Lace in Translation

Through the work of Tord Boontje, Studio Demakersvan and Cal Lane this article looks at Lace being adopted into a contemporary perspective. See link.

Tord Boontje, Raffia Lace Curtain, Philadelphia, 2009

Cal Lane prepping oil tank

1,000 gallon oil tank, oxy-acetylene cut and welded steel; paint; burnt lawn, Cal Lane, 2009.

It is brilliant how from an old rusty tank you can create something which is definitely visually appealing by using a delicate form of lace pattern.

Lace Fence, Galvanized PVC-coated wire, Demakersvan, 2009.

Again another Ordinary structure we see everyday transformed into something visually more appealing.

Update: Here’s an interesting video summary of the exhibition.

Lace In Translation from Canary Promotion + Design on Vimeo.


Rob Ryan

Making Great Illustration

Making Great Illustration

Also on my Research reading list was Derek Brazell and Jo Davies, Making Great Illustration.

An article within this book focused on the works of Rob Ryan and I found it very interesting.  I really like this description the Author has for Ryan:

The process of marrying the conceptual, aesthetic and techniqual properties intrinsic to his imagery is a complex one.

As Rob Ryan recognises himself he understands that the:

“exquisitness of the detail and the aesthetic of this medium is part of the allure, reflecting, people love things that have been painstakingly crafted.  It can be spellbinding even if they don’t like art”

Believe in Goodness

Rob Ryan

Hand crafted delicate patterns from paper.

Rob Ryan

I really admire his work, so pretty and very visually appealing.

From reading about Rob Ryan I am impressed with how he develops his cuttings from stories.  As the Author states, he jots down thoughts prolifically in notebooks, instructions such as ‘Do a picture about not resisting change‘. Ryan explains this further’:

“Some ideas you can’t do a sketch for.  You have to write them down and then find a way of representing them later in pictorial form. Sometimes there are drawings I have in sketchbooks which I can develop”.

I can see a link here to Risatti’s concept of designers starting out with a ‘Purpose.’  Also, I found the inclusion of narrative, drama, story all very engaging.


Recently found this video interview:




Brazell, Derek and Jo Davies, “Making Great Illustration“, A & C Black Publishers Ltd., 2011.

Words that define my Research

As I traveled along my research journey, I made some new verbal friends. How many (honestly) do you know?

Dichotomy – Division or contrast between, two things, opposed for being different.

Trammel – Imprison, restrict, freedom.

Usurp – Overtake. To take by force.

Pastiche – Hodge-podge or imitation.

Teutonic – A Germanic tribe that was based in and around Denmark.

Vicissitudes – Alternations to Opposites.

Taxonomy – Is the science of identifying and naming species. Sub-divide into logical groups.

Chiaroscuro – Light and shade in drawings.

Apotropaic – Having the power to avert bad influences.

Impetus – The drive, a moving force.

Raison d’être – Means purpose that justifies a things exsistance.

Primordial – Original, beginning.

 Vis-à-vis – In relation to, as compared with.

Ubiquitous – Found everywhere.

Morphologically – Shape, form and structure.

Modicum – A small quantity or portion.

Intrinsic – Belonging naturally.

Disseminated – Spread or disperse widely.

Epochs – The beginning of a distinctive period or particular era.

Predilections – In favour of, preference.

The Art of Decorative Design

The Art of Decorative Design

The Art of Decorative Design

While searching for a deeper understanding of the definition of Ornament, my research led me to the works of Christopher Dresser, specifically his title “The Art of Decorative Design” which he first published in 1862.

I previously encountered Dresser’s work and artistic view while discussing Steven Durant’s “Ornament, A Survey of Decoration Since 1830“.  Dresser was of the view that Nature should always be what he called “Conventionalized.” Also, Dresser was strongly in favour of Artists and Designers studying Botany, not for scientific purposes, but for observational purposes.

