Part 5, stage 2 – further research

In this stage I will be looking back at some of the research I have already conducted and develop my design ideas with further research. Stimulated by stage 1 (reviewing) I will need to conduct some further research into relevent artists and add to it by gathering some more inspirational material from artists I have not come across before. I will also need to add to my knowledge of some techniques and explore some new materials to get to a point at which I can start working on some samples based on my ideas.

My first step will be to do some further in-depth research into artists that create pods / cocoons / vessels and similar 3D sculptures; starting with Susan Benarcik and Judith Scott and to see if I can discover some other artists that work in a similar way using wrapping or woven structures or similar. I also want to take a quick look at (particularly) embroiderers who use and stitch into unusual materials like leaves and clay / stone. I do not want to get bogged down at this stage – it is more of a brain storming exercise really.

Cocoons / Pods / Similar vessels / 3D Structures

I seem to be being drawn to the cocoon / pod and vessel idea more and more so I am going to start there. I want to take a closer look at a couple of things thrown up during my original research. I am trying really hard to keep an open mind at this stage but I feel that it is between two ideas at the moment: Dream or secret cocoons and leaf / grass / clay set of natural inspired vessels.

Susan Benarcik

Described in our course notes as a printmaker and sculptor who takes elemental forms of the natural & manmade world by stacking, stringing, layering, knotting and weaving into 3 dimensional sculpture. Themes in her work are varied but include birth, growth survival and death. Her works tend to have a naturalistic basis and most are large-scale.


Susan’s website ( describes the piece shown above as: ‘Mental Notes is a sculptural installation and metaphor for layers of information collecting in our minds. Layered stories, imagery, notations, knowledge tucked away for future use. Thirty forms ranging in length, weight, and color, are made of discarded books, collected by friends and strangers, stacked on copper wires, they sway ever so slightly in each space.’ I can really relate to this piece. I am a frenetic note and list writer. I find sometimes it is helpful but mostly unhelpful and possibly unhealthy as I am sure it places too much stress on me. I wish I had somewhere to store all my mental notes, ideas and to do’s but these stack really do remind me of my brain at times! I really like the way the elements are hung enabling the viewer to walk amongst them. The hanging / placement of my final piece will be an important consideration.

What I find most interesting about Susan Benarcik’s work is her use of shadows and open construction techniques to connect the sculptures to the environment they are placed in for example, the shadows cast by the  installations are an intrinsic part of the piece; they reach out to the space beyond and create new views of the piece against any backdrop. The internal and negative spaces within and surrounding  the grouped objects is also an important part of the overall piece when viewed.I also like the way that some of these structures protect or wrap things inside such as ‘Heliophilous’ below the structure is delicate but protective. It reminds me strongly of insect cocoons which sometimes have a net like structure around them for protection..

In an article I found online by Stacey Donovan, Benarcik is described as a “Manhattan based eco-artist whose work is deeply rooted in horticulture and design.” Her choice of materials are described as follows: “Benarcik uses such elements as string, wire, and grapevine and joins them with “upcycled” or recycled natural materials that result in distinctive and idiomatic sculptures.” (

IMG_2688 (1)Heliophilous (attracted to sunlight) I like the use of the spiral and floating layer of wire around the inner ‘seed pod’ the shadows cast on the behind the piece are amazing. The piece really works well with the light.


Residence Pods. Again the shadows cast by these pieces seem integral to the piece.This group of pods would work really well in a natural environment just as they do in the modern clinical setting of the gallery. Again the ‘protective’ shell although delicate and sheer is very strong.

Her new work which includes the ‘residency pods’ above as well as another favourite piece of mine ‘Helliophilous’ (above and below) was produced for a new exhibition at The Mezzanine Gallery in Delaware. Of the this exhibition she writes on her website “The parameters that the gallery space provided were unique. I was limited to making smaller sculpture and as you know that concept is rather foreign to me. In addition, none of my suspended sculpture would fit the bill as nothing could be hung from the ceiling in the Mezzanine gallery. In the end, I’m happy to have been challenged by these constraints, and look forward to making more intimate sculptural work – of course I don’t think it’s possible to stop making the larger work, so no worries fans!”


I like the way that this piece reaches into the space surrounding it. I did a similar thing with the wire wrapped dinosaur sample.

