My Blog List

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Secrets of Painting in Southern Vermont

Hideaway   completed 9/13/2014

Last week I spent 6 intensive days that will forever affect my life as a glass artist.

I am self taught. I have my own style and methods. It never seemed important or necessary to spend the time or money on learning directly from anyone. I learned stained glass from instructional books and trial and error. I learned glass painting techniques from the Williams and Byrne studio in England via the internet.

Last year I discovered and visited Debora Coombs, deep in the Green Mountains, where she creates gorgeous well designed and crafted windows. She planted the seed for coming back to learn from her. She encouraged me to apply for scholarships. Thank you AGG and SGAA for believing in me and making this possible.

The reason to study with Debora, a spunky English born glass artist, is that she willingly shares her personally developed use of media mixed into vitreous glass powder. It is both safer and can be controlled in different ways, allowing a looser style involving pushing wet paint, as well as traditional techniques. She serves nice lunches too.

Here's my story:

Sunday evening we were served a hearty homemade dinner. Having left guests at my home in the Lakes Region of Central Vermont, I was rushed and anxious. But I was made to feel relaxed and welcome. We truly were allowed to make ourselves at home. We then viewed a Power Point presentation showing the steps of one of Debora's creations, currently at MassMoca, taking an artists drawing and recreating it into stained glass. We examined the details from start to finish.

My classmates consisted of Midge Scanlon from Rochester, VT and Sandra Harris from Worcester, MA, both pleasant, experienced and ready to learn. Sandra was also staying at the Readsboro Inn where I was staying.


Monday morning we got started immediately with painting. We were given old fashioned pens to dip into paint and learned the proper consistency of the gooey globs of paint mixed with propylene glycol and water. I could have gone home after the first 30 minutes, because I had learned enough to forever change the way I painted! But it got better. It was a great start! We continued to play.

Monday afternoon we went to MassMoca, a contemporary art museum in an industrial district of North Adams, MA. I discovered that Debora was actually located close to an urban and cultural hub bigger than nearly anything in Vermont!  Her entire family was working there and supervised departments of operations. Debora was often involved with making work that was part of exhibiting artists' installations.

Detail from MassMoca installation by Debora Coombs of a design made by Michael Oatman.

Tuesday was an intense day of designing and cutting glass. We had been doing morning walks with Debora's friends in Readsboro. I had not come with any sketches or firm ideas, but rather a few visions bouncing in my head. I took a picture with my iPhone of the morning mist and mountain at a valley farm. I used it as the beginning of my design.  It became the background of my garden scene.

12 hours later I had most of the overly ambitious project cut. Debora did not stop me from the nearly impossible undertaking. The day ended without dinner. Sandra and I foraged for food. We sat outside on the patio outside the inn. The peach I had was rotten, and the apple muffins were tasting like hard cider, so we tossed them and enjoyed a bit of wine, crackers and almond butter in the balmy moonlit night, happy and satisfied with our accomplishments of the day.

Shared baths at a country inn is not so bad when its kept clean, and it was. Sandra and I were the only guests Tuesday night. But it was unseasonably hot, so the fan provided was appreciated. As I came back from a wee hour pee, however, the fan had caused my door to slam shut and I was locked out! Stuck in the brightly lit hallway in nothing but a skimpy nightgown, I found a linen closet, grabbed a pillow and towel, and continued sleeping in an empty room on top of an unmade bed. In the morning as my cell phone alarm went off, we quickly found a key that worked and all was well.

Wednesday was all about painting. Sandra and Midge were doing trace lines. I was for the most part doing things quite untraditionally. I started with the foxgloves after Debora showed me a technique with a rounded nib that was perfect. It took some squinting and trials to see that it was working. I continued with experimental variations, creating my garden scape, all the while feeling that maybe I should have done a figure, a face, a larger animal or bird, definitely something simpler. But I was committed. I assured myself that I could pursue any of those ideas in the future with my newly learned techniques.

In contrast to Tuesday's dinner, Wednesday night ended with a lovely dinner at the upscale Gramercy Bistro with Sandra in North Adams next to MassMoca.

Thursday morning I discovered that we were not alone in the inn. A male guest failed to lock the bathroom door. I did not have my glasses on, so I just pretended it did not happen.

Painting continued as we analyzed patterns and values, seeing the piece like layers of a stage set.  Group critiques were helpful. Firings were rapid and numerous in Debora's state of the art kiln. I was amazed!

Thursday evening we visited Readsboro Glassworks, where our new walking friends, Mary Angus and Bill Lequier do amazing things with blown and etched glass. Midge, Sandra and I then went back to Debora's studio with gourmet pizzas from the Readsboro Inn. Debora was working late on her own project. She loves good food, but sometimes forgets to eat. She was appreciative and ate heartily.

