Monday, 29 August 2022

Is it a tree trunk or is it a ladder?

 I often find myself biting my tongue when looking at glass images of Silver Birch, or Aspen trees, created in glass.  All too often, the artist has simply cut strips of white glass, and painted a few horizontal lines on them, and plopped them down onto a background.  They look like white ladders, frankly, dodgy ones, and not the least bit like nicely observed, natural-looking tree trunks...they have no personality, no character, and look stiff and unrealistic.  These two sketches show what I mean:

On the left, we have a badly-drawn ladder with some floating rungs.  On the right, a tree trunk with dark markings.

Often, light gives us a sense of "form" - the roundness of the trunk, as it illuminates one side, and casts a shadow on the other.  But there are times when the light is subtle, and there is no obvious shadow. Then, we need to use the information provided by the bark.  And the rules of perspective.

PERSPECTIVE FOR CYLINDRICAL FORMS.

At our eye level, horizontal marks on trees will be horizontal.  As we look DOWN toward the roots, the marks will "dip", and as we look up towards the sky, the marks will appear to arc upwards.  This is a rule of perspective.  It will be very obvious when  you are close to a tree;  much less obvious from further away.   You can prove this to yourself with a drinking glass or even better, a cardboard tube. Hold the top rim at eye level. It will be straight. Lift the glass/tube, and look UP at the rim. It curves upwards. Drop the glass/tube, and look DOWN at the rim. It will curve/dip downwards.


Have a look at the images below, they show what I mean:


Notice how the light hitting the tree trunk from the left is helpful to add to the sense of a cylindrical form, but even without the light, as in the drawing, you can sense the form between the two upright lines.

It is worth bearing this simple rule in mind when creating images with white  trees.  There are exceptions;  trees leaning away from you, trees leaning towards you,  unusual bark smarks...but a bit of observation is the key, and you must bear in mind that YOU are the artist, and YOU need to help your viewer to see a tree rather than a ladder!!!

Jackie Simmonds







Wednesday, 3 August 2022

Using a FREEZER to make glass pieces, and using GLASS CLAY !!!

The great thing about working with a medium like glass, is that there is always something new to learn .  Glass artists are experimental souls, and some come up with inventions or ideas that they are happy to share with others.



I recently found two new methods of creating dimensional "elements" to add to my work.  Once upon a time, I would have simply painted dolphins onto my glass...but painting is really tricky with horribly shaky hands;  this new method eliminates that problem.  I now can "make" dolphins, shells, seahorses, tropical fish...even mermaids...if I want to, and they are made with GLASS POWDER.  Quite amazing!!!!  Here are some examples;  they are placed onto glass tiles I had in the studio which made perfect backgrounds.




To create these pieces, I used a process called "Freeze and Fuse".  I dislike the title, but it is what it is.  I put powder into moulds, together with water to create a heavy kind of paste, it is packed tightly into the mould and then I freeze the pieces.  It is similar to a process called Pate de Verre, though a LOT simpler and less effortful. When frozen, they are turned out onto boards and fired in the kiln.  And then, I have little glass pieces to use in my work!  Here is one finished piece to show you what can be done with them:


The individual panels on the lantern would also look really lovely framed, here they are on a white background so you can see the "watery" look which does not show up well in the photo.  The painting work is very transparent, so against my pond, you cannot see it well.


Then, I discovered yet another method of producing pieces in the mould....using something called Modelling Glass, a product which mixes with glass powder to produce something very much like clay.  This can be pressed into moulds, dried, and then fired.  Again - something created by a glass artist, and it is marvellous.


These pieces aare dried, but not fired yet.  I was able to file off edges and tidy them up, just as one might do with pottery clay.  Then I fired them.


Now I am selling these little components for others to use.  

