We were joined at Ardington School of Crafts in September by the delightful Richard Box for another exposé of his artistic talents. He is so popular with our students, whether for his Drawing for the Terrified, Painting for the Petrified or Machine Embroidery (also known as free-stitching) courses, and it’s easy to see why. Richard has a very easy going and fun style of teaching that it is difficult not to love!
Here’s how he describes today’s Daisies workshop:
“I show the students how to start by whizzing about on my sewing machine. Go slowly I say, breathe and smile radiantly while you are at it! The smiling means they don't jerk – you need a nice, smooth action for this work”. Richard is hardly going slowly at this point as he demonstrates, but then he has been practicing for a few years now, and he makes it look so simple. With the correct foot for your sewing machine (a darning or free-motion foot), you really can whizz up an exciting piece of stitchery.
Jonathan Hopson, formerly of everyone's favourite Camp Hopson Department Store in Newbury, had never ‘sat’ before so had no idea what to expect. We had never run a two-day portrait painting course before, so we had no idea what to expect either…
Simon Sonsino, Director of Ardington School, met Jonathan through the local table tennis league. Both now play for the Woolton Hill Wolverines, and it was during one of these sessions that Simon popped the question, "Jonathan - how do you feel about a room full of people painting your portrait?" A few more questions later, and you can see the results. Here's how it went.
What do I wear?
Having put Jonathan and George Popesco, the tutor for this two day course, in touch prior to the event, they had decided on a clothing plan of action. On the morning of day one, Jonathan dutifully turned up with an armful of clothes and after a brief chat with George, it was decided that a suit was the order of the day.
Where do you start?
After being introduced to the students over freshly brewed coffee and homemade cookies, Jonathan was seated and then the day could begin. The sessions for both days were five hours long, but Jonathan took a short break every 25 minutes or so. George explained the starting techniques to the class and so it began, brushes on canvases started to sketch in Jonathan's Mona Lisa type smile.
Janina Maher is one of our new tutors at Ardington. An international water skiing champion in her other life, Janina has achieved instant popularity with our students who rave over her patience, detailed knowledge and their ability to create some really beautiful work in her workshops.
Janina’s most recent workshop saw students making up two large pieces of ‘vegetarian leather’ to use to cover their hand-made books. This is actually made from curing strong brown paper, building-in texture through crumpling and soaking, colouring it with special inks and then finishing the whole ‘skin’ with an acrylic wax. The effect was a luscious mock leather which was really strong; students made enough to cover several books. To see all the different coloured results hanging up to dry in the Back Workshop was a feast for the eyes. Muted reds, browns, greens, greys, blues – gorgeous! And no animals were harmed in the making process.
Christine Green, a tutor at Ardington School of Crafts, began her recent papercutting workshop by introducing her students to some wonderful descriptions of the multiple worldly influences in the art of paper cutting. From Polish paper cutters who use sheep shears, to laser cutting in schools and then to Haitian steel drum designs – we saw them all. Christine just happens to be super interested in the different vernacular that people use to make designs. ‘Cut-out things’ really appeal to her graphic designer mindset. They are clean, the lines are strong, and the design has to work. She also likes the hand-made artisan quality you get with paper cuts. The O’s aren’t always perfect – and that's just fine!
Simple and Accessible
The low cost and accessibility of papercutting as a hobby are also a bonus – anyone can do this at home with minimal equipment and mess. And while sophisticated laser cutters are now freely available in schools, kids won’t necessarily be cutting but they are moving straight into designing. They will have an understanding of the design process from an early age, but it won’t be as authentic as hands on papercutting. Christine argued that papercutting is akin to the William Morris reaction to the Industrial Revolution. People began to realise that there is no authenticity in miles of printed wallpaper and clamoured for the artisan style of production. Papercutting is very William Morris - creative, simple, beautiful.
What are the basic tools?
A surgical Swann Morton blade, exactly the same as used in surgery is a must. You may use three or four blades in a day, using the very tip of the blade to make neat, precise cuts which is what will wear them out. Craft knives are just too chunky to get the finesse of the line on the paper. Invest in blade type 10a with a number 3 handle. And that’s it for tools – unless you fancy the sheep shears option that is.
