Entries in collaboration (6)


Understory exhibition - an educational supplement 

Understory:  a collaborative exhibition by Joan Martin and Lara Mellon 

Tuesday 26th August at 6:00pm until Saturday 13th Sept 12noon

The term Understory (or understorey, underbrush) in forestry and ecology refers to plant life growing beneath the forest canopy without penetrating it to any extent. As a rule forest understories also experience higher humidity than exposed areas.




After reading the above interpretation of the word ‘understory’, come up with your own/another interpretation of the word ”understory”.  

Write down a title of an artwork on this exhibit that best relates to this theme. Explain your choice.




The definition of the word “collaborate” from the Merriam-Webster online dictionary is to: work with another person or group in order to achieve or do something.

Watch the Youtube clip on the Tate gallery channel Unlock Art: Great Double Acts and answer the questions that follow. 







Name one contemporary visual arts partnership mentioned in the Youtube clip “ Unlock Art: Great Double Acts”.

Is collaboration new in Visual arts? Explain your answer.

How does Jeff Koons create collaborative art?

Describe the artwork that Sue Webster & Tim Noble make. 

It is stated in the Youtibe clip that” By engaging with artwork the viewer also becomes part of the art” Explain this statement.







Note to teachers – questions 3-7 are best done prior to the gallery visit, after viewing the Youtube clip. The Youtube clip provides a comprehensive overview of collaborative artists of the past and present. Questions 3-7 may also be left out if you haven’t got easy access to the Internet.

Joan Martin and Lara Mellon have chosen to collaborate because of the support their relationship has brought to the making of this exhibition.

Their collaboration takes various forms:

Their postcards record conversation and demand a response to each other’s work. They also were required to meet on a regular basis to hand-deliver these postcards to one another.  Examine the collection of postcards

Above: Joan Martin, Postcard 44 (Front and back), mixed media, 15x10cm

Above: Lara Mellon, Postcard 45 (Front and back), mixed media, 15x10cm







What date did they start the series of postcards & what date did they finish?

Do you think that it is important that these artists recorded dates on their postcards? Explain your answer.  

Select one PAIR of sequential postcards 

Record the date, describe the visuals on the front of the card & write down the message in EACH card.

Explain how the postcards relate to one another visually or thematically (in terms of subject matter). 








The informal meetings where they swap postcards often turn into more formal lengthy meetings where they discussed ideas, the meaning of works and the general direction and form they want this exhibition to take. These meetings often take place in each other's studios where they got opportunities to view each other's work in progress & make comment on each other's work. 

Above: An excerpt from Joan Martin's Journal

Above: An excerpt from Lara Mellon's Journal


Can you think of any positive effects that meetings like these could have on the development of an artist's work?  



The circle shape occurs quite frequently in this exhibition.

Above: Joan Martin, Accumulation 1 (detail), mixed media, size various.   

Above:  Lara Mellon, Hope Sewn, mixed media, 15cm diameter. 





Find an artwork that is based on a circular shape/contains circles by each artist and compare how they each use the circle in their work. Some things to consider: Is it a frame? Is it a compositional device?

Do you think the circle has symbolic meaning for each of these artists?

Back up your discussion by referring to features of specific artworks.





Joan Martin and Lara Mellon both use mixed media and often use similar materials, techniques and even swap items they have made with the other artist.









List three unusual materials/mediums used by each artist.

Focus on ONE unusual material/medium used by each artist and describe its use in a particular artwork. Write down the name of the artist, the title, medium listed on the label & the size of the work as part of your answer.

Do you think this material has any effect on the artist's message? Explain your answer.

Can you find examples of both artists using the same materials/techniques?  Describe this material/technique and explain how each artist has used it differently.

Despite often using similar materials, techniques and both working within the theme of this exhibition “Understory”, each artist interprets the theme in a different way.Can you work out the general message/concerns of each artist by interpreting the motifs (distinctive subject matter/images used) or the mood of their work? Explain your answer.










The PDF version of this worksheet may be downloaded here.


Time for roses, butterflies and April fools 

The following series of postcards continued with me working on the "sktchy" app. The person depicted in the following image (Michael Rose) is not only good at drawing using the ipad app "Paper 53" but is happy to share his method of working. Head over there & check out his drawings.  

Text above: Dear Lara, In this case the rose is red (Michael Rose on sktchy is a "red head".) His web site is called mademistakes.com. So doubt he has had his share of battles. 26/3/2014    

Text above: 1st April 2014 "your Birthday"  Dear Joan, Viola Odorata is used as a scent in the perfume industry. Violet is known to have a "flirty" scent as its fragrance comes and goes. Just like our birthdays...they come and go. Wishing you a very happy birthday today Joan. Love Lara.

