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..........










  

 

Tuesday, 30 March 2021

MAD AS A MARCH HARE!!!

 Why do hares box?

It is all to do with mating. There can be some confusion about whether boxing hares are male or female, and the answer is both: an amorous male (or buck) and a fed-up female (or doe).
A surge of testosterone pushes bucks to turn up their engines throughout March and April. They chase their chosen doe across fields at full-pelt in an effort to mate with her. Understandably, this can all get a bit tiresome for the poor does, which is when they initiate the boxing match, whipping around and using flailing feet to fend off any buck pushing his luck. It’s not unusual to see fur flying!
This fast and furious display is thought to have sparked the phrase, ‘Mad as a March hare’

I have produced a glass piece for a March Hare stand. The glass is screenprinted with the wildflowers, and it sits in the Hare stand. This is available from my Etsy shop,- but be warned - there is only one!!




Monday, 1 March 2021

THE WONDER OF THE DRAGONFLY


Mosquitoes bite you, leaving horrible itchy red welts. Bees and wasps sting. Flies are just disgusting. But there’s something magical about dragonflies. 

 Dragonflies were some of the first winged insects to evolve, some 300 million years ago. 

Modern dragonflies have wingspans of only two to five inches, but fossil dragonflies have been found with wingspans of up to two feet. Some scientists theorize that high oxygen levels during the Paleozoic era allowed dragonflies to grow to monster size.

 There are more than 5,000 known species of dragonflies, all of which (along with damselflies) belong to the order Odonata, which means “toothed one” in Greek and refers to the dragonfly’s serrated teeth. (serrated teeth?  who knew?)

 In their larval stage, which can last up to two years, dragonflies are aquatic and eat just about anything—tadpoles, mosquitoes, fish, other insect larvae and even each other! At the end of its larval stage, the dragonfly crawls out of the water, then its exoskeleton cracks open and releases the insect’s abdomen, which had been packed in like a telescope. Its four wings come out, and they dry and harden over the next several hours to days. 

 Dragonflies are expert fliers. They can fly straight up and down, hover like a helicopter and even mate mid-air. If they can’t fly, they’ll starve because they only eat prey they catch while flying. Dragonflies catch their insect prey by grabbing it with their feet. They’re so efficient in their hunting that, in one Harvard University study, the dragonflies caught 90 to 95 percent of the prey released into their enclosure. 

 The flight of the dragonfly is so special that it has inspired engineers who now make robots that fly like dragonflies. 

 Some adult dragonflies live for only a few weeks while others live up to a year.

 Nearly all of the dragonfly’s head is eye, so they have incredible vision that encompasses almost every angle except right behind them. Dragonflies, which eat insects as adults, are a great control on the mosquito population. A single dragonfly can eat 30 to hundreds of mosquitoes per day.   

 I have a pond in my garden, and I love to watch the dragonflies as they dart over the pond and settle on the lilypads. And now, I make dragonflies, 5"x7", in glass.......immortalising them for ever. Since my heart surgery and difficult recovery from a stroke, I appreciate their symbolism - the dragonfly is a symbol of change, transformation and self-realization. It teaches us to love life, to rejoice and have faith even amidst difficulties.

They are popular and don't stay with me for long (the green one below is sold), but occasionally I put my dragonflies into my Etsy shop, if you would like one too.  ETSY SHOP




Wednesday, 20 January 2021

NEW WORKS IN GLASS - FOR VALENTINE'S DAY AND FOR EVER!

I am working my way back into working with glass, and decided to start with "glass casting" - that is, creating big chunks of glass out of crushed glass and decorative elements.  The way it works is that I fill a mould with crushed glass, choosing my colours and decorative elements in order to create a sculptural piece, which has great depth once fired in the kiln.  I began with glass hearts, Valentine's day in mind.  The resulting pieces have gorgeous colours and clear depths, and are pleasing to hold, they are the size of the palm of my hand, and feel comforting and smooth to hold.  Surprisingly nice, in fact.  One of my happy customers said she loved staring into the one she bought, she said it was like "looking into new worlds in the depths".

Here are a few of them:






The bottom one is really quite deep, about 2cm and it is like looking into the depths of a flowing stream.   


 I decided to add words to some of them:
  


I now have a large stock of these hearts, ready to go to new homes.  They are inexpensive, because I am using them to celebrate my return to glass after a long absence!

Then, I decided to be bold and CUT some glass...something I have avoided because of shaky hands....but I was very careful.  And this is the result, a lovely screen-printed candle screen, which glows at night with a candle behind it.

