This workshop emerged out of a collaboration with mineralogist Courtenay Smale that began in 2011 when I was working from the Rashleigh Mineral Collection. In this workshop we explored the role of crystal models as teaching aids and enquired into what may have been lost with their dismissal in favour of computer modelling. We built our own experience of handling, rotating and drawing three-dimensional wooden crystal models to explore the six crystal systems (Cubic, Tetragonal, Orthorhombic, Monoclinic, Triclinic, Hexagonal), and to recognise examples of these basic forms in macro and micro minerals/specimens.
For this workshop, I had previously loaned a set of wooden models from Camborne School of Mines with intention of re-purposing the models as educational objects alongside corresponding mineral specimens. Smale and I laid out the wooden models and mineral specimens to show the six crystal systems alongside glass and molecular models that related to one of the six crystal systems. We accompanied these models with an educational handout on ‘Crystal Systems’ that participants could keep. The models were positioned near a display my own etchings of minerals drawn based on their resemblance to plants, animals and landscapes which disrupted conventional ideas of scale, for example, drawing a mineral in place of a mountain.
In the workshop, we explored how drawing a wooden model of a complete crystal structure can help to draw the same structure in an incomplete mineral specimen. We also assessed the contribution of handling specimens to morphological understanding when drawing mineral form. We used drawing at all stages of the process to guide and enhance our own understanding.
The workshop began with a talk from Courtenay Smale about crystal systems, mineral growth and the history of the wooden crystal models. This talk offered insight into the six crystal systems and their characteristics (planes of symmetry, rotation etc) and their role in mineral classification.
Based on my own work with zoological scientists and collections, I then offered a discussion based on comparing the crystal models (and their modifications ) and mineral specimens with zoological ‘type’ specimens and the specimens diagnosed as the same species. At this point I also relate back to the types of form and symmetry and possible modifications of Isomorphology.
To move towards the drawing activity, we then discuss the importance of handling and rotating models and specimens to create a 3-dimensional understanding rather than a 2d view of the mineral or model . We then ask the group to match the mineral specimens to the wooden models and to select a model and mineral specimen to draw.
After lunch, I gave a talk about the mineral inspired artworks installed for this workshop. I discussed resemblance as the basis for these works, and suggested the observation and drawing of resemblances between mineral specimens as a guide for a more creative engagement with the mineral specimens. Referring back to the concept of ‘theoretical crystallography’, I encouraged participants to draw their own adaptation of the ‘model’.
As a further suggestion I invited participants to follow the logic of minerals behaviour through drawing actions: joining, twinning, creating ‘pseudomorphs’, and ‘doctoring’ the specimen. I used my own ‘Isomorphogenesis’ work as an example of evolving form through a series of drawing actions to help participants follow a similar logic with the mineral specimens. During this drawing period, Smale and I walk around and spend time with individual questions and ideas.
Feedback from the workshop demonstrates that handling the three dimensional models helped to draw and to understand the nature of crystal systems. When asked to describe how the handling and drawing of models and mineral specimens helped the understanding of mineral form, participants responded:
- that handling the specimen helped to understand the complexity of the crystal structure.
- handling and drawing the different models and specimens helped to understand the different structures through close observation and the ‘formative’ process of drawing.
- useful to rotate the model to see how the structure works. The models really helped to identify the different structures.
This mode of scientific and creative observation allowed me to understand both the miniscule and giant scale at which these beautiful minerals form […] the models did provide an educational basis for the perfect and theoretical form these crystals are based on (GCSE student).
The theme of scale: macro and micro, ran throughout the workshop and was supported by drawing minerals with petrological microscopes and mineral thin sections. When asked about the value of working from the microscope and the specimen, one participant responded:
The microscope image took me straight to the macro viewed microscopic 2d image somehow suggested a larger landscape than the small pyrite crystal (Yoga teacher)