Exploring Practitioners: Isabelle Desjeux – Joey

It was really cool visiting and observing what Isabelle does. She is a photographer and an artist and also Prof Andy’s friend! The work she does is really useful and relevant for me as I am trying to build a mobile/portable darkroom~

Worksite Documentation
I went to visit her in her studio at Blue House Nursery & International Preschool where I saw some of photos, home-made cameras and dark room!

Some of her negative prints 

Tools Used/Works
The cool contraptions Isabelle designed and made were really interesting.
I managed to learn a lot from her and her work!
Like knowing that red acrylic is actually light proof! (just that it’s expensive and it’s quite a difficult material to work with) 

She showed me around her space and what she usually does in the studio and all the cool projects she has done and is on. 
She proceeded to show me her really cool homemade camera (one of her favourite actually) which is super high tech, consisting for materials such as a beer can, duct tape, cardboard, aluminum foil and rubber band. For course not forgetting the stabliser which is also very sophisticated, a pencil.
We then went out to try to take a photo with it but not before putting in the photo paper inside.

Process Documentation
Isabelle taught me how to calculate how much time we need to leave the pinhole camera for (or rather the shutter speed) by using math and an app. With the size of the pinhole, the distance between the hole and the photo paper and the amount of sunlight around, the app can detect and show about how much the shutter speed would be. So for this time, it was about 3 minutes. After taking the photograph, we went back inside to develop the photo with the “darkbox” she designed.

The dark room is designed by Isabelle, made up of plywood, red acrylic, metal clasps to secure and old dad denim jeans where hands go! 
Through the red acrylic I can see how Isabelle develops the photo.

I went to visit Isabelle again at her home studio near one-north. 
She showed me the current project she is working on, building an installation, a huge camera which I could participate it.

I helped Isabelle to build the camera together with the pinhole cardboard. The camera was really cool, very steampunk.
But we found out that the plastic sphere is actually not light proof so we had to dismantle it to spray paint it black to make it more opaque.

We also had to take out the translucent acrylic plastic by drilling and sawing which I tried!

These are some of her other cool cameras!

Talking to Isabelle and helping her out was really constructive to my project! I learnt a lot from her and managed to apply them to my project such as using aluminum foil instead of black cloth for my portable dark room, knowing that red acrylic is actually light proof and some of the possible materials I could work with.

Pain Points
I think one thing Isabelle will always need is space when creating and building her cameras.
There are also a lot of tools that she needs which might not be apparent at first until we start building it.
Her darkroom is really cool and quite light actually. So she actually carries it around with a trolley attached to her bike to make it mobile.
But other than that, it’s not exactly wearable especially cause it is pretty bulky. 
So I hope my darkroom could work upon hers, using umbrella and aluminum foil making it lighter and with a strap to make it wearable. 

Explore Practitioners 2: Yau Wee Nee

My friend paints as a hobby. She enjoys the process of mixing different paints to get the colour she wants and actually putting paintbrush to paper. She says that painting is a stress-relieving hobby for her as she forgets about whatever troubles she is facing once she starts to focus on her artwork.

Process Documentation

As she works on the dining table, she usually begins by bringing her tools out from the bookshelf in her room. She has to fetch a cup of clean water for cleaning her brushes and mixing the paints. She sketches the idea that she has in mind on a piece of rough paper before beginning to mix the paints. She reveals that while mixing paint can be therapeutic, she occasionally chooses to use the watercolour palette because it is easy to use and does not require her to squeeze and mix paint from individual tubes.

Tools Used

  • Paintbrushes of varying sizes
  • Plain paper or sketchbook
  • Acrylic paints
  • Watercolour palette
  • Cup of clean water

Worksite Documentation

She works on the dining table where there is ample room to place the tools and lay the paper out.

Pain Points

Because she keeps her painting tools in her room, it is a hassle to bring everything out and laying them on the table when she wants to paint. She says that on more than one occasion, she had actually wanted to paint, but felt put off by the sheer hassle of moving the tools from room to dining table and back again at the end of her painting session.

It is also troublesome to have to get up to change the water in the cup when it becomes muddied from painting. 

Furthermore, waiting for the paint to dry is also an issue when she has to have meals with her family as they need the dining table. She tells me that she works around this by only painting after dinner.

Explore Practitioners 1: Yau Wee Nee

I observed a family friend who does simple home-based alterations for clothes and other types of fabric. On this occasion, I observed how she altered the length of a set of curtains.

Process Documentation

She placed the curtains on the ground and straightened the fabric out. Then, using a right-angled ruler, she measured the new hem of the curtains to be sewn. She marked the fabric at several spots with tailors’ chalk and secured the new hem with many pins. She explained that as this was not a drastic alteration of length, she decided not to trim the excess fabric and will proceed to sew the new hem. Then, she brought the marked curtains to the sewing machine and began to sew the new hem according to the pinned fabric.

Tools Used

  • Pins
  • Tailors’ chalk
  • Measuring tape
  • Right-angled ruler
  • Sewing machine
Pinned fabric
Ensuring the new hem is consistently straight across the curtains

Worksite Documentation

She usually works on a desk in the study room upon which a sewing machine is placed. However, she had to work on the ground for this alteration as the curtains were too long and the fabric too slippery to secure on the desk.

There is a small chest of drawers on the desk containing spools of thread, scissors, elastic for waistbands, zippers and other items.

Thread spools, tailors’ chalk and small scissors for cutting threads
Extra zippers and drawstrings
Excess scrap fabric
Elastic for waistbands and larger scissors

Pain Points

One of the difficulties she faces is working in a confined space as illustrated above, where the curtains had to be laid out on the floor to be measured and altered. Additionally, organisation and storage also become a problem when she buys new fabrics and threads as she has a limited space for storage.

Furthermore, thicker and tougher fabrics such as denim and leather require heavy duty sewing machines which she does not have at home. Hence, she is unable to alter denim clothing and thicker fabrics.