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.

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.


A Clean Weekend Away

No dirty weekend for us! We picked Bath to visit last weekend to celebrate my birthday, and between the Roman Baths and a morning spent in the modern day thermae spa, we came back sparkling clean.

Arriving on Friday afternoon by train at Brunel’s Bath Spa station, we went to find our digs. We were staying in a fantastic apartment in a converted schoolhouse right in the centre of Bath. There were lots of stairs to climb but the view across the rooftops was worth it. And being just minutes, and in some cases just seconds, from the sights, the bars, restaurants and shops was a luxury that made the most of our time away.

So we still had time for a little sight seeing and we started with the closest and most obvious attraction, the Roman Baths. The operatic voice of a singer in the square outside floated down as the warmth from the natural waters rose, and there was a lovely sense of quiet, despite the inevitable handful of tourists having their photos taken with a Centurion and a Roman lady. I was glad that we had arrived too late to get into the adjoining Pump Rooms so we managed to avoid the obligatory tasting of the Spa waters, which I remember as tasting foul from a visit twenty years ago.

Instead we did a bit of window shopping… I am not a natural shopper but it was all so calm and unbusy, I was rather enjoying trying on a few outfits. Dinner had been booked at Clayton’s Kitchen at the Porter which was an exceptional meal -the best meal I’ve had in ages in relaxed surroundings and with excellent service – so we indulgently went back there for breakfast the next morning.


Quiet Street

But somehow Bath had been transformed overnight. From our Friday evening impressions of the Spa town with its calm and elegant streets clad in honey coloured Bath stone, we found ourselves in a busy tangle of alleys and lanes bustling with tourists and street performers.


We ducked into the Thermae Bath Spa for some respite. I had been imagining it as a quiet sanctuary-like day spa, but in fact it seemed more like a modern day version of the Roman Baths, a busy place where people came to socialise in the thermal waters. The rooftop pool literally could not have fit more people in it, but it was rather nice to be engulfed in the warm waters outdoors on an October morning, imagining the bathers as Roman citizens.

Refreshed, we walked up away from the shopping crowds and up to the Circus and the Royal Crescent, to admire the sweeping Georgian architecture of John Wood the Younger, and the lovely views down through Victoria Park. We grabbed a sandwich and went to sit down by Bath Abbey, where the queues for the Roman Baths now stretched around the block, and a non stop stream of buskers kept everyone entertained.

The crowds did not stop inside the Abbey where we enjoyed the exquisite fan vaulting on the ceiling but, rather incongruously, an enormous and chaotic cake sale was happening on the ground. I am the first person to scoff a cake at any opportunity and subsequently feel guilty, but this time not one item along that aisle full of confection actually tempted me – they all looked rubbish! Instead my latent religious guilt compelled me to buy one to aid their fundraising efforts, and I ate it as we walked along the winding River Avon and across the Pulteney Bridge.

We walked along Great Pulteney Street which, at 1000ft long and 100ft wide, is the widest and grandest road of Bath and I could picture those Georgian ladies perambulating up that wide boulevard in their enormous frocks. However it was only built as a façade and subsequent developers acquired the plots and filled in the structure behind, and I loved the idea that each interior would be laid out differently despite the uniform frontage.

At the end of the street is the Holburne Museum, home to the collection of fine and decorative arts by Sir William Holburne. Paintings by Zoffany and Gainsborough hung upstairs while downstairs we picked our way through a diverse collection of silverware, porcelain, miniature cameos, silver gilt spoons and fine furniture. We had been recommended to stop for a cup of tea at the modern extension at the back of the museum which looked out onto the Sydney Gardens, the only remaining pleasure gardens in the country.

Sunday morning saw a walk through Bath’s cobbled streets to meet family friends for breakfast at Raymond Blanc’s brasserie at the Francis Hotel in Queen Square. We just had time to visit the elegant Assembly Rooms with its fabulous chandeliers and its Fashion Museum in the basement, before saying goodbye to our lovely apartment and jumping on the train back to London.

For more pictures of our trip see my Pinterest Travel snaps page

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.


A Hard Week’s Work

I spent last week down in the beautiful surroundings of West Dean College for my annual Summer School sojourn. This is a week-long course which combines both fused glass and leaded glass and, as I always tell my students, it is challenging!

There are always a few problems to overcome when trying to fit a slightly distorted, rounded off shape made from kiln formed glass into a jigsaw-like leaded panel which requires meticulous accuracy. Usually there is some kind of trade off  – a slight deviation from the cutline or a bit of ‘creative interpreting’ (otherwise known as botching!) – but in fact my students this year managed very well with what were fairly complicated panels.

Three pairs of hands

We had a range of approaches, from heavily detailed kiln formed textures to panels which only used a touch of fusing or slumping to achieve an interesting surface. The students worked incredibly hard, and there was some additional teamwork to get one or two of the panels finished on time. At one point I counted four pairs of hands working in combination to cement a panel, including my hands which took a brief break in order to take the photo above.

And what was the rush? Well, it is a long tradition at West Dean’s Summer School that the final evening is for a celebratory party. Each group usually creates a set of masks or hats or some such creative endeavour to mark them apart from the other groups during the party. But my students had worked so hard it seemed churlish to expect them to make anything more, so instead we went to the party dinner in our (clean) blue surgical gloves… the Blue Hand Gang!

Friday morning was the wonderful moment when we held the eight beautiful panels up to the light to finally see what everyone had produced over the course of the previous six days.

Just as much enjoyment was had by wandering around the college to see the work that had been produced on other courses.This year our neighbouring workshop was filled with amazing wooden automata by the students of Robert Race (below left). Each piece turned or moved back and forth in its own uniquely humorous way and we were amazed to see some students had produced five or six diffferent toys.

Up the stairs to the drawing studio and we came across beautifully conceived books made by students on Freya Pocklington’s ‘Creative Drawing’ course (top right). Wormholes and ragged edges made an appearance in various pages to show glimpses of the page beyond, and every one of those books made me want to create a little treasure of my own.

Downstairs in the courtyard was an installation created by resident poet Gary Goodman (bottom right). This had been growing across the course of the week and students had been intrigued to read the new phrases that were being added over time.


August Opportunity

I am teaching my Summer School course at West Dean College again from the 2nd to the 8th of August. This is a challenging course as it covers both disciplines of kiln formed glass and leaded glass. Students spend the week designing and making a large leaded panel which incorporates a mixture of both traditional shop-bought stained glass as well as specially custom-made kiln formed glass. Some students even make their whole panel from glass that they have created in the kiln.

Summer School Images

I still have two spaces on the course so if you have ever thought you might like to learn how to combine the two different techniques, this is a perfect opportunity. Summer School at West Dean is also fantastically enjoyable as there is more cross-pollination between courses than normal as well as various social events during the week, including an end of week party on the Thursday night which is always great fun.

If you are interested, get in touch with me.


Butterfly Mosaic Course


Last month I taught my Butterfly Mosaic course at West Dean for the first and possibly last time…. it wasn’t a very full course, but as a result I had a very calm and enjoyable four days, quite different from my usual running around trying to keep on top of eight students’ work! The students who had enrolled were very experienced, so it allowed me to spend some of my time working alongside them and we all produced some lovely butterfly-inspired glasswork.