Footsteps in the Snow in August...?!

Updated: Sep 4, 2018

It feels a little belated to be writing about the project and my experiences as we are almost at the end, with the exhibition coming up next month! However I think it’s nice to start by looking back 6 months and talking about my initial impressions of the project and team. I was really excited to travel to Newtonmore in March to meet the team and take part in the first round of workshops, and lucky since we had experienced a lot of snowy weather prior to the trip and were blessed with a beautiful blanket of snow on the morning we had a walk scheduled, but did not encounter any disruption to travel.

Having introduced ourselves and spending some time talking about our practices to the team, we went on to discover how sounds recorded on your mobile phone could be easily turned into something visual - in the form of spectrograms using the Audacity software. The team went for a short walk to collect sounds which included a variety of birds and noises generated by the snowy landscape. After that I found I was able to generate spectrograms and easily translate them into my digital design process by using image trace in Illustrator, producing a variety of results. I went out for an early morning walk in the snow the next day and captured more sounds file, one of which was ducking quacking. Here are the initial image traces I made from this sound file.

Our ‘homework’ for the next workshop in Plockton in June was to create a set of samples to share with the team. I decided that since it was a Highlands project I would choose the theme of birds and played around initially with creating some repeats from birds silhouettes and overlying them with spectrogram elements generated from their corresponding birdsong. Although it wasn’t required I wanted to have hand drawn element of my designs as I have been working hard on developing my drawing skills and felt this was an integral part of my own design process. 


Before developing further bird designs I did experiment with the duck repeat pattern I had generated at the workshop. This was the first pattern I used to create a screen and then print onto fabric. Since this part of the project was very much about experimentation it was nice to have the space to try a new technique. I printed the pattern using glue and then ironed foil in various colours onto the fabric to create these samples.

I then created my woodpecker and great tit drawings and used them to make repeat patterns in Illustrator. Looking back, the woodpecker definitely helped me to try out my process of printing a layer of the birds and then a spectrogram layer. This is when I also started to play with silver and gold binders and powders, again something new and exciting for me! Here is one of my woodpecker samples.

The moment when I felt I had something I wanted to submit to the project and develop further was when I created the great tit repeat. I love the fact that you can’t tell straight away that the pattern is made from birds and it links in with another passion of mine: ceramics. The pattern is clearly tiled and this is a deliberate choice for this reason. This is my favourite pattern so I decided to take that forward as one of the two I would submit to the exhibition. Here is the tracing paper stencil and exposed screen with the great tit pattern.

We had a fabulous sharing session in Plockton - it was such a privilege to see all the other project team members work and hear their ideas and very different interpretations of the process. We spent quite some time in Plockton sharing our processes and planning next steps and the result was we had to submit two samples for the exhibition along with a final piece. One sample could be of our choice and one was allocated to us. I had already chosen the great tit and was given a sound file of footsteps in the snow so wanted to use that as an opportunity to do something totally different. 

On my return I developed a new spectrogram pattern from the great tit birdsong and created four more samples to see which pattern/colour combination I liked the best. The samples on the burgundy fabric are actually printed onto the underskirt of a sari I bought in India years ago. I used the remainder of this and some hot pink fabric, gold and silver inks for the spectrogram repeat and black ink for the great tit repeat. This is my favourite combination and the one I am going to use for my final piece, a three metre printed length. I just need to finalise the scale of the patterns and how they will fit together before screen printing them by hand.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with Orla a couple of times since our visit to Plockton and wanted to try working using a similar process to hers, which is very different to mine. Orla makes marks in a very free and loose way whilst referring to the spectrograms and then makes stencils directly from her drawings by scanning them. She then makes up several screens and works quite freely when printing also, overlaying the different patterns on the fabric as she feels. This produces varied and abstract results, she also tends to work fairly large scale. You can see more of Orla's work here: https://www.orlastevens.com/


Inspired by Orla, did a session of mark making referring to my spectrogram of a sound file of footsteps in the snow. I then image traced a couple of my favourite drawings to be turned into stencils for printing. My colour palette for this sample was taken from one of the photographs I took in Newtonmore, in keeping with the context of the sound file. I made several samples using these stencils, the final picture below being the most free in the way in which it was printed. It is my favourite as I had so much fun printing it and deciding on the placement of each element. This is the final result and will be the second sample I submit for the exhibition.

It has been a fabulous experience to work on this project since it has allowed me to experiment, my technical printing expertise has grown and the project team have been a delight to work with. I'm super excited to see everyone next month and more to the point, the finished exhibition pieces!

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