According to Oshinsky’s biography of Dresser,  he shared some common views with William Morris, who both were popular designers at that time and were the same age.  Both Dresser and Morris aimed to design affordable and functional objects.  The core difference between the two designers was that Dresser embraced the mass production offered by industrialisation and therefore was able to produce more quantities of product.  Morris on the other hand was in favour of hand-crafted objects.

Wave Bowl by Christopher Dresser (1880)

Wave Bowl by Christopher Dresser (1880)

Side Chair by Christopher Dresser (1870)

Side Chair by Christopher Dresser (1870)

Dresser, according to the British Council’s Design Museum biography, believed that there was:

“nothing superfluous in nature, where every beautiful thing had simplicity of form and a clear function.”

On the topic of Ornament, it was Dresser’s opinion that an object possessed less appeal without Ornament applied.  The Ornament, he argued, gave the object appeal and beauty, more than in its original condition.

Dresser continues his discussion of the use of Nature and suggests that Nature can be a source of inspiration.  Furthermore, Dresser states that Nature can be used to adorn everyday objects and that this decoration will result in a positive experience.  The Author states at (pp 2):

“Following the dictates of nature and acting in conformity with the spirit of a beautiful creation, we make upon those objects with which we surround ourselves, forms and lines, convolutions and zigzags, and give to them colours and shades which yield pleasure to our minds.”

Wallpaper by Christopher Dresser

Wallpaper by Christopher Dresser

Dresser argues that no matter what social background we are from, we all desire pleasurable emotions within our surrounding environments.  This pleasure can come through any of the five senses (sight, sound, etc.)  Dresser states that this pleasurable experience interact with our body’s nervous system and relays the information to the brain.

However, Dresser specifies that in order for this pleasure to be experienced, the viewer must have the knowledge on how to perceive an object.  Therefore, if someone does not understand an object, then it may not see its beauty and establish the pleasurable experience.


Having previously encountered Dresser’s works, I was familiar with his opinions and the high regard he had for Nature.

Having researched his works in more depth, I found that I have more appreciation for him as an artist.

I aspire to incorporate Nature into my research and possibly my final piece(s) and it is reassuring to study Artists like Dresser, who spoke so highly of the beauty and emotional dimension offered by it.  I also aim to produce ornate forms that viewers will recognise and emotionally relate to.  This may be achieved as Dresser states, by using Colour, Structure, Texture, Form or all of the above.

Furthermore, Dresser’s thoughts on the importance of everyday objects providing beauty and emotion to their users is something I will spend more time considering.  I found this to be particularly interesting and further research led me to review a research paper about Dresser by Ceramic Artist, Wendy Walgate.

In that paper, entitled “Christopher Dresser: Influences and Impact of a Victorian Visionary“, Walgate states at (pp 22):

“He (Dresser) stated that one must decide which elements of ornamental composition (form, colour, and surface decoration) to incorporate into an object in order to evoke the terms ‘soothing’, ‘ethereal’, ‘solid’ or ‘melancholy.’.

He suggested that spiky forms were ‘more or less exciting’ and bold or broad forms ‘were soothing or tend to give repose.’

He also suggested that the objects in a room should harmonize to produce a sense of ‘repose,’ since ‘in these days of competition, when the brain is ever active, and the nerve force is kept of many hours together in constant play, it is peculiarly desirable that our rooms be soothing in effect and snugy in appearance.’ “

This discussion and these design principles which Walgate references as coming from Dresser’s title “Principles of Decorative Design“, that he published in 1873.

The full list of these Design Principles which seem to consider the emotional impact of an adorned object may require further investigation.


Dresser, C. “The Art Of Decorative Design,” London, Day and Son, 1862.

Oshinsky, Sara J. “Christopher Dresser (1834–1904)”. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (October 2006)

Walgate, W. “Christopher Dresser: Influences and Impact of a Victorian Visionary“, University of Toronto, 2003,, Last Accessed Jan 09, 2012.

