Thrift and Alchemy 1

I’ve had a course in mind for a couple of years now that I’ve called ‘Thrift and Alchemy.’ I’ve committed myself to running it next year at the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists Spring School in February, so of course it had to move from being a nifty title to a living thing. I’ve wanted to work with a larger variety of mixed media for a long time; I know the reason I’ve been putting it off is because it’s actually difficult to integrate all those interesting bits of stuff you stockpile, and keep identity and a good sense of design in your work. In short, I don’t just want to do assemblages of materials and objects, although I have found that is certainly the way to start, and then become more rigorous.

There will be a sort of recycling exhibition running at the time of the Spring School , I’ll have to check out the exact title, so the workshop will tie in nicely with that. I use ‘thrift’ as a definition in a fairly well behaved way; ie except for glue, threads and some support materials everything is recycled, found, or I’ve had it for a very long time and I’m now pleased I didn’t throw it away. I may add some embroidered slips which will use non recycled fabric. ‘Alchemy’ I have used in a looser way; I won’t be making gold or silver from base materials, but I hope there may be something interesting and even beautiful emerging from a mix of saved and, what’s the new term, ‘up-cycled’ materials. No pressure then.

I am researching artists who work in this way. Michael Brennand-Wood is a favourite of mine already, and I have a list of others to check out too.

I’ll add posts as I move along through the work. Once you start this sort of thing, of course you are never free. Everything in your rubbish, on the pavement, in skips and falling off trees is examined carefully in case it can have a new life and be just that amazing thing to inspire or turn a piece of work into something special and mysterious.

Here’s some of my collection of papers; old prints, book pages, scraps of painted paper and on the right a pile of failed embroideries to cut up.

I’ve sorted all my collection of jar lids, metal from tomato paste tubes, bits of strange plastic etc into a tool box. I am so astonishingly good at organising rubbish…

More stuff.

I started an exploring my materials session by painting and printing a few things. I love the cds but feel they need to be altered in some way, rather than just printed and plonked on; but this is what we learn from such activites.

Trying a mix of man made and natural materials; this is one I’ll try to develop, it’s a topic that’s quite pertinent in my work, how we interact and treat the natural world.

Old wallpaper and lovely silver plastic coins[!] I need all that junk from crackers I’ve thrown away over the years.

Now I think this is cheating. I printed the paper, but the bark, seeds and pebble were just placed really quickly; the beauty is all theirs. I like it though, so will complete it.

A print, a map, some pieces of porcelain, a work in progress. I have decided to work on a 30cm x 30cm format, to both move the pieces on and try as many materials as possible. [Not the long thin one above though, he’s on his own.] This is the first piece in a series which I have decided I will call ‘White Noise.’

Shards of cd  and paper. Just messing here, but I like what’s happening.

Jar tops, painted and hammered. I find them a problem, but I keep saving them, so I hope I come up with some solutions.

More fun with mosaic pieces of old embroideries, and checking out more materials.

I delved through some bags we were about to take to the dump and removed all these pices of old ceramics, mostly mine, made over the years. I intend to smash them up, and experiment with adding the pieces to textile work. There’s an old tin too, which I’ll have to go at with some tin snips. It’s very 1960s.

3 thoughts on “Thrift and Alchemy 1

  1. Steph, this post really excites me. As a terminal hoarder of ‘stuff with potential’ I am immediately chastened by the fact that you’ve done all this thinking and sampling while I continue to percolate ideas and sit on my hands. I’d love to take up this challenge. Shall be keeping my eyes peeled for more details of this course and dates etc. In the meantime I’ve made myself a promise that I will ‘upcycle’ something today!

  2. Thanks for your comments; Hilary, the course is next February, the 13th/14th, here in Birmingham at the RBSA. If you are keen they would reserve a place I’m sure. I shall spend the intervening months gathering materials and making as much work as possible.

    Don’t worry Lesley, I’m the same.It all seems like a wonderful idea, but it is quite exacting when you get all your stuff out and realise that some of it doesn’t work for you, and that it’s not easy to integrate it with your work or make new work. But, it is very enjoyable and it’s taken me out of a comfort zone, and I can’t wait to get back to it. I found that as soon as I thought of a title I started to pull things together [well, I hope so.] Send me an image of your upcycling, I would love to see it.

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