KATRINA WARD
New Zealand Artist, Textile Designer & Educator

Journal

The Big Plan, Lean Production, Kaizen and On Why Everything Is So Small

Kaizen is the Japanese term for a gradual approach to ever higher standards in quality enhancement and waste reduction, through small but continual improvements...
— businessdictionary.com

I have been shrinking things lately. Downsizing, streamlining, reducing and trying to get more 'lean' with the ways that I plan for and implement my creative projects. It occurred to me that it is a waste of resources and money to always print my designs in real scale. From printing ink to paint to canvas to paper to wood... the amount of resources I could use when I draw so much (I have a daily habit) could become a real burden on our household and ultimately the planet. Here are some ways that I have become more lean in my creative process in order to adopt principles of 'kaizen' while I work towards a bigger vision.

If I consider my carbon footprint as well as my need to continue to 'output' as an artist, then things can really start piling up both in terms of works to store as well as samples to manage and resources to recycle. So I need to consider waste in terms of both materials and time spent and I also need to consider how I can make my design processes more efficient to benefit both my own art-practice and my customers. 

So, firstly, I have started to do things digitally.

Nowadays most of my drawing is done digitally due to my current situation with having two small children. When I first had kids I needed to manage my drawing habit a little differently. My love of large charcoal drawings didn't work when I covered my hands (and face a lot of the time) with black charcoal dust and then had a baby that needed me. (Why are so many baby clothes white?!) Painting was also out of the question because balancing parenting with painting meant that oftentimes my acrylic palette would dry before I was finished with it or small hands would put finger prints and their own marks (or signatures) on works that I was in the process of planning or creating. So I taught myself how to paint digitally and, with my large wacom and stylus in hand and armed with a number of brushes and an AMAZING (ANY colour is possible) palette, I can still get my drawing or painting fix without needing to try to keep everything out of reach of children. This is more lean as there is less opportunity for error, for damage, for mistakes and for storage problems. By drawing predominantly digitally I am increasing the quality of my work and reducing my waste : Kaizen in practice. 

The second way that I am 'leaning up' my production is by playing with scale. As a result of using lean production methods on my creative process, I now also print in miniature before I commit a design to true life scale. Rapid production methodology applies so well to this process. If I want to design a wallpaper for a customer, I can imagine it first in miniature scale so that I can test how the fabric or wallpaper repeats and how the pattern looks when paired with furniture or people. I can tweak the scale or shuffle the repeat, change colours and play with how my work looks in virtual spaces with virtually no cost to the customer. I can show them a scale model of the final project and even upload my work/s to virtual galleries if they need to imagine the size of the painting in a room before they commit to the bigger spend of wallpapering a space, fitting a mural print or committing to a large scale painted canvas. It's practically magic - especially since by working in different scales it has also opened up an opportunity to provide all of my designs in miniature for dollhouse renovations on etsy - and this way each design is living a happier life of its own being used in some really amazing little spaces. I know my designs don't really 'live' but being available as digital files means that they can travel more, go more places and be more useful to more people. Much less waste in terms of value for me too. 

I can imagine my work in large scale before committing to getting the wooden frame made, the canvas stretched and buying all the right paints so that I can be sure of my ideas before investing in the 'big make'. This is a sneak peek of a current work in progress using my retro Kowhai textile as a foundation print/ground on the canvas. 

I can imagine my work in large scale before committing to getting the wooden frame made, the canvas stretched and buying all the right paints so that I can be sure of my ideas before investing in the 'big make'. This is a sneak peek of a current work in progress using my retro Kowhai textile as a foundation print/ground on the canvas. 

A third way that I am trying to be lean is that I do not always print my works. When I print my final prints on 300gsm archival paper ( it is textured, beautifully thick and comes with an almost 150 year fade proof guarantee) my drawings are transformed into heirloom pieces that you definitely want to get framed. So, if this is the case, why would I print everything at the high end? Is that not a waste of paper, production and cost? Consequently I now only print to order and therefore only need to use as much paper as I actually need. It also saves me hassles of storing works and trying to keep them out of the way of little hands... My studio can also be so much tidier! Much more efficient production!

The three aspects of the big lean plan mentioned above are fantastic for the testing stages of creating and trialling marketability of my works and they also mean that I can get the satisfied dopamine hit of creating things that I love all the time without too much expense, 'muda' or waste. But then, returning to the Big Plan now, I am able to return once more to the hands on and tactile love of painting with real paint - but only AFTER I have committed a design to miniature, am happy with the colours, scale and quality of the work and have tested the market for feedback/feedforward from some trusted friends, colleagues and mentors and THEN I can happily invest in producing an item for large scale exhibition. 

Sp this is the new Big Plan. I have a host of my favourite designs available on art licensing sites as well as available in miniature for printing at home and I am also being more systematic about which works are worth spending a bit more time and money on. Now that my children are a little more responsible and able to leave mummy's things alone, I can return to paint, to canvas and to wood because I have tested my ideas in miniature throughout the previous creative phases. So right now I am working on real canvas that explores some of my printed textiles and the relationships between digital painting and 'real' painting. Because my Big Plan  as a contemporary artist in New Zealand is to set some of my works free to live a life at large that will eventually have a much more meaningful life of their own as investment pieces in NZ homes.

There. Thanks Kaizen. Thanks Lean. Every Big Plan has to start somewhere small after all....

This is a sample of a new retro NZ themed wallpaper design and some current prints shrunk to miniature to test how they work as a collection in a miniature space. Big things to come!

This is a sample of a new retro NZ themed wallpaper design and some current prints shrunk to miniature to test how they work as a collection in a miniature space. Big things to come!

If you are interested in reading more about Lean Production methodology you could try these links:

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0272696310000902

http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/abs/10.1108/17410380610639506

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lean_manufacturing

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