In case you are wondering where quaquaversal comes from, it's a Latin word that describes moving in multiple directions and getting pretty excited about it. It fits so perfectly with our visiting international tutor this Summer, who happens to be a calligrapher. For the calligraphers amongst you, it's also a gorgeous play on words, as Versals are a particular type of lettering.
Our intrepid traveller in this case is Gemma Black who has travelled over 17,000km from Tasmania to the UK for the start of her current European tour. And would you believe it – the first thing she found when she arrived at Ardington was the Ordnance Survey Benchmark carved on the outside of our building. Travelling and exploring are in her genes. It’s no accident that twice as many Australians as US citizens hold passports. Travel goes with the territory so to speak. And we are going to take a whistle-stop tour of Gemma’s latest six week trip to Europe, which begins at our very own Ardington School of Crafts.
Here Gemma concentrates on a three day workshop entitled ‘Retro Deco’. Using drawn letters and inspiration from the Art Deco period, students created a number of pieces which involved making single large letter designs, or stacking words from appropriate period quotes, into a column and then giving them the Deco design treatment. Mackintosh roses were blooming in abundance, painted in monochrome, multi-colour, ink, watercolour and even pearlescent Finetech paints. As the days flew by, the techniques and design ideas flourished. I was lucky enough to get a place on this workshop and I now have enough inspiration to last me a lifetime.
Do you know your warp from your weft?
There’s an easy way to remember which is which. Weft goes Left to Right, so that means the Warp is the one that runs vertically through the fabric, and generally needs to be stronger because it gets stretched onto the loom. Our expert weaver, Angela Pawlyn, talks through how she got started in weaving and what influences her work.
Angela got started when she and her mum went to the lake district after her father died. Her mum started to study weaving, spinning and natural dyeing, and Angela has since taken on all of her mum’s equipment and is now a prolific weaver. She has done some work with Martin Weatherhead, a full-time designer craftsman in Pembrokeshire who teaches weaving. His methods of threading up the loom are the ways which Angela has adopted.
Sharmina’s work is exciting and different. She sells her work as paintings, often inspired from tile-work or Koranic manuscripts and undertakes commissions for people who want to have something specific represented. Using gouache or watercolour (which Sharmina prefers because of the movement and depth) in the final design, Sharmina aims to ‘decode’ original geometric patterns and art. She recreates them with extreme precision, using compasses and mechanical pencils to achieve the first draft.
Watching how Sharmina works you can begin to understand the enormity of the task of decoding an original ancient design. Sharmina likes to analyse historic traditional patterns and build up a design based on them. Once the design is developed it can then be painted on wood or tiles, paper, glass or on plates and pottery. Sharmina has a maths background and is naturally interested in how patterns are formed. Decoding a pattern, like the doorway of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, was around one day’s work to prepare the original geometry. Her favourite design however, is from a manuscript which she first saw in an auction at Christies and then was fascinated into how to replicate the design. See below a series of photos which show how this particular design was built up.
Laura was in residence at Ardington School last weekend teaching Japanese Woodblock printing to a group of very enthusiastic students. Laura’s courses are almost always booked up months in advance, and this pays testament to her reputation as a teacher. One student said to me ‘what a privilege it is to be here – Laura is so professional and talented’.
What is Japanese Woodblock printing?
Japanese Woodblock is a water based printing technique that takes practise and a real feel for the materials. It uses watercolour paint with all the demands that particular medium brings; most prints are a build-up of many layers, all of which have to work. That said, the results are enchanting and it is a true table-top method: no press and no nasty chemicals. You get to use some exquisite hand-made Japanese papers too. You can read more about the entire process on Laura’s website.
When we took over at Ardington we decided we’d like to support a couple of charities. We wanted them to be involved with art therapy in some form and the two we chose were The Art Room (Oxford) who, using art as a therapeutic vehicle, help children and young people re-engage with learning and thrive in life. Our other chosen charity is Combat Stress, which helps veterans get their lives back.
