In episode 2 of the Victorian House of Arts and Crafts we saw crafters create objects for the bedroom. This week, major builds were assigned to Niamh, who was tasked with creating an embroidered bedspread in the style of May Morris (William's daughter), Stephen, who had to create a gesso wall panel and the first of our collaborations took hold with Rod and Abi working together to construct a bedframe that would be sold in the likes of Heal's and Sons.
This week it was my turn to be project manager and being a product designer in 21st century life I was keen to organise the team to ensure that we made time for collaboration and shared ideas, moving us ever closer towards the ideals of the Arts and Crafts movement.
On the first day of this week I spent a lot of time with Bryony and Niamh in the summerhouse. Stephen was busy getting to grips with the gesso and this process, being completely new to him would soak up much of his time in the first half of the week. Rod and Abi dove straight in with their planning for the bedframe and they needed space to consider how this would be realised.
Us girls spent a good few hours discussing how the bedroom might have been perceived and used in Victorian times (other than the obvious activities) we concluded that the room would have been the woman's refuge, a place for privacy, self reflection and personal growth through craftwork.
We talked about how fundamentally the bedroom was a place for procreation and the coming together of man and woman and how it could be a place of joining and connecting, where things do not have a start and an end but are instead one whole, like a circle.
This got us thinking about circles, cycles, phases, flows and transitions as a concept. Niamh's work is usually inspired by nature and using a map of the local area, she began to firstly consider nearby river formations for her bedspread. After some quick sketches it was clear that nothing of any great aesthetic value was emerging, and Niamh moved onto thinking about seasonal transitions and how plants, fruits and flowers emerge and die at different stages of the annual cycle.
A chat with Rod about our ideas led us to consider other cycles such as that of each 24 hours. He was interested in how day turns into night and how each night feels different over the course of a month due to moon phases. Bryony also expressed interest in the idea of the cycle of a full day and decided that she wished to explore time itself in the making of a clock! In considering all of these thoughts I began to think about what "cycles or phases" interested me. I settled on the idea of life cycles as this is a concept that I have explored several times before in much of my own personal design work.
Each individual idea is apt for the bedroom in its own right. In general terms, any bedroom is a place where day turns into night, a place where life is created and often where it ends, but with this room in particular, the huge windows overlooking the stunning gardens provided a place where the working craftswoman of the time might sit and see a different view at various points of the year as the seasons change.
You can see from the initial sketchbook work below how the idea of rivers and flowing, turns to circles and cycles and phases...
In terms of my own design development for the mural I then began to consider other symbols and images that represented life and death. In classicist architecture I remembered that often the egg and dart motif was used in mouldings for exactly this reference. As the arts and crafts movement sought to turn away from such order and structure and leant instead towards nature for inspiration, my egg and dart inspiration developed into the acorn and oak leaf. I considered these to be symbols of life and birth and the dart, which originally meant death evolved instead into a heart motif to correspond with a detail that Bryony picked out in the handles of the window locks in the room itself. The complexity of the moon cycle sketches formed the structure for the organisation of these early motifs, I then had to consider how these would feed into the wider impact of the mural I was creating as a whole.
Two things were certain in the creation of the bedroom, one was the overall form of the bed from the pre cut wood that was delivered, to be detailed and styled by the boys, but we were also provided with fabric bearing an original design of William Morris for the backdrop of the bedframe. The colours in this fabric confirmed certainly for Rod and I that the idea of light and dark, day and night, life and death would form a good basis for the development of our ideas and I even began to take outlines from the fabric to further evolve my acorn and heart detailing into something of contextual significance.
The overall complexity of the print on the fabric made me consider the working day and how easily we tire when a lot is happening. I thought back to earlier discussions with Niamh about how the bedroom is used for the working craftwoman and provided a sanctuary but also a place of expectation. I realised that I could develop the mural to make reference to several "cycles" in one image using calligraphic typography to reinforce the various subliminal cues that I wanted to make apparent. The overall impact I intended to create was to have the mural serve as a reminder that in order to make positive contribution and function effectively, we had to learn to listen to natures own cycles and respond accordingly. In other words, know when to rest at the end of the working day to make the most of the lifecycle you have been given.
Through exploring poetry I discovered that I could also incorporate words and images related to the seasonal cycles that Niamh was interested in to further reinforce the impact of renewal.
I didn't realise this at the time but all of this exploration in itself was cyclic in nature and had led me back to my original thoughts when developing the wallpaper (see previous blog post) in the sense that the purpose of my mural had become about encouraging re-invigoration and new direction which was exactly my own personal motivation for taking part in this Victorian experience to begin with.
It took several iterations and attempts to find the right words to say everything I wanted to include. Each word selected created a new overall impression and skewed the impact of the finished outcome so I deliberated for a while on not only ensuring that the words generated connection to each concept but also considering how different word lengths would impact the positioning and layout.
Attempting to create not only calligraphic letterforms but also a complete layout from scratch using only tracing paper and my mediocre maths skills for scaling up onto the wall was a challenge. I realised that it also wasn't enough to make the word choices based purely on my assumptions about emotive recognition from the viewer but that it was equally important to make practical decisions based on size and formation.
Eventually I settled on a rough layout that I was happy with that used imagery related to the words I eventually chose to reinforce the overall ideal. The next job was to trial colours and techniques first on paper to ensure I was making the correct paint decisions in advance. This was carried out in a small studio space that I created next to Stephens pottery shed.
Initial trials made me realise that in order to create maximum impact I needed to limit my colour palette for everything that wasn't a natural form such as a flower, leaf or bird. I opted to work with the gold and navy blue of the W. Morris fabric that formed part of the bed frame.