November is traditionally one of my busiest months of the year and I’m sure it will be the case for many craftspeople, artists and galleries caught up in the maelstrom that is the run up to Christmas.
For many years I was fortunate to be selected to exhibit at the prestigious, Hereford Contemporary Craft fair, which was a wonderful event full of high caliber makers of all variety of crafts. (Like so many arts’ events it has sadly fallen by the wayside.)
Doing a fair or exhibition where you are standing by your work for several days, constantly meeting people and talking about your work, needing to sell enough to cover costs, and hoping to actually make some money, is probably one of the most challenging and exhausting things you will do as a craftsperson or artist, or anyone selling their wares.
Not only is the event itself exhausting but you will most likely be setting up when you are already completely wrung out from weeks of making and building up stock. When exhibiting at a fair, one must always have enough work to make your stand look great even as pieces sell and are taken away. This was an incredible challenge as I was always exhibiting at galleries so had a fairly set amount of weeks to create a considerable body of work.
This was where Mike and I had managed to dovetail in our two peculiar careers. He ran his greenwood chair making courses from early May until late September, during which time I had pretty much full responsibility for everything else; the children, (all school related stuff and any out of school activities), the shopping, cooking, washing, pets, dog walking, gardening, family, holidays etc. Housework never stood a chance!!
Then when Mike was ‘back from the woods’ he would take over the shopping and cooking and we’d share responsibility for everything else (we pared it right down!) except dog walking which has always been important for me to maintain my sanity.
At this point I would be working flat out in my workshop doing 10-12 hour days 7 days a week in the run up to the Contemporay craft fair. Friends and wider family fell by the wayside and I holed up in my workshop making, making, making. Yes, it was stressful and hard work just as working to any deadline is, but I also loved it to a point. For years I didn’t have a mobile phone. I just went up the garden into my workshop and cut myself adrift and sailed off into my world. And once the hour changed it would be dark early and there is a certain peacefulness that the dark brings.
And while the kids were at school it was useful to have a set routine for the year but as their lives began to take off in other directions I found that I didn’t have the same drive to undertake the same exhibitions and shows. Our daughter, Nettie left for uni and then our son Dougal, and I think this second departure
coincided with us paying off our mortgage and, finally, a time when we weren’t scratting about for every last penny in order to eat well and live the life we wanted. (Not that we have ever been all about money but lack of it certainly leads to stress and anxiety.)
I don’t often have that level of focus now and certainly don’t have the stamina and energy required to sustain that level of work. I miss the Hereford Contemporary Craft Fair but it’s important as a self-employed creative person to do what you can to keep things fresh and ring the changes. This year has been very different for me. Because of other non-work commitments that suddenly reared up and took precedence, I have spent very little time in my workshop this November. My two remaining galleries, Old Chapel, Pembridge and Seven Fables, Dulverton, have been very understanding. We are friends of old now and have wonderful relationships. Never stay with a gallery that you can’t get on with however prestigious it might be. Personal relationships are so important.
So, for the first time in about twenty years, I have discovered that the month of November is not just a few weeks wedged between Halloween and the deepest depths of winter.
In between my duties and work I have been out and about absorbing the full effect of this berated and under rated month. This year it has been a month bursting with childish moods; one moment all glowering dark clouds, the next we are bathed in the full, golden glory of the sun’s rays, and of course, rainbows aplenty. Sometimes it feels as if days on end are nothing but repetitive grey skies, dullness, flattened horizons, and then for a couple of hours the sun breaks through the clouds and suddenly the gentle subtle landscape of duns and browns is lit up with the scarlet and crimson gleam of berries, the flaming copper of oak leaves, the pale glow of seed heads. The whole landscape is like a beautiful cloth to be worn, to be wrapped around oneself on a frosty morning.
And if colour weren’t enough to inspire a person, everywhere are the forms of things; the striking structures of trees, each now exposing its character, its lineage. On the hills the woods and coppice look like soft upturned brushes against the wintry skies, and the paintings of Ravilious and John Nash are brought to mind. My eyes devour it with my own awe but also the love of these artists who captured so perfectly the sense of the British landscape. Through them I feel a past and connection that I wasn’t here to witness but which anchors me further in to this landscape.
I walk very locally, straight from the door. I welcome the fieldfares back. I watch for the hare, the fox, the roe deer, the piggy-like muntjac, the jays and the ravens. We sometimes host red kites but mostly the buzzards still rule the hill and the tawny owls call at night outside our window.