Michael Brennand-Wood

I first encountered a book on Michael Brennand-Wood during my High School studies.  Having reviewed his work, I was immediately drawn-in and have admired his work ever since.  I found Brennand-Wood’s background, images and use of story in his work to be intriguing, and engaging.

As such, Jennifer Harris’ et al. biography entitled “Michael Brennand-Wood: Field of Centres” was next on my Research list.

Harris begins her book by discussing the art of the nineteenth century and how the design institutes of the time rejected the validity of Naturalistic Ornament.  The Author states that as a result of the rise of Modernism, Natural Ornament was excluded from mainstream art-making.  However, it is Harris’ opinion that Naturalistic Ornament is now in the process of a resurgence.

The Author refers to the work of Brennand-Wood as helping to claim back the importance of pattern-making.  Harris suggests that Brennand-Wood is achieving this through his study of historical ornament.  Through his research Brennand-Wood produced a body of work on historical lace, which at the time was still very unfashionable.  This work includes Brennand-Wood’s exhibitions entitled “Lace – Contemporary Perspectives” from 2001 and “Unlaced Grace” from 2005 and “Lost in Lace” from 2011.

Harris suggests that Brennand-Wood’s research and developments revolves around ornamentation rather than the structure of the textile. The Author, when referring to pieces such as “Stars Underfoot” states:

“They function as a visual meditation on ornament and on the spatial aspects of three-dimensional realism. They take on naturalistic floral ornament as an intellectual challenge.”

Stars Underfoot -The Looking Glass

Stars Underfoot -The Looking Glass

Harris’ emphasises that Brennand-Wood’s work cannot be easily defined and pushes the boundaries.  The Author gives the example of a historic textile which is usually classified by its aesthetic, or materials or the traditional methods used to create the craft.  Harris states Brennand-Wood’s work differs here:

“This new body of work may be as difficult as ever to classify but is evidence that he continues to mine a rich seam at the interface of painting and textiles and conceptualising and crafting.”

This speaks to the innovation the Author suggests exists within Brennand-Wood’s work.  Other books I previously examined, such as Risatti’s “A Theory of Craft” which I discussed here , spoke in detail about the ways in which Craft has traditionally been classified, e.g. based on the materials (Woodwork), or the process (Smithing, Weaving).  Risatti suggested a modern classification based on the “Applied Function” or “Purpose” (e.g. Container, Cover, Support and possibly Jewellery/Ornament).

Brennand-Wood’s work would suggest that he also defies the traditional classifications of Craft, Fine Art and Applied Art and perhaps works closer to Risatti’s suggestion of “Purpose.”

In a February 2011 interview with Diana Woolf, entitled “Maker of the Month” (viewable here), when Brennand-Wood was asked “Most of your pieces are supported on a wooden base, were you interested in woodwork and sculpture from an early age as well?”  Michael replied:

“Yes, my grandfather was an engineer and he had a shed at the bottom of the garden where he made things in wood and metal. He was an old-fashioned craftsman who really enjoyed making. So my two grandparents were responsible for my interest in the two materials that are primal to my work – wood and textiles.”

Diana Woolf’s full interview is here 

Returning to the discussion by Harris relating to Brennand-Wood’s work, the
Author concludes that Brennand-Wood’s work and his methods do not
originate from traditional working practices.
Furthermore, both his work and methods can not be easily classified within the art world.
The Author summarises that Brennand-Wood continues to create work from
research, developing concepts and producing pieces which are an
invaluable part of contemporary textiles.



I found Harris’ discussion of Brennand-Wood’s work to be an accurate and informative discussion of his work.  Her critical examination of his methods, materials and most importantly his innovative direction, which she calls a “rich mine”, will likely impact upon the design decisions for my future works.

Also, I found the discussion surrounding Natural Ornament to be of note as Art-Botany, Naturalism and the importance of Nature in general to be a recurring theme in my research to date.