Text above: 2 April 2014, Dear Lara, Yesterday (my birthday) was about time passing, but it also means moving on to new challenges. This postcard exchange not only marks time but is a celebration of how we challenge one another. Love Joan

Text above: Monday, 2014-04-28, Dear Joan, I do love that we challenge each other…and that we discover more to ourselves, beyond our personal boundaries. Life is full of adventure and possibility when we move beyond fear. Love Lara

Text Above: 15th May 2014, From our “box” …when she transformed into a butterfly, the caterpillars spoke not of her beauty, but of her weirdness. They wanted her to change back into what she had always been, but she had wings – Dean Jackson. Love Lara 


Layers and stories

This next series of cards became multilayered & started to explore mythical stories. Lara started it off with a multi layered card in which she created a portrait of me. I wear layers of clothing in both summer & winter. Often layers of very sheer fabric and lace - hence the layers of ribbons and fabrics in this card. I also have a "thing" about the number three, which explains the number three stamped on the front of this card.         

Text above: Dearest Joan

I won't be the same now that I have an iPad

Love Lara 10th Feb 2014

I felt I needed to match Lara's card above, so I also made a layered card below: 

Text above: 19/2/2014, Dear Lara, I was scratching around in my storeroom - looking for paper and I came across an old music book. The book fell open at a song called "Waldgesprach" (German). I looked up this word on the Internet and found out that it means "forest conversation". On further investigation I found out that it is about the witch Lorelei, a woman who was accused of bewitching men. On her way to imprisonment she climbed a rock (large)...   

Text above:... on the river Rhine and subsequently fell to her death. There is a rock on the river that is her namesake and has been painted by your favourite painter- William Turner. I thought you would like this story as well as the old paper. Love Joan. PS - I didn't burn it - these are original burns.
The drawing above is Lara's dog Sienna (I did this ages ago & stuck it to the back of this card - just to fill a blank spot) 
Text above: 

My Dear Joan, Your last card spoke of 'conversations in the forest' This made me recall a photo I took of Pat & my shadows at the Valley of Desolation, where standing at the rock's edge was quite scary...but beautiful too. Poor Lorelei ...it is a pity the village folk looked to the seen rather than the unseen. We often tend to notice the 'obvious' rather than carefully considering the deeper meaning of things. William Turner sure got it. I think. Love Lara

Text above: 18 March, Dear Lara, My forest is my classroom and my garden. The closest visual equivalent to your postcard I could find in these two places was a reproduction of Pollock's "One" and a dying rose. Love Joan 
Dear Joan, Wherever we are classroom, boardroom, home....wherever our forests are...life must be lived with courage. Love Lara, 21/3/2004 

Getting perspective

This series of cards between Lara & myself seemed to take perspective on the past & the future. A good place to be at the beginning of the year!  I continued with my 'sktchy' obsession & convinced Lara to join the community. The last card in this series is a portrait of Lara.   

Text above: 27th December 2013 – Dear Joan, Birds emerge from forests … perhaps to fly away or else simply to see things from afar!  Love Lara

Text above: 1 January 2014 – Dear Lara, I was looking up quotes on perspective and the following appealed to me: “Perspective: the capacity to view things in their true relations or relative importance”

“I never changed I just learned”

Love Joan

Text above: Under-story

Hi Joan, I loved your last quote on perspective. Here’s another...Perspective – a. A view or vista b. A mental view or outlook: “It is useful occasionaly to look at the past to gain a perspective on the present”...

I hope to look forward more than to look back, but realise we need to both. Wishing you a great 2014, Love Lara

Text above: 13 January 2014

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards” Kierkegaard

Dear Lara, I found this postcard in my storeroom today. It is a drawing by Picasso. I have, superimposed a “selfie” pic on top of the traditional drawing. (Done by me on the ‘sktchy’ app) Love Joan


Text Above: Dear Joan, I want to live more than I understand. Love Lara. 25 January 2014  

Text above: Dear Lara, January was filled with lots of talking. Now is the time for doing and living. Love Joan. 4 Feb 2014  


Starting to play again...

Many of the cards done for this series were done rapidly in response to Lara's cards - grabbing materials around me, in my classroom & responding instinctively. Sometimes this produces raw work that hasn't been over-thought or over-worked. However, I don't tend to produce my best work when I am feeling stressed. The card after Lara's that starts "Dear Mrs. Mart" was made from a note that one of my students gave to me & a fragment of an abandoned black & white photograph from my storeroom at school. Although this is not a fantastic artwork it planted the idea for the next artwork - the card after Lara's sleeping daughter below...  



Text above: Dear Joan,  At this time of year, I’m very conscious of my need for rest … and am also very attached to my pillow …  I recently took a photo of Andrea asleep in and amongst her pillows, study books and teddy bears.  She too has hopes and dreams of which I’m deeply inter-connected.  Love Lara

This fragment (below) of an old black and white photograph formed the basis of a portrait I did in response to lara's card.  

The white marks on the photo (above) already suggested a face. I drew into the photo using a white china marker & then worked into the image in bleach. Bleach disolves the pigment on the surface & produced the flashes of bright red and yellow. I then defined the features of the face using black and white acrylic paint markers.  As the title of this post said - I had started to play again.  I also started playing around on the "sktchy" iphone app which combines my love of technology and art.  I have blogged about my artwork on the "sktchy" app  here and here.


13 December 2013 - Dear Joan,  The word friend along with ‘connection’ resonated for me in your last card.  Technology is great in many respects, but just like an artwork experienced ‘in the flesh’, nothing beats connecting in the real.  Love Lara