Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Ceramic workshop

As previously mentioned, I have been participating in a ceramics workshop at Signal Arts Centre. The workshops are held in periods of six weeks, and during the second round of workshops I was working on the book covers but also brushing up on the coil hand-building technique. I decided to make a set of four round coasters and since I had a bag of coloured glass blobs, I thought I would incorporate them into the design.

After making the coil coasters I scooped out their centres creating a divet to hold a glass blob each. I decided on the colours: blue, red, mauve and yellow. I glazed each coaster with "burnt sugar" glaze, which I then used a damp sponge to wipe. The red and the blue blobs melted perfectly on their coasters, but the mauve seemed harder to melt and has a cracked glass appearance. I imagine that the yellow blob must have reacted to the glaze as it appears more red (it is the one at the top) and it didn't melt evenly. 

I also made a coil cylinder, most likely to be used as a pencil holder. I glazed the outside with "burnt sugar" and again used a sponge to wipe it. The inside was glazed with a clear glaze.

Some years ago I was commissioned to do a stained glass piece for Enniscorthy Community Hospital, and I had some beautiful coloured glass left over. I brought a small compartmentalised storage box of glass bits to the ceramics workshop to use and share with the others in the group. Though the picture below shows only four compartments, there are actually 21 in the box, each containing a different colour or type of glass.

I added a few pieces of an irridescent green to the bottom of the coil pencil holder and it melted quite nicely! 

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

The Key - bound

As I said in last week's post, I have been taking a ceramics workshop on Thursday afternoons at Signal Arts Centre, and had the idea to test the possibility of a ceramic book cover. I made these two piecces as back and front covers of a book with a "stick book" binding.

I decided to make a personal, unique book of key images on handmade paper. so prepared the individual pages for the book before starting any drawings.

On the back inside cover I used PVA glue to affix a strip of paper as an information page.

This shows the covers' relationship to each other prior to inserting the pages.

I wrapped a thinner piece of acid-free rag paper around the pages, holding them together with lion clips before using an awl to create holes.

The covers and pages are ready to put together.

Quite thin garden wire, which is covered with PVA, is threaded through the holes to bind the book.

The book is a sturdy little thing! My name is stamped on the back cover: this was done prior to firing when I first created the cover in clay.

My hand shows the intimate scale of The Key.

The inside back cover gives information details: title, materials, edition, date and signature.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

The Key

I have been attending a ceramics workshop at Signal Arts Centre on Thursday afternoons for a few months now. Prior to this, I had not worked in clay for nearly 30 years! How did it get away from me? I love working with clay and find it incredibly therapeutic. I wanted to test the possibility of making ceramic book covers for some of my handmade books. I thought of a simple "stick" book, and realised since the front cover could not bend, I would have to make a front half cover for the book binding. The back cover is about 9 cm square - it was only slightly larger before firing. I used a rubber stamp to add my name to the back cover after I rolled out a bit of lace to put texture on the book covers.

I had the idea for a book of images of a key and prepared pages from handmade Khadi paper, an Indian 100% cotton rag paper.

I did some test rubbings of two different house keys and preferred the one from my childhood home in Toronto.

Page one is a rubbing using black wax.

Page two was made using a Chinese ink wash and a Stabilo superfine pen.

 Page three was created by making a rubbing with graphite and erasing areas with a kneadable eraser.

 Page four is a watercolour pencil drawing.

Page five is a copper wax rubbing.

 Page six is a 3B pencil drawing.

Page seven is a watercolour pencil drawing of the negative space around the key.

Page eight, the final page, is an embossing of the key.

I will detail the final book in the next post.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Visit to Edinburgh - 4

Although the end of June seems ages ago at this point, there is still so much that I haven't described regarding my short break in Edinburgh! The trip coincided with a holiday by Canadian friends who were on this side of the Atlantic. They had rented a car and before leaving Scotland they wanted to go to Stirling Castle. I was invited to come along with them, and since it was horsing down rain in Edinburgh, a road trip was definitely more palatable than wandering wet city streets.

This trip ended up being a highlight for me! A few years ago I had seen pictures of Andy Scott's sculpture "The Kelpies" and was amazed by it. I knew it was sited somewhere in the UK, not in London where I was most likely to make an art trip, so I figured I would never get to see it live. I was so excited when I saw the horseheads peeping over the highway wall on the way to Stirling!

