This year I have been drawn into a project concerning some historic allotments at the edge of Chipping Norton, off Glyme Lane. They are currently threatened by large-scale housing development and by a planned relief road cutting through this area of farmland and ancient tracks. Last year artists Judith Yarrow and Crabby Taylor began meeting there to record and find inspiration by drawing and painting directly from what they found. An exhibition is planned to raise awareness of the value of the allotments and the adjoining Millennium Wood. The group has now been expanded, so that the show will include a poem, drawings, paintings, mixed media, ceramics, artists books, my glass and sound recordings of interviews with allotment holders.
Personally, I am finding it stimulating to work within such a varied group and to be involved in a project with local and wider significance.
Getting to know the allotments in winter, and drawing with freezing fingers, I found the allotments have a great sense of productive purpose and a great many rickety sheds and salvaged materials being put to inventive use. Plenty to draw and enjoy. In the Millennium Wood there are beautiful little stands of hazel, with newly-opened catkins catching the sun. The wood was only planted in 2001. Wouldn't it be a shame to lose it as an amenity for walkers and runners and all the wild things which live and shelter there?
I began working on my design.
Over the last couple of weeks I have been selecting the glass (which involved an enjoyable but expensive trip to Reading Stained Glass), gradually building up the layers of drawing and painting, and firing individual pieces in the kiln. I hope it will add to up the whole I have in my imagination.
The exhibition will be in the gallery upstairs at Chipping Norton Theatre from 4 April to 4 May. We hope it will highlight the value of these communal green spaces and give the visitor cause to wonder what kind of world we want to live in and pass on to our children.
The project touches on several burning issues for us all: how do we use our land and balance the needs of national policy and local need, housing, food production, open space for walking? Where can people grow plastic-free vegetables and enjoy pottering in their sheds? Where will the birds and insects go when such areas disappear under tarmac and double garages?
Early last year I made a panel featuring medieval style birds to go over an internal door. The house was built in the 1970's, but it belongs to someone with a love of the ancient. Last summer she asked me to make a companion panel for the neighbouring doorway, this time incorporating animals.
The suggestion was inspired by the glass in North Leigh Church, particularly the stag, and by a very characterful squirrel in the stained glass collection of Ely Cathedral.
We discussed also including a hare, and a hedgehog. I had fun looking at source material and found that in medieval imagery, a hare is often more like a naughty person than an animal. I found a beautiful little hedgehog in the 'Historia Plantarum', painted in about 1400.
In the end though, a more naturalistic hare was favoured, one of the possibilities seen above as I worked out the design.
While it is great to be asked to make a companion piece, it does bring challenges. My instinct was to use tone as well as line to build up the animal images, and to include some of the interesting decorative elements seen in North Leigh, but in order to be consistent with the first panel, I was confined to using just outline and yellow stain. However, the advantage of the simpler approach, given the low light levels on the landing, is that more light is let through. I cut all the pieces before Christmas and let the project rest.
As I started painting I was conscious of trying to make the lines as springy and lively as possible. I find I need to focus, but in a very relaxed way, and resign myself to washing some attempts down the sink and starting again in order to achieve that.
Once the outlines have been fired overnight in the kiln, I apply stain to the reverse and then fire the pieces again, to give them a golden glow.
Then follows leading, soldering, cementing and finally, blacking the leads. Now it is complete I look forward to taking it to join its companion.
The slideshow below shows a sequence of work beginning with a tiny sycamore seed found while we were staying in the Scilly Isles.
Although I am pleased with the panel, and the looser marks and splodges of stain, I feel I am still not done with the sycamore seed, not the row of sycamore trees in Scilly. I shall return to them one day.
We have recently returned from a week in the beautiful and wild Scilly Isles, 28 miles off the Cornish coast, and well-loved for their lush flowering plants, sandy coves, turquoise seas and brilliant light. There are very few cars, and exploration happens on foot, or on bicycles, by boat, or if necessary, golf caddies!
During our exploration of the archipelago, we found two churches furnished recently with stained glass by local glass artist Oriel Hicks, who runs the Phoenix Studio on St Mary's. The windows in the church on Bryher are a setting of Biblical texts, and I noted that the design elements are set within a framework of transparent glass, which allows in a lot of light. On the tiny wild island of St Agnes, her windows are a tribute to those who risk their lives at sea.
