Blind Faith

I had booked into a seminar held by The Design Trust at the British Library yesterday morning and so I tubed it up to Euston. Making my way through the station, I saw a blind woman heading straight towards a wall which, thankfully, her white stick stopped her crashing into. I went over to offer my help and she said she had got confused and lost her bearings. I guided her back towards the escalator and once we were ascending she thanked me and said she was ok from there.

However that little encounter stayed in my head, particularly as she was the second blind person I’ve helped in a busy tube station in the last fortnight. The London tube network is confusing enough for a sighted person, but trying to navigate the swirling crowds and warren-like tunnels and escalators without sight must be nerve-wracking.

I arrived at the British Library ready to learn…. the seminar was on PR for small businesses, something at which I have proved to be consistently poor! Talks were given by Barbara Chandler (the Design writer for the Evening Standard), Lara Watson (the editor of Mollie Makes magazine), and Paula Gardner of DoYourOwnPr.

The Design Trust speakers

As the experts spoke, I rather resignedly realised there really is no getting away from social media. Forget formal press releases; these days it’s all about Twitter, Linked In, blogging, pinning and posting on Instagram.

Well… great.

I feel like I’ve spent years avoiding all of that social media stuff for a good reason, namely the huge black hole of time you fall into when you start doing it. I finally relented last year and reluctantly became a fully paid up member of the social media generation, and since then I feel like all I’ve done is (virtually) talk rather than (actually) doing. I just want to be making, but instead I have been led down what feels like a relentless labyrinth of online chatter, where somehow you have to make your voice heard… a vast, unending tangle of online imagery which you need to engage with in the most shallow and fleeting manner.

I want to be in the world of objects, where touch and feel invokes memory, not a flickering instant in the stream of images that we imbibe on a daily basis through social media.

I want to be in a world where, if three experts are talking, the audience in the room are respectfully paying attention to what they say rather than snapping images of them to tweet to their thousands of followers.

From Twitter @Sunnyholt

The irony was not lost on me that during one of the exercises we were set to write a press launch in 140 characters to tweet, my neighbour showed me her twitter feed where a photo had just appeared of herself looking at her twitter which had just been taken and tweeted by Barbara Chandler whom she follows!

Was I the only person in the room who found the glorious self-reflexivity of the situation totally ludicrous?!

And suddenly it struck me. I am like that blind woman in the tube…. clumsily trying to orient myself in a swirling, ever-changing torrent of information, looking for the way up and out, but heading the wrong way towards a dead end, and everyone else can see my fate but me!

As the seminar came to an end and my moment of metaphorical clarity was complete, I bumped into Sarah Young, one of the artists we invited to our Designed Crafted Christmas show. She was a welcome voice of assent and we had a little rant about the awfulness of social media, but I reflected that she and her partner Jon – with whom she runs Made London and Made Brighton – have managed to successfully navigate the labyrinth of social media (4000 twitter followers and counting!) without losing their integrity or sense of direction.


It had been a thought-provoking three hours, and as I emerged from the building and through the beautifully lettered portico of the British Library entrance, I was gobsmacked to see the blind lady from earlier, walking confidently along the congested Euston Road and back towards the tube.


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!


Redefining Handmade?

I nipped out of the studio yesterday to catch the Craft: Redefining Handmade trade show for 2015. It’s been quite a while since I’ve done any trade shows due to some not inconsiderable exhibition fatigue on my part and having too many other things going on, so it seemed high time to go and get myself back in the swing by visiting.

This is the second year of Craft which started in 2014 as a kind offshoot of the Top Drawer / Home trade show. Last year this triumvirate of trade shows was held at the doomed Art Deco sprawl that was the Earls Court Exhibition Centre which is currently being demolished for yet another London ‘quarter’ to be built in its place. Last year the Craft show had been wedged between a pretty awful Top Drawer fashion section and the more exciting Home show. It felt a bit of a hotchpotch and not terribly inspiring, but it was the first attempt by Piyush Suri of Handmade in Britain at putting on a Clarion show.

So I wasn’t expecting too much when I popped in but in its new location in Olympia, Craft seemed a much more confident show. Clarion had assigned it a reasonable space upstairs off the balcony area and it felt intimate without being overwhelming. By contrast Home, the affiliated trade show located downstairs in the main space, felt characterless and corporate and there were some makers there who were probably kicking themselves that they hadn’t switched to Craft.

However I would take issue with Craft‘s flyline – ‘Redefining Handmade’…. unless Piyush is intending to redefine handmade as things made to look like everything else! Three exceptions to this were the work of two makers I know and one I don’t but I like.

The first, Mia Sarosi, was one of our artists for Designed | Crafted and makes porcelain pieces. Her newest work is an exploration of the assumptions of the making process. For example, she deliberately works with over-soft clay to produce tactile, undulating surfaces on which to paint her designs. It was good to catch up with Mia and find out how successful the show had already been for her.

The second, Nicholas Collins, was a glass artist that I was with at Central Saint Martins ten years ago, whom I haven’t seen since, so we had a lot of catching up to do! However Nick’s work preceded him as I’d admired his sleek monochrome pieces online. Seeing them in real life was even better, and his newest piece literally appeared to vibrate with energy and had the same curious optical effect as a Bridget Riley.

