Miniature landscapes & printing with 400,000 volts

Forge, a series of miniature landscape images created from household objects by Luke Evans, a final year graphic design and photography student at Kingston University, has been snapped up by the Saatchi Gallery as part of a forthcoming exhibition.

Forge III (bricks, self-raising flour, heated glycerine, paint)


Forge, a series of miniature landscape images created from household objects by Luke Evans, a final year graphic design and photography student at Kingston University, has been snapped up by the Saatchi Gallery as part of a forthcoming exhibition.

The idea for the series came about after Evans accidentally knocked some flour onto the floor whilst baking bread. He was struck by how much it resembled some kind of unusual, sci-fi landscape, and quickly took photos of the scene on his mobile phone.

Inside Out, another series from Evans created in collaboration with Josh Lake, that we featured in 2012, will also be going on show at the New Order: British Art Today III exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery in London, (dates to be announced).

Forge I (salt, heated glycerine, brick, shaving foam, paint, cling film, paper)


CR: How did you first get into photography?

LE: I remember pestering my Mum for this old Nokia phone (a 7250i to be exact) just because of the built-in camera. A 388-pixel square! Great, I thought. Back then I didn’t care about any of the technicalities, I just wanted to take photos of anything and everything. That was for my 12th birthday. Since then I gradually saved up for more capable equipment – I currently have my eye on a 8×10 film camera.

CR: Where do you find inspiration?

LE: I learn by osmosis; everything sort of feeds in around me and into my notebook, whether that’s on the street, on the train, at a great exhibition, from old books and magazines, or from throwing myself into a totally different environment. Something my photography tutor told me was ‘don’t just look, see’, and it’s one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever been given. Last year when I entered the photography brief for D&AD (with Photobooth, made up of ‘stolen’ Apple store photos), the inspiration came straight from getting my iPhone serviced and I noticed how many people we’re coming into the store just to take photos of themselves – it’s something I just couldn’t have thought of sitting at a desk.

Sometimes I’ll get inspiration from the mistakes I make. They can be interesting in their own right. I’m working on a project at the moment called Flood that came about when I couldn’t flatten a print that got wet and it had these amazing ripples all over the surface.

CR: Were there any creative influences behind the Forge series, aside from the spark that you got while baking bread?

LE: Growing up in rural Herefordshire, I’ve always been subconsciously tied to rolling landscapes, rocky mountains, lakes, and misty morning fog – so when it came to studying in London I was in for a bit of a shock. Making the Forge images was really a case of trying to visualise places that I could never go – or might not even exist. They became a sort of twisted view of my sense of home. When it came down to actually building the sets it was really a case of just playing around with the materials I had at hand and letting them lead the creative process.

Forge II (Charcoal dust, heated glycerine)


CR: What techniques and materials were used in the making of the Forge series?

LE: Making miniature environments is nothing new, after completing the project I learned about how filmmakers traditionally use the same techniques on elaborate miniature models, and I’ve been pointed to other artists such as the underwater sculptures of Mariele Neudecker, Kim Keever, and even the amazing Japanese art of aquascaping!

For me, Forge was an exercise in frugality. As a broke student, I limited myself to materials I could find around the house: flour, salt, water, plants, rocks, and anything else lying around. For the mist you see in the photos, I remembered an old experiment in school where we heated cough medicine (glycerine), which made thick plumes of sweet-smelling smoke.

Mainly, the project uses forced perspective and tilt-shift; in that sense, I see Forge as primarily a sculpture project that’s documented in a way to bring them to life.

Forge IV (brick, heated glycerine)


CR: Can you tell me more about tilt shift? And your thoughts on how popular the technique has recently become?

LE: With normal lenses – like the ones on your phone or standard camera lenses – the plane of focus is parallel to the film or sensor, meaning that anything immediately in front or behind of this plane will be out of focus.

The secret to making small things look big is to get as much in the frame as possible in focus. This could be achieved by stopping the aperture down – therefore increasing the depth of field – but this can lead to a loss of sharpness. A way to get around this is either by taking several images focused at different distances and merging them together, or by tilting the plane of focus forwards through the image. This can be achieved with traditional cameras with bellows, or with a modern tilt-shift lens.

You can also use tilt-shift to make very large things look small, which has recently been quite a popular use for the technique.

Forge I (detail)


CR: Is there any more you can say about the Saatchi deal involving both Forge and Inside Out, how it played out and what happens next?

LE: It came out of nowhere for me, and I still can’t quite believe that it’s my (and Josh’s) first real-world exhibition. I received an email from the wonderful director there, Philly Adams, who had seen my work online. Being quite shy, it was very surreal and somewhat terrifying to meet with their team and show them my work, as I didn’t know what to expect.

The gallery bought an edition of my work outright (I have an edition of 5 for each image). The whole process was a huge learning curve for me as I hadn’t even thought about selling my work, but I had always had the vision that I wanted my work to be seen by people. For that reason, Josh and I are incredibly grateful for the opportunity we’ve been given.

CR: How has the reaction been amongst friends, family, peers and the university?

LE: I specifically my mum’s reaction – she thought that I had a commission for Versace. Other than that it’s been nothing but congratulations.

From Inside Out

Can you tell me more about your newest project Xero?

With Xero, I reveal the beauty in electrical fields by printing with 400,000 volts. I was going to study physics before I did my Graphics & Photography BA, so I took the opportunity recently to do something based on the idea of energy. When researching, I stumbled across Chester Carlson’s work on inventing Xerography and the electrical experiments of Georg Lichtenberg in the 1700’s.

Xerography works by electrically charging a drum with a negative image (usually with a rapidly moving laser), then an oppositely charged powder is applied to the drum where it adheres to the surface. The powdered roller is then pressed against paper and heat sealed. I wondered if I could do the same thing, but let the electricity itself be the print.

After 3 months of failures, I finally had the technique down: using a high-voltage Van Der Graaf generator, an insulating piece of plastic is zapped with electricity, either though a metallic object or just a single point. The plastic is left with a surface discharge which is then revealed by dusting with Xerographic toner powder (highly carcinogenic!). The plastic is removed, then a dampened piece of smooth watercolour paper is pressed against the surface through a roller. The transferred image is then heat-sealed with a hot iron.

Because the electrical charge is destroyed through the printing process, each print is totally unique, which is odd when you think that Xerography is mainly used to photocopy work. I started with very small tests, but now I’m working with paper and perspex that’s 3m tall. The aim is to do an entire exhibition showing the enormous variety of possible patterns.

From Xero

CR: As a final year student, you have some great achievements under your belt already, how does it feel to be labeled as ‘one to watch’? And how are your plans shaping up for when you leave university?

LE: Although it’s exciting to know that people are seeing your stuff, it can be difficult sometimes because you become associated with a specific kind of work. As such, it becomes far too easy to repeat something you’ve done before because you know that it works. And with the internet, I’ve found myself open to a lot more comment than I otherwise would be; it’s made my skin a lot thicker.

As my standards for finished work have been raised, I’m planning to spend the next year working through my sketchbook to polish the pieces I’ve started in the last 9 months – and hopefully sharing a studio with Josh! It’s scary because I don’t have the safety of a job, but most of my success has come from just going with my gut.

CR: Do you have any advice for other undergraduate students of graphic design and photography?

LE: Live with your work – Print it out, make it your wallpaper, make it physical. I interrogate my images far more if I can see them in front of me rather than buried away in a digital folder. Self-promotion – It forces you to be confident. And surround yourself with hardworking people.

Behind the scenes of Forge

Forge VI (paper, heated glycerine)

Forge V (paper sheet, self-raising flour, dried leaf clipping)

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