And trying out other rather ambitious ideas of my own...this next piece is a work in progress...am still trying to decide whether to make it a gently sloping dish, or one with a square centre. I hope you can see that the flowers , tendrils and leaves are "proud" of the surface...you can feel them distinctly.  I have tested the ability of the 3D components to "slump" (bend) in the kiln, and they can, so it is quite exciting, and scary, to see what will happen.


I am immensely grateful to have found these new processes, they keep me occupied and creative.










 

Saturday, 28 May 2022

What to consider when creating an image of Birch (or Aspen) Trees

 I know that tolerance is a good thing..............but it is something I sometimes lack, and when it comes to images of trees, I have recently seen rather too many images of Birch or Aspen trees, which I find difficult to be tolerant about!

I appreciate this is subjective.  You may like these images, and my "tolerant" self says you are entitled to like what you like.  However, please let the intolerant me show you what I dislike, and then I will explain why!

Here are two examples of things to perhaps avoid:




I can almost hear you saying "not a lot wrong with those, what is she on about?

Well - to my eye -

The top ones look flat, like stage scenery.  The change of scale between fat trunks and thinner is varied, which is good, and the spacing is interesting too, but where is the sense of a round trunk?  And the fact that a tree trunk is organic, not absolutely straight up and down? Why does the one on the left look like a train signal?  

The second picture looks like a row of fence posts...all evenly spaced.  One of them gets fatter in the middle, which to my eye looks odd;  all of them have straight tops which are catching the light despite being inside a canopy of leaves...??... and again, there is no sense of the curve of the trunk.

So what do we need to look for with these kinds of trees? 

Here is a sketched pair of tree trunks.  The one of the left could be a strip of white glass, with black lines.  It could also be a ruler!   The one on the right looks more like a tree trunk...it could start as a straight strip of glass, but a little work with a grinder could shape it, and a little dust of dark powder would give a shadow on one side, for the form, and the texture could either be painted on, or the powder pushed into position.




Here are some photos with explanations to help you sharpen up your observation. 


This trunk above looks curved...we know it is curved because it is catching the sun on one side, and the other side is in shadow. A flat plank of wood could not do this.  Also, the marks curve around the trunk, they are not straight lines.
Another thing to note is how nicely organic and varied in size the bark marks are.


This is one of my own, rather ancient glass images.  I confess there are things I would do differently today, but just for learning purposes.....notice that the trunks go right up to the top of the piece and right down to the base, so the eye of the viewer extends the tree in both directions.  Notice too that the branch stretching out to the right is slimmer than the trunk, and looks natural and organic and not at all like a train signal.

Another glass piece by Anne Cavanaugh....a tangly copse of silver birches:
again...Anne has encouraged us to realise how tall and elegant these trees are, by showing the bases of some trees, which are behind the ones in the very foreground, yet they stretch up and apparently beyond the top of the glass.  They are willowy, and natural in form, and their little side branches are narrow and willowy too.  They are not all upright like telegraph poles, some lean slightly;  they bunch together in places; leaves obscure the trunks in places too and there is a sense of roundness in the trunks despite no obvious sun or shadow, it is all done with the marks.

Silver birches, and Aspens, are tall and slender, generally. (If you are very close to one, you will only see a section so it will appear rather fatter than trees in the distance of course} So a piece of glass that is a tall rectangle may help you to emphasise this wonderfully tall, leggy character of these beautiful trees.



Observation is the key.  If you plan to create some images with these lovely white trees, it is really a good idea to go out and look at them carefully.  See how their shapes alter, or IF their shapes alter and where...see how the trunks and boughs and branches differ...observe how the light shows their form.....notice how their dark marks curve...some of them dipping down, as you look down, others curving up and around as you look up the tree.

You do not have to create "realistic" trees of course, you can choose how you want to create them.  You can abstract, or stylise your trees, to create something more suggestive - a personal view. If you do want to use abstraction, you probably do not need the "form" in the same way.  See how this is all about flat shapes and non-literal colour, no sense of curving form:



 However you choose to work, one thing I recommend is to look first, and create later.  Then you may find yourself more pleased than you expected.

