Thursday, 18 July 2013

Sketchbook work - cowrie

Cowrie - shape 

Copied from an online photo of a deer cowrie - the spots on the back are like the spots on the back of a deer.

Drawing this made me look harder at where the ridges are down the sides of the entrance. They are not where I thought but further away from the vulnerable gap, and there's a shiny pinky-white region that looks rather slippery in between. (presumably to allow the 'foot' of the cowrie creature freedom of movement.)

The shape is not nearly as almond-like as I thought it was - much more complex.

The ridges and the lips at top and bottom of the entrance are hard and forbidding.

Cowrie - colour

I tried this colour study with normal watercolours rather than designer gouache as usual (as I was on holiday) and I didn't get the colours as accurate as I would have liked.

The inside colour is completely wrong - it's much more nuanced and with a purple tinge to it.

The other colours were reasonably accurate. I needed a lot of water to get the palest ones so the paper got distorted.

What I learned from this is that I need to use the right paints to get a good result.

 Cowrie calabash - exploring shapes and patterns

The combination of string squares with cowries at each corner appealed to me. I explored this idea in various ways - both using the distortion of the gourd shape, and using regular squares. The regular squares made me think about the Kente strip weaving, and how I could make that the background of the piece. I also thought about different ways to represent the shiny hard cowries, and how to keep the contrast of the fecund roundedness and the dangling tinkling shells.

I have been focussing on the feminine aspect of these shells, but the money/ possession idea might still be part of it if I use cowries for my piece.

I also drew a representation of the cowrie necklace which had that lovely combination of regularity and natural variation, thinking that I could perhaps embroider something with a similar feeling.

I think it looks rather regal, but on reflection it needs something more before I make it. Some work on colour, and texture too. And background. 

An old obsession
At this point it occurred to me that my attraction to cowrie shells is nothing new. I have some images in my photo store from about a year ago of a geode from the Natural History Museum which is a similar shape, and gave me similar associations. 

This is the geode - a naturally occurring rock formation with crystals inside. I find it mysterious and sexy.

I did some sketches last year about how to make the inside give that feeling more clearly.

Some of the imagery was about time passing, but this is not so relevant to cowries, I think. For them it is more
about femininity, vulnerability protected by a hard shell.

This week I found a cork tree and took a photo of its bark. I think this is more like the complexity and softness that is hiding inside the cowrie shell.

This is the sketch I made of it. I don't know if I can use this in a final piece, but it does give me the feeling I want.

I have had some things I have wanted to try out as samples, but I haven't tried any of them yet.

After this sketchbook work I have a range of ideas that I could work on more, but I also have another interest, in the Middle Ages.

I am thinking I should pursue that a bit more, and then decide which ideas to take into a final piece for this project.

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