I decided to take a look and try to find more cocoon like structures and vessels starting on google. Wow what a lot of examples there are! After hours of looking at photographs online most of it wasted as I could not get back to an original artist website to go with the pictures I managed to choose a couple of artists to take a closer look at for specific reasons:

Anita Van Houttum


Anita Van Houttum is a ceramics artist from the Netherlands her inspiration is mostly taken from different shapes and structures found in nature, art and architecture. Her ceramic cocoons are made from paper clay which enables them to be strong and lightweight. I like the natural texture she creates with the clay making the cocoons quite realistic. I also like the varied shapes of the cocoons themselves and the use of broken or opened cocoons as a collection. I think paper clay would be a good material for other vessels too. I wonder if it can be embroidered into successfully?


Jane Wafer

Whilst looking for more ‘cocoon artists’ I came across Jane Wafer’s work she is an artist based in Oxford working in sculpture. She has a doctorate in biology so unsurprisingly her inspiration comes from an interest in natural sciences.  She uses both natural and man made materials to create sculptures based on the ‘connection between mathematics, aesthetics and natural forms.’


The Not-Doings (above) are made from recycled materials, suspended to form a group. They are large-scale and are very intriguing. According to the write-up on her website they are ‘part of an investigation into rites of passage and takes its title from The Eagle’s Gift, one of a controversial series of books by Carlos Castaneda popular in the 1960s and 70s, in which the author tells of being suspended from a tree all night in a “Not-Doing”, a rite of passage on his path to becoming a shaman.’(

Inspired by the lives of insects, in particular wasps nests made of natural paper mâché and chrysalises ‘Their ambiguity and human scale introduce a sense of the uncanny. They are waiting to emerge, hovering on the threshold of becoming something else. They have been exhibited in various locations in London and Oxford, including the Royal Festival Hall where they were shown as part of Pestival, a science-art collaboration on the theme of insects.’ (


Alumosomes, also by Jane Wafer are hanging knitted wire forms made using the mathematical Fibonacci sequence. Again I like the hanging rather ethereal feel to this installation. They blend so well with the environment whilst being totally alien to it.

Judith Scott


‘Within the core of each piece might be hidden a special talisman of a significance known to Judith alone.’

The above quote from Judith Scott’s website says it all for me. The mystery of why, and what was wrapped in the middle of some of those sculptures really gets my imagination going. I really like the idea of hiding or protecting something precious or perhaps something you don’t want to see / think about in a structure.

Ideas for dream / secret cocoons:

Each one could contain  hiden secret / dream?

Could they be coloured / wrapped / lit to suggest what lies within

A couple open – hopes realised? Dark secrets let go of / leaked out

Hanging? How?

I have ordered a couple of books about Judith Scott: Entwined: Sisters and Secrets in the Silent World of Artist Judith Scott (28 Jun 2016 by Joyce Scott) and Judith Scott: Bound and Unbound (24 Oct 2014 by Catherine Morris and Matthew Higgs) as a gift to myself for my birthday which I hope will add to my research that I carried out previously. I will add anything that I find out at a later date once I have read the books.


I found this interesting fact whilst browsing for information on artists creating cocoons on

‘This is the work of a caddisfly larvae. These young caddisfly build a cocoon in lakes, rivers and streams. They product silk and together with rocks and twigs, they build a cocoon. The silk acts like a glue holding their little cocoon together. They then enter a pupa stage for a few weeks or month. As water temperatures cool, they emerge and swim to the surface where they fly off into adult life. As adults, caddis flies resemble moths.’

French naturalist and artist Hubert Duprat wanted to find out if the flies would use any provided materials to create cocoons. He gave them gold flakes, pearls and opals. The flies obligingly used the materials to make the most wondrous creations show below. They now make beautiful art together. Isn’t nature amazing?

I would love to try getting animals to create. It would be very difficult to train an animal to do such a thing although my tutor has mentioned a friend who leaves thread out for birds to build their nests with. This could be an interesting idea to investigate but you would have to know where the nest was being built to be able to retrieve it.

I like the idea of being similar to the cadis fly making things from objects I find. I have always made things with recycled ‘rubbish’ and am now interested in using natural ‘found’ or inspired objects. It would be interesting to see think about what objects could be used. Obviously they would not be as jewel like as these cocoons but something similar could be achieved with stones and shells perhaps?


stones and pearl cocoon

gold and pearls cocoon

Woven structures / leaves & grasses

Aly De Groot


‘too hard basket’ Plant fibres, plant dyes, found objects, 30x25x50cm Aly De Groot.

Aly De Groot’s waving pushes basketry and weaving to its limits. She also produces great eco dyed textiles using leaves to add colour to wearable art and reclaimed fabrics. I really enjoy looking at the texture and colours that she produces. the natural look end experimental nature of her work using ‘quirky’ materials really appeals to me and fits in well with the way my own work is going at the moment. Perhaps I could learn to weave found leaves etc. into such pots.