Furthermore, I have experienced Brennand-Wood’s work, first-hand having viewed his latest works at the Lost in Lace exhibition in Birmingham and his innovative use of Lace, to represent a core concept, is in keeping with his process of weaving a story with his work and also overlaps with Risatti’s idea of a designers starting out with a “Purpose.”

Thought-provoking reading and very inspirational, and several methods of how I can approach my ideas and work ethics.


Harris, J. et al. (2004), “Michael Brennand-Wood: Field of Centres“, Denbighshire County Council, Ruthin Craft Centre.

Woolf, D. (2011), “Makers of the Month“,, The Making, Last Accessed January 07, 2012.

Ornament, A Survey of Decoration Since 1830


Stuart Durant’s “Ornament, A Survey of Decoration Since 1830” discusses the background and key influences for Artists working with Decoration and Ornament from the 1830’s onwards.

In the chapter entitled “Nature and Ornament“, Durant discusses the mass appeal of nature-inspired ornament.

“During the nineteenth century, as never before, nature was viewed as inexhaustible fountainhead, providing an endless supply of decorative motifs.”

The Author states that this belief that Nature was beautiful and key for design, was closely linked at that time to beliefs in God.

He references Giorgio Vasari‘s “Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects” (Le Vite de’ più eccellenti pittori, scultori, e architettori da Cimabue insino a’ tempi nostri) of 1550, which established a foundation for Art-History, and also placed nature at its core.

Vasari’s Le Vite has also been said to be “by far the most influential single text for the history of Renaissance art.” Vasari held Nature in the highest of regards and is quoted as saying that the first model for the artist was:

“the beautiful fabric of the natural world.”

This led to Naturalism, a school of thought which had the firm belief in a world of beauty made by God, being the dominant design philosophy for the Gothic and Renaissance periods.

Durant comments that reference texts such as “Natural Theology: or evidence of the attributes of the Deity collected from the appearance of nature” by William Paley (1802) was so popular and widely used that it had 20 editions printed by 1820.

Durant remarks that industrialisation, which grew quickly during the 1830’s led to an increased demand for decoration.  This then led to searches for new designs for use in Ornament.

Durant states that the next contributor to the field of Nature and Ornament was William Dyce.  Dyce studied in London and Rome and assisted in writing teaching material for the Government School of Design.  Dyce believed students should do the following:

  1. Drawings of simple geometry.
  2. Then drawing outlines of Classical ornaments.
  3. Then “cloth” these outlines with foliage.
Dyce Outlines

Dyce Outlines - Click To Enlarge

According to Durant, Dyce placed an emphasis on botanical studies, and Dyce’s method was accepted for many years.  Dyce was in favour of an abstract form of nature being used in designs.

Durant also cites the works of A.W. Pugin as also promoting Nature as a source of material for Ornament, with the publication of his book, “Floriated Ornament” (1849). Durant states that Pugin’s work shows a sense of conventional or stylised design.

A.W. Pugin's Curtain

A.W. Pugin's Curtain

Durant states that it is likely that Pugin’s work was influenced by Owen Jones, who had been preparing principles for the proper use of Ornament.

One of Jones’ principles was that flowers and natural forms should not be copied but instead used as inspiration for a contemporary interpretation.  Owen Jones called this process “Conventionalism.”

Durant states that there was a particular common ground between Pugin’s and Jones’ work.  Jones preferred abstract and flat artwork.  Pugin also wrote that decorative design should be “without shadow“, suggesting flat geometry.

The Author states that there was some opposition to the idea of stripping Nature down to its most basic shapes and forms.

John Ruskin is given as an example of an artist who was against abstracting Nature’s form.  Durant states that Ruskin found the idea of symmetry, regularity and uniformity too precise and scientific and not in keeping with his view that Nature was Holy and should be reproduced as closely as possible to the original source.

Ruskin delivered many lectures on the damage being done to contemporary art by the idea of abstracted natural forms, e.g. Owen Jones’ Conventionalism.  Ruskin was also a strong supporter of a new movement, called the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, as:

Their treatment of nature was always reverential and never mechanical.” (pp 27)

Ruskin also believed that Nature, Art & Society were all linked together.