We’re not a massive company with a huge budget so large cash donations are not really viable for us so we decided to offer some places on workshops via the Combat Stress Facebook and Twitter pages.
And that’s how we came across Mick. He contacted us after seeing the post and asked to join our Contemporary Furniture & Up-Cycling course run by local furniture restorer, Oliver Piepereit.
Obviously, Mick has been through a tough time and when talking to him it was clear he didn’t want to talk about the backstory that brought him to our door - and to be honest, I wasn’t going to ask about it because frankly it’s none of my business.
Mick also made it clear that to help him cope day to day he needs to focus on the ‘now’. One of the things that helps him is going on workshops and working with his hands. Along with his wife, he’s attended workshops all over the country on things like making Rustic Garden Furniture, Wood Carving, Pottery, Bookbinding, Making Porcelain Poppies and now our Furniture Up-cycling course where he’s restored a lovely antique seat.
Mick’s other focus in life is his involvement with the Royal British Legion Riders Branch. As an avid biker he speaks very proudly of the Riders’ charity events like being involved with the RTTW - Ride To The Wall which is a unique motorcycling fundraising ride with a dedicated service of remembrance that provides an opportunity for all motorcyclists to ride as an organised group to the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire to pay their respects and recognise the sacrifice made by the 16,000+ service men and women whose names are engraved on The Wall of the Armed Forces Memorial. Another event is the Allied Memorial Remembrance Ride where bikers from across the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, South Africa, France and New Zealand join forces. He lists lots of other charity rides like the Dapper Ride and various Poppy Appeal rides. He was even involved with the world record for the most amount of Triumphs in a single parade. You could sense the pride he felt in all these activities but you could also sense the sadness he feels at the prejudice the British Legion Riders Branch and bikers in general still suffer from. He remains hopeful and positive that things will change for the better.
We would be proud if we could make things seem a little better for our veteran guests, even if it’s just to provide the opportunity to escape from whatever they need to escape from for a few hours in a friendly, safe, learning environment surrounded by like-minded people.
We really liked Mick, he was genuine and a good contributor to the group dynamic over the two-day class. We all need to meet a Mick because, as clichéd as it sounds, it helps you ‘keep things real’…we wish him all the very best and hope he continues to find the focus he needs.
A tale of a teapot made with no tools…
Debbie Page came without her clay working tools today but that didn’t stop her. Debbie’s fabulous pots - particularly the 'tri-umph of teapots' – are famous in these parts. She starts to show me how she makes a teapot from two pinched pots shaped into half domes and then joins the two pieces together to make a sphere, or the body of the teapot.
Normally Debbie would use a wooden modelling tool to join the two sides with a little water, (slip takes up space, so Debbie prefers just a little plain water to join them), but today she uses only her hands and a hair chopstick to create the finished article.
Whilst letting the combined sphere dry, Debbie also crafts a shallow dish, as a prototype for a collaboration with Calligrapher, Simon Sonsino. Debbie will fire the shallow dishes and glaze some of them so that Simon can experiment with writing on them in various different media. He intends to sell the final Calligraphed dishes for use with inks and pigments, jewellery or just for decorative fun.
Back to the tools-free teapot construction! Debbie now turns her hand to the lid. She takes a smaller ball of clay and makes a little half dome (1). It gets rolled on its side on the table top to make into a pointed lid – like a conical Chinese rice hat. Then a small flange is added and it stands proudly waiting for its new home (2). How exciting – the pot is looking ready to fill with delicious tea. Debbie advises that she never lets a teapot out of her workshop without a guarantee of it being a ‘proper pourer’, so these vessels are not just for looking at but for serious tea drinking.
Next the spout. This is where Debbie cheekily removes the chopstick holding up her long auburn hair, to skewer a pouring hole through the little rolled sausage spout (3). The handle comes next, a towering tall one. For this Debbie rolls a piece of clay into a long sausage and then flattens it gently by hand – no rolling pin required! When these two appendages have dried slightly into their fine new shapes, Debbie moulds first the spout onto the side of the pot with a small extra coil of clay, to give it good contour and firm connection at the join.