Back to Print

After 7 months of maternity leave, it felt strange getting back to work at West Dean given that last time I was teaching there I was two weeks away from giving birth! However I was straight to work preparing for the 5 day course “Printing and Sandblasting Imagery on Glass” which is a challenging course to teach, mainly because along with the two titular techniques, I was also teaching an introduction to Photoshop to prepare the imagery for screenprinting.

Ambitious, I hear you say?! Yes, definitely. Every day I found myself running out of time to cover it all. Photoshop is such an enormous topic, and one is only ever scratching the surface by attempting to teach beginners how to use it to produce imagery. However we were well served by the perfect new computers provided by West Dean, and my students dealt well with the constant change of scenery switching between studio and the computer room.

We covered both basic and some more advanced techniques for cleaning up and optimising imagery. I had one very able student who created some great pop art style imagery from photos that he took around the college. The famous Mae West Lips Sofa by Salvador Dali (a version of which pouts suggestively in the West Dean corridor) was photographed, stylised in Photoshop and recreated in two colour screenprint onto glass by the end of the second day.

After all the hours of image manipulation on the computer, after the patience required to expose the image onto the screen, and after the careful mixing of the coloured enamels and the preparation of the glass, the fun of screen printing finally starts…. and it lasts about 3 seconds, if you do it right!

With a good pull of the squeegee across the screen you will see the magic of the screen printing technique. It might all be over very quickly, but it is satisfying to watch the colour transfer itself onto the glass below in a perfect rendering of the image you’ve slaved over.

Several students managed to experiment with overlaying two prints in different colours and when you have the third colour of the glass below, you start to get some fun results. And then…. it was the last day, and we’d used up all of our playtime at West Dean until next time.

January Bowl Making

January saw another bowlmaking course being held at West Dean where I taught a lovely group of students. I always enjoy the slightly longer courses where it doesn’t feel like such a rush to get the information across and students have a little longer to develop their skills and ideas. The bowlmaking course in particular is fun as I bring so many different moulds to which students don’t normally have access: kids in a candy store” is the phrase that often comes to mind!

Fiesta time

Unpacking my car of its full load of teaching materials and carting them inside to the workshop is never my favourite job when I’m down to teach in West Dean College. However last week I was unpacking an even fuller car than usual as it was my Summer School week and, bizarrely, the experience was enhanced by a backing track of loud dance music echoing across the field.

One does not normally associate West Dean with dance music, but it was the annual Chilli Fiesta and there were literally thousands of people having fun in the fields around the house. This year was the 20th anniversary of the popular event which had its humble beginnings when the West Dean Gardens started a fair to sell its chilli-based produce but which has grown into a Glastonbury-style festival over the past two decades. Latin-infused music, chilli-inspired cookery and child-friendly entertainment has brought 300,00 visitors over the years with many camping (and glamping) onsite.

I ventured out on the Saturday night after doing my tutor duty in giving a slideshow to the Summer School students. It was a warm evening and the funfair looked amazing lit up against the sky. Eating around the bonfire and dancing in the teepees made for a great atmosphere but the long teaching day had taken its toll and I retired to bed after watching the fireworks display against the silhouette of West Dean House.

The teaching week was easier than I anticipated. I’m used to Summer School being highly stressful trying to ensure all my students get their panels finished, but normally I would be teaching both leaded glass and kiln-formed glass and how to combine both disciplines in one panel which is rather ambitious. This year the whole week focused on kiln formed glass which, though not without its own challenges, was not quite the fraught race against time that I am used to. I particularly liked our display of glass at the end of he course, seeing what had been made during the preceding week. One student (above left) had worked only in her favourite colours which made for a good collection of interesting samples and finished pieces.

Before the monumental job of packing up all my materials again and loading in to the car, I nipped out to see what student on some of the other courses had been up to. I was particularly impressed by some of the work made in Sarah Macrae‘s jewellery course. There was a collection of bracelets, rings and pendants which caught my eye as they were all based on the idea of the locket, so every piece ingeniously opened up to reveal a small space in which to store treasures. Secret places and hidden treasures always interest me and this steampunk-inspired collection stayed in my mind on the journey home.

Glass Class

I held a long awaited Glass Class last Saturday. Two of the four students had been on my waiting list for at least a couple of years but one way or another we’d never managed to coordinate convenient dates until now.

We sat in the garden discussing ideas over coffee at the beginning of the day and then it was to work. One student had been commissioned to make a picture of a lady’s house in glass so she worked from the photos and we worked out how she would give the glass a three dimensional feel. Another student wanted to try new decorative techniques and so she combined them into a bowl which was like a sampler with a different treatment in each part. The third student brought a floral arrangement as inspiration and we talked about ways that one could make flowers by casting or pate de verre. However with only a one day course as an opportunity to make something, we decided the easiest way would be to fuse into ad hoc slumping moulds made of fibre paper. She also made a glass basket in which to display the flowers.