It is now in my Etsy shop.  click here 


and here it is, at night, with a candle behind - how nice is this.


(Quite a few of the hearts are there too.  But I have more, so if you would like one, just ask for photos of the colour you like.)

I hope you will not mind too much that I have shown these new pieces, but it is a milestone for me in my recovery from stroke, to be back to creative pursuits.  So I am celebrating just a little!


 






Wednesday, 11 November 2020

 IS SNOW JUST WHITE?

Well, the answer is yes, snow is white, we all know that....but creating an image with snow, whether in paint, or enamels or glass, means catching the nuances of colour which are created by the prevailing weather conditions.  And boy, are there lots of nuances!  I will just say this, for the sake of brevity:   warm light = cool shadows.  This is an important little sentence to remember, always.  And the other side of the coin, is that cool light, such as an overcast day, can still provide subtle shadows, but the colour will be quite different.  You need to observe carefully, and try to use the information in your work.  I will provide here some examples, in various media, just to demonstrate, as we are visual artists, so I will work with visual images:

GLASS

Here we have a bright, eye-hurting day, when the sky is a wonderful turquoise blue, the sunlight is warm(ish), the contrasts are strong.  The white snow is in fact a riot of colour:  warm cream where the sun hits, and cool blues in the shadows.


Here are two detail pictures, which may give you more information:

notice how the sunlight hits the trees on the right of their trunks, outlining just a little, and there it "warms" the trunk colour too.

In this next scene (also GLASS), the sky has a very pink hue, as in a sunset, and the distant snow is reflecting some of that pink.   There is no direct sunlight, so no long shadows and the foreground snow remains whiter, with touches of cream, pink and small areas of blue, for variety. 



Here is a detail picture, to show the variety in the colour in the snow.  I used layering, with frit and powders and some stringers for the thin trunks.

ENAMEL ON COPPER.  This little square is a bank of snow, against a dark tangly woodland background.  No direct sunlight, just the impression of turquoise depths in the snow with hints of a lavendar-grey, to link visually with the background. 

Here is one of my PASTEL PAINTINGS,  I still enjoy it, and in particular, the beautiful colours in the shadows.  See how the top edges of the snow clumps are creamy white, from the sun, but there are so many subtle blues and lavendars in the shadowy areas.


Although snow and ice may be white, try to find these beautiful colours to use. They will add so much atmosphere - black, white and grey can look very cold and sterile.  Blues, purples, pinks, apricots - they can all be found in snow scenes.  Particularly when the sun shines.  The sunshine will PAINT the snow with cream, gold  pink and orange - depending on the time of day.........and the shadows will be blues and lavendars and purples.   Your work will come to life if you don't just think " ah, it's snow, snow is white".

For my tutorials, some practical, some more informational to support your work, please visit http://www.jackiesimmonds.com, and go to the tutorials pages.


Saturday, 26 September 2020

AGAIN - A CHANGE OF CREATIVE PACE

 


My body has decided, over the last few months, to give me a hard time.  My balance is really poor, and I have been trekking to and from an oxygen chamber (supposed to help people who have had strokes), and I have been busy not doing enough vestibular therapy exercises, because I hate exercising and my brain rebels and I find myself inexorably drawn outside to the studio instead of indoors to exercise.

Working with my enamels, which involves balancing a blazing red hot bowl on a metal trivet and carrying it gingerly to and from a workbench, while it wobbles precariously, is out of the question.  I would inevitably drop the darn thing, and set light to my clothes , myself AND the studio.  Working with heavy glass is a problem too..just bending to get the glass out of the storage unit and up onto the table to be cut is difficult and exhausts me. I suppose I could have stuck with tiny bits of jewellery but it still involves cutting glass and I have very unsteady hands and it makes me nervous.

One day, while surfing the internet.  I noticed a beautiful DANDELION HEAD ENCASED IN RESIN, as a paperweight.  I knew I had a couple of packs of resin left over from experimenting a few years back, so out it came, and I began a little new creative journey into the world of resin. My husband could not understand why I insisted he stop the car so that I could collect dandelions. He noticed me eyeing front gardens, looking sideways at flowers....and was bemused when I would come back from a lone walk with pockets or plastic bags full of flower heads, he was convinced I would get arrested (mostly they were wild flowers!   Mostly.  I do admit to stealing a big white daisy from someone's garden one day, it had a broken stem and had fallen over so I figured it was dying.....) 

Here are a few of the pieces I have made so far - I enjoy working with the resin, even tho it is horribly sticky... it is safe for me right now.  No kiln, no heat, no sharp knives or glass edges.  And actually, it is fun to make things that I cannot make easily with glass in a kiln, so it is not just a new challenge, it satisfies a creative muscle.  

