I have just returned from 2 weeks in Caithness at North Lands Creative Glass where I attended a master class with artist, Helen Maurer, who was assisted by photographers Ross Fraser McLean and Angus Mackay. There were 9 participants, artists from the UK, Australia and South Africa, and over the course of 6 days we collaborated to explore the landscape of Caithness using glass, mirror, balloons, projected light, smoke bombs and other media, using these things to create our own personal film and still images.
This is one of my images featuring a cast glass peregrine skull and bird bones from Skokholm Island which I cast in bronze and took along with me.
We also had half a day in the hot shop ably assisted by James Maskrey who obligingly poured molten glass into ice and onto vegetation to create steam, smoke and ghosted images we could use in our work.
Here James is pouring dyed water into a red hot blown bowl.
The value of this is in a freshness of approach and freedom of thought which we each take back to our practices in our different corners of the world. It was refreshing not to be necessarily making objects/artwork, but to be feeding our creativity. We gelled as a group and all left feeling incredibly enriched and nurtured by the experience and full of ideas for future collaborations. For many of us it was a unique opportunity to take space out of making work, making a living, or teaching and a chance to feed our own process.
Alongside our masterclass was a class lead by Petr Stanicky, an amazing Czech sculptor. Jeff Sarmiento and his other students made interventions in the landscape which were inventive and daring.
Following on from the master classes was the annual North Lands Conference, which this year was on the theme of ‘The Place, the Work’. There was an innovative programme looking at the importance of place in artwork. Joy Sleeman, Reader at Slade began with a fascinating talk about British Land Art in the 1960’s and 70s. Beginning with film footage of the moon landing, it was a great way of contextualizing contemporary Land Art practice. It was particularly resonant for me to see a slide of Robert Smithson at Pentre Ifan, a Neolithic Monument close to where I live!
Other speakers included the masterclass leaders, Helen Maurer, Petr Stanicky, Richard William Wheater and Kristina Usler, each of whom was selected for their engagement with Place in their practice, and each of whom spoke eloquently about their work. Sven Hauscher spoke about the Coburg Prize and glass exhibition in Germany, and artist, Lisa Autogena, talked about her mind-blowing art/science projects in the course of which she takes on Nasa, The Stock Exchange and Reuters to name but a few…I love her commitment and her enthusiasm in confronting, subverting and utilizing the energy of Power.
All the artists who spoke were inspirational in their fearless attitude to making their work. I am reeling from the intensity of the whole experience and will take several years to process. I have come back super-sensitized to my own environment and have already begun to work with new ideas here in Wales.
I am very excited that I have been asked by my friend Jane at http://janelittlefieldglass.wordpress.com to get involved with a Round The World Blog Hop! The idea is you get to see what I’m up to but also to hop back to look at Jane’s Blog and forward to other recommended blogs.
Jane is that rare mix of an artist working in glass and a brilliant facilitator of children’s work, which, as those you who follow my blog will know, is one of my passions! So check out her inspirational stained glass work.
So, the first question is: what am I working on?
Well, right now I am recovering from installing a major glass commission in a new sheltered housing development in North Pembrokeshire last week. This work is a collaboration with my good friend, fellow glass artist, Rachel Phillips. This piece is comprised of double glazed units within which the design is sandblasted on both internal faces. The design is inspired by trees of North Pembrokeshire and incorporates fern prints made by local primary school children. The work looks amazing in the space and is proving popular with users of the building. It is very nice to make work for a community setting where it has a real impact on people’s environment.
During August my studio gallery here in Pembrokeshire is open every day so I am spending as much time at home as possible to welcome visitors and be on hand to talk about my work. I have an exhibition of new work in painting and glass on show and am excited to be showing my glass and painting together in the same space.
I am also spending a lot of time writing funding applications for a project I want to do on Skokholm Island next year, and preparing for a painting course which I am running on Skokholm in a month’s time. A lot of my time is spent on the computer these days…
I am also preparing to go up to North Lands Creative Glass in Caithness for a masterclass with glass artist, Helen Maurer and photographer, Angela Moore. I want to develop some ideas I have been exploring about using glass to make projections and ephemeral art in the landscape. The second question is: how does my work differ from others of its genre?
I suppose I have come to glass as an artist looking for appropriate media to communicate my ideas, rather than as an artist specifically trained in glass as a medium. This means that although I may lack a thorough training or apprenticeship in technique, and tend to learn things on a need-to-know basis, I am always questioning whether glass is the right medium for particular projects, or whether I would be better to use ceramic, paint, bronze, or some other form.
The third question is: why do I create what I do?
I have always enjoyed making things right from childhood. I enjoy the messy process of creating my work. I am always working on new projects. Although these are varied, they are all inspired by aspects of ‘place’, be that visual, metaphorical, or historical. They are all landscape based and often involve research in archives, oral histories and museums as well as observation. I am especially interested in the power of objects to link us with people and places across time. The fourth question is: how does my creative process work?
I am looking all the time. I am interested in an emotional response to the landscape, I am not interested in re-creating geographical details. My landscape painting starts with the feeling of a place, the light, the colours, the texture…more than thoughts and ideas. I begin there and work with the paint, wax, plaster, sand… using a mixture of freedom of expression and control, trying to find a way back to that feeling.
