Sunday, January 27, 2013

Celebrating the Chinese New Year of the water snake. BIC Ballpoint pen drawings (step by step); the design and development of a bottle stopper for spirits.

Presentation BIC ballpoint pen drawing
of bottle stopper shaped like a snake
Celebrating the Chinese Year of the Snake.

During the summer recess I was approached to design a spirit bottle stopper to coincide with the 2013 Chinese New Year Celebrations, the year of the water snake. The Chinese Zodiac consists of the following animals; snake, horse, ram, monkey, rooster, dog, boar, rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, and finally the dragon.  This blog entry focuses on the design processes (mainly ballpoint pen drawings); the research conducted, the considered concepts and ideas, design development (applying the design principals), the refinement of the chosen idea for manufacture and the final rendering. Once the drawings and the finally design idea is approved, the final renderings form the basis for 3d modeling and prototype development.

The Design and Development Process; from concept to product.
  • Research
  • References
  • Concepts and ideas
  • Design development
  • Apply the Design principals
  • The presentation drawings

Tang dynasty (618-907) set of Zodiac earthenware figures
excavated in 1955-56 from a tomb in Shaanxi Province China. 
The first phase consist of a thorough investigation of the brief (provided by the client) and or the artist’s intent – proposed artist's envisaged creative aim and objectives. For the purpose of this blog entry – the intent was to design an innovative and creative bottle stopper for spirits – aimed at the Chinese market. The aim was to design and develop a spirit bottle stopper for each of the 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac, one to be launched each year, corresponding with the Zodiac animal for the particular Chinese New Year celebrations.
Bronze snake, Circle of Animal/Zodiac heads
by Ai Wewei.

Just before I was approached to do the design the stopper, I was in a bookshop (Exclusive Books) looking at the latest art and design publications with the intention to purchase an inspirational book to peruse during my holidays. At first nothing caught my eye, however a second visit just before lunch, a publication of the work of Ai Wei Wei titled Circle of Animals, caught my attention. 

Bronze Dog showcasing the scale of the sculpture.
Smaller gold edition.
The book was rapped in plastic but somehow I knew that this was it. I proceeded to the teller, paid for the book and went for lunch. This stunning publication was just the read I was looking for – I have for sometime now become obsessed with his work. The trip to China hastened my desire. There are many reasons – these thoughts are for another day and post. The book focuses on Ai Weiwei’s Circle Of Animals/Zodiac Heads, his first work of monumental public art, which drew worldwide attention even more so when the artist was detained by Chinese authorities in the spring of 2011, just before the work was launched.

A lively re-envisioning of the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac, Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads reaches back to a dark episode in China’s relationship with the West; the Second Opium War, and the wanton destruction by British troops of the Yuanming Yuan, the Garden of Perfect Brightness, in 1860. An imperial retreat built a century earlier, the Yuanming Yuan featured an ornate, European-style section with grand fountains, gardens and palaces. At the center was a splendid zodiac water-clock fountain, whose spouting bronze-headed figures, representing the animals of the Chinese zodiac, marked the hours of the day. Looted and carried off long ago, the seven bronze heads that survive have in recent years become fraught symbols of the cultural achievements of the Qing era, the nation’s period of humiliation by the West, and contemporary China’s complicated relationship to its own history.

It was only when I got to Cape Town, whilst having lunch with a friend, that the significance of the purchase became even more evident. The business proposition was tabled and my involvement discussed (book in hand) to design the bottle stopper to coincide with the China's New year celebrations based on the 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac.

 Okimono c1890 SUKEYUKI, 

Japan Carved wood Okimono of a human skull with snake. 

On my return to my studio in Johannesburg I began to investigate the designated Chinese zodiac animal for 2013. The water snake occupies the 6th position on the Chinese Zodiac and symbolizes such character traits as intelligence, gracefulness and materialism. I made visual reference to river snakes and more importantly, I investigated Netsuke carvings of reptiles, paying attention to those carvings with complex forms and shapes capturing the snakes twisting body (featured here). 

The attention to detail in these carvings are just amazing,  especially the Okimono (ornament for display) of a human skull with snake seen above. Follow link to a virtual three dimensional visual experience of the master crafted art work. Unlike Ai Wewei’s interpretation of the snake, my intention was to incorporate the head and body in a complex composition – simple but sophisticated with the emphasis on the coiled body and with the head poised and alert.
Concept development 
Concepts and ideas

Various options
and ideas.
At first I explored various coiled body options as captured in the enclosed renderings. The snake will be positioned on the top of the cork or stopper. However a certain amount of realism had to be incorporated referencing photos of snakes (see below), contrasted with the normal stylization that I bring to my rendered and modeled clay sculpted forms and shapes over the years. This is evident in the various options considered to create a complex composed composition. 
Design development. the refinement of the
 chosen design concept and or idea.
Developing side view.
Design development

During this stage of the design process one chooses one of the creative ideas explored during first phase of the design process. One considers the best option, in this case a decision was reached based on the most integrated design – illustrating the intent mentioned above (coiled body and the head poised and alert) The design development phase also consists of the refinement of the forms, shapes and composition. 

