The Rowena Reed Kostellow Fund

Problem Four: Fragments

“The objective of this exercise is to choose a solid, cut it apart and reorganize the cut fragments in a new composition that is more beautiful than the original form from which it was derived.”

This is the first time in the Foundation curriculum that you are asked to create your own form. You can work with any of the following simple geometric solids: sphere, hemisphere, cylinder, cone, ovoid, ovoid plinth, round plinth, rectilinear solids (of which there are many).

Design one or two geometric solids. Start by making four to six sketches in clay and choose the ones you like best. You will find that it’s easiest to work with heavy, compact geometric shapes. Design forms that are interesting and beautiful in proportion. The forms should differ in size and character. If you choose to work with two solids, for example a rectilinear solid and a cone of contrasting proportion, you may fragment both, or fragment just one and use the other whole.

Divide the solid into at least three fragments. Use a clay knife to make straight cuts and 24-gauge copper wire to cut curves. You’ll find that it’s not difficult to cut two interesting fragments but it’s very difficult to get a third fragment that doesn’t look like a ‘leftover.’ You must ask yourself, What does each cut do to the part that remains? The consequences of your actions become immediately apparent. Don’t be too ingenious with your cuts and don’t feel compelled to destroy the geometric quality of the form.

If, after cutting a fragment you decide to make that part smaller, you must return the clay to the piece from which it was cut, making that piece larger. In other words, if you take something you have to give something back. If a part is missing in the final composition, you will intuitively sense its absence.

Group the forms to create a beautiful composition. Use toothpicks or straight pins to hold your design together. You must use all of the fragments from the original solid and they must add up--physically and visually--to a harmonious whole.

Establish dominant, subdominant, and subordinate relationships. Apply the same criteria to the fragment problem that you did to the simpler problems that deal with whole shapes. If one shape overwhelms another, it’s not really a dominant/subdominant relationship. The fragments must complement each other. Every element should help the other elements look better. Make some proportion sketches to experiment with creating a sense of visual unity.

“In my experience all designers have particular areas of sensitivity. But sensitivities can be developed. Flounder around for a while. A dancer can’t say ‘My back isn’t very strong, so I won’t use my back.’ The beauty of this course is that if you do all the exercises in the proper order you will find the weak points in your intuitive responses and will strengthen them so that you will become a better all-round designer.”

This exercise gives you experience in working with positive forms and negative volume at the same time. Be aware of the negative volume in your composition. Create tensional relationships between the positive forms and between the positive forms and the negative volume.

Make a unified visual statement. You want to achieve a unified, visual statement right from the beginning. The fragment problem can end up looking like a lot of scraps piled together—or it can be a design with real character. The success of the solution depends a great deal on the grouping of forms.

Be careful not to take forms that are interesting in themselves and place them in an obvious arrangement with other forms (one/two, one/two, one/two). And be aware that if one part of your composition is very complex and another part is very simple, the design probably won’t unify. Your composition should look completely different from the original form but should be as balanced and even more beautiful.

Be aware of the movement of the axes. Think of that movement when you position each fragment. If you have all your fragments except one in dynamic positions, that lonely little static fragment will be difficult to unify with the whole.

You may want to use small sticks to make some axis sketches as experiments in creating structure and balance. Create an abstraction of as many lines or groups of lines as possible, making them go in and out of space. This will help you gain an understanding of movement within a complex group of forms. If concavities are created, the lines of the concavity should move three-dimensionally. There’s a tendency for students who haven’t worked three dimensionally with lines to make them flat. (There’s a catch here. It’s helpful to be able to analyze all of the lines of the concavities created in the fragment problem by using the method developed in the wire problem. But I don’t assign the wire problem before the fragment because I believe that the fragment should be more geometric in character. Otherwise it becomes more sculptural and too complex for students to grasp and much is lost.)

In General:

Spend 50% of your time designing a geometric solid that is interesting and beautiful and the rest of the time working with the fragments. If the proportions of the original are beautiful to start with you have a better chance of getting beautiful fragments from it. You must love the proportions that you’ve made. If you choose to work with two solids, take time and care to create forms that complement each other before you begin fragmenting them. Keep all of your three-dimensional sketches. Don’t destroy your early attempts as you create more successful compositions. You will find it very helpful to compare them.