The beauty and the beast of winter is the dark. It is so special to watch the sunset and feel the light gain power in the mornings. And winter is so good for the moon and stars. They are there up and at us before teatime. No wonder it is a time of wonder and magic.
Our ancestors would have been absorbed in these rhythms. They wouldn’t have been aware of larger events outside of the local area but today we are submerged in world events, horrors and tragedies. We count our blessings for the moody greyness of our surroundings, the lack of drama, the dullness of the quietude. But we cannot turn away. We feel guilt in our inaction but helpless at the same time. There are petitions to sign and charities to send money to but still it does not seem enough.
I was therefore grateful when my great friend, inspiration and colleague Jackie Morris asked me if I could contribute something to her fundraiser for MSF-Medecine Sans Frontieres or Doctors Without Borders. I leapt at the idea. Both to help an incredibly important cause but also to get back into my somewhat neglected workshop. I managed to make three pieces. Two small ones were sold, along with a print, through Jackie’s website and raised £550. Then, with the help of my son Dougal, I ran a raffle for the remaining piece of stained glass and we raised over a £1000 in donations to MSF for that. So a good week’s work!
I also managed to finish off several pieces of work for Old Chapel Gallery who have been waiting since the beginning of November, so if you can make it over to Herefordshire the gallery won’t disappoint you. It is a treasure trove of beautiful things made by British artists and craftspeople.
And of course, now as we move into December some of us will be filled with that childlike wonder that heralds the Winter Solstice, Christmas or Yule. It is that moment when the earth draws breath, the hiatus at the turning of the year and the return of the light.
For me (like many) I shall also be rereading Susan Cooper’s book, ‘The Dark is Rising’ and perhaps listening to the Radio 4 adaptation (available on BBC Sounds). This year we will be releasing my print ‘When the Dark is Rising’ for a limited time – just during the month of December. I made the main part of the panel this time last year but this autumn Robert Macfarlane inspired me to finish the panel and give it as a gift to the author herself, Susan Cooper. Robert was kind enough to oversee the handover and take some photos, and Susan was delighted. I wanted to thank her for creating her stories, which have been such a powerful influence in my life, and it was a rare opportunity to do this.
I hope you all have a cosy and enchanting month ahead and embrace the weather in all its guises. It is true, there is no light without the dark and we only appreciate the warmth when we have been out in the cold.
Well, it’s ever so slightly over twenty years on from the launch of my career as a stained glass illustrator, and from the moment our second child, Dougal started school! So it seems an appropriate time to take stock and begin writing a monthly blog for all you lovely subscribers and followers old and new. If only I’d done it years ago!!
The plan is to send out a monthly newsletter with updates on what has been going on in my life with special emphasis on what’s on my lightbox, any upcoming events, and updates on the Wild Folk book collaboration I am currently doing with Jackie Morris. However, I thought I’d start with some very rough background information about myself and my work.
Subscribers will also have exclusive access to print offers, competitions, early access to new prints, and any other interesting news. Welcome aboard!
Dougal ready for his first day at school, September 2003
I began selling my work at Herefordshire open studios (known as hArt) in September 2003. It was the first time I used my new (and slightly incomplete) workshop but at least the walls were completed and the roof was on!
Husband Mike, and Phil White mixing up the ‘daub’ for the wattle and daub on my workshop, summer 2003.
In those days I hadn’t even considered using the Internet to sell my work and I’m pretty sure that Facebook, Twitter and Instagram were not yet in existence. I was therefore delighted when I not only sold my work but a couple of gallery owners visited my exhibition and asked me if I would sell my work with them! It was a great start.
Early works, 2003
I thought you might be interested to see some of my very early pieces so here are a few which I made and sold in autumn 2003! I was trying to make something that was original in the stained glass world and move away from regular-shaped pieces with coloured borders, which seemed to be what other people were making. At the time I didn’t know of anyone else making free hanging work like this. I was particularly excited to develop what I call my arch or half roundel shape which was completely inspired by a hill just off junction 7 of the M5 motorway at Worcester! as well as another nearby hill called May Hill in Gloucestershire which can be seen from miles around and from our neighbouring county of Herefordshire.
I am sure these photos will be encouraging to anyone starting out. I have come a long way since then but there is still something I love about these simpler pieces and step by step they guided me to where I am now….
