Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Pattern: A Universal Truth (Part 2)

What is Pattern?

What exactly is this all-pervasive phenomenon called pattern? There are several definitions of on offer, each with its own particular bias; a truly universal definition is hard to come by. Padwich and Walker, who concern themselves with surfaces only, limit pattern to something ‘based on a design that is repeated in two dimensions.’(1) E.H. Gombrich provides the somewhat loose description of ‘an ordering of elements by identity and difference.’(2) Mary Harris calls it ‘the systematic repetition of a motif.’(3) Something about the simplicity of the last definition rings true for me, except for the word ‘motif’, especially as the significance of pattern really lies in its underlying structure, its essence; the manner in which shapes, things, and events are repeated is more important than the objects of repetition themselves. I suggest therefore, that this definition be truncated to ‘systematic repetition’, thus providing a more universal definition.

This systematic repetition can apply to anything, in any number of dimensions. It can be the repetition of flowers on a wallpaper design, or of equilateral triangles in a geodesic dome. It can be repetition of number, as in the lunar cycle. It can be the repetition of a movement, a behaviour, or a sound. In short, repetition always results in pattern of some description.

This repetition can work itself into a finite, or ‘closed order’ pattern, (4) such as the circular musical note pattern shown above. Or it can be of the ‘unlimited translation’ type, (5) as in this tiled pattern from Topkapi Palace, Istanbul. (6)  The latter type of pattern has the capacity for infinite expansion based on a given set of structural rules. In this sort of pattern, one experiences a glimpse of infinity.

1. Padwick, R. and Walker, T. Pattern: Its Structure and Geometry, Ceolfrith Press, Sunderland 1977 p. 3
2. Gombrich, E.H. The Sense of Order: A Study in the Psychology of Decorative Art, Phaidon Press Limited, Oxford 1984 p. 72
3. Harris, M. 'Symmetry and Dissymmetry in Mathematics Education: One View from England' in Leonardo vol. 23, no. 2/3 1990 p. 221
4. Gombrich p. 74
5. Ibid.
6. Padwick and Walker p. 5

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Creative Choices

If you work in the creative or cultural industries you might want to check out the Creative Choices website. I've just contributed to a short video about the benefits of being based at Cockpit Arts (where I am wearing slightly more jewellery than I would normally have on at the workbench)!

Friday, 11 February 2011

Pattern: A Universal Truth (Part 1)

I recently unearthed an essay I wrote in the year 2000 on the subject of pattern, and rather than let it languish in a scruffy filing cabinet forever, I thought I’d publish it here.

Structure and pattern have always been the driving forces behind my jewellery. When I wrote this I was particularly obsessed with ideas surrounding symmetry, repetition, and complexity. I might tweak a few things as I read my own writing from eleven years ago, maybe add some new photos, but the basic principles will remain the same. Here it goes...

Truchet's Tiles. Image in public domain.

Pattern is not to be confused with decoration. It is not something merely applied to a fireplace or an alcove to make it period-perfect; it is not just surface treatment, eye candy, afterthought. Quite the opposite: Pattern is infused into every aspect of life, from the most basic to the most sophisticated physical and cultural levels. It is as much a part of our lives as our breath.

Whether a particular pattern is artist-made or naturally occurring is of little importance (‘artist’ being inclusive of anyone who creates pattern). Pattern in nature is the result of the laws of physics; pattern in the studio is more likely the result of many hours of labour, although physics can never be avoided. Collaborations do take place; an artist will sometimes coerce nature into unleashing its patterns in a controlled manner. In all cases, however, the rules governing pattern behaviour are constant.

Paramount to this essay is the fact that all patterns are essentially mathematics. No matter the outward appearance, organic or geometric, regular or random, pattern can always be analysed in mathematical terms. Far from the dryness of school arithmetic, modern mathematics has been described as “the science of patterns.”(1) Mathematics does not necessarily explain style or even content; what it does very well is help us to understand the essence of pattern(2), the fundamental rules that govern it, the universal laws that cut straight through the art/science divide.

In the first chapter of this essay I introduce pattern in its broadest sense, as a global phenomenon with certain inherent characteristics. In subsequent chapters I highlight what I consider to be pattern’s most remarkable qualities: Beauty; ‘simpliconomy’; and finally, universality, which makes it extremely useful as an aid to understanding through metaphor. This discussion should provide an insight into the universal significance, and indeed, truth, of pattern.

  1. Stewart, I. Nature’s Numbers, Orion, London 1995 p. 18
  2. Ball, P. The Self-Made Tapestry: Pattern Formation in Nature, Oxford University Press, Oxford 1999 p. 11

Sunday, 30 January 2011

An Ounce Of Prevention...

I get a lot of emails from clients asking how to look after their silver jewellery. As we all know, silver is liable to tarnishing, and sometimes at an alarming rate. I once hung a bunch of silver necklaces over a nail I’d hammered into a freshly-painted wall, and the next thing I knew, they’d gone almost black.

Palm Cluster Earrings by Angie Boothroyd.
Sterling silver, 18 and 22 carat golds.
Prevention is the real key; let your precious silver jewellery anywhere near anything smelly (like newly applied paint or other household chemicals) and it is bound to oxidise almost immediately. Perfume will do the same thing, as will the less delightful smells of the home – so don’t keep your jewellery in the bathroom. Sulphur is the arch enemy.

No matter how careful you are, though, silver will tarnish. Because the jewellery I produce tends to be textured, it is not advisable to use polishing wadding on it – Silvo, for example – as its abrasive action will wear away the delicate surface textures. What I use instead is a liquid silver dip. There are several brands on the market; I use Goddard’s but I think they’re all pretty much the same. Instructions: Put the jewellery in the jar. Wait between five seconds and five minutes for the tarnish to lift. Take the jewellery out of the jar and rinse. This is safe to use on mixed gold and silver jewellery as well; I've been cleaning my pieces this way for years.

If you prefer a more homespun approach, there is a bit of a trick you can perform if you can get hold of a sheet of magnesium. When I was working at Electrum Gallery we had a crumbly old cardboard box with “Maggie Pan” written on it. Inside was a plastic tray and a sheet of magnesium that fit inside it. You would put the metal in the tray and fill with hot water, with a bit of washing up liquid. Then you’d place the jewellery on the magnesium sheet and leave it for a few minutes. Through an electrolytic process the tarnish would be magically removed. Apparently something similar can be done using aluminium foil and baking soda in boiling water. (If you enjoy watching paint dry then you might also get a kick out of this video!)

Look after your jewellery and it should last you a lifetime. Choose your jewellery wisely and it will be worth looking after!