Thursday 21 July 2016

Interior Design... 1/8ths Scale

Tonight on the blog, one of those happy occasions where the arty job meets the day job.  I (Ben) am a technician at a secondary school, and recently the Year 8's have been designing and making concept models of children's beds.  Now for photographing them we've shot the pictures against black backgrounds, but we thought it would be best to show the models in some kind of context. 

A little while ago for a sixth form project, one of the students did a full-sized kids bed, and we photographed it by dressing up a corridor as a bedroom, which really bought the presentation of it to life.  Being as I do a lot of miniatures building for art and photography projects, I reckoned I could knock something up which would have the same effect...

First up, design sketching for the room set...

...and furniture.  The idea was to have this cost nothing and use entirely scrap materials, built as far as possible outside of normal work jobs (mainly because it's a nice break from most of the 'normal' work, but wasn't exactly an essential project and I didn't want it to get in the way of the more pressing projects).

The set was designed to be semi-enclosed, three-quarter, with the camera in a fixed position for each shot.  As you can see above, it was made from offcuts and scrap, with holes cut for a window and a door out onto a landing, just for a bit of visual interest.

The paint was a bit on the dark side originally, so a second, lighter coat went on, in a fairly gender-neutral light blue.  I was a little concerned it would make the photos too cold though, but then I was a bit limited by what paint was left in stock this late in the year.

Furniture and fixings were drawn out in 2D Design and done on the laser cutter, designed as slot-and-tab builds, and cut from offcuts of MDF.

The window didn't look too good in painted MDF, so it was re-done in scrap white acrylic.

The carpet is something I'm not all that happy with- I had to go out and buy the felt, and it was in small squares so join lines showed up.  Also a test fit of the furniture, and skirting boards/coving added.

Quick low-angle test.  The creepy smile in the background is part of a story chair, a project by the outgoing Yr11.

The roof is a removable piece of 6m,m MDF, which had been unsuccessfully laser etched a while ago, simply painted white for this project.

The light is a recycled Yr8 mood light project, though annoyingly with a multi-coloured LED rather than a plain white one, which I'd have preferred.

The bulb pokes through a hole in the ceiling, and the lampshade is actually the base of a regular 'full size' light fitting, again, leftovers, this time from the 6th Form lamp project.

Toys for the floor, to help hide the joins- the scalextric track and train set board were done on the laser, with the train cobbled together from scrap dowel and square-section balsa.

Pictures on the wall were from my own collection (my usual thing about not wanting to use anybody else's work).  The picture on the landing wall helps hint that this is part of a bigger house...

The toy shelf was improvised from whatever was lying around the workshop- the drum for instance is the lid from a dead prittstick.

On the desk are some pages from my old web comic, the pot is a pen lid, the pens are nails, bits of dowels, and chopped-up paperclip.

The blow-up chair helps add a hint of scale, and it is an ancient mobile-phone holder which I acquired years ago in a box of old beach toys for the 'Inflate-Deflate' project.

Speaking of beach toys, the ball was a red bouncy ball which PE were getting rid of, spray-painted none too expertly because the rubber surface didn't take the paint too well, but it was the right size and I needed a bigger, colourful prop.

The rocking horse is adapted from my 'Project Alice' Rocking Horse Fly design, and done in white acrylic on the laser, hand coloured in pen.

A couple of teddies were old McDonalds Beanie Baby toys which looked the right size, and again, were pretty gender-neutral.

So a couple of overall shots of the room- because their work hasn't been marked yet, I obviously cannot feature one of the beds the Yr8's did on the blog, so I quickly designed and laser-cut a simple bed of my own for the blog pics, but I did borrow some of their spare home-made quilt and pillow sets.

Not exactly the glamour of the studio, but then in a week where three teachers are moving classrooms, my workshop was the only space available.

Lighting was a mix of the LED in the ceiling fitting, natural light from the cargo bay door at the side of the workshop, and a single mini spotlight.

