Built from Scratch

On the Bank Holiday, I had to make an unexpected trip down to West Sussex to deliver work. Strangely, two days earlier my mobile phone had gone crazy and was inexplicably sending texts to a client of mine instead of the friend with whom I was trying to arrange my Friday night plans, but it was timely as my client mentioned that the windows I made for him last year had finally been installed. This gave me a second reason to go down to West Sussex, so I jumped in the car and made it down in record time.

I was delighted to see the almost completely finished house, a magnificent building which the clients had designed and built from scratch on a lovely site near the Cowdray Estate. My windows were designed for the porch so they were the last things to go in, to avoid any builders’ accidents going in and out of the building.

I brought my camera to capture the windows in situ and I was glad to see that the light was balanced well and the panels looked bright and colourful even on this slightly overcast day. The porch acted a little like a lightbox with the light coming through the glass into the darker space within, and with a strong light inside the porch the windows will look lovely from the outside at nighttime. The constant frustration for us glass artists is that our panels can’t simultaneously look good from inside and outside but, such is the nature of the material as it always looks its best viewed from the dark side with the light flooding through.

However with the panels illuminated, lots of detail could be seen up close and these panels were designed to reward closer looking. The clients have an affinity with racehorses and wanted references for this to be subtly included in the panels, as well as a couple of wagtails, one of which had flown into the outbuilding while it was being constructed. The features in each of the panels were inspired by the topology of the surrounding area, so as visitors come in through the porch they will see echoes of the land behind the house. The clients have always owned cats, and so I included a hidden cat in the ‘Water’ panel – I had assumed visitors would spot it fairly quickly but apparently it consistently evades identification. Can you see it?!

Read about the making of the panels here.


A Break in the Weather

I spent a wonderful day yesterday with a drawing group in a beautiful garden and nursery near Lewes. We were planning on sketching outside all day and despite overnight rain, the morning light on the drive down was very promising. By the time I arrived, the gardens were bathed in a gorgeous autumnal light and we were rather pleased with ourselves for having chosen the perfect day for it.

Marchants Nursery and Garden in Laughton, East Sussex, is one of the leading small nurseries in the country attached to a beautifully kept garden with stunning views of the South Downs. Owned by Lucy Goffin – one of the ladies in the drawing group – and her husband Graham Gough, the garden at Marchants was the perfect spot to sketch and paint.

At every turn there were plants and flowers, creating a maze like walk through the centre of the gardens, paths lined with planting and a general movement down the garden leading visitors towards a large pond at the end of the plot. Everything was well kept without being fussy, and you could tell that this was a garden created with love. Further up towards the house, one got a longer vista across the gardens and beyond. After a morning’s work we came back together inside. As if by magic, another fantastic spread was created from dishes brought by various members of the group and we had our post lunch cups of tea from the balcony outside the lovely first floor studio.

Of course with eight creative women involved, lunch and a cup of tea is no quick affair! Those of us who hadn’t seen Lucy’s studio were curious, and Lucy obliged by inviting us in to see the studio and her work. She is a textile artist and she draws greatly on the nature surrounding her, with plants from her garden often being depicted in her textiles designs. It was all so inspiring, let alone the incredible views across the South Downs from her balcony. But alas the afternoon felt as though it was already half gone, before we got back to work, and far too soon I had to jump back in the car to make my way back to London for an evening lecture. And so I left Marchants at about 4 o’clock, marvelling that I had spent an entire October day in lovely autumnal sunshine in barely more than a thin jacket.

And then the heavens opened! The two photographs above were taken 20 minutes apart! I had left myself enough time to get back on a good day, but I’d forgotten the Friday afternoon traffic and I certainly had not counted on such appalling weather conditions that the A22 was literally turned into a river. That, plus the typical English signposting which sent me twice around a standstill traffic jam on the East Grinstead ringroad before I realised I would have to retrace my steps back. After two hours in the car, I had gone only 35 miles of my journey and had practically given up on getting back in time for the lecture which was to start in 45 minutes.

But driving through Sevenoaks I had an inspired moment! I parked in the station car park, jumped on the first train to London Bridge (which thankfully turned out to be the fast train), had a couple of crowded tube rides in London rush hour and then sprinted from Holborn tube to make it just in time to Queen Square to grab a glass of wine and a seat for the lecture.

