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.


Ruth said...

What a great post Johanna! You should keep your eye out for a TLC weekend metal course. You would love one I know. You are so right, you don't know until you try it what gets you going. I love using my hands to paint. And the merging of colour on paper, pastels, watercolour, paint in general - esp. bright colours. And origami so working with paper in that way, using my hands. And piecing fabric together.
What a lovely wee mag World Sweet World is. Lovely article by you too - thanks for getting me on to it. There's a great article on how to felt jerseys - yay. I love felting too from scratch, the immediate involvement of hands as you work the fibres.

Heather said...

I love dough and clay. It is a great regret with my chronic fatigue syndrome that I'm rarely strong enough to knead them. I love the physicality of the kneading of bread dough - leaning in with my whole body. I love creating something good and wholesome. The shaping, the wonder of its rising, the yeasty smell when you punch it down, the smell in the house as it cooks.

I've rarely worked with clay, but found it similar and would love to do more one day.

In a similar vein, I love squidging mud in my toes :-)

free said...

Two things for me... one is dirt. Be it sand, compost, good dark soil or whatever - I enjoy the feel of it, the smell, and the potential it holds. I prefer to garden in bare feet and without gloves (just not this time of year, brrr!) so I'm really working 'in' the dirt rather than with it.
My second love is stationery. Exercise books, refil, pens, pencils, folders, whatever - I collect much more than I could ever need and I love it all.

Johanna Knox said...

Ruth - I didn't know they did them at TLC - I will do that! BTW - I haven't got the garlic into the ground yet late, I know!) - but appreciate all your advice and now have some to plant asap!

Heather - Oh! After I posted, I wondered if someone would feel that way about dough. I love how you write about it.

Yeah mud is good! :) (I wonder if my friend Lynda is reading this. She would attest to that. :)

Free - That's fascinating what you say about stationery - there was another woman on the letterpress course who said she loved stationery. (Different from the woman who loved 'all things paper'. What draws us to these different things, I wonder???