When I was very young, my first word wasn’t “Mum” or “Dad”. It was “Light”.
I would point at light fittings, lamps and candles and say the word over and over again. Apparently according to my mum it was pretty annoying.
Having watched the recent Disney live action remake of Aladdin, I decided I’d make a lamp; a modern one though, with a lampshade I could illustrate with one of the fairytale “tale types” I’d been reading about.
I started with an illustration of little red riding hood, Tale Type 333, which I intended to then develop as a lampshade design. Rather than illustrate red riding hood, I was illustrating the MOTIF volume 'K' which stands for “DECEPTIONS”.
Unfortunately what I didn't foresee was that so many aspects of this project - 3D design and printing, carpentry, printing on fabric, embroidery - were not easy things to master in such a short space of time! Lamps can be deceiving...
I thought initially I would print the background on fabric and then embroider the characters of Red and the Wolf. Unfortunately it took a few attempts to visualise this... the first time I printed the fabric the image looked terrible - the depth of field I’d created just didn’t look like blurred on fabric, and I chose the wrong fabric.
I had to learn from scratch how to “Digitise” my designs ready for embroidery using software called Stitchartist. I studied YouTube videos and endless blogs on the craft of digitising online to learn some basics and began to digitise my designs... it’s quite difficult, you literally have to redraw your image step by step and “tell” the needle where to “punch” a hole and where to stop and start stitching. Digitising is a bit of an art form in itself, as it used to be done manually by embroiders on huge machines. I tested it on the logo I had made for this collection, that I was thinking of using for a brand or collection name.
Below you can see what the stitch file looks like.
I practised embroidering some designs. Here’s a sketch and the final result for comparison.
I then tried to embroider the characters onto the fabric and it just didn’t have the effect I wanted. Fine details, like Red’s eyes, were so hard to embroider using just a 10cm by 10cm hoop but this is all I could afford to use - prices for larger hoops on machines are crazy expensive. I decided therefore to just use the print method on the fabric alone, and use embroidery for other products. I liked the designs but when it came to embroidering them so tiny they just looked rubbish.
I decided I should create the full product of the lamp including the base, so I taught myself how to use some 3D modelling software called Tinkercad and created 3D models of the components I would use to make the lamp base. I designed it so I could just slip in a lamp socket easily rather than have to get into electrics and wire it myself, which is a whole new ball game and something I wasn’t comfortable selling later because then you probably need safety certificates and stuff. I then printed prototypes using 3D printing, adjusting my designs when they didn’t work or errors occurred. This took a few attempts... turns out 3d modelling is kinda hard! I managed to get the print looking good on the fabric, and slowly but surely my lamp started to take shape. I experimented with using a wood PLA hybrid material which gave the lamp components a wood effect, and cut some oak dowel rods to size to hold the lamp stand together. I then made the lampshade, which I haven’t done before, but had a disaster when I made it the wrong way... for a ceiling lamp rather than a table lamp... idiot...
It’s fair to say that at this point I realised making dozens of products was going to be difficult... I still hadn’t perfected the lamp, and wanted it to be really beautiful and cast the components in Bronze or Brass, and maybe even plate them.
This process was taking a while as you need to prototype every stage, so I decided to just do “mock ups” of some other products - essentially create designs and add them to blank photos of various products in photoshop to show my intentions rather than actually physically make everything. Also I couldn’t afford to do that. I would just focus on the lamp as the physical product and make it the best it could be.
I decided to cast the components in Bronze. This involved 3D printing the components again using a castable wax material, which would melt, and I then took these to the casting department who helped me create the bronze components.
However, some shrinkage occured which meant the walnut dowel I had cut to size didn't fit the components. Also they were just so heavy! The design really needed to be perfected still, but it was now the end of term. I decided that I would use the wood PLA components and fixed them to the walnut rods.
I then printed a new lampshade design, opting for 25cm rather than the humongous 30cm shade I had made before (see comparison below). I like the new size which I think fits the stand perfectly. I'll talk about why I changed the design of the illustration on the print in the next blog post, but here is the final lamp.
This is by no means a finished product. It's a prototype. I've learnt alot about my restrictions with embroidery and fabric printing, and I wouldn't say I have made something fit for purchase, or that I'm even happy with it. Printing on fabric is a nightmare really because it's hard to get the colours right. Plus, so much more needs to be done - packaging design for example. And I'm still perfecting the lampshade making - my seams are rubbish! Im learning and getting better with each one.
But... I do feel I've got knee-deep into prototyping one specific design rather than going off on a tangent and trying to make a whole bunch of stuff like I normally do. And what this prototype enables me to do is to make various lampshades moving forward, and then photograph them on a stand that is contemporary, simple so as not to detract too much from the lampshade itself, and completely unique to my website, whether or not I manufacture / sell the stands themselves. They are also easy to assemble and can be manufactured with just a home 3D printer and a small hand saw to cut the dowels. And the way I have designed them, no wiring is required! I am happy because in the future if prices / quality of home 3D printers improves, I could potentially manufacture these from my little one bed flat. That was a really important aspect of this project for me - that I created something I could continue to make after University and access to its facilities ended.
I feel like I have an interesting angle on Authorial Illustration going into Year Two - looking at the Authorial Illustrator as Designer. I felt conflicted about that for most of Year One - could the two skillsets intercept? But then I read about the Bauhaus school and art movement in early Twentieth Century Germany, in which craft intercepted with art, and functional design was given precedence. I think moving forward I need to read more about Bauhaus and see if my practice aligns with its principles.
In the end I decided that this illustration needed to be reconfigured and would work best as a fine art print rather than a lampshade. I just felt it was a stronger composition. Here is the final result...
I'll keep perfecting my lamps and shades and eventually sell them. I hope they bring someone "light".
And then I realised my project had only just begun ... I had prototyped a product but I had nowhere to sell it. It was time to make an e-commerce store...
Ulterior Motifs: Introducing an alternative resource for the creation and analysis of popular cultural texts.