I found these designs more satisfying, and I enjoyed spotting a lovely detail: a tiny ship on the horizon, foundering on some treacherous rocks.
I drew every day, out on the coast paths and back in the north of St Mary's where we were staying. I enjoyed drawing the swaying rows of elms (yes, elms) and sycamores. Elms and thrushes have survived on the islands, while they have been wiped out or gone into decline on the mainland.
I loved the upright curves of the tree trunks, and what could be see in between, which of course makes me think of lead and glass. I focused down on one tiny sycamore seed, and it was this drawing which took me forward on my return to the studio.
For several months now, I have had ideas and images in my head, which relate to Creation, as in Genesis: In the beginning....' I am of course not the first glass artist to be drawn irresistibly to imagining the separation of the light from the darkness, and the time when darkness was upon the face of the deep. I also love the idea of dividing the waters from the waters, and gathering the waters under the heaven into seas.
The issue for me is, how to capture those ideas and internal imaginings on paper, in such a way that they can be developed and shared with others. I am happy with a pencil in my hand, and up until now I have used coloured pencils to suggest the colour of the glass I imagine, but pencils don't give me the intensity of colour or much suggestion of texture, as the light comes through the glass. I have become confident about line, but I need to be able to experiment with the balance of colour and tone across the composition. I also need a more effective way of showing commissioning clients what a finished design is intended to look like.
So with all this in mind, this summer I refreshed my experience of using 'mixed media' with a workshop by the painter Ella Clocksin at Waterperry Gardens. We had the opportunity to draw in the garden and then try using wax resists and washes of professional quality watercolour paint, along with marks made with oil pastels and chalk pastels, on good quality, textured paper. One of my experiments from the day is below.
I have since started to build on my initial pencil sketches for 'creation' ideas. I want to suggest the birth of our galaxy, with sea creatures under the surface of the water, ready to be born. Having a much wider range of colour and textures is helping my imaginative and design process, and I think it is going to be useful to make finished designs, which will convey my intentions for the final piece better to other people.
I have a long way to go on this project, and I'd like to move away from an illustrative approach. I am looking forward to continued experimentation, and to going larger.
With a little help from my friendly carpenter, Andy, my 'Lilies' panel is now installed in Ann and Phil's sitting room in Charlbury. Placing it in the window space was a very satisfying moment. If anything, the effect is better than I had anticipated. It looks very fitting and 'meant' at the back of the window space, which seems deep, as it such a narrow 'arrow slit' window. It immediately had an effect on the whole room: for instance, the black of the lead picks up the black of the stove, and even the TV.
Best of all, the clients are very pleased, and look set to enjoy living with it.
"We are so enjoying the 'Lilies' window Anna has made for us - it has enhanced our sitting room with its beautiful design and glowing colours, and it was fun planning it with her."
I am really pleased to have added colour, richness and life to what was an impersonal, narrow window.
A trip to North Wales last week offered the opportunity to take the scenic route and drive up via Chester to see a window I had heard about. Ros Grimshaw won a fabulous commission to design and make a Millennium Window for Chester cathedral. Installed in 2001, it is large, very striking window in the west wall of the refectory. It depicts the hand of god moving through the six days of his creation of the world, from the stars and planets, to the plants and creatures, such as ourselves.
What has touched people particularly is the personal imagery she has included. She has Parkinson's disease, and the imagery includes the scan of her Parkinsonian brain (above, centre), and a foetus in the womb (above, right).
She has overcome her considerable, and increasing, difficulties to celebrate creation, and she has written a book about the journey, called 'Six Days'. I hope, like God, she rested on the seventh day, to look upon her work and see that it was good.
For several months I have been mulling a personal project about creation, in particular, about separating the light from the dark. Seeing the Chester Creation Window inspires me to set aside some time this summer to develop my ideas and experiment with ways of expressing them.
I was asked to design and make stained glass to fill a very narrow 'arrowslit' window in the sitting room of a house in Charlbury. The house is modern, but built in traditional Cotswold materials. Most of the light in the room floods in from large full height windows to the garden. This little window is to the side, facing West, where it catches the sinking sun.
