The past few months has been a busy time for teaching. I have done a number of glass projects in local primary schools. I love this work, it is so inspiring to work with children and get them enthused about glass!
One particularly inspiring project was to make 2 bowls with kids at Ysgol y Frenni on the theme of “patterns in the environment” (or “patrymau yr ymgylchedd” as the entire project was undertaken through the medium of Welsh!).
I designed this as a patchwork of glass so that each child could work on their own design and then we could put them together to make a group piece. The bowls will be entered in the Urdd Eisteddfod in May.
In another project we made fused glass jewellery on the same theme.
The kids were so enthusiastic, they said it was their favourite day at school EVER!!
Rachel and I have just run a “Landscape into Glass” 4 day course at my studio here in Pembrokeshire. We were teaching our students mark-making and layering techniques and ways of working with firing paint, silver stain and frits in combination with pieces of Bullseye glass. We are planning another course for later in the year.
We had a couple of field trips to absorb the landscape and to visit local artists studios, like that of ceramicist, Adam Buick and glass artist, Steve Robinson. The course was very successful and we are planning another for next year.
Apart from that I have been developing some new work in the studio looking at taking painting into glass. Sarah Harman and I have been working on our quarry project, having meetings with the National Park and technical specialists to help us hone down our ideas and firm up our budget so that we can apply for funding to make and present the work in 2014.
I have just heard that I have been successful in my funding bid to Wales Arts International for support to attend the American Glass Guild Conference in Florida in May where I have been asked to give a paper and run a workshop. I am planning a trip that includes visiting glass artist friends, Jane Bruce and Michael Rogers and spending time at Corning Museum of Glass and in New York. It will be a very inspiring trip, my first time in America, and a total contrast to life in rural West Wales!
I was supposed to go to Skokholm Island today for 4 nights painting, but nature intervened in the form of high winds, so the boat didn`t run. I ended up setting the kiln and taking off for St. Davids with my friend and Skokholm companion, Rachel. I wanted to show her some amazing glass pieces in Oriel y Parc. These delicate and intricate pieces were made in the second half of the nineteenth century in Germany by Leopola Blaschka (1822-1895) and his son Rudolf ( 1857-1929) and are intended to illustrate underwater life-forms. They look like contemporary glass pieces (Rachel said they could be miniature Cihuly‘s) yet also have an archival quality. Very interesting and lovely to see in the context of my current interest in historical material, landscape and glass.
I also love the fantastic Peter Lanyon painting on show there and this brilliant hounds sculpture by Catrin Howells which is based on the story of Cantre Gwaelod.
We called in to visit Steve Robinson in his glass studio near Solva and Adam Buick near St. Davids. Adam is preparing for a kiln opening event on 29th July, and has lots of new work ready to load into his kiln. He has also recently been awarded a research and development grant from the Arts Council of Wales, and has been busy experimenting with various new glazes made with seaweed. I love visiting Adams studio, his work is beautiful – forms, texture and the very smell of land and sea.
On the way home we stopped off at the church at Little Newcastle to see the stained glass windows there.
So, a lovely day out, and now home to crash cool the kiln and wait for a call from Jerry, the Skokholm Warden, to let us know whether we will be able to get there tomorrow. Either way, I am itching to get some painting done.
Thanks to everyone who braved hold-ups on the M4 on Friday evening to come to the opening of our exhibition Western Elements at Taliesin Arts Centre, Swansea University.
Our very different work is linked by an exploration of the landscape around us and hangs together well as a show, it is a pleasure to be showing with these guys and exciting to get my work out of Maenclochog!
We hung the work today for “Western Elements”, an exhibition with 3 other Pembrokeshire-based artists at Taliesin Arts Centre, Swansea University (http://www.taliesinartscentre.co.uk/gallery.php?id=152). The opening is on Friday 14th May 6-8pm, and runs until June 14th.
The other artists are Steve Robinson(http://steverobinsonglass.com/), my glass making pal who has a studio near Solva and is currently showing in a solo show at Tenby Museum, Grahame Hurd-Wood, a fine painter hailing from St. Davids, and ceramicist, Adam Buick (http://www.adambuick.com/), also from St. Davids. I am showing some of the new aerial pieces.
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!