Veering North

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Courtesy of a Continuing Professional Development Award from the Worshipful Company of Glaziers and support from the Arts Council of Wales, this week I am up in Caithness at North Lands Glass Centre on a masterclass with Australian glass artist, Deborah Cocks. Deborah is a glass painter who works mostly on blown glass forms.

shells-Deb-Cocks-glass-plate

The masterclass gives me the chance to immerse myself in glass painting for 8 days and learn from Debs and the other students approaches to the materials. This is the first time I have used paint in relation to a 3d form so there is plenty to think about!

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I am experimenting with engraving and layering text and paint in new ways, inspired, as always by history, the land and the human shaping of it.

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For me this is an opportunity to prepare for an intensive time in my studio this autumn and winter when I have carved out five months to concentrate on my own work funded by the Adrian Henri Poetry in Art Prize which I won earlier this year.

Kids Glass

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Since getting back from my travels in America and Greece I have been working on completing a project working with eleven educationally challenged boys in a local primary school to make a window for their school.

This has been a fantastic project, the boys have taught me the potential of using tools as a way in to accessing creativity and learning and have reminded me how important hands-on approach is in helping to open up opportunities for people. The children have benefited in so many ways from our project, through working with glass they have built up a new sense of self-estime and pride in their achievements which they are carrying forward into other areas of their lives.

Damian Walford-Davies, friend, poet and writer  came in and worked with me to facilitate the boys, all of whom have acute literacy problems, generating some bilingual text for the work.
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At the same time, courtesy of my Adrian Henri Poetry in Art Prize and a subsidy from the Local Investment Fund, in preparation for an intensive studio working time this winter, I have been upgrading my studio equipment with a new kiln, flat-lap grinder and sand-blaster.

Thanks to a Continuing Professional Development Award from the Worshipful Company of Glaziers and support from the Welsh Arts Council, I am about to go to North Lands Glass in Caithness for a masterclass with Australian glass artist, Deborah Cocks. The masterclass will be a great opportunity to prepare for my winter studio time. I will be attending the annual conference there as well and renewing my contacts with this fabulous centre of excellence – I can’t wait!

Taking glass into the landscape.

“Red on Green” an installation by Anya Gallacio



I am just back from a fabulous fortnight with glass artists at Northlands Glass Centre in Caithness, eight hours north of Edinburgh by train. On the way north I stayed in Fife with my sister and we went to Jupiter Artland, a summer sculpture exhibition in parklands on the edge of Edinburgh. It was fabulous to see sculptures in the landscape, I especially liked the Andy Goldsworthys and Cornelia Parker.

Dinner at Jeff’s. Photo by Tina Norris

The night before I went up to Caithness we met up with Michael Rogers who taught me on my masterclass at Northlands last year and went for dinner with Jeff Zimmer, his partner, Mark, and dynamic glass artist Carrie Fertig. It was great to catch up with everybody, Jeff and Mark were perfect hosts and excellent cooks, and their flat became a tardis and expanded to accommodate us all! Thanks to Tina for the photo.

Exploring glass in the landscape in Caithness.

My time in Caithness was my prize in the Warm Glass Competition. It was an amazing experience to be part of a group of artists from around the world and to have time and space to reflect on my work. I ended up collaborating in surprising ways with Emma Wooffenden, a contemporary artist based in London who works in glass. Our collaboration started out with me helping her to document some work she was doing based on ideas relating to the figure in landscape, and ended up as more like a shared performance piece on a beach 365 steps down from the cliff top at Whalligoe.

Having time away from my usual practice has allowed me to think about how my painting relates to my glass work and how I could combine the two in the future. Maybe two dimensions isn’t all bad after all!

A cast Bullseye glass, knitted copper wire and Lybster pebble piece I made at Northlands.

It was an intense period of work and a brilliant opportunity to share ideas and get feedback on my work from an immensely talented and experienced group of artists. The symposium was organised and facilitated by Jane Bruce, an internationally well known glass artist who lives in Manhattan. The food, as ever, was fabulous and we were well looked after. The weather was less than endearing, but, then I am used to a bit of rain!

Now that I am back home I have been photographing some of the sculptures I have been working on for my (Arts Council of Wales funded) Rosebush project. It is really exciting to put the work in the landscape and see my ideas coming together. I am looking forward to having some time in my studio!

Heading North

Having finally got some of my slate pieces out to the quarry and with the kiln cooling with the latest Rosebush piece inside, I am headed north to Lybster in Caithness to have 9 days to play with glass as my prize in the Warm Glass competition. I am having a few nights in Edinburgh staying with my sister enroute, and hooking up with some glassy friends on Monday, before embarking on the 8 hour journey to Caithness by train. I will be away from home for two weeks. That piece will be well annealed by mid July!