Even just as a drive-by view the sculpture is amazing. The monumental horse heads are 30 metres high each! The sculpture is near Falkirk, so I looked forward to seeing them on the highway back to Edinburgh too.

At Stirling Castle a guided tour was enjoyable, despite the relentless rain. The Wallace Monument in the distance was atmospheric.

The Stirling Castle complex is huge!

There is plenty to see indoors too (for those moments when one preferred to dry off a bit). There were costumed historical interpreters taking on specific personae scattered throughout -- making history come to life in an enjoyable way.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Visit to Ediburgh - 3

We were up fairly early on our second day in Edinburgh, and went for breakfast with our friends at a smally and lovely Italian café in the Grassmarket area - Caffé Piccolo was delicious! We  could easily have lingered over coffee, but we wanted to get to the castle relatively early and hopefully avoid huge crowds. After climbing about a million steps up to the castle, we did have to wait in a queue for tickets and there was a big crowd, but as we realised later, NOT as big as the later crowd was.

We enjoyed the castle, especially the views of the city.

We were wondering about what appeared to be a Roman viaduct in the distance. A tour guide on a walking tour later in the week referred to it as the "shame of Edinburgh": an unfinished monument, but not a Roman ruin.

After our castle explorations we went for a coffee and treat on the Royal Mile before embarking on our Ghost & Underground Vaults walking tour. The tour lasts about an hour and is a pleasant way to see a bit of the city and learn a bit about its history.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Visit to Edinburgh - 2 - Rose St

Walking around after dinner on the first evening in Edinburgh, I came across the lovely pedestrian Rose St. The street was full of patio restaurants, cafés and bars and I imagined that it must be really lively during the day, later in the evening and on weekends. Obviously my timing was off, it being a Tuesday early evening.

Rose St obviously celebrated poetry as there was a large board with a print featuring "poem of the month".

Since the street was not busy, it was great to have the opportunity to get a closer look at things. Most magnificently, there were a series of gorgeous laser-cut screens, illustrating a days-of-the-week poem.

The poem is Beachcomber by Scottish poet George Mackay Brown (1921-1996) and the screens were designed by Edinburgh based artist Astrid Jaekel. Her website can be seen here.

Mackay Brown was part of a group of poets who met regularly at pubs in Rose St in the late 1950s. They are known as "The Rose St Poets".

This series is a permanent feature of the street, whereas one may presume that "poem of the month" is temporary. Astrid Jaekel designed the mural and billboard for the changing poem also (first picture above).

Saturday screen!

Sunday screen!

An end screen.

An end screen that includes a plaque giving artist and poet details, as well as the poem Beachcomber in full.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Visit to Edinburgh - Part 1 - Trainspotting Tour of Leith

Last January I was the winner of a Trainspotting T2 promotion on Radio Nova 100 (a Dublin radio station). The prize included a walking tour of Leith, site of Irvine Welsh's novel Trainspotting and it's sequel Porno (films Trainspotting and Trainspotting T2). The  totally enjoyable "psycho-geographical" walking tour was led by Tim Bell of Leith Walks (

The tour was, as expected from seeing the film, a walk around some of the grittier areas of Leith, but Tim/Mr Bell gave a fabulous background to Welsh's fictional characters through historical and contemporary references. Cables Wynd House, dubbed "Banana Flats", is where "Sick Boy" hails from.

The Percy pub features in a spectacularly racist/bigot scene in Trainspotting.

I had not read the books, only seen the films, so Tim Bell gave great explanations of the fundamental difference: while the focus of the films was addiction, the focus of the books was loss of community with addiction being one of the results.

Leith was and is a working class town. On the tour we were also shown reproductions of historic prints showing its former glory as a harbour town. Some buildings survive to show this tale, as this architecture signifying ropemakers shows.

The carved stone decoration is magnificent.

Persevere is the motto of Leith.

Outside the Workman's Club, Tim Bell shows us the mural celebrating the port heritage of Leith. The mural was unveiled by Irvine Welsh.

I highly recommend the Leith tour and Tim Bell as a guide full of knowledge, humour and passion for history, literature and social pyschology. What a great start to a short holiday!