The clients were open to the idea of an abstract or semi-abstract design, and initially only imagined having a panel within the top of the window space, being concerned not to lose too much light. I thought a whole window would work better, with more happening, in richer darker colours, at the top, fading to clearer glasses at the bottom. The tall narrow shape was a design challenge in itself.
Happily, while I was musing, my husband bought home some lilies, which I always enjoy drawing. It struck me that I could take a visual slice of the lilies in the vase, with intricate parts of the lily flowers above, and the simpler lines of the stems below. I could even use the water line. I took initial colour ideas from some Japanese prints in the room: rich amber and blue, and I planned to use pale, reamy, bubbly glasses for the underwater area.
Gradually naturalistic drawings were simplified into a set of designs to show the clients: essence of lilies and water, not all the detail.
Happily, we agreed on the best design. My next step was to source all the materials, make the full size cutline drawing and get making. It is quite a process, and took me four weeks. Here is the slideshow:
Even though the panel is now complete, and the frame is strengthened with reinforced lead, plus the soldering and cementing, I will be cautious in handling it, even when it is fully dry. I am dying to see it upright against the light, but I must wait until I can take it to the client's house and get it set into the window cavity with a wooden frame. I do hope they like it.
I returned from a week walking the levadas in Madeira with some strong impressions I wanted to capture: towering sea cliffs, lush tropical plants and flowers: palms of every kind, bananas, banks of agapanthus lilies, datura, lilies growing in the crooks of tree branches, and above all, the extraordinary Bird of Paradise flower. I returned with photos and sketches and started making thumbnail designs.
With Artweeks coming up, I thought I'd make some work for the garden - how about tropical flowers to hang in English trees? I set about cutting pieces of Spectrum glass to fuse together in the kiln, always creating a space for attaching a hanging loop.
Once they were safely in the kiln, I had a lovely time playing with the waste pieces. Before I knew it, a Bird of Paradise was being formed, which I could sandwich in-between two layers of transparent fusing glass to create a circular panel.
With Birds of Paradise on my mind, and circles, I turned to the circular cast iron frame I bought in Bristol, with the intention of making a large panel for a garden. There were times when I thought only a fool makes a circular panel - it is much, much harder to cut and in particular to lead, as the normal method of bracing it against the corner made by two straight battens doesn't apply. After some head-scratching, my lovely husband made me a semi-circular jig. Mark 2 worked well.
It was very satisfying when I had finally wiggled the last piece into place and could close the circle. I can't wait to see it in the cast iron frame ready for the garden. I will be showing it in Artweeks, alongside other possible designs, to be made to order.
I decided to set aside a week for some linocut printing, which I still enjoy, even though I only got involved with it while my studio was being built and I couldn't work in glass. I began by trying to make a design based on the fantastic vertiginous view from the rocky sea cliffs of Cabo Girao, looking down past the aloe vera and the prickly pears, right down to the terraced fields and the Atlantic below.
I then returned to the Bird of Paradise flowers for a two colour print. I discovered a wonderful orangy yellow called Indian yellow, which I realise is what Indians call saffron yellow. There is a slide show of my printing below. The two colour print is a 'reduction' print, which means you gradually destroy your block as you go - hence they are limited editions!
Now, all I need to do is some mounting and framing and I'll have some new prints to show for Artweeks.
It's a lovely thing to deliver a piece of work you have designed and made over a period of weeks - to see it in situ - especially when it fits! (Not that I ever had any doubts about my measuring, of course). Also great to see the look on the client's face.
Those of you who look at my Facebook page (facebook.com/annagillespieprintsandglass) will know that this internal window panel features little birds, painted and stained in the medieval style - and with medieval technology!
I have used the making of it to create a 'Process' page for my teaching section. You can see it here.
Some of the birds have already flown the nest and are currently on display in the GLASS exhibition at West Ox Arts in Bampton until 30 March.
I will be in the gallery from 10.30-12.30 tomorrow, doing some demonstrations, if you would like to join me.
Meanwhile, back in Charlbury, another project beckons: a long thin 'arrow slit' window, in a modern house, built in traditional Cotswold materials. Some ideas are already bubbling away...I see deep oranges and amber, rich blue...
I am a glass artist based in Charlbury, Oxfordshire. I work in stained and fused glass. I work to commission and teach stained glass in my studio. I open my studio to visitors during Oxfordshire Artweeks.
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