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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!


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