Post- Pre Planning

by maggie

Finally I got round to visiting the V&A to look at the collections of fancy Biscuit tins. They live in the Ironwork Gallery and were donated as a whole in 1983. I am there for beginning to work on the print part of this project and the choices seem to be limitless.

Really fancy tins began to be sold in the 1890s when tin plate was cheep and registration with offset litho enabled many colours to be used. Huntley and Palmer are perhaps the most famous manufacturer. You can image the designers getting the train to Paddington from Reading, walking across Hyde Park and stealing ideas from being inspired by the V&A’s vast collection. After all the Museum was founded to foster design excellence.

Unfortunately there aren’t many images in the collections database of the tins, but this collection of ‘Worcester Vases’ shows forms very similar to those found in the Museum. It therefore seemed reasonable to decorate my origami vase from appropriate designs found in the Museum. That just left me with how to decide what designs were appropriate.

Room 44 on the ground floor is a whistle stop tour of 4000 years of Chinese material culture. It seemed that I could chose almost an decorative scheme and at one point or another the Chinese would have used it.

Cough cough. What was that? Cultural appropriation I hear you say. Well H&P had a field day with it. Shouldn’t hold the late Victorians up as a moral standard in this case? Well yes.

One wall in Room 44 is devoted to Collecting Pots, and is divided in to dynasties. The last, the Qing (1644 – 1911 (more late victorians)) is particularly interesting for its diversity of its designs, including those ripping off previous dynasties. The collections database tells me that there are 64×45 items of Qing ceramics in the museum. Some of them even have a similar shape to the origami.

Unfortunately they all seem to be glazed in tasteful monochrome.

So lets approach the design challenge from the other end.

What to make the plate from and what to print it on?

The cranford paper I made the largest grey vase from in the last post was really too heavy for origami. I asked around the studio for recommendations for a light weight paper to print relief – that way I wouldn’t have to damp the paper.

Southbank book paper 120gms 70 x 100 seemed to do the trick and was large enough to  make an even bigger biscuit tin than the grey one.

the samples I had been given were about 1/4 of the total sheet size, so to start off with I made 1/4 of a pot.


And then drew on it.

When I was first thinking about this project I had envisioned some completed scheme of blocks to print, but I a 70 x 70 cm square is no small matter. Keep it simple.

And the Chinese have gone far with blue and white.

I started with the imperial dragon lazing and drinking tea. then I put a tea party in a plaque and surrounded it with fiddly clouds. then tall manner of auspicious creatures and plants liberally scattered around.

In this next image you can see how much of the paper is folded away and how much is on show. the cut in the diamond to the top right is an attempt to lessen the stress on the paper when you modify the origami and tuck the shoulders of the vase in.

Of course with relief printing the ink stays on the surface of the block, so you either have a print this is mostly colour or you reduce most of the block. to a make a print look like the drawing above you’d have to take a lot away [of course it wouldn’t matter what colour the bits inside the origami were].

It’s perfectly permissible to make a white on blue pot as well as a blue on white. Here are two states of a developing tea party, of the mad hatter variety.

The material I’m using for the block is called quick print foam and is a sheet of expanded poly-something, [like burger boxes are made about of]. It’s really easy to mark. i used a dead biro for the previous image and a pencil for the one below.

Imperial dragons and guardian lions fill the eight sides of the vase. from my research faceted forms were more likely to plaques on each face rather than a continuous image. the rim of the vase is a greek key. And i’ve experimented with various decorations on the shoulders. it was very hot when i printed up this block with Schminke’s relief ink and I got a bit nervous about how much ink i was using. It seemed to be drying on the block, so unfortunately the print is rather pale.

lots of room for improvement on the next test plate


And the assembled vase. firstly the neck and shoulder. Still a half size.

The stopper is still a work in progress, but that will need to be designed and a block made.

and here’s the side view. the lion is having a snooze and the dragons are obsessing over the tea: sounds par for the course.

where to begin on improvements:

  • don’t draw the fold lines in. you going to have to work out another way of fining them
  • do more prep drawing now you know the finished size
  • take time to prepare the plate
  • use more ink

oh yeah, and the dry ink comes off on your hands when your folding the origami. maybe you’re going to have to use oil based inks after all…