The fourth student had been to my Glass Class a few times and had previously made a much-admired bowl inspired by a jellyfish her daughters had seen on a beach on the South coast. This time she came back with ideas of making a jellyfish-inspired mobile but we had to work out the technical issue of how to invisibly attach the jellyfish arms to the bell. Needing to create clear hanging hooks of glass on both sides of the slumped bell was a challenge but after discussion, she tried something I thought might work though I had never attempted it before… and it worked a treat!

Musical Accompaniment

I’ve just come back from West Dean College where I was teaching a three day course on Layering Imagery. My classes always take place in the same space, the Stone Room, which leads off from the main workshop. As a result of walking through this workshop every day to get to and from class we are always very aware of what is going on in there, and so I was intrigued to see the technicians opening up the bank of dividing doors in the workshop to set up a double size space with workbenches and equipment.

What course could require thirty workbenches and such an enormous space?!

Later that day I saw five tutors, huddled up in the middle of the vast room having a very involved conversation. Then, through the closed door, we started hearing sounds…. long drawn out tones which at first sounded like furniture being pulled across the floor, and then clean tones singing out and squeaky little burps of sound in the background. Every so often we’d hear a strumming and a little tune would emerge from the cacophony of other, more familiar, workshop sounds.


All became clear when we emerged for supper some hours later. The workshop had come to life with the largest course I have ever seen at West Dean – five tutors teaching thirty two students to make all sorts of musical instruments!

We saw half made cellos reclining on the benches while being administered to by their makers. We saw violins being formed around tight curves with a corona of clamps pinning them in. We saw the constituent faces of a guitar hanging on a washing line as though having been put out to dry. We saw intricate internal parts to some unfinished and unidentifiable instrument.

I found out later this was an annual 9 day course at the college which had been going for years. Students loyally returned year after year to work on their handmade instruments – one student had been coming for the last 27 years! In some cases people who started out as students eventually came back as tutors to continue their collective marathon of instrument making.


Technology troubles

I’ve just got back from three days’ teaching down at West Dean College following the most frustrating week where one bit of equipment after another broke down in my studio. On Monday it culminated in my big kiln short circuiting every time I switched it on, and a stressful day clambering over and squeezing down behind it trying to establish which part of the electrics had burnt out. By the time I had ordered a replacement part to be sent, it was too late to actually install it and I had to leave for West Dean.

I was teaching screenprinting and sandblasting, both of which are techniques that enable photographic imagery to be applied to the glass. We had all new silkscreens and a kaleidoscope of coloured enamels ready to use, but the first day of the course felt much like my previous week and we sputtered to a stop as my brand new printer refused to print the student artwork we needed to make the screen proofs. After struggling with the technology for a couple of hours I finally gave up. But upon admitting defeat two of the West Dean technicians appeared, like knights in shining armour, rolling into the workshop the most enormous colour laser printer I’ve ever seen! Like a dream, the acetates were printed in minutes and we were in business.

Returning back to my studio this morning and the prospect of fixing my broken kiln, it’s making me realise how lovely it would be to have some West Dean technicians on hand permanently!


Wintery West Dean

This has been a busy last few weeks. Packing large trade orders has given way to the packaging up of loads of little parcels for my retail sales. I’ve got three huge boxes of stock for taking around local events in the run up to Christmas, and of course I’ve been preparing new work for our big Christmas show coming up, Designed | Crafted.

And somewhere in there I’ve had to squeeze four days of teaching down at West Dean, which is where I am currently, typing up blogposts at 6am in an empty computer suite!

In all the craziness I was fully expecting to have forgotten something from the long list of materials and tools that I bring each time I come down to West Dean. By the evening of Day 1, I realised with consternation that my students had worked their way through my entire stock of clear glass in a single day! And we had three days of the course left. There was nothing for it but an overnight trip back to London to pick up more glass – frustrating but unavoidable as sending large pieces of glass by post was not going to work.

So I set out that night, leaving the Christmassy cosiness of the college with its roaring fire and its twinkling tree and venturing out into the chilly night. I stayed the night in London and set my alarm for 5.30am to make sure I had enough time to make it back in time to meet my students for breakfast back at West Dean.

Where the night before had been chilly, the morning was freezing and I left in darkness, with the tyre tracks glistening in the headlights on the icy roads. I wrapped myself in a blanket and I must have looked pretty dishevelled as I stopped for petrol, still in darkness, on the A3.

Sunrise Landscape

And yet just as I drove into West Sussex the inky skies started lightening. The colours were seeping in with the dawn and the painted sky started warming as I drove my familiar route through the villages of the South Downs. I climbed a road winding through a wooded hill and as I crested the hill, the sky seemed almost in an instant to spill open into the full fiery sunrise. I practically did a handbrake turn into a small country lane to grab my camera and capture the moment!

A herd of gormless looking rams came to investigate as I stood at the side of the field, wrapped in my blanket, snapping away at the sky. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen such a spectacular sunrise, and even the local radio got in on the act, broadcasting that they would put up their listeners’ photos of the sunrise on their website. As I drove on the last part of my journey, it was absolutely joyful to see it transform itself above my head from a rich layered spectrum of colour through the trees to a colour field of puffy cloud trails in soft pink and yellow and finally, by the time I arrived at college it had cooled into a silvery sky with a low winter sun.

