Glassblowing and focus stacking: Lucy Hardcastle's sculptural response to Uniqlo's AIRism
As part of our Ones to Watch 2018 campaign, It’s Nice That is working with Uniqlo to explore a variety of its products through a series of creative commissions. The first in the series sees visual artist Lucy Hardcastle interpreting the technology of AIRism from a new perspective. In our previous article, we revealed the five sculptures Lucy has created and, today, we dive deeper into her process to give an insight into how they came to be.
The AIRism range uses technology to release heat and moisture while also incorporating anti-odour technology in its quick-drying, stretchy material. Although particularly useful in the summer (especially if travelling anywhere on the London Underground), AIRism is worn by people across the globe, every day. To grab a free sample of either the men’s AIRism V-neck short sleeve T-shirt or the women’s AIRism camisole, head down to Uniqlo’s flagship London store at 311 Oxford Street between 30 June and 1 July.
Titled Air Monuments, visual artist Lucy Hardcastle’s latest series of sculptural forms embody and materialise the experience and technology underpinning AIRism.
Upon initially seeing the product, it was the material – which is breathable and sits lighter on the skin than other material – that captured Lucy’s imagination. Looking beyond the physical, Lucy developed a concept which allowed her to translate the expression and freedom the comfortable base layer enables in an abstract and poetic manner. To find out more about this concept and see the final sculptures, you can read the previous article in full here.
While Lucy’s concept forms a large part of the project, each sculpture’s process is just as important as they too express the technology of AIRism. As an artist who works with a variety of techniques to create work which, sometimes, looks too good to be true, we caught up with Lucy throughout the project to hear more about how she actually brings a brief like this to life.
Week one: research and testing
“So far, it’s been a lot of running around and getting everything ordered and prepped,” Lucy says, the first time we check in with her over the phone. At this early stage, Lucy’s head is filled with ideas and plans for a busy few weeks, all of which she’s trying to convey to us.
The walls and desks of her studio are covered in to-do lists and sketches, inspired by the samples of AIRism she’s been playing with. “An element that I really like is the fact that the material has been engineered to be smoother and cooler to the touch than cotton,” she explains, “so I’ve loved seeing all the scientific diagrams.” As a result, she’s been working directly with the material, testing its stretch, cool texture and movement, discovering how it adapts to provide comfort. It’s these experiments which have informed her final outcomes and the decision to work with glass, clay and plaster, which will all replicate the sleek texture of AIRism in their finishes.
“I’m going to be glassblowing on Sunday but I also want to start casting some of the other objects because I’m aware that if we want to add interesting finishes to anything, they may need to be sent off,” she explains. “It’s just a case of getting everything ready so that we have the time to consider what kinds of shapes and finishes we want and making multiples of things, so when it comes down to the actual shoot day for the editorial we have lots of options.”
Although not able to show us anything visually, she has a clear image in her mind of what she would like to produce. “I 100% know that I want to make something that feels joyful and spontaneous for the glass pieces and I’ve been looking at how I can push that further than I ever have before,” she continues. Having worked with glass on several occasions now, Lucy has never added colour to her pieces so it’s this, alongside experimenting with adding textures through sandblasting, that she’s most looking forward to.
We should also mention at this point that Lucy is planning on doing all of this with one arm in a cast, having broken her arm a few weeks back…
Week two: making
Seven days on and the project has moved on in leaps and bounds after a “whirlwind week of making”, as Lucy puts it. “Almost this time last week, I spent the whole day working with clay, which I hadn’t factored in,” she recalls. “I went to the hospital, expecting to have my cast taken off and it wasn’t, so I had to make all of the clay pieces with one hand.” Although taking considerably longer than planned, Lucy describes the day as “nicely methodical”. Eluding to how the fabric is engineered to release moisture and keep you dry, one of Lucy’s clay pieces features a perforated surface. “I made the perforated dents in one of the shapes using the back of a dressmaking pin. It took four hours but it was actually really relaxing to sit and focus on one thing,” she adds.
The following day Lucy travelled to Surrey to the studio where she does her glass blowing. “It was a really productive and efficient session,” she reports back, “although really hot because it’s summer and we were basically in an oven.” Working on three sculptures – of which two were used in the final images – Lucy tinted the first with purple: “I’ve actually never used colour in glass so that was a challenge,” she explains. “You have to heat up a tiny amount of colour then stretch it which means you get a variation in how transparent it is.”