When adversity strikes, instead of allowing it to spoil your life, or make you feel bereft and miserable, why not try to recreate your life in a different way?  It might even be fun!!!  Here are a few pieces just to show what I have been doing.

1.  Thinking of Lalique


2.  A little love - we all need love


3. Botanical paperweights - real flowers and petals






4. Finally .... A pendant full of wishes! One of my favourite pieces. It took me ages to get it out of its mould, but it was worth the effort...I shall wear it, and wish for better health to be able to pursue my creative loves.














Saturday, 9 May 2020

Q: "I work with glass, so why do I need to know how to draw?"


As I have been trained as an artist, I do know a bit about drawing, and how to represent our 3 dimensional world in a two dimensional manner - ie on a flat surface.    So to me, the answer to this question is obvious.  But it is NOT at all obvious to some people, and I have found that when I raise the subject with certain glass artists, the responses are often very defensive......lots of them think they do not need to bother with drawing skills if they work in other media.   I get responses like these..... "There is no such thing as bad art, there is just MY art, my choice, and if I like it, that is good enough".     " I don't like being bound by rules, I prefer to just go with the flow".

OK....but..... 

The problems begin when one day, that person decides to reproduce a landscape, for instance, in glass,  or any other medium other than paint or pencil. They often/usually take out a photo, and copy it.  BUT they have little or no understanding about how to create an image in two dimensions on a flat surface .....they have none of the useful rules and tricks that painters use.  Sometimes they are happy with their results ...often, they are not but do not know why.

Well....Photos often "tell lies", because the camera is not as helpful as one might imagine, it causes distortions in perspective and space, it can flatten areas, it can alter colours and tones because it cannot read both the light areas of a scene and the dark areas, at the same time, with the accuracy of the human eye.

LOOK AT THESE TWO PICS.  SAME SCENE!  you cannot tell from the top picture that these are silver birch trees.  but hey ....they are!!!!!   You can see how lovely and slender the two semi-foreground trees actually are, while in the darker pic it is hard to see their shapes properly, and if you were to use that image, you might well produce thick and unattractive trunks on the left.   And look how much texture in the foreground is hidden in shadow...the human eye would see it, the camera could not.  Well, to be fair....it did...it was there but had to be revealed by manipulating the photo.  Your eye does not need to be manipulated in this way.  Finally, notice how the distant shrubs appear to be just as dark as the tree trunks, which, if created just as dark as the photo, the sense of distance would be impacted adversely. 



So - does this matter, the fact that the camera is not so discerning as the human eye?

I believe so because

*An artist will adjust many of these problems by picking and choosing from a variety of tools and lessons he or she will have learned.

 * An artist will leave out unnecessary items in a landscape - an ugly telegraph pole, for instance, or a black area of shadow because a) he can and b) because the pole/shadow does not help him to achieve the best result - it is not just inessential, it actually detracts from the scene.

*An artist will adjust the composition to improve the piece, to make it stronger and to achieve a better result than that offered by the photo.  Or even, sometimes, in real life.

A non-artist will often, for example, create a scene with half sky, and half land..."because it balances".  Well, actually, this is not the case...it balances badly!  The viewer does not know what is important, the land or the sky.  The viewer's eye jumps from one to the other.  Not ideal.

This last comment is just one example of many.  So the answer to "why do I need to know how to draw" is because it gives you the chance not just to be creative, but to be creative in the most effective way.  It gives you opportunities to CHOOSE strategies for how you want your image to look and how you want others to feel when they look at it. And it strengthens the end result  Win win.

For the glass artist, who wants to reproduce landscapes in glass, I believe it is really important to learn something about drawing, and the "rules" of composition which have served painters so well for hundreds of years.   It is why I wrote "Creating Depth and Dynamic Design in a glass landscape", and sell this e-tutorial for just a few dollars.  Have a look at my website tutorials pages:  WEBSITE TUTORIALS    (if link does not work, visit www.jackiesimmonds.com and go to the tutorials page.  Keep scrolling down to find all the various tutorials!) 
    
For those interested in creating glass pieces with woodland scenes and trees, like the image at the top of this article, do look out for the tutorial called CAPTURING TREES IN GLASS, which will give you lots of helpful info to use to create beautiful, natural-looking trees, composed successfully.