Kay Sekimachi




Whilst perusing the internet for examples of vessels made from leaves I found many examples. None more awe inspiring to me than the delicate bowls made by Kay Sekimachi. Her bowls are just beautiful, so delicate they really speak volumes about the beauty, fragility yet strength of nature. ‘The pieces are held together with the help of Kozo paper and special coatings of both watercolor and Krylon.’ ( I was not sure what Krylon and Kozo paper were so had to look them up, but they are basically spray lacquer and a fine Japanese paper. This method could work well with my idea for vessels made from grasses and leaves.

‘While attending school at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, artist Kay Sekimachi was struck by a quote from her teacher Trude Guermon-prez: “Try to make something with the simplest of means.” Over the span of her sixty-year art career Sekimachi took the words to heart as she rose to the forefront of contemporary fiber art in the 60s and 70s by creating challenging artworks with extremely limited means. Leaves, hornet’s nest paper, grass, shells, and linen constitute many of the materials in Sekimachi’s repertoire.’ Via the Smithsonian:

I love the delicacy yet strength of these bowls and wonder if they could influence other forms of  vessel. Honesty seed pods immediately when thinking about translucent, delicate materials that protect. I really want to find out if I can re-produce something similar and what it could lead on to.

Jane Bevan

Jane Bevan is an English artist based in Derbyshire. She makes forms and vessels using found natural objects generally collected in her local woodlands. She makes excellent use of bark, twigs and thorns to create modern pieces with a lovely simplicity about them. I am particularly struck by the idea of using bark. It is not something I had thought of thus far and is something I would really like to investigate.

A large vessel made of bark with very simple stitched detail. I like the way she has chosen to use a contrasting coloured thread to make the stitching stand out in a similar way that I tried with my stitched leaves.

Basket made of woven twigs. I really like the idea of weaving sticks and twigs together to create structures. This may well be worth investigating.

Tiny vessels made using bark and leaf stems. I like the change in scale between these smaller items and the larger bark vessel above. A range of sizes would be worth exploring.

Ideas inspired by nature’s structures:

Bowls / vessels / sculptural forms made with leaves, grasses, twigs or bark

Shapes / forms taken from nature: seed heads, cacti, pods, cocoons, insect nests, bird nests.


I am coming to a point at which I have some great ideas floating around in my head that need to be tried as samples in the next stage, hopefully this will help narrow down the options:

  • Can I weave or join grasses or leaves to a high enough standard to make vessels and would I be able to make them interesting enough?
  • Could they be made strong enough or stiff enough to be usable. what could be used to stiffen them?
  • Could other natural materials be used in conjunction with leaves? i.e. Grasses for stitching, bark for structure, seeds for decoration?
  • Can leaves or bark be embroidered into successfully? Can leaves be stitched together or embellished with machine stitch?
  • Is there a way to make my own skeleton leaves to add more choice of shape?
  • Could I wrap objects in such a away as to convey a feeling successfully?
  • Could I make my own cocoon like structures either from natural materials or other materials in more of a conceptual piece / collection and do I have enough time to do this successfully to my satisfaction?

My next step I feel, is to try and answer some of these questions by sampling some ideas.

Sources & further reading:

Susan Benarcik

Anita Van Houttum

Jane Wafer

Judith Scott

Entwined: Sisters and Secrets in the Silent World of Artist Judith Scott (28 Jun 2016)
by Joyce Scott

Judith Scott: Bound and Unbound (24 Oct 2014) by Catherine Morris and Matthew Higgs

Caddis Flies

Artist Hubert Duprat Collaborates with Caddisfly Larvae as They Build Aquatic Cocoons from Gold and Pearls

The Ornate Protective Cases of Caddisfly Larvae

The Ornate Protective Cases of Caddisfly Larvae

Aly De Groot

Kay Sekimachi

Skeletal Leaf Bowl Sculptures by Kay Sekimachi

Jane Bevan


About Julie Hooker

Having recently returned to my roots in Surrey, I am currently studying a BA Hons degree with the OCA. My work is often inspired by the local countryside in the beautiful Surrey Hills area and the wild rugged nature of the North Cornish coast. Steam engines and abandoned industrial history are also recent themes. A free machine embroiderer and felt maker; I like to explore the use of natural, found materials to create my art, whether that be as raw materials to stitch or weave with or as a material with which to produce dye or print with. Previously, I completed City and Guilds parts 1 & 2 Creative Embroidery at the East Berkshire College in Windsor in 2007. I was also awarded first place in the wearable art section of the National Quilt Championships 2008 and 2009 held annually at Sandown Park.
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