And so here is the final room.  A thoroughly enjoyable and stress-relieving build.  It only cost a pound for the felt for the carpet, with everything else made of scrap materials or borrowed toys.  It filled all the criteria I set out to achieve, and the resulting pics of the kids work have come out very nicely and been very well received.  Overall, very happy with this one.  And the set is being stored ready for the projects next year, and has already prompted discussions about what other creative solutions we can come up with for the projects next year...

Monday 18 July 2016


For the blog tonight, a decidedly quick little piece of artwork which was completed in something of a hurry for an open call, for our friends at Cupola Gallery.  Periodically the gallery in Sheffield hosts open call shows, and we've entered a good few of them in recent years.  This one was for work themed around the quote "The Beautiful is Always Bizarre" (a quote by Baudelaire), and both myself and Amy thought we'd have a nosey at it (this despite our assertion after the stress of the "Alice" show we were going to have a break from this sort of thing). 

For a little while I'd been messing around with concepts of fashion photography without the model present, or presented in such a way that it was unclear if the model or the setting was meant to be the focus (under the provisional title "Pretty/Vacant").  It is still all very much at the experimental stage really, and given the turnaround time of this brief (feeling not unlike a First Year Uni brief) it was straight to work, and a quickly put together concept piece to bring the idea to life.

The background is a shot from the "Home is..." project, and a lake near Beddgelert, in Wales, with the figure a quick sketch copying the pose from an ad in the paper, and hastily cut-out from clear plastic with a few details etched in to provide a bit of relief (earlier experiments had been just for an outline, which lacked definition, or for coloured blocks with no details).  The idea worked and the gallery requested the bigger piece.

So the plan was for four seasonal images, multi-layered, the prints mounted onto clear acrylic (from dismantled Ikea A1 picture frames, of which we have a few scrap ones lying around) and back lit to bring out the etched details in the figures.  The final piece would still be a decidedly experimental stage in this project, which is planned to evolve a bit as I go on, but a suitable piece would at least be produced for the show. 

First job, choosing the images, which had to have certain criteria- be easily split into layers, not distract from the figures too much, but still be pretty:

First up, the Glaslyn path in Beddgelert for Spring.

Llandanog beach in West Wales for Summer.

Limestone Paving above Settle, in the Yorkshire Dales, for Autumn.

Ingrow Woods, near Keighley, for winter (struggling as I was for a winter pic with snow from my own collection- this one would be a bit of a sod to cut-out, particularly the tree, but oh well, what the hell).

This is where the first problem happened- placing the prints over the acetate showed that the available lights were not powerful enough to back-light and produce the desired effect, and there was no time to go get better lights.  So plan B, and the elements of the prints were trimmed out and mounted onto scrap mount card (of which we also have a ton of scrap hoarded), the layers separated by scraps of 5mil foam board.

One change from the rough concept piece, this time out came the pens and the edges of the card were suitably coloured to take the edge off...

And so onto the figures.

Back at Uni (and since) I dabbled a bit in portraiture and fashion-type photography, and decided from the outset of this project not to work from poses from models in magazines, but to only use my own pictures as reference (the above is from the "Happygoth" shoot in Carlisle in 2007).  Not exactly sure why, but really I wanted to be able to just work from my own stock rather than other peoples'.

The figures were deliberately stylised though, more like the concept art I draw for miniatures projects, partly because I wanted an air of anonymity but also because I wanted just hints at outfits and clothes (again, the traditional 'focus' of the fashion photography).

With the drawings done, I had to work out how to make the figures.  Cutting out all of them by hand would be too time consuming, as would scratching-in the details (as the figures would also be larger this time).  Happily however, at work I have access to a laser cutter, after hours (as for a variety of reasons I have to hang around unpaid at work for an hour or so every day waiting for a lift home).  As long as nobody else is queueing for the machine, which is pretty lightly used at this time of year, I can use it.

