Since my last post I have been concentrating on my residency at Skokholm Island Bird Observatory and have spent two more weeks on the island. In May the island was covered with a carpet of spring flowers and the seabirds were returning and starting to lay eggs.
I am continuing with my “colour collecting”, and started to explore colours obtained directly from plants.
Back in the studio I have been recreating the colours from my landscape grids in glass powders which I am meticulously weighing out and casting into small tesserae.
During my May visit I made a mould of the hand of a bird ringer (“bander”, for my American/Canadian chums!) holding a wax model of a Pied Flycatcher which I made for the purpose. Tony used to be Assistant Warden on the island in 1965 and had returned from Canada, where he now runs a research station, for a visit. My aim now is to cast this in glass using lost wax method, it will form part of a series I am making.
In June I started work on a some collotype images using the u.v. from the sun to make photograms on paper I had chemically prepared. Collotype is an early photographic process and is much less toxic than most, so is ideally suited to island conditions. I enjoyed the mix of art and science involved, I am continuing to develop this process in my studio.
In early June I went to The National Museum of Wales in Cardiff to meet Ben Rowson, a malacologist (an expert on molluscs, or in Ben’s case, slugs) who I met on Skokholm while he was sifting North Pond searching for rare slugs. Ben showed me around the invertibrate and ornithology departments and introduced me to his friends and colleagues. It was a fascinating visit, great to see behind the scenes of the museum and to see the work that goes on there…endless inspiration…!
Apart from working on the Skokholm project I took time to take friends for an overnight visit to Skokholm’s sister island, Skomer, which was my first spiritual home in Pembrokeshire back in the days when I married the assistant warden. Nowadays Skomer is a whole lot busier, with hundreds of day visitors and lots of researchers and people staying in the hostel. Skomer has recently been voted one of the Top Ten places for families to visit by Lonely Planet – needless to say it is not quite so “lonely” anymore, but it is still a fantastic place to visit. There is nothing quite like an evening stroll down North Valley with the Short-Earred Owls hunting low over the bluebells in full bloom – magical!
In late May I went to Stourbridge for the opening of the British Glass Biennale, which featured my Bonne Maman piece. It was a great event even though I only had one day there. Pembrokeshire’s Ashraf Hanna took the main prize of the evening and Ruth Shelley from Cardiff won the Glass Sellers Prize, so Welsh artists did very well despite the fact that only three of us were selected! My piece will be going on show in Essence exhibition at London Glassblowing from 7-29th August. Bonne Maman sent me some jam as a reward for the publicity!
This piece is part of a series of glass “postcards” that I am making as part of my residency at Skokholm Island Bird Observatory. This one depicts the skeleton of a Razorbill chick superimposed on Ronald Lockley’s map of the island, and will be exhibited as part of the Contemporary Glass Society postcard exhibition at the International Festival of Glass.
I have been busy since January preparing for my residency, ob•serve, at Skokholm Island Bird Observatory and on 10th April I went to Skokholm for the first week of this project. As part of the residency I will be spending one week a month on the island for six months through the breeding season. This project is sponsored by the Arts Council of Wales and is supported in-kind by The Wildlife Trust, South and West Wales, Pembrokeshire County Council, Pembrokeshire Coast National Park and Dale Sailing Company. I began by identifying locations where I will return each visit to record the changes in colour, weather and habitat.
I was out from dawn to dusk and beyond every day and gathered much inspiration. I borrowed some scientific methods for my colour capture exercises which was an interesting way to observe colour removed from the pull of figuration. I have now returned to my studio ready to begin processing my material and developing new work for this project.
Being on the island gave me the opportunity to be involved in monitoring birds and observe them in the hand.This piece is the first in a series of cast glass pieces I am developing in response to human interaction with birds that takes place during the scientific monitoring on the island.
I am working on some cast glass textures and details from the island. I am developing some jewellery as a collaboration with silversmith, Sara Lloyd Morris.
There are still a couple of places left on my week long painting course on Skokholm Island in August, it will be an amazing opportunity to work on the island and get to grips with some wild landscape, while enjoying fine food in an idyllic setting.
I continue to work with people in the community and recently ran a couple of workshops for Pembrokeshire Young Carers, where people aged 8 to 14 who care for a family member, came together to make glass jewellery and a communal glass quilt. One of these workshops was sponsored by Narberth Rotary Club.
The course is designed for a small group of students and is suitable for both beginners and more experienced artists. There will be a relaxed atmosphere and the aim of the course will be free your technique and explore landscape-based abstraction with mixed media, using things like wax, sand and plaster to get to grips with texture. You will have an immersive experience which will fill you with enthusiasm and skills to take back into your painting at home.
