Community: Craft Exchanges from Haiti and United States
Donna Karan and the Design, Organization, Training Center, and Parsons School of Design invited Andrew Cornell Robinson to collaborate with Haitian artisans in the design of a new ceramic studio in Port-au-Prince.
After the successful launch of the studio, Andrew was approached by a Yoruba priest who commissioned him to use locally harvested clays from Haiti and the United States to create a water vessel for the deity Olokun. Inspired by this creative challenge, Andrew created multiple offering vessels, a selection of which were presented in the “Occupy Art Project #3 – Networks” at the French Consulate, in New York City.
Creating: Offering Vessels
The invitation to create a ritual water vessel to honor the god Olokun at the behest of a friend, a Yoruba priest, offered a profound opportunity to reflect upon the function of ritual, history, faith, connection, redemption, and the concept of àṣẹ, a philosophical concept through which the Yoruba of Nigeria conceive the power to create and produce change. Reflecting upon these ideas led me to Olive Senior’s poem, Olokun: God of the Deep Ocean. *
“Olokun: God of the Deep Ocean, by Olive Senior
In the waiting room beneath the sea lies the mythical Atlantis or the sacred Guinée
Who knows save Olokun master of the deep
guardian of profoundest
Shall we ask him?
Shall we ask him where the world tree is anchored?
Shall we ask him for the portal to the sun?
Shall we ask the tally of the bodies thrown down to him
on the crossing of the dread Middle Passage?
Shall we ask him for the secrets read in the bones
of the dead, the souls he has guided to his keep?
Will he reconnect the chains of ancestral linkages?
Send unfathomable answers from the deep?
Divine Olokun accept the tribute of your rivers
the waters of your seas give back wealth as you please
guard us from our innermost thoughts; keep us from too deep probing
but if we cannot contain ourselves and we plunge
descending like our ancestors that long passage
to knowing, from your realm can we ascend again
in other times in other bodies to the plenitude of being?”
As part of a creative research project and exhibition in New York, Andrew Cornell Robinson’s work was included in an exhibition/intervention along with a group of international artists and curators invited to occupy the Greek General Consulate and French General Consulate in New York City in which work was installed in situ for one month, along with several public events, and musical and theatrical performances.
The Design, Organization, Training Center (D.O.T) in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, was created by Donna Karan, Urban Zen, Parsons School of Design, and Haitian artisan and businesswoman Paula Coles to support Haiti’s artisans with visiting international artists and designers and the creation of a thriving design lab where creative collaborators can work across multiple media from ceramic, wood, metal, and textile, to fiber, horn, and leather.
Andrew Cornell Robinson was a visiting artist and educator, who worked with D.O.T. to design and set up the ceramic studio on site, and lead ceramic materials workshops including uses of local clays, surface design, and food safe glazes. He worked with Haitian artisans as well as scholars in the Parsons Design Fellowship.
Several workshops in ceramic surface design and glaze preparation were offered to local artisans. Participants learned how to prepare slip and engobe materials using imported and native clay and natural materials. Explorations using found chemicals such as rusted metals (i.e. iron oxide), to produce colorants and discussions of local materials that can be used to produce surface colors in the kiln, including seaweed, seawater soaked and dried fabric, etc.
Traditional slip trailing techniques were also explored. Since many of the participants in this workshop were relatively new to ceramic as a material (there were several jewelry makers, a sculptor, a painter, a textile artist, et al.) we spent some time producing test tiles and created a series of beads.
In the afternoon we did a workshop on the use of plaster and alginate to produce various molds for casting, stamping and press molding clay. Additionally, we did a series of printing and slip transfer techniques including stenciling, block printing, and silk-screening colored clay onto clay surface slabs.
The second day participants learned about low fire earthenware glazes. The students mixed tin glazes and developed several colored over glazes using various oxides and stains. In the morning we explored different glazing techniques by glazing about a dozen bisque ware vessels and plates. In the afternoon we explored various production techniques on the pottery wheel including throwing fundamentals, as well as some “tricks of the trade” for production work including forming, warp and crack prevention, sgraffito and finishing.
At the start of a project I often begin by creating a mood board. Mood boards are an excellent tool for designers to clarify a design idea and "feeling" through a coherent visual vocabulary. It is also a great tool to help convey an idea visually to an audience (client, collaborators, etc.). For example take a look at the pin up wall created by Scholten and Baijings. I was fortunate to meet Carole Baijings and hear her talk about the creative process in their "atelier-way-of-working." Collage and color plays a significant role in their material rich creative development process. The production of allot of material and visual studies generates new ways of envisioning form and surface designs.
Artists, designers, and makers of all stripes have a lot of different tools and techniques to help brainstorm ideas at the beginning of a project. Some tools that help clarify concepts, and the look and feel of an initial idea include design methods such as Mind Maps, Framing Questions, and Mood Boards.
The mind map is an intuitive concept development method created around a central idea. It typically takes the form of a diagram representing words and images, arranged around a subject with ever-expanding branches that lead to free association of related words and ideas.
A mind map may help in organizing a haphazard collection of related ideas into a clearer direction for a project. When I don’t know where to begin, I often use this exercise to help me choose a path to take.
www.mindmapping.com I typically do this exercise on a blank page in my sketchbook, however there are some interesting digital tools that enable this task such as www.mindmup.com, and www.mindlyapp.com.
