I can envision my drawings coming to life in the same manner as Burgerman’s. However, I am considering changing the scale of these creatures to be life sized so as they could be likened more to the animals observed at the zoo and become a true reflection of the distorted memories produced from man-made enclosures.

New Creatures

As my drawings were existing as singular parts of each animal I observed, I wanted to join these parts back together to create surrealist and playful work. The way that I approached this idea was to photocopy each image and invert some to change the negative space. I also altered the sizing of some to A3 to create a bigger outcome. These images were then cut around the main outline and placed into different categories. I realised that I had been drawing mainly the facial features or limbs of each animal, but I didn’t want to place the same section of the animals together in the new creatures. This is because I want the final illustration to have a sense of reality so as the viewer will still recognise the visual as being animalistic.  It was also important to match the drawings together so as the mark makings would flow from one part to another without any harsh changes.

The experiments were successful as the new animals gained a personality and run parallel with my concepts. These illustrations are an exaggerated reflection of the memories and observations that we take away from the zoo. As we only have access too distortions and sections of the animal, this means that we have a mish mash of different visuals in our heads which I am then placing together as one. The next step to the illustrations is to draw bigger sketches so as I can create larger creatures. I also want to consider a textile outcome which could be in the format of wall hangings or soft toys. Another idea was to name to characters and create a range of different animals based on people, for example the Beyoncé creature?


Zoo Brief Starting Points

Although there is a break within the Final Major Projects, I was keen to start the Zoo Brief so as not to lose momentum within my working process. The zoo brief is based on the research trip to ZSL London Zoo, and asked us to document what we saw, heard and thought throughout the day. I considered ideas, observations and opinions surrounding the zoo by visually recording the most interesting aspects in postcard format. I also took a range of photographs which I shall now use as reference when returning to the project.

To begin the project, I laid out the postcard drawings in grid format and drew in Indian ink from both these sketches and photographs. On the trip the main concept which concerned me we that one goes to the zoo with the intension of seeing the animals. This intension is rarely met because the animals are always slightly out of sight and only parts of the creature can be viewed. Furthermore, reflections from the glass and distortions from cages make it difficult to capture the true essence of the animal. I want to make this project a journey of curiosity and playfulness, by questioning the assumptions that everyone makes about an animal’s appearance. For example, you may only see the tail of a monkey from the viewpoint and then jump to the assumption that you know exactly what the animal looks like as you already know the vague appearance through the internet/information signs/books etc. Therefore, my ink sketches are an imaginative depiction of a part of an animal to challenge the realistic image which is fed to the viewers.


Glastonbury: Land and Legend Research

Glastonbury: Land and Legend is the current exhibition held in the V&A’s performance and theatre galleries. The exhibition is described on entrance as an immersive film installation which is inspired by the sights and sound of the festival, rather than focussing attention directly on the music performances. The exhibition intends to highlight the festival community as a whole and document their experiences to tell the narrative of the event. The main interest for my practice is the constructed pyramid structure which is the centre piece of the display. The structure resembles a tent in shape, with film footage projected onto the side panels. This footage can be viewed both inside and outside of the tent, however the most intimate experience is found when one is surrounded by the film. This reveals the festival’s journey from ‘a landscape to an epic kaleidoscope’ of personal accounts. The exhibition also informs the viewer on the significance of the pyramid and the mystical associations the shape holds. The shape is considered to be powerful as all energy is projected upwards whilst light from the stars and sun are drawn down. Within the context of the exhibition the pyramid stage at Glastonbury was inspired by Abraham Maslow’s hierarchies of of needs. These needs ascend from physiological, safety and security, love and belongingness, esteem and self-actualisation. The suggestion is that within the festival these needs are inverted as creativity is of the highest importance, and basic needs such as sleep are neglected. This transcendence of social norms is what makes the festival goers so unique as a community.

In relation to my own project I felt that the experience of the pyramid has motivated my thoughts towards improving my final outcome significantly. The footage was intriguing in aesthetic and sound, and the structure was open as if to invite viewers into the space. Once inside there was an overwhelming feeling of something which is bigger than one individual, but also a feeling of safety within the boundaries of the tent. The aspect which made the installation successful was that the imagery was powerful and you were taken away from ordinary life. This is an element I am looking to advance within my own work through adding more appliques drawings, decorations and beading work. My tepee must become a thinking and visual space, where the viewer will exist in the middle of a highly embellished interior.