In terms of where Lucy’s inspiration for each of her chosen colours has come from, she allowed the product itself to dictate this. Using a palette of minimal whites, greys, blues and a touch of pink and purple, these light tones directly reference how AIRism is both cool to touch but also keeps you cool.
“I’ve done about five or six sessions in this studio, but it’s nice to go back and do something slightly different, be allowed to do it on my own and feel like I’m building up confidence in that area. I’m all about being as hands-on as possible,” Lucy tells It’s Nice That.
It’s here that Lucy’s thought processes are perhaps the clearest, as the medium of glass blowing perfectly encapsulates her concept. After initially receiving the brief which contained the key properties of AIRism, Lucy found a conceptual alignment with Peter Sloterdijk’s written theory on bubbles which prompted her Air Monuments. “This name comes from the fact that we are creating objects for a product that captures and releases moisture and air, giving life and vitality to air, in a way,” Lucy muses. In the same way that AIRism captures and releases moisture and air, Lucy’s glass sculptures are made possible solely through the capture and release of air.
The rest of Lucy’s week was spent back in London, in her studio, casting in plaster. To achieve creases and interesting folds when casting, Lucy collects objects which can be inflated and then fills them with plaster. “The sculptures have different finishes, some have an inflated quality and some are more sculpted,” she describes, “this is to represent the comfort and movement, the closeness to skin of AIRism.” Ultimately, “this week has been all about making; making things in plaster, getting things flocked, testing things out, just making a mess really,” she continues, concluding that, “I’m really happy with how many options we have – we’re almost spoilt for choice!”
Week three: the shoot
With everything conceptualised and now made, the only thing left to do is shoot the sculptures with Lucy’s long-term collaborator, photographer Gareth Williams. Having worked together throughout the project on its concept and visualisation, the pair started the two days with a clear idea of what they wanted to achieve. “We decided that we were going to incorporate more macro and detailed setups into the shoot, so it was really important to get the glass photographed first as it can take a really long time just to get it lit properly, let alone position it how you want,” Lucy explains. This, she adds, is because “glass picks up and reflects everything around it”.
Spending nearly the whole of the first day shooting the glass sculptures, the second day in the studio ran a lot smoother. The lighting was already set up and as the clay and plaster objects are not reflective, it was easier to get the shots they wanted. “I had made decisions in my mind about what positions and angles we wanted the objects in, and I knew what visual qualities I wanted to draw out of them. For example,” Lucy outlines, “with the glazed arch I knew there were three detailed points, the highlight on the top, the crease along the side and the crease in the middle.”
Although having planned a lot in advance, some details of the shots were more spontaneous, made in reaction to the product as they worked with it on set. Lucy and Gareth created a curved background in order to incorporate a sense of motion within the images and mirror how AIRism stretches, facilitating comfort and movement. They also produced extra elements to accompany the objects such as foam and dry ice. “We did several tests with the dry ice but the set was so bright that you couldn’t actually see it on camera,” Lucy recalls. “That’s why we decided to do the ‘bubble technique’ which is something I had previously tested myself.” By having one box filled with dry ice and water connected to another box containing bubble water via a tube, Lucy’s “bubble technique” sees her utilising the velocity of the smoke to create dry ice bubbles, which appear throughout the series.
These extra elements were made to truly represent the textural and technological qualities of AIRism. Each element is derived from liquid but has been transformed through various processes, representing how the product “transforms” moisture through its quick drying material. Just as the colour palette for Lucy’s sculptures was inspired by AIRism, she continues to reference the cool, light properties of the products through these additional elements.
Whether shooting the glass, clay or plaster sculptures, Gareth used a technique called focus stacking. Also known as focal plane merging, this technique allows you to combine several images, all taken at varying focal distances to give the final image a greater depth of field. In this instance, it allowed Gareth and Lucy to shoot the objects at close range to highlight each one’s details, while maintaining focus across the entire image, resulting in a slick, hyperreal finish.
To see Lucy and Gareth’s final shots, check out the previous article here.
To claim your free sample of AIRism, head to Uniqlo’s flagship London store at 311 Oxford Street between 30 June and 1 July and heading to the fourth floor. (Terms and conditions apply.) To find out more about the AIRism range and its features, head to Uniqlo’s website.
About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor. Get in contact with Ruby about ideas you may have for long-form stories on the site.