Project 7 Final Large Bas-Reliefs

Having done experiments at a small scale (15cm sq), I now prepared to produce larger works for Project 7 to the brief of at least 30cm by 22cm. I planned three bas-reliefs:

  • a scaled up relief of knitting
  • a relief of engineering tools after Paolozzi
  • a relief taken from a carved and developed plate following my experiments on printing on to plaster.
  1. Knitting

For an earlier sculpture, I had experimented with knitting with wire and, in my small scale experiments, I had tried impressing this in clay. The texture was interesting but very fine, delicate and detailed. The idea of ‘printing’ knitting appeals to me because it plays to the tradition in printmaking of blind embossing rope. Also, I like the idea that something three dimensional is made from a linear thread. This is ‘taking a line for a walk’ with a vengeance.

The texture could be scaled up by using a thicker thread and made more interesting by including the needles. I am always looking for ways to challenge a rectangular frame or break out of it, and I thought the needle and the cord at the beginning and end of the knitting could leave the frame, adding linear elements and angles. A small section of knitting was done on a big needle with picture cord. The tension was kept loose and irregular for added texture.

samples (1 of 8)

The knitting and needle were pressed into clay with a brayer and a small cast taken, as before.


samples (7 of 8)

To preserve texture, clay was washed off the surface with a soft paint brush, rather than a toothbrush as previously. Whilst the plaster was still relatively soft, I drilled a hole through the cast using a screw.

knitting (10 of 1)  printing results (6 of 9)

I wanted to combine the cast of the cord with actual cord. Initially, I planned to have this just trail out of the frame, but my knitting had pulled down at one side when rolled over. I decided to capitalise on this and add a weight to the cord so that the cast knitting looked as though pulled down by gravity. An old brass plumb line weight was rethreaded onto the cord and attached. This automatically pulled the tile at an angle when hung and I have exaggerated this so that the only horizontal or vertical line is the plumb line. I think this addition gives the casting much more interest.

printing results (9 of 9)

15cm sq plaque

castingm (32 of 46)

Developing the idea further in my sketchbook

This piece is only 15cm square and the remit calls for a piece at  least 30cm by 22cm. My challenge was to scale this idea up even further. I decided to stick with the square format which I felt worked well. I made a new wooden frame using 35 cm long sides and tried knitting various thicknesses of thread to work on this scale.

basr (1 of 28)basr (3 of 28)

basr (12 of 28)

The knitting, with two needles was impressed into the clay with a brayer. However, I miscalculated the amount of plaster needed and my bas-relief was too thin and weak.  It broke at one corner when I lifted it off the clay. I also think the knitting covers too much of the area in this cast and I want the threads to be more obvious leaving the frame at the bottom and top. The knitting is too fine.

castingm (20 of 46)

33cm sq

I went back to experimenting with thicker cord and rope.

basr (13 of 28)

basr (11 of 28)

I really liked the chunkiness of the rope, but it was so thick that I knitted it on my maul stick and so strong that I didn’t think it would flatten out enough to impress more than the high points. My biggest, 4mm, cord was therefore knitted as large and loose as possible to be really flexible so that as much information as possible would be transferred to the clay. With the frame loose on the floor, I played about with one or two needles and the thread placement.

basr (14 of 28)

For graphic simplicity, I used just one needle in the clay.

basr (20 of 28)

Clay impression ready to pour plaster


basr (21 of 28)

Plaster poured, with mesh and cord immersed in the back


The surface finish of the plaster is not as good as my earlier pieces. The clay has now acquired some moss, and I think that I didn’t manage to successfully remove it before rolling out the clay. I imbedded a piece of wire mesh and hanging cord on the back of the plaster, and used weights on the edge of my frame to suspend the mesh at the correct level using cord but  it has  come through the front at one corner.

castingexp (4 of 4)

Specks in surface

castingexp (3 of 4)

Edge of mesh just visible in one corner

I pierced the plaster as before for a cord, but also carved out a depression for it, so that the cord would hang like a continuation of its cast.

basr (23 of 28)

This 4mm cord has a blue strand woven through it, and I haven’t been able to find any of this gauge without, so to complete the piece, I painted the cord white with acrylic paint to overcome that blue strand.

basr (6 of 28)

I experimented with a number of ‘weights’ using objects with holes which I had picked up from Lyme Regis beach. These included wave worn stones, bricks and metal. The red brick was good but I felt needed some other red in the work to provide a rhythm of colour. The eroded iron has interest but no relevance and is a distraction form the knitting.

casting (19 of 44)casting (34 of 44)

I think the white stone with several holes works best with the white of the plaster and is reminiscent of primitive loom weights. Hanging the piece under a picture light highlights the texture. At 32 cm square plus the weight, this has real presence.

casting (4 of 44)

Lit by picture light


2. Engineering tools

As part of my background reading etc for this project , I considered the work of Paolozzi, in particular his bas reliefs using industrial motifs. Since I have always had a conection to engineering and my home is full of industrial bits and pieces, I wanted to produce a piece after Paolozzi. I gathered some interesting shaped items and did a small test piece in my experiments using a variety of smaller pieces.