For more learning, and to begin to really sharpen your powers of observation, I have  tutorials with general art instruction for creating well-observed and crafted trees, and also aspects of composition, on my website, just click below and then go to the tutorials page:  look out for "Capturing Trees in glass" and also for "Creating Depth and Dynamic Design in a glass landscape"











Tuesday, 8 February 2022

OWLS INSTEAD OF PESTICIDES

A while ago, I visited Israel and had the pleasure of meeting Professor Yossi Leshem, who is involved in  something called The Atlas Project, which brings together Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians.  Traditionally, Arab farmers felt that owls brought bad luck, but in fact, thanks to Yossi's efforts, owls are now being used instead of pesticides, to control rodents in the fields.  Farmers now love the owls, and this film shows the project in action:  Just click on the link to watch the short presentation:

In this part of the world, where tensions are often high and bad news from the region is all too common, it is a joy to see Arabs and Israelis working together in this way.

I have always liked owls;  as an art student, I drew lots of them, in London Zoo, and in the museum in Tring.  I was able to touch and hold one of these fabulous Israeli baby Barn owls, which sat happily on my hand and allowed me to stroke its soft head - a wonderful experience.

More recently, I found a supplier selling the cutest tiny  "millifiore" owls - small pieces of glass which can be included in fused pieces.  I bought a few and have included owls in two pieces of glass art.  Obviously the photos are much smaller than the pieces themselves, so the little owls are hard to find, but you can see them in the detail pictures.




and a sculptural piece:



I love these little cuties, and because they are so small and will only really be spotted by someone eagle-eyed, I think I got away with it in that they don 't look too twee, always a problem when adding little creatures to pieces of art.

I think they are fun.

  




Sunday, 6 February 2022

NEW WORK FOR A NEW YEAR

 It is only February 2022, so it is still the beginning of a new year.  I have some new followers, forgive me for not acknowledging you but I will try to send out a newsletter shortly.  So I thought I would show you some of my newest pieces for this year.  I am still struggling with stroke symptoms, and cannot do a great deal on my feet, but somehow or other, I managed these new pieces.  It is called "being stubborn" I think!


I reckon they are somewhat self-explanatory so I will let them speak for themselves -

A new Monstera leaf. Made entirely from crushed glass, fused in a kiln - amazing, huh!  Makes a fab bowl, but would also look stunning hanging on the wall..........?



An "art" piece.  I love the way the stand perfectly complements the image and the colour.  It has the cutest pair of owl in it...I will be sorry to sell it, they make me smile.

Extraordinary how glass can be made to look like a painting, isn't it.  Makes this piece very unique.  My "canvas" was a flat sheet of glass, and the image is created with strings of glass and pieces of crushed glass.  No paintbrushes involved at all!


A beautiful "cyclone" bowl, with swirling colours.  Looks lovely even unfilled. Believe it or not this is entirely made from a single sheet of clear glass, with colour added using glass powders suspended in water.  Creating with glass is complex, but the results can be magical.

I love glass for its transparency, and vibrancy.  Since having a stroke, I also appreciate the help of my kiln...I work on a piece, the kiln finishes it off overnight.  Just as well because after an hour or two of standing to work, I am finished, and should only really work in short bursts.  But...I feel the eventual results are gratifying and worth the effort!  I hope you like them too.

I do sell on Etsy (Jackiesimmondsstudio)(clickable link)  and I will now allow people to come to my studio by appointment, instead of doing Open Studios, which are too much for me now.  But you are always welcome if you want to pop along!



Sunday, 30 January 2022

SPIRAL DECORATION, ORGANIC SHAPE

When browsing one day, I spotted this set of moulds:



I liked the idea very much, but was not so keen on the price!  They were available in the USA for over $100, and although I do sometimes buy from the US, I am often hit with huge fees...not only is the shipping high, but also I have to pay Customs Duty, and VAT, and all of this is charged on not just the cost of the item but on the shipping cost too.  And at this end, there is a "handling fee" charged by the post office.  So often, that $100 can double in price.  OUCH.

