Lisa Cole – Making the intangible solid

I have been experimenting with methods of making things we cannot see into things we can hold. I can make patterns generated by songs or the movement of trees and birds but I haven’t get developed a method to make these into solid forms generated by the data.

I have applied for 6 months of funding that would help me approach this problem in a dedicated and strategic manner. Each month has a different focus that builds upon the success of the last month.


I have divided each month up into 2 weeks of research and development with one week of evaluation and one week of planning.

I’ve costed myself in at a day rate of £200 for 4 whole days a month, to be spread over the month as needed. £350 a month is to pay for expert help in the form of mentors and specialists.

  • My day rate £200 x 4 (£800)
  • Expert day rate between £175 and £350
  • Consumables £100 clay, electronics and travel
  • Equipment £200, potentially a test kiln, wifi booster, 3D printer

 Total over 6 months £8700

Experts and external support

I have an existing network and supportive relationship with:

  • Expert in clay extrusion – Tavs Jorgensen, Associate Professor and AHRC Leadership Fellow at the Centre for Fine Print Research:
  • Expert in 3D printing clay David Huson, Senior Research Fellow. CFPR UWE
  • Clay and sound research – Sonny Lightfoot from Copper Sounds
  • Guan Lee for 3D printing clay and hacking other machines. From Grymsdyke Farm
  • Kiln space – I can use the Clay Shed for firing
  • 3D printing experts I can access (James Ashwell at University of the West of England / Chris Ingram Knowle West Media Centre)
  • Pervasive Media Studios for tech support
  • Faith Douglas – wildlife and tree expert

In my first month I would research and identify experts who could support me through the rest of the project

  • Clay experts
  • Pigeon racers
  • Bird experts
  • Arduino experts
  • Weather experts


think of an apple what do you see in your mind? I see a black void

think of an apple
what do you see in your mind?
I see a black void

With Aphantasia I can’t imagine things visually so I make them. It is just as weird to me to think about how an apple looks as to think about how sound might look, or movement. My practice revolves around making intangible things solid. I tend to make things that can be held in the hands so they deliver a personal sensory experience in a different way.

Visible and tactile sound

At the start of the year I developed a machine that drew the pattern of music using clay slip or glaze.  I wanted to be able to hold songs in my hand. I turned some into 3D forms using the patterns as a guide but these are just interpretations.

Teenage Kicks in Clay machine generated shape you can hold the song

Teenage Kicks in clay
machine generated shape
you can hold the song

Ev’ry Bird drawings

I don’t see images in my head but I do hear sounds, generally music, sometimes quotes. I had a recurring quote from William Blake “How do you know but ev’ry Bird that cuts the airy way, Is an immense world of delight, clos’d by your senses five?” running through my head and this inspired me to use birds as the data for the next stage of making intangible things solid.

During lockdown I started to capture the movement of birds and the wind in line. I used a series of drawing machines rigged up in my garden. Birds landing on a platform moved a pen, the wind moved sails that also moved the pen. These became a recording of the movement of time, recorded over 12 hours with different colours used for different temperatures throughout the day.

I also brought in an interest in ontology and phenomenology rooted in Spinoza (“everything is nature”), Heidegger who wrote about objects withdrawing from our sense of reality and contemporary philosophers such as Graham Harman and Tim Morton who are loosely categorised as speculative realists. The main themes I’m taking from this (and working with) are that everything is an object under tension that reacts or withdraws from every other object and that there are many aspects to reality we cannot sense.


24 hours here day and night the first of June drawing lockdown life

24 hours drawn
day and night the first of June
capturing lockdown

Rocket Pots

The next stage of this is to capture that movement of nature in 3 dimensions. I’m using a similar method to paint thrown stoneware pots using colours that represent temperatures but made over a series of days or even weeks. The premise here is that you can see and hold all of October, rain and all.

The shape is influenced by the 50’s and 60’s science fiction I was reading and listening to at the time.

sci fi rocket pots decorated by nature made by Lisa Cole

sci fi rocket pots
decorated by nature
made by Lisa Cole

Control v chance

Although the decoration and initial data is generated in an analogue way via chance, I’m controlling that with the choices of colours or the actual shape. The rocket pots have a strong geometric shape, technically challenging to throw. They seem to root into the ground but point to a hidden apex, like a space ship focusing a ray gun.

Potential outcomes

I can use the lines as a pattern as I did with Teenage Kicks or I could develop a low tech clay extruder triggered by movement. This needs experimentation with consistency of clay slip and possible additives. There are issues around drying and humidity that would need to be either controlled or worked with.

I’ve just started to live stream some of the bird and wind drawings. I could plot these movements and send them to a 3D printer to make them in real time.

Visible and Tactile sound was only ever a prototype so there is more I could do with that, recording memories in a form you could hold for example.

I have so far only worked with sound and movement. I could also work with taste and smell.

Artists Statement

Lisa Cole’s work revolves around turning the intangible into something substantial and functional.

Lisa uses ancient methods of making and drawing combined with new technology to capture sound as movement, movement as pattern and pattern as form. Using nature, songs and poems as data she creates analogue generative artwork and solid forms. Her work is generally small enough to be held in the hand to give a different experience and perspective of the original sensory source.

She works in many medias but favours clay as a reference to Greek mythology when Prometheus formed us from clay and gave us the ability to create.

Her interest in philosophy leans towards the metaphysical in an attempt to make sense of the world. Heidegger wrote about a broken hammer allowing us access to it’s “thinginess”. Plato’s cave puts humans in a space of shadows, where the real things are too bright for us to comprehend. Object Oriented Ontology has thoughts, memories, moments in time and things act individually and under tension and string theory references multiple unseen dimensions.

This intangible element is something that Lisa is fascinated with and her work attempts to bridge the gap between our reality and that which we cannot normally sense. Lisa is Aphantasic, with no visual minds eye which may be why she is obsessed with making solid things. She does not feel restricted by Aphantasia and feels it is a gorgeous limitless void in which to create.

Lisa’s inspirations tend to include an oblique reference to hell (Dante, Blake. Milton) and contemporary philosophy, in particular Object Oriented Ontology. She is fascinated by Mobius strips and the hyperbolic plane. As a collaborative designer, Lisa is interested in interdisciplinary  projects that include philosophy, literature, science, maths and working with senses of sound, touch and sight. Taste and smell might come later. She makes a mean sourdough.



Lisa Cole is currently taking a year out from MA Design student at UWE in Bristol. She was Lead Department Student Representative and took an active interest in the running of her faculty and representing fellow students at Academic Board level.

Her research interests revolve around experimental ceramics and she has given talks about her practice at the UWE Student Led Colloquium and as part of a feasibility study into a materials library with Knowle West Media Centre. Her abstract for Tactile and Visible Sound was accepted for the Engaged Surface Symposium run by the Centre for Fine Print Research.

Lisa is an accomplished and multi skilled designer/maker who prefers to work in collaboration with other artists and agencies. Recent collabs include a dementia engagement ArtBox with Bristol City Museums, a campaign to reduce litter on a major Bristol street and workshops for IKEA based around sustainability.

Lisa was awarded a Summer Scholarship with UWE which she used to futher her career teaching Design Thinking.

She is a prolific blogger and author who writes about ethical and sustainable living.

Lisa Cole graduated from UWE Bristol with a BA in Fashion and Textiles. She specialised in costume history and pattern cutting. She won awards for knit design and was sponsored by the British Wool Board.