The Golden Grove, September 2023
When I began making and selling my work I also made a conscious decision to use the glass as a jewelled surface for black wood engraving-like images, cutting the coloured glass to create areas of landscape or underground, underwater layers, rather than trying to use the glass to echo the shapes of real things. It was another active decision to try and create a style of my own and at that time I was more influenced by wood engravers than by stained glass. (Shocking though it may seem.)
In fact, to begin with, I knew very little about other stained glass artists but nowadays I am constantly bowled over by the skill and abilities of so many artists working in this medium. It has always been a glorious material with amazing practitioners but now it really has become a truly inspirational and incredible field.
Playing in the woods, 2003
However, twenty years ago my primary role was still as mother and homemaker. It was hard work but both Mike, my husband, and I loved being outdoors and spending time outside with the kids and friends. And needless to say these times fuelled my creative work when I had the time to make. It has always been the countryside that has inspired me and filled my heart. I don’t mean to sound trite but I always felt as if I’d been born, not in the wrong body but in the wrong place!
From my own early childhood growing up in Liverpool and then Derby I was fortunate in that our parents took us on many wonderful camping holidays in different parts of the United Kingdom and I was able to imbibe a sense of different landscapes, their sights and scents. But every time we returned home to the city I grieved for the countryside. I had a desperate desire to live a rural life, and the ambition to make this a reality was what fuelled nearly all my decision making over the age of 18.
On top of Goat Fell, Isle of Arran, Scotland, with our cousins. (I’m in the middle in blue!), circa 1976
As a result I have lived in some beautiful parts of the United Kingdom- Stirlingshire, Cumbria, Powys, and now, for almost 3 decades, Herefordshire. I am sure that all of these places and lives will appear in future newsletters but here is a panel I made about ten years ago infused with the atmosphere, shapes and colours of our local landscape of Herefordshire and in the background an example of life imitating art.
Autumn Quaker and Mike, Greenwood Cottage, September 2023
And here is the team that brings all of this to you; myself and Dougal, on my workshop veranda, September 2023
See you all next month!
From 25th April – 19th June 2022 I shall once again be exhibiting my work at the very lovely Haymakers Gallery in Hay on Wye.
On April 17th, Easter Sunday I will, once again, be appearing on BBC’s ‘Countryfile’ programme. I won’t be meeting any presenters this time but instead am the subject of a mini film or ‘postcard’ within the programme which is a Herefordshire Easter special.
On Saturday 20th August I will be giving a short talk about my stained glass work alongside my husband, Mike who will be talking about his chairmaking. This will take place at Twenty Twenty Gallery in Much Wenlock, Shropshire. It will coincide with the opening of a wonderful landscape exhibition which we are both taking part in.
In the talk I will particularly be paying attention to themes and inspirations but I will also talk about my painting technique and how that has developed for this particular exhibition.
Well, it’s been an extremely busy year so far and I’ve been struggling to keep up with orders, so much so that I haven’t had much time to make any new work. However, I’ve finally managed to get a few pieces out and about and have several panels on display at the Hay makers’ Gallery in the beautiful town of Hay on Wye on the Welsh borders. If you are in the area do go and have a look, it is such a delightful gallery packed full of beautiful things.
Yesterday morning I was a bag of nerves in anticipation of a visit from the TV show, Country File who were coming to film and interview me about my work. The weather was unbelievably kind with warm spring sunshine to help with creating a sense of beauty at a time when our garden is at its lowest ebb.
I was very much put at ease by the crew and the presenter, Matt Baker, who seemed genuinely impressed and delighted in our workshops and my work. However, I was still somewhat nervous when filming started and am sure I spouted forth a lot of nonsense and certainly didn’t say anything erudite or poetic. Still, there’s no point worrying about that now- it is in the hands of the editor/director!! I am sure when it is aired on Sunday 27th March (BBC1) I shall be squirming behind a cushion horrified at what I am saying, doing, and how I look!! For everyone else it will probably be fine!
So the flush of excitement brought on by the Country Living article has peaked and I am now having to concentrate all my efforts and energy into preparing for my next exhibition. Things are getting busy in the workshop at home as I am really looking forward to this event which will take place at Blue Ginger Gallery which opens on the 19th March. The exhibition The Peace of Wild Things is inspired by the beautiful poem by Wendell Berry which seems so appropriate for us in these times and it will be full of beauty and objects of desire all made by British artists.