Durant then discusses Christopher Dresser.  Dresser’s early studies at the Government School of Design were directed at the study of Botany, but not in a scientific sense, but more of an artistic observations so that he would be able to draw them accurately.  Dresser contributed work to Owen Jones’ Grammar of Ornament, as well as contributing several more books to the field of “Art-Botany” including “The Rudiments of Botany.”

Christopher Dresser Drawing

Christopher Dresser Drawing

Durant next discusses a range of related artists, who he terms “Art-Botanists.”  These include George Charles Haité, and James Kellaway Colling.  These artists followed closely the approach of Dresser and Ruskin in their recognition that Nature and Flora should be studied in-depth.

Haité's design for printed shawl

Lastly, Durant discusses the works of Ernst Haeckel. Haeckel was a German biologist, but also had a strong belief in Nature.  His studies of aquatic life and the detailed drawings of jelly-fish and water-plants is highly praised.

Haeckel’s book titled, “Artforms from Nature” (Kunstformen der Natur) was published over a five-year period from 1899 to 1904 and provided much new source material and detailed drawings for use by Ornamentalists.

Although Haeckel was a scientist, his respect and appreciation for Nature led to his works being admired and used by many in the field of Art-Botany.

Haeckel's Conifer

Haeckel's Conifer

Haeckel's Orchids

Haeckel's Orchids

Durant’s survey of the works of Decoration from the 19th century offers great insight into the key sources of inspiration to the Ornamentalists and Artists of that time.  Also, it provides insights into the divides that occurred and why.


I found Durant’s discussion of Nature and Ornament to be very valuable.  I was not aware of the works of Vasari and the emphasis he placed on the Natural world and how beautiful he found it.  The way his work impacted the Gothic and Medieval eras was also interesting.

The discussion of the role of God, and how some Artists saw Nature and God as one was also an interesting point.

Then the discussion of how Loos and other Modernists may have been influenced by the scientific research being carried out by Charles Darwin, which was rejecting God as the creator of the universe, and instead promoting the importance of scientific investigation, was all insightful and not something I had considered.

I found the discussion surrounding Art-Botany to be the most interesting.  The emphasis that Ruskin and Dresser especially placed on the study of Nature is something I would agree with.

Also, I found that Ruskin was a key source of inspiration for William Morris and the Arts & Crafts Movement, an artist and movement that I have admired for quite some time.


Durant, Stuart, 1986, “Ornament, A Survey of Decoration Since 1830,” McDonalds

V&A Collections Search,

Owen Jones’ The Grammar of Ornament

Grammar of Ornament

Next was Owen Jones’ “Grammar of Ornament” first published in 1856.

Owen Jones was an Architect and Designer who strove to define a unique style for the 19th Century.  He was against copying previous eras and instead pushed for new styles which may have their roots in the past but had a contemporary twist.

Owen Jones

After studying for some time in Egypt, he then relocated to the Alhambra, a 14th century Palace in Granada, Spain, where he research the Islamic decoration found within the Moorish fortress.  He appreciated the flatness and abstractness of the traditional Islamic geometric shapes found in Ornament.

When he returned to England, he developed a list of “Propositions” for decorative arts which he finalised in The Grammar of Ornament.

Jones’ first proposal was that he believed Ornament’s purpose was to serve Architecture. Proposal 01:

“The Decorative Arts arise from, and should properly be attendant upon, Architecture.”

However Jones states later (pp 154) that:

“Ornament is most properly only an accessory to architecture…. it is in all cases the very soul of an architectural monument.”

So this shows that Jones believes ornament to be the very essence of the form.

In his fifth proposal, Jones states that he believes Decoration should go hand-in-hand with Construction.  However, it is clear that Jones is saying that an object (Construction) should not be overly decorated to the point where the object is overwhelmed or overtaken by its decoration.  Proposal 05:

“Construction should be decorated.  Decoration should never be purposely constructed.

