My Youngest Clients

I’ve worked on primary school projects before but never have I been asked to work with pre-school children. My latest school project was at DUCKs, the kindergarten and infants school for Dulwich College. The school’s fundraising had given me a budget with which I was asked to devise a set of art workshops for all the children and then create some kind of final piece for the foyer. The children range from 3 years old up to 7 so I was a little tentative about how to incorporate glass into this school project.


In the end I decided that as children of all ages respond to storytelling I would base the art workshops around the building of props to illustrate and bring to life a story. I toyed with the idea of getting the children to help me write the story but in the end, because of time constraints and the very tight schedule of work that I had to fit in to the last two weeks of term, I realised I would have to come with a ready made story. With an obvious theme dictated by the acronymic name of the school, I wrote a special story about Dappy the Duck.

I had some misgivings about using the name ‘Dappy’ because of the idiot pop star who goes by the same moniker, but I liked the fact that the name conflated the words “Duck”and “Happy”, but with a little sense of silliness about it too, which reflected my title character. I consulted a few teachers about my worries, but luckily the demographic of my audience was either too young or too old to have heard of the NDubs fool, so I was in the clear!

The story sends Dappy the Duck on a journey to follow a trail of clues left by his grandmother to find his inheritance, a treasure chest full of glassy gems. On the way he meets a kitten, a squirrel and a toad, and he learns three life lessons which reveal him to be kind, helpful and happy to his new friends. I devised eight art workshops to match each class to one chapter of the book.

Some of the art activities centred around decorating a model of Dappy the Duck, and an added complication was that it had to be detachable so that the various body parts could be separated for different groups of children to paint. I spent an evening making the basic model out of chickenwire with screw in legs made from a couple of bottles and feet made from parts from two old mops. It was all rather Blue Peter, but once it was covered in papier mache it began to take shape!


The papier mache Dappy accompanied me to every workshop and, even in his unfinished state, he was a useful prop for telling the story!

Each session lasted an hour, with my initial introduction showing the children one of my bowls and talking about the special qualities of glass. All the children loved touching the bowl, but it was really satisfying to me that the eldest children were also really interested in the technical aspects of kiln formed glass and asked some really incisive questions. Then, after hearing the story, the children participated in a half hour artmaking session which related to one of the eight chapters of the story.

Dappy developed from session to session. The youngest children helped to paint the model duck, and made feathers for the wings and tail and one workshop was based around making him a nest. With the older children I could explore the themes of the story in a more nuanced way, so the last two workshop sessions related to thinking about the qualities of a good friend, and how to be kind, helpful and happy.

Painting the Duck

No matter the age of the children, I discovered that one of their favourite bits of the story was hearing the clues that Grandma had left for Dappy, so it was just as well that one of my last minute ideas was to have a child untie a ribbon on a paper scroll and (the older children) read the clue to everyone. Remembering back to my son’s early birthday parties I knew that a treasure hunt would go down well, and it would allow me to tie in the experience back to the glass theme, so the last part of each session was for the children to participate in a three-clue treasure hunt themselves around the playground. Each group found a box of “treasure” which was actually lots of kiln formed glass pieces. It was sometimes difficult to keep their excitement under control at their being allowed to pick a piece of treasure to keep and take it home!

It was with some horror when I heard later from a parent that one of the children had loved his treasure so much he wouldn’t let it out of his sight… the inevitable conclusion being that it ended up being swallowed!! I thought I had made the glass pieces more than large enough to avoid this occurrence, but apparently not too big for this committed treasure-hunter! Luckily the parent involved was very cool about it and only felt awkward about having to describe to her child what would happen to the glass post-ingestion!

To see the final glass panels I made for this project click here.


Sad face

An update on my shortlisted proposal for the art commission at Abingdon School… well, my proposal was submitted, my designs developed and numerous conversations with various studios helped me to flesh out my ideas. I spent four hours last Friday driving to my interview, including a very tense hour spent in standstill traffic outside Oxford wondering how late it was going to make me! And after my interview, I felt fairly confident that I’d got my ideas across to the panel of six representatives from the school.

However I had my hesitations and I didn’t want to go full steam ahead without raising the prospect of the challenge that I faced in getting the budget to work. In the end, I think this may have raised doubts as the commission was being managed on a tight schedule, and I was told this week that I didn’t make it through to the next stage.

Design for Abingdon School

It’s a real shame, as I think the glass would have looked spectacular. Ironically it wasn’t the glass that was causing such an issue with the budget, but the supporting structure. A pair of stainless steel beams to hold the glass panel would have taken 40% of the budget, and this was the simplest solution. I was looking into alternative methods of supporting the 600 kg of glass in the 10 metre high glass wall that I was proposing, despite the fact that the roof was not to be load bearing, and I may well have come up with an innovative solution that could have cost less but, alas, time was running out. However the design of the glass itself presented no such challenges and I had an immediate image in my head as soon as I read the brief. The artwork was to be installed in the new Science Centre, within the main staircase, and it was intended to represent the three sciences that were located on each floor. My concept was based around the way that I feel boys learn (Abingdon is a boys’ school) and, with a sixteen year old son who’s just finished his GCSEs, this is a pretty pertinent subject matter for me.

Boys’ learning seems to me to me much less consistent than that of girls. Boys seem to spend a lot of time absorbing much teaching without apparently learning much! Then somehow a teacher or parent says something in the right way and that acts as a key that opens a door of learning and suddenly they make great strides forward. So my artwork is a trail of iconography representing the curriculum across the seven years for each of the three sciences. But every so often one of these images is picked out in golden hues to symbolise the metaphorical door to learning being opened. The history of Abingdon School has a strong association with the number 63, and my artwork represented this numerically with an image symbolising each of the three terms of the year, for each of the seven years a boy will be at the school and for each of the three sciences which adds up to 63 images in the artwork.

Glass Proposal for Abingdon School

It’s really a pity that they didn’t go for it, but I’ll be following future developments on the commission with interest.


A Weighty Proposal

I’m really delighted today to have received an email telling me that I have been shortlisted for a really exciting commission.

The commission is for an artwork to be installed in the entrance to a new science centre at a school outside Oxford. The building is currently in the construction phase and is due to be completed next year. The artwork would be placed within the three storey main staircase, visible from the outside through the glass fronted building.

Science-CentreI have got through the first stage of the application process with a proposal that took me quite a while to prepare. Amazingly the concept for this artwork came to me almost instantaneously upon reading the brief. It has only ever happened once before where I have a complete image in my head of the final piece, without drawing or sketching to develop the concept.

The problem was then to actually get it down on paper, and as I worked on the sketches for submission, the days seemed to evaporate. Finally the deadline day arrived and my proposal was ready but I was slightly shocked to see the size of the digital submission…. 122MB of data was finally uploaded to Dropbox, with a note of apology! My computer was creaking under the weight of it!

Anyway, the selection committee must have been able to open it, as my proposal was put forward as one of 5 from the original group of 64 artists who applied. I will have an interview in a couple of weeks to further lay out my ideas, so it’s back to the old drawing board for some R&D.

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.