And I am so glad I made the effort, as the lecture was superb. Dr Nicola Gordon Bowe spoke with verve and passion about one of my all time stained glass favourites, Harry Clarke. He was a remarkable Arts and Crafts artist working in Dublin from about 1910. He produced book illustrations and taught graphics at the Dublin School of Art, but it is his idiosyncratic stained glass for which he is remembered best. He was prolific and produced an unbelievable number of outstanding works during his relatively short career which was cut short by his early death in 1931 from – what sounded like – over work.

After the lecture, we were so excited to have the opportunity to look closely at a Harry Clarke glass panel, which demonstrated his unbelievable, almost microscopic, painting technique. There is always more to find in Harry Clarke’s work – little faces, small details, tiny inscriptions and his almost hidden signature. I think his work is also strangely timeless – it has an Arts and Crafts sensibility but it looks like it could have been created by a modern master. Even better, I love that his work also often looks like it could have been painted by a woman – it has such a feminine aesthetic and the decorative detail is mindblowing. But, as we found out, he also had a taste for sauciness in some of his pieces and the good citizens of Dublin were affronted on more than one occasion by his depictions in glass.

We stayed for a meal at the Art Workers’ Guild and I was delighted to spot an Angie Lewin print on the walls – someone else whose work has lovely decorative detail and is also an old friend from my Central Saint Martins days. We were chatting away and ended up being the last people out of the building. On my way back to the tube I remembered with a sinking heart that I’d have to train it back out to Sevenoaks before making the long midnight drive back home.

Land and Water in West Sussex

I’ve been working on a commission for the last few weeks which has been delivered but not yet installed. I gave a talk over my Summer School course at West Dean College on the making of the two glass panels for this commission so I have photographs of the making process. These panels will be installed into the porch of a house which is currently being built in West Sussex, and they are leaded panels but using thick textured kiln formed glass which will really hold and bounce the light around the patterned surfaces. My clients showed me images of traditional glass windows that they liked so I had an idea of their taste, and they were keen that the panels would include references to the local river, the sandstone in the village houses, local wildlife and the clients’ connection with cats and horses.


After a few weeks of design development they agreed on my designs (above) which included an inscription in English and Latin, their initials and my monogram. The ‘Land’ panel on the left included a depiction of the row of sweet chestnuts behind their house and their kitchen garden as seen from above as well as the racing horses and a horseshoe to imbue the new house with luck. The ‘Water’ panel on the right includes the river flowing past the sandstone walls of the village, a pair of wagtails, and a hidden cat watching the birds, as well as its paw prints following the line of the wall.

Samples were sent (above left) to show the colours and level of texture of each piece in the designs. Once approved, the glass was cut to a full size cartoon. Every part of the panel was made with two layers of glass and its textural qualities were achieved in the kiln using a variety of techniques. Sometimes the texture was on the back surface, but most was on the front where it would be able to be touched once in situ.


Once each piece had been formed in the kiln to get the right colour and textural qualities, I used blue tac to stick them up against my studio windows to get an overall impression with light coming through. Part of the glass artist’s challenge is to envision the whole image as it will be seen in situ. The light can change a composition dramatically with colours or textures reacting in various ways to the differing quality of light coming through the glass. However at this stage the clients were happy and I could see that although some pieces needed tweaking, the overall effect was good.

So the final stage was adding detail either with fusing, or with sandblasting (above left) or screenprinting (above right) and firing at a lower temperature to fix these details. Once all the glass had gone through the kiln for the final time, I used a grinder to get the exact fit between the pieces. This wouldn’t normally be needed with traditional painted glass, but when working with kiln formed glass which is 6mm thick and can get misshapen in the kiln, there is often some fine fitting work to be done which can take a while. Finally the glass is all leaded together using traditional tools, and the joints soldered so that the whole puzzle one has just created holds together. Cement is applied in all the gaps to give the panel strength and durability and then comes the unenviable task of polishing and cleaning the lead and glass….  not an easy job when the glass is pitted and textured. However it is always worth spending a bit of time on the final clean to really get it all pristine and to maximise the contrasts between the coloured glass and the dark lead lines.

final panels

The final pieces were taped up against a background of laminated glass so that I could get a quick snap of them before they were delivered to the site. Proper photos will be taken once the panels are installed.