That which is beautiful is true ; that which is true must be beautiful.”

Jones provides insight into what he believed was the composition of beauty.  He believed that for the “mind” to be satisfied by an Ornament, the eyes had to be satisfied by what they viewed, the brain had to be intrigued, and an emotional aspect present and connected to the viewer.  Proposition 04:

“True beauty results from that repose which the mind feels when the eye, the intellect, and the affections, are satisfied from the absence of any want.”

Leaves and Flowers from Nature, 1856

Leaves and Flowers from Nature, 1856

Leaves and Flowers from Nature, 1856

Leaves and Flowers from Nature, 1856

Jones’ Proposition 06 states:

“Beauty of form is produced by lines On general growing out one from the other in gradual undulations : there are no excrescences; nothing could be removed and leave the design equally good or better.”

This speaks to Jones’ admiration of Nature as it is how leaves and branches grow. I believe the inclusion of the Female Maori head in the chapter 01 “Ornament of Savage Tribes” is a good example of this principle (pp 14).

Jones believed that geometry was a fundamental starting point for the design of Ornament.  This is something that can be seen in the abstract Islamic art that was a focus of his research.   Proposition 08:

“All ornament should be based upon a geometrical construction.”

Jones discusses the use of curved lines within design at Proposition 11:

“In surface decoration all lines should flow out of a parent stem. Every ornament, however distant, should be traced to its branch and root.”

Here Jones is referring to the balance of the lines on leaves that flow out of a branch or leaf’s root.  Both Arabic and Greek Ornament which Jones had studied in detail display this form.  This also ties in with Proposition 06 above.

Leaves and Flowers from Nature, Arabian Design, 1856

Leaves and Flowers from Nature, Arabian Design, 1856

Leaves and Flowers from Nature, Greek Ornament, 1856

Leaves and Flowers from Nature, Greek Ornament, 1856

At Proposition 13 Jones states that:

“Flowers or other natural objects should not be used as ornaments, but conventional representations founded upon them sufficiently suggestive to convey the intended image to the mind, without destroying the unity of the object they are employed to decorate.”

Here it is believed that he is speaking out against directly copying Nature, but rather that Nature should be used as inspiration for a contemporary interpretation.  This may be in an abstracted form.

Jones’ work contains many more insights into the use of colour, and pattern.  Concerning the importance of colour he is quoted as saying:

“Form without colour is like a body without a soul.”

It provides a comprehensive look at worldwide cultures.  The common thread that appears to connect each art form is their relationship to nature and how it inspired their Art.


Of all the material I have researched so far this has been the most enjoyable.  At first I found Jones’ 37 Propositions to be possibly too clinical and precise to an extreme.  I view nature as organic, free-form and original, so the idea of producing “formulas” that could decode nature was not something I was quick to accept.

However, reading through Jones’ material and further research and discussions online it is clear that a lot of Jones’ observations are true.  And also are still very much applicable today.

A key point I found was the high regard that Jones had for nature, which I found myself admiring.

Jones also appears to speak out against mass-production, when he says that Art should be a personal task, not a combined one.

“When Art is manufactured by combined effort, not originated by individual effort, we fail to recognise those true instincts which constitute its greatest charm.”

I believe that Jones is speaking about the Craftsmanship involved in the process of making a piece of Art.  The use of the words “greatest charm” are also a high compliment and show the high regard he placed on bespoke Artwork.  Also at (pp 155) Jones states that mass manufacturing of ornament has

” deadened the creative instinct in artists’ minds.”

I believe this is a book that I will return to many times for ideas.

A complete list of Jones’ propositions can be seen here.

Full colour text of The Grammar of Ornament, as PDF, is available here.

Illustrations from The Grammar of Ornament at the V&A are here.


Jones, O., 1809-1874. “The Grammar of Ornament“, Quaritch, 1910