Design-led Techniques: Searching for Mystery

by Christine Dumont

The Lovers by René Magritte, 1929

“We always want to see what is hidden by what we see.” René Magritte


As I was reading a biography of Magritte, it occurred to me that I’d never considered to include mystery in my work. Magritte was fascinated by mystery. As I mused over The Lovers, I wondered if we really know our loved ones. If it’s their mystery that attracts us, why are we so desperate to know them? “We always want to see what is hidden by what we see,” he wrote.

Those words set me on a task...

Mystery in my work-- what would that mean in practical terms? Obviously, I wasn’t going to turn myself into a surrealist jeweller. Many techniques I had once loved no longer wooed me. I had spurned them for being too familiar. But maybe I had abandoned them to soon! Maybe they had more to give! Mystery” means “veiled”, “glazed”, “layered”, “translucent”. Could I use these words as triggers to “mysterify” my old techniques?

1) “Mysterifying” MOKUME GANE using the triggers “layered”, “glazed” and “translucent”

Result 1

Mokume Gane, a favourite technique of mine, had lost its buzz for being “too static” for my liking. How could I create the impression of bubbles travelling through glaze to pop to the surface? Where are they coming from? What’s beneath?

The challenges are to:

  • make the white clay look like a glaze;
  • give the white clay the perfect opacity – too opaque, the bubbles would look like they’re standing still; too translucent, the white and blue clays would assimilate and the pattern would be lost.

See Result 1 above. (Click on Images to expand.)

2) “Mysterifying” SILKSCREENING using the triggers “layered” and “glazed”

Image 2.a

Silkscreening can also produce obvious results that are too static for me. See Image 2.a. What type of background could I use to camouflage the silkscreen technique so it would become unrecognisable?

Result 2.b and Result 2.c

The challenges are to:

  • create a background to overlay acrylic paint without it peeling. A lightly crackled surface for the background struck me as going in the right direction, but still too obvious. See Results 2.b
  • coating the surface with a glaze has softened the silkscreen pattern as to be barely there (and, surprise!, lightened the acrylic paint). See Results 2.c.

Many thanks to MOIKO for the silkscreen. You can find many more patterns here:

3) “Mysterifying” Collage using the triggers "veiled", “layered” and “translucent”

Result 3.a and 3.b

Collage is the art of sticking shapes on a background. In the past, I would not even have considered this technique as “too obvious”! Under Magritte’s tutelage, Collage was now full of potential! How could I “stick shapes” that seemed to emerge from the depth beneath?

The challenges are to:

  • work with extra fine translucent sheets, avoiding the dreaded “plaquing”, and

  • veil” them. Surprise! They came out “frosted”, a new word for my mystery vocabulary.

See Results 3.b. Here I was using the simplest of techniques, with surprising results.

Result 3.c is another example of “Veiled” Collage, evoking a secret landscape under a blanket of snow.


During my experiments, I kept in mind some design considerations that would ensure I would end up with a bunch of swatches that could combine into finished pieces. For example, the limited colour palette and the consistent “mystery” treatment ensures Unity. By varying the size of the patterns and the overall tonal balance of the swatches, I get Contrast. In the space of three weeks I had come up with a huge number of new techniques. I was acutely aware of the intense productivity and sense of enchantment that accompanied me during these weeks of discovery. I was “working happy”!

Image 4

Image 4 illustrates a piece resulting from my design-led exploration. Both bottom and top veneers uses the Collage technique under veiled glazing.

What did I learn?

  • I realised that I had a lot more techniques stashed in me than I thought. Creativity may be infinite after all.
  • I learned the power of expression hidden in the simplest of techniques. I don’t always need “acrobatics”; simple is often best.
  • My design-led technique exploration got me to look at materials I would have never thought of exploring before.

At the Breakthrough2020 retreat you will:

  • make “Mystery” your partner.
  • apply what you’ve learned to partner with your favourite emotion.

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