I played about with my collection of objects and with photographs in my skecthbook. The c-spanners seemed particularly interesting shapes and I was looking for an arrangement where the shape was echoed between similar but different spanners and which would create interesting negative spaces between the forms. I only have four, but, of course, one could be used several times.

basr (28 of 28)

I just couldn’t arrive at any composition which I felt was interesting enough. It seemed to me that all I was producing was a kind of cast Kim’s Game with no life or movement to it. To introduce some movement and interest, I tried mark making with the tools in the clay, but this just looked like poor impressions.

I have decided to abandon this idea for the present thuogh I may well return to it later.

3. Printing from an MDF plate.

Following my experiments trying to print onto plaster, I decided to pursue a larger piece but trying to scale up the size and the texture. I wanted to produce an abstract work based on the textures of rocks I had seen at Lyme Regis continuing the theme from my original experiment.

 castingm (34 of 46) castingm (33 of 46)castingm (35 of 46)

Paying around in my sketchbook, I selected a design which combined mass and texture with line. The design was selcted for simple bold related shapes whioch wouls be textured and linked by line. A 15mm thick off-cut of mdf was bought from the local DIY store and marked up with the size of my square frame. I have made a larger rectangular frame, about 30 by 40cm, but using a couple of L-shaped pieces of paper to consider the crop on my design, I preferred the square format. I sketched the design loosely onto the mdf using charcoal. The sketch was very loose and indicative because I knew that the material and how it carved would modify the design as I worked.

mdf (1 of 3)

The mdf was carved using my Japanese woodcut tools.

mdf (2 of 3)

The board was easy to carve into but removing deep material was very dusty and unpleasant, requiring a face mask. My tools proved to be a bit small scale for the job and the internal mdf too soft to take the line components of my design.

The design called for two large areas which would be raised and textured. To create the texture, I cut corresponding pieces of tyvek which would be glued on and melted whilst the glue was wet with a blow torch. To replace my planned carved line, I cut some scraps of textured fabric and arranged these in a line to be joined with trailed pva. The fabric was also glued on and melted.

mdf (3 of 3)


casting (3 of 44)

Trails of thick pva were added with a small nozzle. A Dremel was used to drill domed holes in the board which were echoed in negative by gluing small lentils to the mdf. Sadly, it was impossible to get these shapes to match exactly.

turq (4 of 4)

The board was left for several days to ensure that the pva was completely dry, and then varnished with polyurethane vanish. This was left for a week to make sure that it was set hard with no residual tackiness and that the pva had not reactivated. The frame was sealed onto the board with hot glue and the surface sprayed with wd40 before casting to aid release on the deep texture. After the plaster was poured, it was left overnight to set because I was quite concerned about releasing the plaster successfully. However, once I had unscrewed my frame and released it from the hot glue, the plaster came off the face of the board easily, leaving the board looking like new.

dome (2 of 3)

Although I have successfully scaled up the carved shapes, the texture is subtle and I think picking it up with colour would enhance the relief. I used photographs in my sketchbook to experiment with ideas for colour treatments. Following earlier plaster surface treatment experiments, I decided to use melted beeswax mixed with a little printing ink for the colours. I also wanted to reintroduce the lines in the original design. Adding them with plaster dripped from a nozzle was considered but I have decided to use water based paint in a pipette instead, as being more controllable for a line of varying weight.

bath (3 of 4)

Considering finishes in the sketchbook


inks (1 of 2)

Trying out ink mixed with polish on test casts

inks (2 of 2)

colour (2 of 7)

Lines added using Brusho from pipette

Analogous colours were selected to avoid muddying the colours. They were applied with a wad of soft cloth, to catch the broad planes, edges and high points.

colour (6 of 7) colour (5 of 7) colour (4 of 7) colour (3 of 7)

Trying to use pure, transparent colours to let the plaster shine through has yielded a rather lurid effect. I am interested in the way the Brusho sinks into the plaster, dispersing the colour components at different rates.

I don’t think that this bas-relief has the graphic impact of the knitting, but I am pleased to have tried printing complex textures onto plaster in a way that I could not have achieved with clay. This technique also offers the possibility of inking and editioning and other directions for development.