Make better decisions by using questions to understand context, and identify needs for a given project. At the start of a design process, it is easy to lock onto a solution before we even ask a question. I like to spend some time doing desk and field research including interviewing and observing the people and living systems that may be impacted by a design. Armed with new insights, we can craft a well formed series of questions that open up rather than narrow down the possibilities for innovation through design. Take your initial ideas generated with a mind map, learn more about this through research, and then reframe your design ideas with a well formed thesis. Try the “How Might We?” method used by product designer to help expand the possibilities for design. There is an excellent Design Challenge Framing worksheet (pdf) to help frame a design challenge. Learn more
Gathering visual and conceptual elements together in a mood board serves as a fundamental transition between an initial thought and a first draft of a design language. It may be more beneficial to think of mood boarding as a means of organizing a visual language.
There are many digital tools and platforms that can be used to create mood boards. A few digital mood board tools worth considering include: www.canva.com, and Adobe Spark.
I personally like to do them by hand and source my images online and in magazines, or through my own photography, painting, drawing and collage. The important thing is to begin, and find your own way of doing things. I am primarily a visual thinker, so I draw, collect materials, and compose collages to find form and give direction to the path that my work takes at the beginning of a project.
Moving beyond words and experiencing the world through our sensations can spark insights that we may act upon through the design and making of a thing. The ephemeral nature of a doodle, a sketch, a collage of images, a collection of artifacts, cumulatively can reveal a trust about the agency of things, which can then be employed within the design process. Mood boards offer visual, material, and metaphorical insights on a philosophical level about the manifold meanings of form within the various contexts in which designers and artists operate. This visual metaphor also invites a common ground for conversation and understanding among those that I collaborate with. On a practical matter, the elements of design such as color, texture, form all may be composed through the collage and sketches that culminate in the mood board and this helps me to begin a project with more clarity.
Some things to consider when creating a mood board:
I collect hundreds of images for a few days, and I pin them all up so I can see what formal patterns emerge. I have a habit of collecting far too many images then I actually need for a project. A greater the number of images can result in information overload and that usually leads to an incomprehensible mood board. So, I find it useful to edit my collection down to a clear color palette, a coherent body of forms, textures, photographs, and illustrations, sometimes even typographic samples find their way into the collage if it's relevant. I try to keep words to a minimum but I might include a sentence of two if I think it will help when I present mood boards to clients.
The primary goal of using mood boards in the creative process is to respond to a particular problem. This problem might be poetic as well as formal or even practical such responding to a design brief. That’s why not all images deserve to be on a mood board.
Stepping back and taking time to look and then edit images helps to clarify what the messages and feelings that I am trying to convey are. The next step is to remove half of the images in my collection, and then repeat this step until I have narrowed it down to 20-40 images that I can then compose to help tell a visual story. The goal is to have images that help you capture a clear formal language and simultaneously convey an emotional feeling.
> Use hierarchy and scale to emphasize a visual idea.
No matter what format you choose, it’s important to select images that will act as the anchor for the design. Creating a visual hierarchy through scale and juxtaposition is a good way to direct the eye. Larger images draw more attention than smaller ones. Smaller objects can complement larger ones conceptually and formally.
> Extrapolating feeling through form
Choose images that help establish a shape, form, color, rhythm, texture, illustration or photographic style, as well as the emotional sensibility of all of these elements together.
> Expressing meaning through materials
For a variety of reasons, there has been a shift in people’s relationship with materials, from design to manufacturing, with materials and making methods starting to reclaim their central role in the creative process and beginning to dictate form rather than simply adapt to it. In this digital age, this haptic impulse might be a nostalgic desire to get closer to the means of production through craft; regardless, the exploration by contemporary makers has reaffirmed the power of materials, which when used early on in the creative process, offer a sense of touch to convey emotion and impart meaning. Therefore, I make use of material samples in my mood boards and this in turn helps me to discover making methods that I might employ as the project unfolds.
> Visual Vocabulary
Sometimes a single composition can encapsulate enough information to build a visual vocabulary with. For example, this lovely snapshot of flowers by Andy Warhol captures the bold form, repetition, and happy sentiment that translated beautifully into an exuberant visual vocabulary for a body of Flower paintings.
Changing attitudes and emerging social behaviors in food preparation and the social and cultural rituals of eating have lead to changes in the way tableware is made and used.
In this short course we will explore historical and contemporary forms of table ware design. Through lectures, class discussion, research and making through drawing, modeling and prototyping in clay we will consider new categories of tableware and new roles for familiar as well as sculptural pieces. If you’re wondering what are the most appropriate forms and designs to use in your work, you’ll gain a better understanding of what’s current and gain an appreciation of the challenges and opportunities makers confront in their creative practice.
Tuesdays July 07 through August 25, 2020. 11:00 AM-1:00 PM EST Level: Intermediate / Advanced Space is limited
In this workshop I will focus on paper templates, slab, coil, and pinched forms used to make everything from plates and bowls to mugs and handles. We will discuss shapes as well as approaches to design, ranging from the practical and ergonomic to the poetic, and playful.
For this workshop, you will need a computer with Zoom. Students are welcome to act upon the project prompts and try the techniques with me as we progress from week to week. I have found its best to use the class time on zoom to sit back and take notes. The sessions will be recorded and sent to students for future reference. I’m excited to invite you into my studio to share craft strategies and answer questions about the process of making. I will send an email with a Zoom link with details to registered students before the Tuesday workshops.
This series of workshops requires a few tools. This list of suggested tools is not required for the workshop but may help when you try it on your own.
Scoring tool (a fork will do)
Metal or rubber rib
Small container for water
A bat or board
Paper for templates (Tarpaper also known as “roofing felt” can be found at any hardware home center. Typical grades are 15 lb. and 30 lb. weight, which indicates the thickness. I like to use the sturdier 30 lb. grade for making templates for large forms.)
Utility Knife and/or Scissors
Cutting Surface (you can use a board or a self-healing cutting matt)