Our studio will be at the lighthouse and the course will involve a mixture of indoor and outdoor activities. Throughout the week on the island we will have workshops every morning from 9.30 to 1pm when you will have the opportunity to explore mixed media painting and develop some work from ideas and influences gathered from the island. Afternoons will be your own to work on your ideas from the morning workshops, relax or spend time exploring the island. There will be some evening presentations and the chance to join in with the nightly bird log.
Skokholm Island is a jewel of the Pembrokeshire Coastal landscape. Once the home of the naturalist, Ronald Lockley, the island is famed for its 90,000 Manx Shearwaters, Storm Petrels nesting in the walls around the buildings, Puffins, cliff nesting seabirds and as the site of Britain’s first Bird Observatory. Located 2.5 miles off shore, the whole island is a Site of Special Scientific Interest. It is a rich visual, archaeological, biological and historical resource. Formed of a rich red sandstone the island has a rich history, its remoteness and the nature of the scientific research which has taken place there over an extended period of time makes it a very special place to stay.
The island was designated as Britain’s first Bird Observatory in 1934 and it has recently regained its certification. Scientific monitoring work has taken place for over 70 years. It involves monitoring habitat, flora and fauna and trapping and ringing birds as part of a long term study into bird migration and behaviour. The work that is undertaken there plays a vital role in providing data which feeds into studies of short and long term environmental trends. In addition to the biological monitoring, the island has a rich history. In early August you can expect to see seals, cetaceans and many birds, including puffins, ravens, peregrines storm petrels and Manx Shearwaters . The island has been inhabited since the Stone Age and is currently the subject of a LIDAR study by the Commission for Ancient Monuments in Wales.
I have been pursuing some of the ideas I was developing in Caithness at North Lands Creative Glass in September concerning glass in the landscape, and have been using exploring photography as a medium for this work.
Alongside my studio work I continue to develop an exciting socially engaged practice and this autumn have begun a project in collaboration with Narberth Museum to create a Community Quilt in glass with citizens of Narberth. This project is called ‘Drawn Threads’ and was part of The Big Draw National Drawing Festival.
I have also been voluntarily organising events for an informal artists network based at Narberth Museum. Up-coming events include a Drawing with Wire workshop with Julia Griffiths Jones on February 7th and an iPhoneography Day with the amazing Nettie Edwards on March 14th. It has been lovely to meet some new artists working in the area who are making inspiring work and I look forward to taking part in the workshops.
On a festive note I have been working with 75 pupils of Puncheston School to make Matisse-cut-out-inspired tea light holders
My BIG NEWS for 2015 is that I have succeeded in getting Arts Council of Wales funding for my project, ‘observe’, which will see me spending much of 2015 focussing on developing a new body of work based on research undertaken at Skokholm Island Bird Observatory in Pembrokeshire during the summer season.
I will spend one week a month on the island between April and October undertaking artistic research alongside the biologists, bird ringers and other scientists who work at the observatory. In September/October 2015 I will be Artist in Residence at Oriel y Parc St Davids where I will use the studio facilities to draw together the threads of my research and undertake 3 days of public engagement workshops. I will go on to develop a new body of work which will be exhibited at The Tower Gallery, Oriel y Parc in St. Davids in July/August 2016. Work from this exhibition will tour to Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales headquarters at Parc Slip and Cilgerran later in 2016.
This is a great opportunity for me to undertake a major self-directed project which incorporates several themes which are central to my practice, namely landscape and research. I am interested in how observation is the basis for both scientific and artistic research and in examining the relationship between the two and looking at what each discipline may learn from the practice of the other.
I have spent an inordinate amount of time writing proposals and making funding applications this year to enable me to support myself while developing new work. It is always a dilemma whether to spend months out of the studio writing funding applications, but the process does force me to articulate what it is I want to do and to be clear about how I propose to do it. The application for this project was accepted on its second rewrite, and I am delighted that the Arts Council of Wales are going to support my initiative and am relieved that my persistence has paid off! Writing a proposal is a kind of gestation period, and, like pregnancy, it is just the beginning of the work…I am looking forward to the challenges ahead!
Thanks to the Arts Council of Wales, The Wildlife Trust South and West Wales, Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, Pembrokeshire County Council and Dale Sailing for their support for this project.
In August 2015 I will be running a one week art course on the island, this is suitable for artists with all levels of experience and is intended to give participants the chance to immerse themselves intensively in the landscape, learn some new techniques and enjoy a relaxing time on one of the UK’s most spectacular islands which is home to Britain’s first Bird Observatory.
Meanwhile, my studio gallery is open daily until January 4th showing new work. Do call in for a glass of mulled wine!
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.