4. Pure Texture

In some of my earlier experiments, I had used silver foil to create a dish in which to cast a bas-relief and this had produced some interesting textures. I decided to create a bas-relief which exploited these textures but also used the ability of foil to reflect the shape of a container. I reused a dished garden bird bath which I had used to cast a papier mache dish for an earlier sculpture. My ambition was to create an irregular, circular, domed bas-relief as a complete departure from rigid rectangular forms. I planned to use much heavier, catering grade foil to be tougher, give a bigger scale texture and also because it is available in wider rolls.

Silver foil was laid across the bird bath and roughly crinkled, more in some places than others. The diameter was governed by the width of the roll. The edges were drawn up a bit to retain the plaster. I added a piece of pea netting and hanging cord when I had poured my plaster.

basr (8 of 28)basr (10 of 28)

The foil released beautifully giving really crisp, faceted texture.

castingm (19 of 46)castingm (17 of 46)

The texture is minutely faceted and detailed in some areas and is in big soft planes in others. The final size is approximately 32cm in diameter.

dome (1 of 3)

Domed profile.

The fractal nature of the texture is interesting and I like the domed, irregular form but I am not sure if it is sufficiently interesting to stand the test of time hung on a wall. Much as I like the clean, crystaline effect of natural plaster, I decided to apply colour to this to add interest and display the texture. To try out the idea, I used split toning in a photographic programme.

turq (1 of 1)

White plaster split toned photographically in blue for dark tone and yellow for light

The texture is very crisp and I didn’t want to loose that with brush strokes or paint thickness so I applied turquoise Brusho watercolour with a spray bottle from low in one direction. The plaque was the sprayed with lemon colour from the opposite direction. The Brusho sinks into the plaster leaving a coloured, matte, velvety surface.

turq (1 of 4)turq (2 of 4)turq (3 of 4)turq&yel (1 of 5)

The work is now more interesting seen from different angles and in different light.

turq&yel (4 of 5) turq&yel (3 of 5) turq&yel (2 of 5)

Thinking about how I could extend the idea of printing pure texture, I decided to combine the idea of pure texture and soft textiles by impressing a tufted bath mat into clay to cast. The bath mat was chosen because of its chunk texture but also the irregularity of the way the tufts lie, almost like wind blown corn in a field.  The heavy knitted cotton is also stiff enough not to flatten when pressed into the clay. The bas-relief was cast in the same way as the knitting, but with the texture covering the whole surface area.

casting (43 of 44)casting (44 of 44)

Unlike the knitting, it isn’t immediately obvious what this is an impression of. The irregular texture hints at something organic and moving or flowing. The texture is so complex that I have had difficulty washing off the clay residue without damaging the delicate surface.  I have considered applying a surface treatment using a waterbased paint to get into all the detail and then dry-brushing the top of the texture with paint. However, I have decided that simplicity is the key asset of this relief.

 bathmat (1 of 2)

bath (1 of 1)bathmat (2 of 2)


Final Analysis

Of these pieces, the knitting is the most successful. It contains a number of interesting contrasts, flat areas, textured areas and line, soft and hard materials. It successfully breaks out of a rectangular form. The knitting has printed well and has a real tactile force. I am concerned that using the weight to ‘pull’ the knitting is a bit gimmicky but I like the idea of extending the work beyond the edge of the plaster. A familiar domestic object is presented in an unexpected medium and at a large scale. I would like to make it even larger and more startling, referencing other sculptural works which play with scale such as Ron Muerk’s huge heads.

The other printed textile is surprisingly interesting given it is square, printed across the whole face and left natural. This simplicity and directness of the execution works well with the complex texture. The complexity and the variation in the texture makes for a work which I think will retain interest over time, hung on the wall.

The ambitious idea of printing from a collagraph type surface hasn’t been as successful as I hoped considering the large amount of preparation and work this took. However, I can see that there is an opportunity to develop and refine this. Experience in the technique would inform the balance of texture, mass, line and elevation. It may be that it would always work best at a smaller scale, so that the texture has more impact. I plan to acquire some larger wood carving tools and experiment with plywood both for casting and woodcut.

The faceted nature of the plaque cast from foil is surprisingly complex and pleasing but I am not sure that it sufficiently transcends the obvious use of the materials. It might be interesting to develop the approach to colour using an airbrush so that the paint could be applied at a more oblique angle and more locally. I like the use of transparent colours on the plaster allowing the reflective glow of the material to shine through though my colour selection was poor.


About starrybird

I am mature student studying art with The Open College of the Arts. My passion is printmaking.
This entry was posted in Course Parts, Part 4 Casting In Plaster, Project 7 Bas-Relief and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Project 7 Final Large Bas-Reliefs

  1. ramblingman8 says:

    These look great and I must try to follow your example of your rigorous sketchbook work which accompanies all your work. You might be interested in the plaster printing course Emily Harvey is running in York – – I thought I’d give it a go.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s