Likewise, having hoarded materials for miniature builds for about 25 years, I have tons of my own acrylic, so I wouldn't be naffing any stocks from work.  So the images were drawn, scanned at home, then at work after my paid hours had finished, it was a hasty pass through 2D Design and onto the cutter over a few evenings... 

The figures- two per image. 

This shows a couple of the issues around the use of old, scrap material- scratches and scorch marks because most of my older clear acrylic has no carrier film.  The perils of using older materials, but at least it was free.

Likewise the material for the boxes- old stocks of my own 3mm MDF in varying conditions, but once cut-down at work (because it was either 5 minutes on a band saw or three weeks cutting by handsaw at home on the kitchen table...) and then spray painted in black it wasn't too noticeable.  The lights were a purchase from IKEA a while ago for another project, and have just sat around unused for ages.  They're decent little LED spotlights, and very thin, don't overheat noticeably, and the four of them were the reason for the four-seasons approach.

The above shot shows why the lighting was needed- I quite like the ghostly effect, but it doesn't really bring out the details too much.

Lighting under the figures definitely improves matters.

Provision was made under each figure for the lights to slide under them, with some room to reposition the light.  Only one figure could be directly lit to be the 'focus' of each image, but then I quite liked that effect.

With the whole-image light box idea abandoned, this is a nice compromise and actually makes for something I'm happier with- I gather at work they used to do a project like this for the mood light, with the same technique (plastic figure under lit by an LED).

And so this is what the final pieces look like- a 'main' model in traditional, fashion-model pose (based off my own old shoots), with a couple of other figures more subtly behind, against a multi-layered backdrop of my own landscape photographs.

For all its complications, I actually like the winter one the most.

What next?  Well, as a first concept test it has proved it as an enjoyable project, and I want to experiment with it further, maybe making smaller pieces too.  There is room to expand things a bit and try some new variants on the work, so something to play with over the summer.

The piece may be on display as part of the "The Beautiful is Always Bizarre" group show at Cupola Contemporary Art, Hillsborough, Sheffield, during the first few weeks in August if it makes the cut...

And finally, a summer image, given that it is something of a heatwave outside whilst I'm typing this blog entry.

Sunday 17 July 2016

Quick visit, Middleton Railway

Just a very quick update tonight- a quick recce to the Middleton Railway in Leeds as we were passing nearby.  Will be returning for a proper visit later in the year, in the meantime here is the diminutive H-class tank loco at Moor Road.

A very appealing location for photography, given our usual haunts on the Worth Valley Railway- there was something fascinating about a train appearing out of the greenery,  on rusty tracks, over an ungated level crossing where two blokes with flags were holding up the traffic.  Definitely going back there to get some more shots... hopefully with a better sky than the classic Tupperware-lid.

Sunday 10 July 2016

Rivers, Rocks and Flowers

Just a mini-update tonight, at the end of a weekend which has seen us collect the first batch of the "Alice" show from Rydal (we ended up taking that much work there, its going to be at least one more journey, as we inconveniently have a Vauxhall and not a Hercules).

However, this weekend has also seen the slightly frantic attempts to finish off two other mini projects, one apiece, for an open call at Cupola in Sheffield.  On the theme originating with the quote "The Beautiful is Always Bizarre", we both had separate projects we could work up to finished pieces, although to a somewhat tight deadline... 

Amy has been playing a lot with a bit of kit from her new job, which is a close-up camera which runs off a USB, and that playing has featured seashells, gems, fossils, and flowers. 

The idea is for a big collage of lots of small images.  More on it if it gets picked for the final show.

Onto my (Bens) idea, which is discussed in greater depth over on the model making blog, but sufficed to say that what felt like a good idea on paper didn't quite cut the mustard for this call when tried with a quick practise piece

Happily however I had a backup idea, which, again, if the piece is chosen for the show there will be more coming up in a future blog post...