I am looking forward to having time, facilities, materials and space at Northlands to experiment with ideas and make work inspired by the landscape, alongside an exciting bunch of  glass artists from as far afield as Sydney and Portland. Scarey and exciting to be part of this. I can’t believe I have come so far (and ended up in the same place!) in less than a year. Last year I remember a sinking feeling after the Northlands conference of “what the hell am I doing?” when I listened to a tired and disillusioned glass artist sharing her perspective on life as an artist working with glass. Actually, I cried, to be so far out of my comfort zone, to be taking such risks as a painter entering a new field, an artist meeting craft. And what a journey it is ! I am constantly surprised by how long everything takes, Rachel smiles wryly and says “welcome”! The medium imposes this discipline on my unruly ideas, which is just as well.

It is an exciting path. I am so grateful to my new  glass artist friends who are making me so welcome, to Bullseye Glass for sponsoring the prize, and to The Arts Council of Wales for supporting my travel to Northlands, and to Jeremy Lepisto, Michael Rogers and others who have shared their skills and knowledge and continue to make supportive “Likes” from afar. Thanks to everyone else in my life who puts up with my absences, my enthusiasm and nerdy fascination with coefficients and historic documents…

Northlands here I come!

Warm Glass Prize!

Cast, blown and engraved Bullseye Glass, peregrine feather and pen nib. 2011 (photo Toril Brancher)

I am absolutely over the moon to have won the Bullseye Prize in the International Warm Glass Competition for my piece, ‘Her House is Air’, above. This piece is the first completed work in a series I am currently working on inspired by birds and poetry.

My prize is a place on an international glass artists symposium at Northlands Glass in Caithness this July organised by leading glass artist Jane Bruce – I can hardly wait!

“Better an interesting failure than a boring success”.

Ben Dombey demonstrates combining cast and blown glass in the hotshop.

Ben Dombey demonstrates combining cast and blown glass in the hotshop.

Thanks to Michael Rogers for the above quote! That sums up the spirit of our masterclass – try things with hope and a spirit of adventure.

These past two days I’ve seen things done with molten glass that you wouldn’t believe! Ben Dombey, Michael’s technical assistant is a very accomplished young glass blower, a student of Michael’s and they work together with us students to demonstrate ways to combine cast glass objects with hot and blown glass.

We have been making moulds of objects we brought along in preparation for casting. I am working on the peregrine remains I found on the beach (I abandoned the antique concealed boot I intended to work with when I discovered it would be altered in the process as I have been asked to return it undamaged).

This evening we had presentations by Cappy Thompson and Michael, along with Ben and Jeff Zimmer, who is Cappy’s T.A.

Ben’s work is coloured, and often silvered, blown glass and he uses the material to explore surfaces and ideas about the relationship of inside to outside. Amazing layers of colour and sometimes mirrored interiors revealed by carving into the outer surface. Jeff,s pieces are multi-layered constructions of painted flat glass and are often ambiguous visually and in meaning. His work is driven by his political as well as personal inspiration, and include works made in response to environmental issues and the Iraq war. They demand interaction with the viewer and I can’t wait to see them in the flesh.

Cappy is an influential glass artist from Seattle. She paints stories about her life on blown glass vessel forms using a mediaeval glass painting technique called ‘grisaille’. Her work is extraordinarily intricate, colourful and beautiful and she often draws on myths and legends to give context and meaning to her own personal story. She also undertakes major large-scale commissions for public buildings including an enormous wall of windows for Sea Tac airport in Seattle.

Michael is Professor of Glass at Rochester University, New York and is one of America’s leading glass artists. His work often combines cast, blown and engraved glass. Sometimes he incorporates delicate sewn and embroidered, or quilted elements made by his wife, Betty, who is a textile artist. He puts these elements together in a poetic, rather than a logical way, to evoke layers of meaning rather as a poet uses metaphor.

Tomorrow I hope to prepare my first lost wax mould in readiness for casting the falcon talons. Bullseye glass company have donated lots of glass in every colour for this class, so it will be wonderful to have the chance to experiment with some gorgeous glass!

We are putting in 13 hours or more a day and we are having a ball! I feel utterly privileged to be here.

Lybster at last!

Finally I have arrived in Lybster!

I left home on Monday and flew to Edinburgh for a few days with my sister, Tina , who is a photographer. We managed to take in a wonderful show of glass at the Museum of Scotland which showcases the contemporary glass collection of Alan Poole and Dan Klein. There are lots of fantastic pieces (I will put pictures up when I can download them from my camera), it is an amazing collection of contemporary British glass which was collected by the founders of Northlands and it got me in the mood for my trip North!

We also saw John Burne’s show at Open Eye Gallery, which is phenomenal and some of David Mach’s show which includes amazing gigantic figure sculptures of Christ made out of coat hangers. Tina has photographed John Burne and David Mach so it was lovely to see the work with her.

We also fitted in a visit to the wonderful Valvona and Crolla, Clarissa Dixon Wright was dining at another table and had the waitress quaking in her boots!

The train journey to Inverness today was great, the heather is astounding, forming a patchwork of purples all the way. I haven’t done that journey since about 1984! Not a lot has changed except Aviemore
seems to have an enormous police station!

So, now at last I am in Lybster! I borrowed a bike and cycled down to the harbour this evening – what a wonderful place, full of loads of inspiration – lobster pots and creels and nets….a wealth of texture and colour. I am busy with my sketch books and getting acquainted with the place.

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