This led to my trying to find another way to create the bowl, using alternative materials. The alternative method cost me a fraction of the cost of these moulds!  Very pleasing. and the end results delighted me.  And others when I showed them on my Facebook pages.  So I have now written a tutorial on how to make these nice pieces.  I thought I would mention it here, in case you have not spotted it on Facebook.  So this is for all my glass artist readers.
If you click on this link it should take you to a Paypal page where you can purchase the tutorial if you wish:

Organic Wavy Spiral bowl tutorial

and here they are!




Happy fusing folks!

Saturday, 30 October 2021

 Glass landscapes…should I use opaque glass, or clear, for my “base” glass?

 

One has to take into account transparency and opaqueness in glass when creating images I do understand that this may seem obvious to some of you...but sometimes, even obvious basics such as this are not properly anticipated and the end result might be either a pleasant, or a not so pleasant surprise!  

If you produce a landscape on a transparent glass, using a mixture of transparent and opaque frits and embellishments, it might look great up against a window, or with a lamp behind,  but flat on table or on a stand or hung on a wall,  it may look very different.   If you are trying to create distance or depth, then how you deal with the “tones” in a landscape is important – tone being the relative lightness or darkness of a colour.     If you want an area to be light, the sense of depth, or atmosphere,  may change if it looks darker when you shift your piece!  A change in the tone may bring an area forward when you want it to recede, for example – or vice versa. The transparency of an area of glass will be dramatically influenced by where you place the finished piece

   If you work on clear and put a layer of pale opaque behind, or work on a pale opaque, SOME light will penetrate when held against a window, or if it is lit from behind,  but actually, the opaque glass will act as a reasonably stable "light source" for your landscape and will keep the integrity of the colours and tones you’ve created when there is no other light source, much like white watercolour paper “lights up” the washes in a watercolour painting.  This needs to be part of your planning process.

 

top Image created on white opaque glass, using enamels, frit and stringers.  Photographed on a fairly light ground, with natural daylight hitting the glass from the front.
 


same piece, on a dark ground, ( light reflections at the top of the piece, from a doorway,  making some of the branches look pale).  But in the main part of the image there is very little difference in tone values.The opaque “ground” stabilises the tones and colours.

 

        trees image… enamels, and frit, on a streaky glass with a lot of transparent areas;   on the left, against a white wall, photographed with light from the front,( creating a bit of reflection on the surface in places);   on the right, you see it held up to sunlight – so on a windowsill,  it will change very much according to the prevailing light.
 ALSO Notice the change of tone, where my finger is behind, so you can imagine that against a dark surface, such as a dark wall, or a dark mount in a frame, a lot of the image would be lost.

All best anticipated!




Jackie Simmonds

Please note...this information is part of a larger tutorial on working with landscape images, created especially for glass artists who have had little or no art instruction.  Please see more info on my tutorials page on my website:  www.jackiesimmonds.com

Wednesday, 4 August 2021

Where there's a will, there's a way.

 The stroke I had during my heart surgery left me with problems with sketching and drawing - and so with painting too.  I literally could not draw a straight line, or any line, for that matter.  Holding a pen or pencil or piece of charcoal, became a major issue, my hand would shake and arm would jerk.  Not conducive to happy sketching!  So for a long time, when energy allowed it, I would make things, either in resin or glass.  This is quite satisfying, but the easel sat forlornly at the back of my studio, looking neglected.

I have long wanted to try painting in a freer, more abstract way, but every attempt failed to satisfy.  Then, the other day, I watched someone on the internet,  "painting" without brushes....using found implements such as nail brushes, spatulas, sponges, and cake slices.  I tried an image - no brushes, just collage for texture, stencils, rags and a palette knife....but I found myself hanging on to the subject, an Acacia tree in the Negev desert.... and although there were interesting, abstract marks throughout, it was not loose or abstract in the end.   I took some photos of areas of the image, and preferred those sections, to the whole piece!




