I`ve been taking advantage of the extra time when the gallery is closed to concentrate on painting over the winter. There is a new series of work developing based on aerial views of the landscape, plus some snow-inspired work. The snow was so inspirational, I did lots of walking and sketching in the transformed landscape and worked for a couple of months on ideas in the studio. In the end I decided it was more the “sound” of the snow which I was interested in painting, and the feeling of impermanence that is so powerful in our experience of snow in this part of the world.
This past week I have been hanging new work ready for the gallery opening today, and preparing pieces for a group show I am doing at the Ceri Richards Gallery in Swansea in May.
I`ve also been unofficial coordinator for an open group of Pembrokeshire artists who meet 4 times a year in each other`s studios for a social event. The first of these meetings was in March at Andrea Kelland`s studio, it was really nice to meet some old friends and new people and have a chance to catch up on exhibition and other news, and to see Andrea`s studio. I am so busy focussing on my painting and on organising the gallery that it`s the first time I`ve really felt a sense of community with other artists in Pembrokeshire.
I have been really busy managing the New Year mailing and the Studio Sale. Thanks to the 40 or so people who have bought sketches and jewellery online this month.
Apart from that December has seen me really concentrating on my new big paintings – the aerial-inspired pieces. The way I am painting now is very different, I am working daily on a few pieces, working over paintings that have been on the go for some time, not being hung up about obliterating what I did the day (or month!) before. It`s like reverse archaeology – building up in hidden layers, hoping the process will reveal something. It`s an act of faith, and of letting go. And a bit like dreaming, conscious interpretation and understanding can only come afterwards, when you have to look for what the painting is telling you.
It feels like this is the way forward for me, to allow myself to be still, to stay with one painting, to take my time, not to be anxious about production, about finishing something, and painting on a large scale gives me the opportunity to develop these new ways of working.
The Studio Sale has taught me that I move on too quickly. I have hundreds of unresolved pieces in my plan chest, all these pieces of paper are steps on the way but I am going to try to develop work differently now.
The other thing I have done this month is my first podcast! I was approached by Brenda Dayne, a knitter and broadcaster in new media who lives in Amroth and produces a podcast aimed at knitters across the world on her website at http://www.cast-on.com. Brenda is doing a series of podcasts around the theme of “within 20 miles” and asked me to if I was willing to be interviewed. You can listen to my interview with Brenda Dayne here.
It is the last few days of the online sale and today I am hanging the New Year Show. It is always nerve wracking hanging a show even though I do it every winter! But, the posters are printed, the wine has arrived and once the price list is ready I can decorate the tree, wrap presents and relax for Xmas.
Coming back to painting after a summer of distractions with the gallery, glass and jewellery work. The aerial stuff is challenging me – I have so many ideas and it is so hard to paint through ideas without the idea taking over the work and feeling preconceived. I`ve turned all my work to the wall and started again, from the ground up, from the paint up. I just have to spend time with it, engage with the materials and trust the process…lots of old lessons coming around again, as ever!
There`s always a reason to postpone…so I have to stick to routine….just do it and reserve all judgements, just go with the feelings and let the paintings take care of themselves. I don`t understand why it always feels so scarey!
I decided to go back to keeping a journal, so that there is an outlet for the cerebral stuff and maybe it will get less in the way of painting.
I`ve had a big turn-out in the studio and am planning an autumn Studio Sale for the end of November. This has created more space for new work and resulted in a tidier studio space. I will sell off sketches, studies and unfinished pieces online. I`m also going to give a 10% discount on jewellery from late November in the run-up to Xmas, so have been busy photographing my new pieces ready to put on my website.
There is always lots of administrative work to do at this time of year, advertisements to be designed ready for next years guidebooks and newspapers, and invitations to be printed ready for the New Year Show. This year I am thinking about how to promote my jewellery, whether to put it out in other galleries to sell more work without having the expense or work involved in a whole raft more publicity and advertising. The problem is that I have been in control of promoting and selling my work for so long now that I am loath to hand that over to somebody else, but I think it might be a good idea to consider it for the jewellery at least. There is nothing like a load of administrative work to take the fun out of something!
I have been redesigning my website this summer, but now I need to start using some software to manage the content. Originally I designed and wrote my website using html 10 years ago and I now need something more sophisticated so that I don`t have to copy and paste code on each and every page by hand every time I want to change something or put up a new page.
On the home front, today we got a puppy. Alfie is a Cocker Spaniel/Poodle cross, he is 10 weeks old and a bundle of energy and fun. Ruby is ecstatic, she has wanted a dog for so long. Hopefully he won`t be too distracting and will ensure that I get out for walks more often!
