Monday, July 6, 2009

What materials do you have an affinity with? (Or not?)

A few weeks ago, I started thinking about the relationships people have with the materials they work with.

It started when I did a weekend letterpress course with Sydney Shep at Victoria University's Wai-te-ata Press. It was one of the best things I've done in a long time, and I was buzzing for days afterwards.

On the first day, I was talking to one of the other women on the course about why she was doing it. She said she 'loved all things paper'.

I thought a lot about that, and wondered if I loved paper too. I felt like I should love paper. It is an integral part of my life. I live with it and use it in a multitude of ways every day. Sometimes paper threatens to take over every space in my house.

But I don't feel an active adoration for it. No quickening of the heart when I think about it.

The next day on the course I was talking to another woman about how using wood type feels very different from using lead type. Without thinking why it was so, I told her I was enjoying working with the lead type a lot more. She said she was the opposite; she was naturally attracted to working with wood type - and loved its comparative warmth and smoothness.

After the course was over, I wondered more about why I had fallen in love with working with lead type (because that's how it did feel), and why for days afterwards all I wanted to do was hop back into that studio and get my fingers into those lead type cases again.

I began to remember other times when I had enjoyed working with metal in one way or another. For a time, when I was about 19, I even spent several days a week at a metalwork school in Warkworth, before coming back to Wellington and spending a year trying to launch a career as a craft jeweller. For reasons that seem hazy now, I gave it up before I got properly off the ground. I think I got sidetracked by writing.

As I remembered all this I found myself hankering to start metalwork again. My memories of working with metal are powerful and visceral: the gentle roar of the gas torch, the way the solder almost seems to burst before it runs, the satisfying work of filing and sanding away seams.

I realise I simply love metal. And it fascinates me that other people seem to have similar affinities for other materials - paper, wood, clay, fibre, stone, ...

And you don't know until you work with something how you will feel about it. I once thought I would love glass. But then I did a leadlight course and found that I despised it; its cold, brittle nature, and the splinters that invaded my body and life.

If materials were humans, my relationships with them would be along these lines:

Paper would be a familiar old friend that I have grown up with, that I rely on, but probably take for granted too much.

Glass would be the alluring individual who turned out to be a *&%$# when I got to know it.

And metal would be - inexplicably really - my beloved one.

What about you? I'd love to hear what sorts of relationships with materials you have.