I decided to soldier on with another image, determined to create something fully abstract this time, with landscape in mind, but no particular motif.  Instead, I simply divided up the canvas in a way I thought might have a sense of landscape, stuck with a simple but dramatic colour scheme, and just beavered away with texture paste, spatula, and cake slice!  It was very liberating indeed, and also gratifying.  To know that despite the stroke, and despite the exhaustion which creeps in very fast, I can in fact create a work on canvas that excites me.  I hope it wasn't a fluke!!!


.   

It really goes to show....where there is a will, there is a way.

  

Friday, 18 June 2021

SPECIAL PERSONAL NEWS

 I hope I will be forgiven for posting a more personal blog this week, but I would love to share some special news with you all.


Some background:  My husband Geoffrey, as a young man, was never introduced to classical music.  He was the proud owner of a  record player as a teen, and listened almost exclusively to pop music and country western music. 


  We met and married in our twenties - more than 50 years ago - and in the first decade of our marriage, we enjoyed fun Christmas holidays with groups of friends.  On one of these holidays, Geoffrey watched his first opera on tv......Verdi's La Traviata.....a wonderful Franco Zefirrelli movie, produced in 1985, with Placido Domingo in a lead role.

He was transfixed. He watched avidly, absorbing every note.  It was the start of a long-lasting love affair between Geoffrey and the world of the Opera.  Soon after, he was invited to a performance of the Pavilion Opera Company, which took place in a City livery hall.  The performance was not on a stage.  The company dressed in full costume,  and sang in the original language,  but performed "in the round" on a large carpet, using a single piano.  The small audience surrounded the carpet, and enjoyed the full force of the powerful voices of professional opera singers, from the distance of a few feet!    This is a staggering experience - it not only reinforced Geoffrey's passion for opera, but it also sparked an idea.  He felt he had missed out as a child, and wanted to introduce opera to children at an early age, so that they too could enjoy this very special experience.

He met with Freddie Stockdale, Director of Pavilion Opera, and presented the idea of an Educational Trust.  Freddie loved the idea and partnered with Geoffrey to create Pavilion Opera Educational Trust in 1992.    Geoffrey took performances into schools, for 8-9 year old children.  He raised funding from major business organisations all over the UK.  The children were introduced to and learned, through a six-week comprehensive cross-curriculum package, the full story, the history of the opera and the composer.  They were provided with a fully scripted play in English, through which they rehearsed the Opera itself.  Before the event;  they produced project work which was placed on display in the school hall. The local mayor and other important local dignitaries were invited.   The performance took place, on the huge carpet, in the centre of the school hall, with a piano, and the children sat around the edges of the carpet, on the floor and on benches, within just a few feet of the singers.  After the performance the children met the singers, asked questions, and collected autographs enthusiastically.  Later, they were asked to write letters to thank the organisers, and these letters are a joy to read.  "I thought it was great, it was so LOUD"   "The man who played the piano was fantastic"  "My Dad said I would not like it, but I did and I would like to see another opera".




To see the joy on the children's faces was wonderful as you can see from the photo below.  The performers enjoyed it too, as they involved the children, often singing directly to a particular child, or even sitting on the lap of the Headteacher, which the kids loved.


There were no compromises in these performances which were sung in the original language, but in fact the children found this much less of a problem than some adults.

Over 26 years, more than 62,000 primary school children in 879 participating state schools, where opera was not readily available,  saw a Pavilion Opera performance.  15 different operas were shown, including The Marriage of Figaro, The Barber of Seville, The Magic Flute, Macbeth, and others. 