One applies the design principals. They consist of the following;

Balancesymmetrical, formal, radial & asymmetrical.
Integrating the design when viewed from all angles and sides.
Rhythmrepeat pattern and or elements / flow of the line.
 The twisting coiled body of the snake in the figure of an eight – Chinese symbol for luck.
Proportionscale / size / dimensions / relationship of parts.
The proportion of the head to the body and the elimination of gaps in between the coiled body, to create a snake that is elegantly perched on top of the bottle.
Unity integration of the whole (harmony).
This is a very important aspect of the design process; the integration of the head, body and tail of the snake (enhancing the design style).
Emphasis point of focus / celebration / strategic position.
The head is the focus point – needed to be in the center, poised and alert.

Presentation drawing

The presentation drawing is the final rendering of the design process and embodies the culmination of creative process, all the options considered, decisions made and applied to create a unique design solution to the design proposal. Every detail is considered and applied to communicate the envisaged product to the client. This drawing is then presented to the 3d modeling expert to model the forms and shape in three dimensions for casting purposes. 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Summer recess 2013; Rosendal, Calitzdorp at Hylton Nel and lunch at De Kaap Country Restaurant

Jesus Bedroom at Daniel's home in Rosendal
What to do at the end of the year, the festive season, Christmas and New Year. How to maximise those very few valuable summer recess weeks is always a major question towards the end of each year? Where to go, what route to take and what holiday experience will ultimately satisfy one’s every need, this time round.  From the outset we communicate our idealistic plans (wishes) to our closest of friends and work colleagues, long before we can settle on a viable suitable option. We trust that the ultimate dream holiday experience will come to fruition based on an enthusiastic response. Before you jump to conclusions let me explain. 
Rosendal Church
Ultimately it is about the adventure – to keep all our options open – to determine where most of our friends will spend their much-deserved vacation. Their family commitments and travel arrangements impacts on our decisions and in my case often sleeping arrangements. Christmas is a time for the family and new years’ celebrations a time to party with friends. 
On route to Rosendal Hotel
On route to the Rosendal Hotel
We all want to have a great time and not miss out on spending quality time with our closest friends. In their company we can relax, read and of course eat, drink and merry without compromise.
In my case the 2012/3 recess itinerary was shaped round the availability of a bed at my friends’ home and holiday retreat in Caltizdorp and Rosendal respectively. Festive seasons are all about the family and I therefore spent four days in the Cape, staying at the Junction Hotel in Somerset Road Cape Town. The hotel has been revamped and is situated in close proximity to Cape Town’s recreational spots (walking distance) to avoid a drinking violation.

On route to Rosendal - 2 km outside town.
However the trip to Cape Town and back has to be an appealing journey, especially if you travel the 1500 km by car – making it a value adding and memorable experience is therefore very necessary. Splitting the journey into a number of stay-overs and taking the scenic route is the only way. Hence the fact that I head for my favourite weekend away retreat Rosendal an oasis – the first of two stopovers.
Rosendal in summer is very special. The seasonal rains ensure everything is green despite the baking hot sun. Everyone is in a very relaxed and party mood - dinners and lunches at friends or at the local restaurant, under new management yet again, is fabulous. 

This time round the wine and dine experience is of a very high standard - no wonder the locals and farmers in the region flock here to savour the moment while it lasts. A new experienced chef ensures a menu with a wide selection of dishes, cooked to perfection and flavoursome. 

The atmosphere is greatly enhanced by a recently acquired liquor license and a fully stocked bar with pool-table area.  Attracting a younger crowd and keeping the establishment active beyond the normal early-to-bed mindset associated with small-undeveloped country towns like Ronsendal.  
From Rosendal I head back to the N2 highway to the Cape via Route 62, a have-to-do-trip taking the alternative route to Cape Town from Beaufort west through Meiringspoort via Oudtshoorn, Calitzdorp, Barrydale, Montaqu and Robertson, joining the N1 at Worcester (the access point for the return journey). It is very scenic drive with a small town every fourty to fifty kms making it very interesting and less boring and demanding. 
Ronnies sex shop on Route 62 Klein Karoo
The road winds through the Klein Karoo winelands with famous touristy spots on the way; one in particular has become an institution, Ronnies Sex shop. 