Monday, 4 May 2020

INSPIRED BY DALE CHIHULY

I wonder how many of you have seen the beautiful work of Dale Chihuly, and in particular his amazing installations last year at Kew Gardens?  I was particularly taken by his waterlily flowers, which were not really waterlillies at all...waterlillies have LOADS of petals, but he had blown the glass into simple abstract shapes, and fixed them to stalks and put lots of them into the pond hovering over the waterlily pads,  They were stunningly gorgeous to me.


I do not blow glass, and could never hope to produce anything so breathtaking, but I decided just to try a few pieces to go in or around my pond which has a big waterlily in it.  These are some of the results of my experiments, which are on-going.  It is really lovely to find inspiration from other great artists, without producing copies - copying demonstrates very little in the way of creativity.  There is always an ongoing debate on the Facebook glass forums, with some glass artists often becoming very upset when they feel someone has directly copied them, and others producing tutorials which actively encourage direct copying.  I often draw INSPIRATION from other artists, as artists have done always, but I do try to create pieces that show my own "voice" in the making.

Here are my "flowers", which are not really flowers at all, there are no petals....but they do brighten up the garden! I aimed for delicate, semi-transparent, and organic.     I may try next with petals.






Tuesday, 4 February 2020

INSPIRATION AND HOW TO FIND IT

When I have time (and am well enough - my health is a struggle right now) I read glassy posts on FB and even respond occasionally.

I saw someone say this, to a glass/landscape painter, and it prompted an idea.  She said, while admiring a lake scene on glass "I wish I could see inside your brain as you work".

Well, the artist in question APPEARS to work very intuitively....she sees a lovely floaty background, and hey presto,a little while later it is a lake scene with fir trees, clouds, lake, etc.

It would be easy to think that this artist just simply "knows" how to paint this kind of image, was born that way and it just "comes" to her in a burst of inspiration.

Often, tho, what looks so quick and easy is nothing of the kind.

It is the result of EXPERIENCE, of that artist having looked hard, and having practiced and practiced.  Tried and tried again.  Having collected reams of information in a variety of ways....collecting photos, doing sketches, from life and from photos.  Filling himself or herself with knowledge and information........ and experience.

When I was a student, I was encouraged (and I am encouraging you) to keep SCRAPBOOKS of inspirational imagery.  Images cut out of magazines;  sketches and scribbles, little painted, or charcoal, or coloured pencil pieces I had done and liked;  photos I had taken.  

I recommend, if you want to create landscape images, that you start a SELECTION OF SCRAPBOOKS of this kind.  Sea images;  sky images;  tree images;  distant hills images;  foreground images.......each scrapbook will become a hugely important resource that you can use whenever you want to produce a landscape scene.  

Alternatively,  GO BUY A LOAD OF BOX FILES.  Then, keep your collected images in those box files.....one box file for each genre.   You will be starting a "library" of your own, resources you can use whenever you need them.  THEY will fill you with information and inspiration. IT DOES NOT DROP FROM THE SKY INTO YOUR HEAD.............................



Come and find me on Facebook!  just type in my name..............

website for images, tutorials and more:   www.jackiesimmonds.com

Thursday, 5 September 2019

ALASKAN INSPIRATION BOWL


Some years ago I visited Alaska, and during a walk on a glacier, I marvelled at the sights...in particular the "caves" in the ice, with deep, dark turquoise centres, shading out to beautiful icy greens where the light was able to penetrate the ice.  It was quite magical, and has stayed in my memory vividly.

Then, some years ago also, I discovered a glass artist working with a technique called Verre Eglomise...gilding on the surface of the glass.  I had done a little gilding, on picture frames, but working on glass was something new to me.  I would have liked to attend one of her workshops, but she was in the USA, too far for me to travel .  So I had to teach myself how to gild onto glass.  I made a number of mistakes along the way, but gradually learned what to do, and what not to do.  

Then, I found a glass blog showing how to smash and then fuse TEMPERED GLASS.  Tempered glass is specially toughened, for use with car windscreens, shower doors etc.   When it is shattered, it shatters into tiny squares of glass like this:


Finally, these individual bits of learning came together in my mind and I had some ideas about how to create my vision in glass.   I made several of these wonderful bowls which were snapped up by eager buyers. This latest one is about 30cm wide, and I may sell it eventually, if I can bring myself to part with it and if someone will pay for its fairly substantial price-tag of £100 for which I make no apologies as it is very labour-intensive to make.  In the meantime,  I have produced a tutorial on how to do this, which I am selling from my website. I have all ready sold quite a few of these tutorials, to people from various corners of the world, so I just might keep the bowl for myself.................. 

If you are a glass artist and want to make one of these, just CLICK THIS LINK to visit my tutorials pages, and scroll down to find the  ALASKAN INSPIRATION BOWL