September brings kids back at school, a quieter gallery, and new resolution to concentrate on painting on non-gallery days. So I have 3 days a week to paint and on Mondays and Tuesdays I can do glass work in between attending to gallery visitors. Brilliant!
It also brings fantastic weather, a swim in the sea at Manorbier, talk of getting a puppy (?!), and far too many courgettes!
In painting I am working on bigger pieces. It is hard to resolve these new paintings which are based on my experiences of flying over Pembrokeshire. Flying is like visiting another country, with all the excitement and challenges that brings. I can`t live there, yet I need to learn another language to communicate, and like all language learning, it takes a lot of practice. I can`t fall back on the familiar grammer of horizons and perspective. These new paintings demand new approaches and lots of concentration. That means restricting glass and jewellery work to 2 days a week, and resisting temptation to go visit friends in distant locations! It also means writing my blog just once a month – being disciplined.
I thought I`d have to sell my kiln to create mental space for these new paintings, but I decided I could compromise by restricting glass-making time instead. Making glass is fun and absorbing in a different way to painting, I have less invested in it emotionally so it`s not painful and dispiriting in the same way when it goes wrong. That is good, and it does feed my painting and run alongside it, so why not have some light relief?! Here I go justifying fun!
I had a visitor to the gallery recently who is a batik artist and knows the person, Jane Venables, who taught me batik at West Dean college 33 years ago when I was 16! Talking to Margaret about batik reminded me that I have been at this point between painting and “craft” in my work before – in 1990 I went back to the wax and dye techniques I had first learned at West Dean (infact, I still use my 33 year-old wax pot and stove sometimes in the studio today), I was at a point in my work where I needed to loosen up so I found a big old studio, got hold of a load of old hospital bedsheets, wax and dye, and just let rip on a big scale. I tried all sorts of experimental techniques, using embroidery and quilting alongside the batik, and adapting all manner of household tools from cooking basters to wallpaper brushes to do so (many of these kinds of tools I use today in my painting).
Again, several years ago, I went back to textile media during a period of intense psychotherapy. It gave me a way to explore personal material which was free of the “professional” confusions which painting sometimes throws up. It also allowed me to explore more 3 dimensional possibilities and take texture into a new arena.
All these periods of experimentation have fed back into my painting. Sometimes using a different media allows a fresh way approach a particular problem, and that is why I got interested in glass in the first place. Last year I was experimenting with resins in my work to build up texture and allow me to make “inclusions” in my work. Resin turned out to be powerfully toxic and not at all environmentally friendly, and I found wearing a respirator rather a constriction to my creative process! I approached Steve Robinson, a glass artist based in Solva (http://www.steverobinsonglass.com) to ask if he would give me a masterclass in glass techniques…how naive!!! That is where it all started. Steve emailed me straight back and said “come over”. Steve turned out to be a great guy, and he agreed, in exchange for a painting (which you have yet to choose STEVE!) to give me some basic instruction and use of his studio. After that he could hardly get rid of me! As with everything, I became a bit obsessed, going on a couple of courses to learn glass blowing, lamp work, fusing and multi-layering techniques and eventually buying my own kiln. Now I can experiment at my leisure.
So experimenting with glass and jewellery making is an inspiration for me. It connects me to why I love art, the basic need to “make things” that started me out on my journey as a child digging clay from the stream at the bottom of my garden to make into pots and fire in my mother`s oven. It is the transformation which is at the heart of my fascination with glass – taking a dry piece of pure brittle colour, cutting, combining, painting and shaping it, rendering it liquid in the kiln and transforming it into a wealth of colour and texture as a finished piece. The physics of it and the chemistry satisfy the nerd in me (thank you Jeremy Lepisto for feeding that, with humour, in the Bristol course!), the fact that each piece of glass has a different co-efficient, that glass is technically a slow moving liquid, it is ever changing, transparent even – all these things make glass a fascinating challenge to work withand endlessly frustrating and rewarding – I`m hooked!
New glass pendants
I am loving making the new jewellery pieces and they are proving popular in the gallery. I am planning a pre-xmas showcase in early November in the gallery here and online. I am also talking to my friend Rachel Phillips (who is a fantastic stained glass artist who lives in my village and teaches at Swansea University on the glass course) about possibilities for collaborating in some kind of way…watch this space…at the very least it should involve some spirited dog-walking and sharing of ideas! It is great to meet another artist on the same wave-length who is practically my neighbour. Go Maenclochog!