The name ensures customers support of this welcoming drinking hole on a stretch of road typical of the Karoo – flat with open and wide countryside – very boring and even more so on a very hot summers day.  A drink is therefore well deserved and more so in a place and space that lives up to its namesake, if the customer’s memorabilia is anything to go by. 

This includes a wide range of bras in different styles and sizes (hanging from at the bar) supported with comments scribbled all over the walls and ceilings of this now thriving drinking spot on Route 62.
Stoep House Nel Calitzdorp.

I arrived at Calitzdorp, my next holiday destination, the home of Hylton Nel (renowned potter) and Bernard his Italian partner in the late afternoon, just in time for the bar to open. We always have drinks on the front ‘stoep’, overlooking the fruit orchards, located beyond his studio, opposite the homestead situated on the ‘wesoever’ of the Nel river. 

Hylton and I traveled to China last year – our trip featured on this blog (number of posts – see labels for links. There are a few more posts planned for this year, covering mainly trips to museums and galleries, providing insight into the art and craft collections, I found particularly interesting.  Love Hylton’s home – especially as he has a fine collection of ceramics, especially Chinese vases, bowls and urns. 

He also has an extensive collection of books, catalogues and more books. He never stops acquiring reading material on catalogues of recent ceramic auctions, to historically significant reading material on relevant cultural topics, biographies and autobiographies. Absorbing the material that this reliable albeit traditional source of knowledge has to offer, provide for interesting conversations. 

However the books and catalogues also provide valuable visual and written documentation in support of ceramic discussions; where appropriate relevant books are tabled with specific reference to surface details and motifs, including forms, shapes and glazes.

Doorway to dining room
I made my way to the Cape late morning to ensure I do not encounter the setting sun in my weakened eyesight. The Route 62 from Calitzdorp to Cape Town is a four to five hour journey - arguably the most beautiful part of the long trip. 
It is very necessary to take a break, every two hours, especially on a journey of eight to ten hours. Stopping for lunch can be a mundane ritual associated with refueling the car and therefore occur simultaneously at Shell Ultra City’s fast-food outlets strategically situated along the N2 highway. 

De Kaap Country Restaurant Interior.
I always try to do something different and my friend Daniel recommended De Kaap Country Restaurant, a short detour from Robertson, located 22 km s (15mintes) on route to McGreggor. As you enter Robertson, there is a Shell Fuel Station on the left. You are now on Voortrekker Road. A few hundred yards further, you’ll see the sign to McGregor.

On the left, on the corner, you’ll see Roodezant Cellar. Turn right here. McGregor is about 22 km/15 minutes' drive away from this turn-off. Cross the bridge over the Breede River. Take the left fork just after the bridge. Stay on this road. You'll see our sign on the right as you approach McGregor. 

Always good to treat yourself along the way, making the trip memorable by choosing a place and space that has style and meets your culinary expectations. The restaurant interior is very simple and appropriately decorated with a well-conceived and executed landscape garden, situated against a backdrop of the owner’s own vineyard. 
The chef and her husband have cultivated the surrounding land growing Cabernet grapes for future winemaking. The interior is cool and walls are painted in terracotta earthcote colour paint, contrasting sharply with the white sunbaked exterior.

The restaurant's Menu - We serve delicious Cape-country food using local and seasonal ingredients. Summer includes salads from our garden, a gourmet Springbok burger, local-style ploughman's platter of olives, sundried tomatoes, grilled aubergine, Boerenkaas and relish, West Coast mussels in curried Malay broth, savoury tarts with organic salad and pan-fried baby calamari. Dinner includes slow-cooked Moroccan lamb shanks, aged rib-eye steak on risotto and fresh grilled line fish - to name a few items on our menu. We serve delicious home-made desserts which include chocolate torte, pear and almond frangipane and tarte au citron (as cited on

The menu is small but there is always something for everyone. Our food is fresh and prepared daily with a big emphasis on the quality - we use free range and organic where possible. Our wine list comprises wine from Robertson and McGregor Valley only and these compliment our dishes beautifully. If you would prefer to bring your own, we do ask a corkage fee. 

We are open from Thursday to Sunday for lunch, from Thursday to Saturday for dinner, and on Saturday and Sunday for breakfast. Our daytime hours are fro 9 am to 4 pm, and our evening hours are from 7 pm to 10 pm. Bookings are essential for evening dinners and Sunday Buffet lunches (as cited on
I had a very simple lunch; Cajun Chicken, pesto and Mozzarella Ciabatta served with sundried tomatoes and chips (R78). A delicious white wine rounding off the worthwhile trip there and back.