West Dean looked like the archetypal country house in winter scene, with a picture-perfect dusting of frost across the fields. I had arrived early for breakfast so I spent twenty minutes crunching through the fields to take more photographs. In moments like that the house at West Dean feels magical and a repository of tradition, history and memory.


Bedroom number 43

I’ve been teaching down in West Dean for eight years now and I usually go down four or five times a year, so I reckon I must have stayed at West Dean College about forty times. That mean I’ve potentially stayed in about half the bedrooms that are available to guests.

But I’ve never stayed in such a nice bedroom as the one I’ve just slept in for the past couple of nights at West Dean while teaching my Intricate Surfaces weekend course there!



The college is based in a beautiful country home in the heart of the South Downs, once owned by Edward James, a patron of the Surrealists. The house is steeped in history and the whole estate has a unique charm with various outbuildings dotted around the grounds that provide extra accommodation for visitors. However the bedrooms of the original house are by far the most magnificent, and I suspect that they are reserved for students rather than tutors.

And I was lucky enough to stay in one of these grand bedrooms this weekend – bedroom number 43 – which was found beyond the library and up a splendid staircase hung with scroll-framed portraits. The twin room was decorated with beautiful handpainted murals all the way around the room, and generously proportioned furniture. The 1930s fireplace and traditional fittings gave me the idea that the interior of this bedroom must have been designed in Edward James’s era.

But I got even more of a lovely surprise when I climbed the short staircase to the ensuite bathroom. Entering the bathroom through a fabulous curved door, I was excited to try out what must have been original fittings. There was no plug, but instead a separate tap control which one lifted and turned to plug the pipes, plus instructions for any bemused users. And I couldn’t wait to try out the traditional footed bath – it was wonderfully deep and spacious, and proportioned so well to accommodate shoulders underwater as well as a comfortable dip to rest the head …quite different from the modern take on the claw-footed baths.

I find it amazing to think how many times I’ve been to West Dean and yet find there are still undiscovered spaces to explore. Might there be an even better bedroom than number 43?!


Two places going!

Every now and then I teach glass from my own studio in West Dulwich. One of my private courses is The Glass Class, which is a one day workshop for previous students of mine who wish to carry on making glass in a more ad hoc way.

If you have already learnt the basics from me – either on one of my West Dean courses or my Fuseability course at The Glass Studio – then you’ll be able to join us on the 12th October as I have two places left. Our day will be determined by what you want to do. Most students come with ideas of what they want to make and we usually spend a bit of time at the beginning of the day discussing these ideas as a group and working out what is possible in the time.

From there on in, you have access to lots of materials and equipment and of course expert guidance from me to help you realise your ideas. I am there if you need a few pointers on technique or a reminder of how to use equipment, but there is no formal teaching per se which will allow you maximum time to get on with your work.

Reasonably priced at £85, the cost of the workshop includes the kiln firing at the end of the day and the packaging and delivery of your pieces by courier within a few days of the course.

The day runs from 10.30am-6pm and most people bring their own packed lunch so as to leave as much time for glassmaking as possible.

If you’d like to join us on the 12th October, contact me here.


New course possibilities

West Dean College like to keep their tutors on their toes and their teaching programmes exciting, so we are often asked to submit ideas for new courses.


During my Summer School a couple of weeks ago, one of my students was a graphic designer from Amsterdam who made a very beautiful abstract leaded glass panel. The yellow piece she had intended for the middle of the panel turned out to be frustratingly reluctant to behave itself in the kiln. She was trying to get it to pick up the imprint of a pattern underneath but the glass kept blowing enormous bubbles. In the end she used a plain piece of glass in the leaded panel, but she was very excited by the possibilities of the yellow glass bubbles that she was left with.


One of these she labelled “My creative bubble” and left as a little inspiration to all the passing students with knowing smiles who were also enjoying their own creative bubble in their week at West Dean. But this obviously sparked off some creative thinking and as a side project, she also started working on the idea of layering glass.

She wanted to create a little scene inspired by our surroundings, with the rolling hills of the Sussex Downs, the college logo and a West Dean sheep peeking in from the front. We talked about how layers might be accommodated but leading doesn’t really lend itself towards layering. So instead I suggested that she spoke to the ever-inventive technicians at the college who created a bespoke box frame in which to mount the layers.


This first foray into layering glass worked so well she made another one! This one had a little figure (herself) opening the door to her creativity and letting in a shaft of light. The parallax that always happens across a depth worked well in this piece because you had to shift your viewpoint to peer round the door and see what was behind.


All the work was carefully wrapped and packed and transported back to Amsterdam at the end of the week. Even the yellow glass bubbles made it safely through the journey and my student perhaps has some ideas of how she’ll use the bubbles in the future.

In the meantime, I have been left with the idea that creating a little fused glass ‘peep-box’ would make a really exciting new weekend course to teach at West Dean.