Fanny Shorter

And after all that understated monochrome, I got my colour shot from the stand by Fanny Shorter. She’s not a designer I had known about, but I loved her stuff and reading more about her on her website, I could see why – her cushions, prints and homewares are clearly influenced by her very English upbringing and childhood visits to the V&A and the Natural History Museum. The Arts and Crafts influence that I love is clearly there but done in a vibrantly contemporary style.

I was more impressed with Craft: Redefining Handmade that I thought I’d be, so I think I’ll be a new recruit for next year.


Christmas Baubles

Last weekend we put up our Christmas tree. I thought I’d leave my family with some festive frivolity before heading off to West Dean for the week, so I booked them a session to blow glass Christmas baubles with Michael Ruh, our neighbour and local glass blower.

Michael’s studio is a lovely space in a warren of studios down a little blink-and-you’d-miss-it alley between an Indian takeaway and a bookies in Tulse Hill. We were welcomed by Michael’s wife Natascha who showed us the three options for the glass baubles – a spiral, a speckled or a colour field bauble. They would be blown from glass that had been rolled in granular glass frit which would give them their colour. My son chose a silvery yellow and blue for a spiral bauble and my husband chose an reddish orange and white frit for what I realised, resignedly, was going to be an Arsenal-themed bauble.

Then Michael demonstrated how he gathered the glass from the furnace, trimming it with shears, shaping it with a block and beginning to blow air into it to trap a bubble inside the glass. More heating in the furnace and then the hot gather of glass was rolled in the frit before being heated again to melt it in.

Isaac blowing glassThen came the fun part where Michael got each of them to stand on a raised platform ready to blow down the blowpipe while Michael’s assistant shaped the growing bubble of glass in a mold.The bubble was tapped off and a hanging loop was fashioned from a blob of viscous glass placed on top. The finished bauble was marked up with an identifying number and placed in a kiln for annealing over the next 24 hours.

I left my son with instructions to pick up the baubles from Natascha while I was away and I loved seeing the results.




I was thrilled to receive an invitation to arrange a private viewing of Andrew Logan’s fabulous glass work at his home-studio-shop in Bermondsey. We have been visiting his Glasshouse for over ten years now and it will be very sad to see him leave when he goes off to India, as the gorgeous old warehouse-style building will be depressingly be knocked down to clear way for an apartment block.

Anyway there’s no room for depression when looking at Andrew’s joyful, colourful work and I brought three of my Teepee Glass friends who love his work as much as me.

We spent a delicious Saturday afternoon having a private tour of the gallery and house where all manner of wonderful glass artworks were displayed. Colour, mirror, glitter and glass were abundant and after some time we noticed there was also a rather large Christmas tree…. only in Andrew Logan’s place could a fifteen foot Christmas tree be outsparkled by its surroundings!

Portraits of famous friends were everywhere – both in bust form and as flat two-dimensional mirrored faces – and in the midst of a fantastic pearled statue group I spotted a stunning self portrait in cast glass.

But a lot of our time was taken just staring at the hundreds of sparkly jewellery pieces – the smallest pieces, but the only ones which were just about in our price range. And sure enough, two of our group could not resist buying a ring and a brooch, which we took to the Horseshoe pub across the road afterwards to marvel at and admire.

Andrew Logan’s Glasshouse will be opening to private groups of 4-6 people until January – I urge you to get in touch with them if you want to experience this spectacle before it is gone forever.


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.


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.


Christmas Goodies

I hold an Open House in May every year, and I’ve always meant to do a Christmas Open Studio event. I was approached by a couple of local makers to hold a joint event, and so for the first time this November I will be opening my studio for a Christmas sale.

I will be open this Saturday 8th and Sunday 9th November from 11am-6pm at The Glass Studio, 47 Pymers Mead, London SE21 8NH.

In anticipation of the launch of my new online shop, I will be having a sale of small glass pieces which will make perfect Christmas presents. The studio and one floor of the house will be open to visitors who want to make an early start on Christmas shopping. I have easy parking and credit card facilities which will help make the experience easy and enjoyable, and of course I offer handmade glassware at reasonable prices. And as if this wasn’t incentive enough, my fellow off-Croxted Road residents are also opening that weekend and so you will have a mini trail of houses to visit.

Catherine Mitchell makes jewellery crafted in silver with semi-precious stones and pearls. Catherine’s Open House at 84 Croxted Road is also running for extended dates on Thursday 6th and Friday 7th November.

A little further down, five makers are selling their products at 21 Hawarden Grove.* Catherine Potter makes a host of decorative gift items from upcycled textiles and buttons. Handmade in Hammersmith recycles tweeds and other textiles made into beautiful new bags and pouches. One of a Kind Jewellery creates one-off designs combining rare vintage beads, Italian and Czech glass, ceramic, resin and amber. Alison Watt-Cooper produces drawings, prints and cards, inspired by local flora and fauna. Joy Fitzsimmons sells cards, notebooks, tea towels and prints all featuring her signature dachsund designs.

*At Hawarden Grove an entrance fee of £1 plus 10% of takings will go towards the local community charity 4ALL-Building Community in West Dulwich. Entrance includes a glass of mulled wine, coffee or tea and mince pie.


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