Studio Glass Work
I begin my studio glass work in a similar way to my painting except that instead of paint and paper or board, I use Bullseye Glass and vitreous enamel powders which I paint or sift onto glass and then fire in my kiln. The piece is built up in layers, each layer is individually fired before being stacked up, dammed and fired to melting point to form a coherent block which I then polish on the edges. I like the transformative and elemental quality of the glass and the possibilities it offers me to bring new textures and qualities of light to my work.
I get ideas all the time and these find their way out in my conceptual pieces and projects. I have to write them down and file them away in order not to be overwhelmed by the sheer number and scope of them! Sometimes I make work in response to specific commissions or exhibition call outs, but often ideas will surface and I will sift through my archives, open the boxes and develop them. I begin with drawing, amassing relevant material, researching online and in archives, making notes all the way. I then decide how to make the work. Often my ideas come together more in the making process than in the planning. Making takes time and this offers the focussed meditative space necessary to develop the work.
For architectural glass commissions I usually work with Rachel Phillips. We read the brief, visit the site, measure up, note light levels and other architectural considerations, photograph the space and talk to the users and owners of the building. After this we get together in the studio and brainstorm, then we go away and work up some ideas which we bring back together to discuss and work on. Usually we are thinking along similar lines and we pull our ideas together, trying things out by making glass samples and mock-ups on the computer. It is fascinating to collaborate, to put two heads together on a project. We each bring our own particular strengths to the work. If we are making a stained-glass piece, we then draw up a ‘cartoon’ (a full size drawing of the design) from which we draw the cut-line which is used to cut each individual piece of glass exactly to fit. We then paint the lead-line ( a dense black line which is the exact width of the lead we will be using) onto a piece of toughened glass which will act as our ‘pallette’. We then divide up the painting work and make the actual glass in our own studios, periodically coming together to stick pieces onto the pallette and to check the colour and light balance of the work. Most of the glass we use for stained glass work is “antique” glass, this means it is mouth-blown and cut and laid flat to form sheets The paints we use are enamel powders, individual pieces may be fired several times to build up density of colour, or may be etched or sandblasted. When the design is complete the piece is leaded by Rachel, cemented and cleaned and we install it ourselves, with help from professional installers if necessary.
Rachel Phillips and I have just installed our glass commission in the Family Housing Association sheltered housing and health care development in Crymych, Pembrokeshire.
The inspiration for the work came from a desire to bring the landscape of Pembrokeshire in to the building and to introduce artwork by local people to personalize the space. We decided on a theme based on tree and plant shapes, and designed the piece to change with the light throughout the day and provide interest and stimulation for staff, visitors and residents.
I ran a workshop with pupils at Ysgol y Frenni, Crymych. The children made drawings from the environment around the school and made leaf and fern print from material gathered locally. Rachel and I then made their own drawings and studies and directly incorporated the children’s fern prints into the design, which was sandblasted on two layers and incorporated into eight double glazed units.
We are really pleased to have had the opportunity to a creative contribution to such a fantastic new facility in our community.
I have been very busy making new work, hanging a summer exhibition and building a new website which will go live next week and have neglected my blog somewhat, so apologies for that.
My gallery in Pembrokeshire is open every day in August from 10am to 6pm.
Since I last posted I have installed the Glass Quilt I made with 180 primary school children at Narberth School, which can be seen on the outside wall of the school.
I have also been working on a new series of work called ‘Hiraeth’, which is based on the stories of Welsh people who emigrated to The States in the 18th and 19th Centuries. This work has been researched in Pembrokeshire Archives and online, and five of the resulting pieces have been selected for an exhibition by Elysium Gallery, Swansea which will tour to Colorado in September this year.
In addition I have been working with Rachel Phillips on a commission for Bro Preseli, a sheltered housing scheme in Crymych. This commission is due to be installed later this week and consists of 8 double glazed panels which form an internal wall in the building.
There are still a few places left on my painting course from the 22nd to 29th September on the fabulous Skokholm Island, Pembrokeshire. This course is suitable for both beginners and experienced artists and is a unique opportunity to spend an intensive time working with me and exploring the colours and textures of the island. Skokholm is a wonderful place to stay and as the island is a Bird Observatory there will also be opportunities to study birds in the hand, see Manx Shearwaters close-up and have a night time visit to the Storm Petrel colony. For more information and to book please email me.
I am having a brilliant time working with 180 children at Narberth School to make a glass quilt on the theme of food and farming. All the pieces are now painted and ready for firing. The children are really enjoying the project:
“This project is great because we get to actually paint our own designs and I feel really proud of my work. I can’t wait to see it all finished.”
This week I started an ambitious project at Narberth School. Working with 180 children aged 8 to 11 I am making a traditional Pembrokeshire quilt out of glass on the them of food and farming. The children loved the project and by the end of May will have a colourful new artwork for their school.
I am just back from the celebration of Skokholm Island’s reinstatement as a Bird Observatory. Skokholm was Britain’s first Bird Observatory, established by Ronald Lockley in 1933, and has just celebrated its reinstatement as an active bird ringing station. Rachel Phillips and I have made a window for the island toilet (the only place we could persuade the ornithologists that maybe privacy was more important than bird-watching!). The window is inspired by the history of the island from its days as a medieval rabbit warren through to the early naturalist years of Ronald Lockley to the present day, and celebrates the unique flora and fauna found there.
Time on the island researching the window last year has opened up many ideas in my work and has inspired me to compile a proposal for future work on the island. Once again, working with Rachel was a fabulous experience.
This video documents the making process. Thanks to Ceri Owen Jones for kind permission to use his music on the video.