A walk on the first evening of our holiday near Boscastle in North Cornwall brought an unexpected bitter sweet waft of Thomas Hardy, who is of course normally associated with Dorset. As we ascended a steep valley, there were the four pinnacles of the square tower of St Juliot Church peeping above the windswept hedges.
On entering it struck me as a (disappointingly) Victorian interior, but clearly there among the plain windows was something special: a memorial window for Thomas Hardy, full of delicate engraving by Simon Whistler.
The window celebrates Hardy's association with the area of Cornwall he came to in 1870 as a young architect sent to oversee the restoration of the ruined church of St Juliots. Architecturally, it is a ‘heavy’ resporation as so little of the ancient building could be reused that only birds and bats were enjoying it.
For Hardy it was a deeply significant period of his life as the Rector’s daughter in law (and keen champion of the project) was Emma Gifford. Emma was to become his wife, and it was she who encouraged him to turn away from his architectural career and devote himself to his true vocation as a writer.
Whistler's sensitive imagery is full of the local landscape and references to the story of their courtship, including Emma on horseback on Beeny Cliff, with her hair flying in the wind.
Hardy drew on his experiences of the restoration of the church and meeting Emma in his novel, ‘A Pair of Blue Eyes’, and after her death, he published his poems of 1912-13, looking back at that time with love and regret.
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Walking from Cornbury towards Finstock, past the bull field, one fine day in May, I was faced with a sea of yellow oil seed rape. I love the little bowl-shape valley there and that day there was fast moving shower cloud, casting shadows moving across the field.
Thinking about it over the next few days, and looking at my photographs, I wanted to recreate not only the intensity of the colour, but the sense of space both across the land and across the sky, with clouds blowing towards and above me.
I haven't used pastels in a long time, but knowing I wanted real intensity of colour, I got out some oil pastels and made a quick sketch, seeing what marks I could make, and whether I could work in layers, colour above colour.
Encouraged, I went on to make a small, more finished drawing on pastel paper. As I worked I realised the yellow sits in a sea of green. I wanted to use a variety textures - blending in areas more blurred in the distance and using lively curly marks in the foreground.
Having recently had some rather frustrating struggles with acrylic paint, I found I was really enjoying using pastels, which I see as working with colour in stick form - in effect, drawing with colour. As a drawer, I am happy with some kind of mark-maker in my hand! When it comes to paint, I enjoy using watercolour and inks, but watercolour is not what you need for building up a picture in layers - it seems to me watercolour is all about capturing translucency and fleetingness, not solidity.
I decided to be bold and go big, this time working in chalk pastels, which are crumbly and can be used broadly in big sweeps, or finely. I have a good collection - one box of Sakura pastels goes right back to my childhood. I found a large sheet of Canson pastel paper in a greenish grey, and set to work, remembering to stop work and step back from the work to see what is really going on!
I enjoyed my few days immersed in that field (I even dreamt about it) and I feel I have captured something of the glow of that morning. I might even mount the final piece. But now I shall turn back to making stained glass refreshed, and ready for the next design.
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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