On Friday morning as I drove up to the studio on Rue Madeline, a dirt road with a classy name, I misjudged the width and ended up in a ditch. AAA sent Debora's friend Mark, and glass painting resumed.

After viewing my work on the light table from the loft, I figured out what I needed to do and did it. I really had my project under control and had time to go back to experimentations. It was a tortoise and hare kind of experience. I plodded along to the finish line. The day ended with an Open House. Debora wanted to share with her friends the work she was doing. I waited by the fire pit for the last firing of the day to be complete and headed home, feeling very satisfied, with crackers and coffee for dinner, anxious to fit and solder Hideaway.

Detail of finished piece with added silver stain, making daisy centers.

Detail of sunflowers and foxgloves.
Now with the Weston Craft Show just a few weeks away, I will be spending the next few weeks applying what I learned in creating some new and exciting work!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Elegant Glass Bath Accents

Going beyond your comfort level in trying new techniques and applications is always exciting.  It started with the creation of a practical craft show item, fused coasters, which I introduced at the holiday craft shows and NJ galleries in November and December.

Bill and I had been wanting a major master bath makeover. I had a vision of coming home from a day of skiing and soaking in a warm bubbly bath. We bought an Ultra Bain air bubble tub with computerized controls and started gutting the room.

 Then I thought why not add glass tiles to combine with ceramic tiles and Danby, Vermont quarried Eureka Marble?! There were a lot of trials and experiments before getting it right. That's how you learn.
Below are the tiles fired and ready for installation in both the shower area and the bath.

Thanks to careful planning and the fine craftsmanship of our talented installer, it all came together.

The next details were the cabinet hardware. This was done with molds into which I piled smashed glass called "frit". A space was created to insert the hardware. It was kiln fired to 1465 degrees F and slowly cooled. Then a Dremel tool was used to fine tune the opening before cementing the hardware into the glass. I held my breath hoping the installation into the cabinet would go as planned. It did.


And then, finally, I couldn't stand seeing a cardboard tissue box on top of the lovely granite countertop, so a few extra test pieces became the inspiration for this box cover.

Friday, August 31, 2012

A Noisy Empty Nest

There comes a time in most families when the children grow up and begin an independent life.

Having been a first time mom at age 36, I was able to postpone everything about parenting, including the empty nest. But it has happened. No longer do I have my art critic, fashion and technology consultant conveniently living in my household. My husband is great in many ways, but his computer knowledge, although comprehensive, is getting dated. Windows he knows, but Macs leave him in the dust.

So the part about the noise....
I had imagined that things would be quiet at this stage of our lives, but what you may not know is the phenomenon known as live animals left behind!!!

This is the story:
Many of our children finish college and can't land that career job immediately like we did "back in the day". I finished college in 3 1/2 years in the 70's and immediately had several offers for art teaching jobs. I also got married the day I finished college. I could not imagine living home with my parents. Back then we had secret lives and had to protect our parents from knowing too much about our  lifestyles.

My daughter, Shasta, along with many talented young people, with or without teaching certificates, get jobs in the food industry. Not that there's anything wrong with that, except for the low pay. Hence, they live home. And in a perfect world, you enjoy them as a new live in best friend. And that's how it was for us.

You also feel a little pity for the child's sad financial situation and displaced social connections, so you agree to let them have a pet, so they don't get depressed, with the agreement that the pet goes with them when they move out. That sounds good, except the reality is that it doesn't always happen. For instance my friend's daughter moved to the wilds of Costa Rica with her surfing boyfriend and could not take her Beagle, "Cooper". Shasta now has 2 house rabbits. "Rocky", a big French Angora baby, was feeling a little depressed and needed a companion, thus "Rosy" arrived. For now they are here. She is waiting for the new roomies to get to know her first  before she attempts to introduce them. Most people have never even heard of a house rabbit.

The bonded pair live together in a penned area in the upstairs art and sewing studio and use a litter box. They are allowed to run around the room with supervision. Electrical cords MUST be covered for this activity. Just ask Rocky about that. Our bedroom is beneath the studio. Now you would assume a rabbit, being naturally silent, is quiet. This is true. But its movement that creates sound such as smashing, biting and shaking their metal pen, and thumping.

Tuesday night at 3am, after an exhausting day of interior painting, moving furniture, and a long drive, Rosy decided she was pissed about something and kept up a rhythmical THUMP for quite a while. Fortunately Joey the rooster was asleep. So Bill went up and found nothing wrong.

In the morning, because she and Rocky now share everything, the litter box was full.
That was all!

