1497 Plates

January 26, 2010

Dr Katie Bunnellworked collaboratively on the installation with project artist Chris Tipping.




In celebration of the Combe Down Stone Mines Stabilisation Project

The Octagon, 25 Milson Place, Bath

24th October – 18th November 2009 

After attending an ArtQuest conference held at the RIBA in Feb 09, where I was presenting the work of Autonomatic, University College Falmouth’s 3D Digital Research cluster, public artist Chris Tipping approached me with a collaborative project proposal to create a commemorative map of Combe Down Mine that would be presented on a 9m x 5m wall of ceramic plates. In addition to the creation of this vast, digitally produced artwork, each householder with a property on the map would be gifted the individual plate that showed their house within the overall design. Chris’ concept emphasised the layering of digital data from geological surveys and ordinance survey, with hand drawn elements derived from archaeological finds and the cultural influence of mining in the village. The design process would involve a combination of digital designing, hand drawing and the one-off ceramic production capabilities of digital ceramic print technology, all of which mapped onto Autonomatic’s research and production interests and expertise.

We were excited and enthusiastic about the project from the start. It  presented us with useful challenges from a number of perspectives including: the technical demands of working on a vast scale with huge amounts of digital data;  the complexity and sometimes seemingly contradictory requirement for the design to work at scale, but also for each plate to have an aesthetic quality and clarity of its own; the need to experiment with new drawing tools and develop innovative qualities that would enable us to realise Chris’ ideas; and finally the need to produce  these qualities in a digitally printed ceramic form.

The final design is a result of a dynamic and open working relationship between the artist and researchers at Autonomatic. The plate layout and hanging methods were developed through discussion with Chris and drawn up by digital production technician, Adam Stringer. The creative team, lead by Katie Bunnell, worked closely with Chris, responding to and working with his emerging design concept.

There was a vast quantity of digital data on which to build Chris’ vision and the challenge in the early stages of the process was to reduce the data to the most significant elements and then throughout the project, to develop treatments for these that would give them an appropriate weight and significance in the overall design.

“Chris would describe verbally and through visual references and sketches, what he wanted to achieve, we would try things out, show them to him and discuss developing qualities. Through this emergent and discursive process the map began to take shape. Some of the qualities we developed were based on digital drawing methods we’d used previously, such as the concentric line quality of the ‘sea’ around the island, some qualities were developed specifically for the purpose of this project, the pattern fills for the houses and the swarming bats for example involved us in experimenting with new tools. Much of the quality of the line imagery results from using Chris’ fine hand drawings as the starting point”.

The consistent challenge with all the elements we worked on was to get them working across the whole image and with the right level of detail and aesthetic quality for an individual dinner plate. Colour relationships, translucency and line weights all became increasingly important as the map progressed.  The resulting image brings the deepest underground elements to the surface: the mine roadway creates a connecting arterial pathway through the remaining columns of rock, creating the island boundary and through which the houses of Combe Down, patterned with domestic blue and white ceramic motifs, remain visible. Thickets of leeks span the island representing the Welsh mining teams whose presence was significant both below and above the surface, and the island boundary is defined by a sea of beasts significant to the Combe Down environment.

The use of CAD software enabled us to work on a vast scale, albeit very slowly at times, and to separate out and treat each layer of data individually while being able to review it as part of an overall design. We were able to develop new aesthetic qualities and to play with old patterns and designs alongside these.

In software terms the development process made use of Auto-CAD, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, FreeSign, SolidWorks and Corel Draw. There were some issues of data compatibility and suitability of data for design development which were largely overcome through discussion with the engineers at Combe Down who kindly supplied data in a variety of formats as required.


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