 


Despite applying for funding from various bodies...The Lottery Fund, the Arts Council, and others, Geoffrey was never offered any funding, and so had to raise all the funds without help.  Thankfully, the organisations he approached  supported the project for three years at a time.  Also, Geoffrey found some wonderful donors who supported the Educational Trust continuously.  Thanks to these generous people, a large number of children were introduced to classical music, history and Opera in a positive and exciting way.

As a result Geoffrey was this year awarded an MBE (for services to education) in the Queen's 2021 Birthday Honours.

As you can imagine, I am a very proud wife.



Sunday, 11 April 2021

WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU LEMONS, MAKE LEMONADEl


I really like this expression, and it is so apt for me right now.

For so many years, I sketched and painted.  Even though I turned to other craft pursuits for a change of pace, I would still occasionally produce a painting...and there can be no doubt that I was probably a better painter than craftsperson.

However life, for me, took a strange turn not so long ago.  After heart surgery and a stroke, I find that I am now left with a body that is hard to recognise.  I can literally no longer draw a straight line - sketching is out of the question.  I have poor balance, and suffer with something called "stroke fatigue" which impedes my ability to do a lot on my feet.  Please dont think I am looking for sympathy....it is what it is, I have to get on with life and I try not to complain too much.  But there is no doubt that life suddenly handed me lemons, and I had to find a way to make lemonade.  I was not happy with the thought of sitting on my hands doing nothing except watch the tv!

Enamelling is a no-no, as one has to hold a red hot piece of metal balanced precariously on a trivet and move it around. I would drop it and set light to myself, without question!  Sketching upsets me, I find I can hardly hold a pen still to sign my name any more,let alone sketch.  Glass ...well, one needs to be able to cut glass safely to create glass art.....but......

I can cut against a straight edge AND I CAN WORK WITH GLASS POWDER AND FRIT.  Frit is crushed glass.  Frit, in a mould, or on a glass base, melts in the kiln.  And with it, I am creating all kinds of different things., including the gorgeous poppy bowl above. It is hard to believe that is made from crushed glass, isn't it.  So, I thought it might interest you to see a few pictures and learn a little about the process.

This is frit.  It comes in tons of sizes and colours, from fine powder, to chunky pieces:


When I want to make a flower shape like the red poppy above, or the blue poppy bowl below, I first have to fill a MOULD with a mixture of frit and powder.  

A ceramic mould looks like this...here is my poppy mould, a sieve, and a small pot of powder - this is Claret Red, believe it or not!  Well, it will be when fired in the kiln.
The mould must be filled quite carefully, using various different colours and sizes of glass frit and powder, and after 12-14 hours on a complex and specific temperature schedule in the kiln, I will have a flat disc with a poppy petal texture.   

This then has to go back into the kiln, in a"slumping" mould, for the glass to soften and form an organic shape. A totally different temperature setting is required. Below is an "organic" slumping mould that gave me the shape for the red poppy at the top of the page. ( after making the original flat disc, I may decide NOT to use this standard slumping mould, I may use my own props using special fibre blanket which I harden.)
Here are some other moulds, with their resulting forms:  The sunflower mould is filled with frit and powder, ready to be fired:
   

I make the process sound fairly easy and straightforward, but things can, and do, go wrong. Moulds are expensive, and can chip or break.  The glass can get stuck in the mould.  If I do not use the right amount of frit, I may end up with holes in the glass. If I mix up the colours and use a sulphur-based frit together with a copper-based frit, I could end up with strange unwanted colour reactions.  Waiting for the first kiln firing to end is fraught with worry!

I don't just make flowers. Using frit, and chopped pieces of glass and other "inclusions" I also make and sell these lovely paperweights too.  And I give a percentage of my sales to the British Heart Foundation.


My Dragonflies are also made with frit:



Thank heavens for glass!  I feel that at least I am doing something with my time which is more productive than watching the tv!    I am not happy about the uncomfortable physical challenges I am faced with, but am determined to do what I can, to the best of my ability, when I can.  I just have to keep thinking about those lemons......and enjoy the lemonade..........