The stained glass rabbit, at the top of the post, was a custom piece made this spring. The violets are fused, and the details are painted and kiln fired. It is 6 inches high.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Secret Country Mill

Tucked away in a remote corner of Monmouth Co. NJ is Walnford, a park with a fully functional restored mill and house. Its location is very close to busy Rt. 539, where hordes of ocean loving tourists head towards the Pine Barrens, in route to the world famous NJ beaches, but have no idea of its existence. It is lovely, functional, and museum like in its presentation of facts both historic and mechanical, thanks to the wonderful Monmouth County Park System.

I had seen it in the 1970’s, in the early years of Off the Wall Craft Gallery, my business then located at the newly restored and repurposed old mill in Allentown, NJ. The Walnford Mill was run down and the the house on the property was still being used as a residence. I visited it again in the early 1990’s with my young daughter. The house was empty, the mill was locked, but it was teeming with domestic geese. Then in 2008, after I closed that business, I had the time to go back again. Wow. All the buildings were open with guides, restored to pristine condition, inviting, and full of life. The large secluded property offered lots of privacy to enjoy some peace amongst nature.

This piece, “Life at Walnford”, depicts an accurate rendering of the building with a lot of artistic license in depicting the trees and plant life. The muddy shoreline and the geese everywhere is based on the memory of pleasant and playful times there with little Shasta.

This Friday my stained glass piece, “Life at Walnford”, will be featured in Bordentown, NJ, at the Artful Deposit Gallery’s new show, “Along the Delaware River and Crosswicks Creek”, July 13th to Aug. 19th. The opening is July 13th, 5 – 9 pm.

Here in Vermont I have tried to create a life that feels as good as those visits to Walnford.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Vermont Summer Life or gardening? Kayaking or copper foiling? The temperatures are perfect and the outdoors seduces me.  New wild flowers appear and my vegetable garden needs constant nurturing. The chickens are loyal companions as we try to agree on where they can and cannot go. Chicken wire fences are appearing everywhere - prettier than dirt bath pits! Glass crafting often becomes a night time activity as I get into my zone, without any disturbances.

This recently completed custom piece depicts early fall on Lake Bomoseen, our local water playground, with a big view of some of the Taconic Mountains, particularly Bird Mountain. I used glass painting in the water, some of the tree and the sailboat bottom. The tree is fused.  

My experience is that when riding on a boat of any kind, with or without a motor, you are swept away to a place in the mind that feels like vacation.  That is why we came here!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Stained Glass Design from Children's Art

It was my pleasure to create a panel for the Mettawee Community School, West Pawlet, Vermont  and to honor the founding principal, Nancy Marks.

The entire project was done from start to finish through e-mail communication. Design proposals were edited and sent for approval without the customer coming to my studio until it was finished.

This is 5th grader Lexa's full size watercolor painting:

For further reference I was given a photograph of Haystack Mountain as seen from the school:

This is the design I proposal I sent by e-mail. :

The writing and some details were painted with vitreous glass and permanently kiln fired before assembly.

Above is the finished stained glass window.


Saturday, April 28, 2012

Chicken Art in Brandon

It is a tradition in Brandon, VT to get attention as an art community by the visual impact created by generous volunteers and members of the juried cooperative group of artists exhibiting at the Brandon Artists Guild. I am very proud to be a part of this group. It is a lot of fun to interact with these talented people as we gather together for painting projects. This year we are asking the question,
 "What's Hatching in Brandon?".
 It will be a big visual impact in the town and a lot of colorful FUN!!

In addition to decorating the town, the Brandon Artists Guild will be showing and selling themed art work by the members in a variety of media. The following pictures show the progression of my piece. It started last year, when I purchased 16 baby chicks. They are my models and inspiration.

A Barred Rock and Rhode Island Red.
I named all of them, but eventually it became difficult to tell them apart.

We ordered 3 Silver Laced Wyandotte hens. I named them Barbie, Joanie, and Patty, after my sisters. When I finally figured out why they had fancy tails and crowed, I renamed them Buddy, Joey, and Patrick, and then called them the "brothers". We kept Joey, the gentlest, and found homes for the others.

I desided to use the composition of the first photo but switch the Red for Joey, keeping the chickens black and white with a contrast of "kaleido-flowers" in random spontaneous patterns.
I used all Bullseye glass that I recently purchased.

Dichroic glass has the unique characteristic of totally different color based on transmitted or reflected light.
For example a single piece of glass may be turquoise when light passes through it, and then a shimmering red when light bounces off it. Another is bright purple with light going through it, then becomes metallic gold in reflected light.

The opening for this show is May 25th at the Brandon Artists Guild

7 Center Street Brandon, VT 05733