Art for art’s sake


We interrupt our regular schedule of “fluff which I have turned into yarn whilst completely failing to actually watch any of the Tour de France except for half an hour the other weekend”, because this weekend, the boy and I went on an expedition (or two) that we’d been looking forward to for a while.

Our destination? The Art In Action festival at Waterperry House near Oxford that ran from Thursday through until yesterday.  I’m not really too sure what the house looks like when the festival isn’t there because every spare inch of grass appeared to be taken up with tents; tents for displays, tents filled with demonstrating artists, a massive craft marketplace and smaller materials tent, and best of all, a huge range of taster sample classes.
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Given that my metier is fabric and yarn and a bit of jewellery making, and H paints and draws we decided from the get-go that we had only two rules:
(a) the class had to have two spaces left; and
(b) neither of us could have tried it before.
And this is how, on a sunny Saturday afternoon I found myself sat at a table in the corner of a marquee facing a glass tumbler, and what looked (and sounded) very like one of my dentist’s drills.
We had two tumblers to work on in our glass engraving class, one to practice and one for the real thing.  The practice was all about making neat lines and shapes, although it is true that my practice veered away from the strictly geometric:
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And my practice shaded circle started to look so like something rather familiar, that it acquired a set of needles to go with it:
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For the ‘real’ glass I’d love to claim I just pulled a butterfly out of thin air, but my drawing just isn’t on that level, so I copied a pattern with glass carbon and traced carefully round it, tip of my tongue in my teeth.
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H’s glass has an owl (with wonderful eyes) and two storks, just the thing to have staring back at you from your breakfast orange juice!
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Sunday was another day and another tent.
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And probably as close as we ever got to an existing hobby – a class with the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts on Traditional Painting Techniques.  We learnt all about pigments and alchemical history and which rocks to grind up to make which colours, how to make an egg tempura paint, and how to make pigments into oils or watercolours.

To put it all into practice we painted a Tudor rose with egg tempura onto gesso board, carefully layering up the different paints to give the richness and depth that you see in old paintings.

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Considering it was essentially a ‘trace and paint by numbers’ exercise it was amazing how different every rose turned out.  My rose became a little more floral, copying the style from an unfinished manuscript found at Hampton Court, and H (overcoming resistance at the idea of painting what to him seems a purely lancastrian rose) went all out on the red and filled in his white lines over and over again until they almost seem silver.

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From something that tilted very much to H’s side of the craft spectrum, we counterbalanced the other way, with what was probably our joint favourite class of both days, and something that if I had the space I’d take up in an instant – glass enamelling.
This was my inner colour magpie’s idea of heaven; take a copper disk, choose your base colour and fire it and then play with all the colours of the rainbow to make either a pendant or a key ring:
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(H’s efforts are on the left, mine on the right).
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This was my ‘proper’ piece, a lime green base that perfectly matches my sandals and the leaf pattern was rubber stamped on and then the powdered terracotta glass added  to stick to the wet ink (a bit like embossing in card making but with a kiln).  I thought about building it up with different colours but in the end decided that I liked it just the way it was so I moved on to another two colour design:

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Autumn leaves onto copper.
As I said, seriously addictive – imagine making your own enamelled buttons to match your latest knitting …. OK must be sensible: “We do not have room for a kiln, We do not have room for a kiln, We do not have room for a kiln …”
And speaking of kilns ….
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There was pottery.  I’m afraid to admit we nearly skipped out on this class – the tents were getting muggy and unpleasant and the entrance to the pottery workshop was filled with barging children and parents who seem to have forgotten that pregnant girls can’t ‘just squeeze in a bit’.  I wouldn’t want the job of the guy trying to regulate the traffic!  Our pottery teacher was wonderful and if I detected a bit of a sigh of relief that she finally had two adults to talk to, who can blame her – we all exchanged a silent glance of camaraderie when Telephoto-lens Dad all but fell into our wheel leaning over to take a picture of his super special snowflake on our other side.
For a first bash we’re surprisingly pleased with our results – my bowl is the one with the dots, H’s is the ‘man bowl’ at the back and the ‘useful pot to put things in’ (also an H creation) suffers from inner wobbliness only because my beloved accidentally put his finger through it.  Pottery is wonderfully messy and splatty and really it’s the grown up version of making mud pies or sandcastles and I could see myself trying a full on evening course – I’ve just got to wait until I can bend enough to get nearer the wheel!
In one of those wonderful moments of serendipity, a friend of my parents is a very talented potter and has his own kiln, and he has very kindly agreed to fire the pots for us – H is going to keep his paintbrushes in the useful pot if it survives a journey to the westcountry and a trip through the kiln!
And last but not least – I know I said that enamelling was my favourite class, but it may not have been my absolute favourite part of the weekend.  There is just a tiny possibility that my heart was stolen (via my stomach) by this:
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There was a Belgian waffle stand. And they were perfect.  We shared a strawberry waffle each day for the perfect touch of summer – dee-lish

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  • Caroline M 20/07/2010 at 5:20 pm

    What a lovely weekend full of memories (and stuff).at I always liked raku buttons, maybe there’s someone near you with kiln space for hire.

    Silver clay – that’s what you want next time, plenty of button potential there.

  • mandycharlie 21/07/2010 at 1:02 am

    It looks like you both had a wonderful time. I loved your enameling, the choice you made with the acid green and the brown decoration were perfection.

    And thank you for sharing such a lovely event, I had no idea this was going on.

  • Rachel 22/07/2010 at 7:30 pm

    This to me sounds like the perfect experience and I’m sitting here so very jealous that you got to take such amazing classes!! I’ve wanted to learn glass etching for quite awhile now and in particular have an idea for tumblers for my dad. I remembered this desire just last week so I was glued to screen as you described your adventures! Thanks for sharing…such cool pieces of art you and H made!