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Monday, 27 June 2011

Surrey Studio Spy

Last weekend various Surrey artists threw open their studios and invited whoever felt so inclined in to see their work. So off we went to exotic Dockenfield.

What we found was an idyllic country cottage, surrounded by a wonderful garden, bustling with flowers, grasses and vegetable patches. The whole place had a wonderful bohemian feel: loved and maintained, but not obsessively groomed. Woven willow play-houses nestled on the lawn like pixie houses.

On entering the cottage, we were greeted by Judith, creator of the play-houses. She told us that currently there were four artists in the building including herself. We could find an oil-painter in the living-room, a printmaker in the conservatory and a knitter/yarn-dyer upstairs.

It was all a bit like a children's book: 'Oh, look who's in the living room! It's Ruth working on one of her impressionistic landscapes!' Ok, so maybe not a *conventional* children's book.. Anyway, we did indeed find Ruth working away on one of her heath and hills landscapes, using a comb to add texture and the impression of grasses blowing in the wind. Finished paintings hung around the room, and although not all were my cup of tea, many had amazing depth and you could almost see the movement of the grasses and the shadows of clouds moving across the land.

Next we visited Shirley Ann who was busy gouging lino in the conservatory. She told us all about various print methods, how best to line up multiple prints and even how an old metal tobacco box is a viable tool of the trade. Some very charming prints, ranging from Inca-style to African.

Time to venture upstairs. First we took in the view of the enviable veggie garden:

No doubt the 'heads' were made by an artist friend, if not by the owner of the house herself who we were hoping to meet next.

Sadly the knitting and dying lady herself (Alison) was away at a wedding for the day, but we were still welcome to nosey around her studio which was attended by a lady friend of her's who reminded me very much of the White Rabbit in 'Alice in Wonderland'. Very lovely, but ever so slightly bumbling and self-depricating in that uniquely endearing English way.

The studio itself was very much a working space, with yarn, tools and dyes covering every surface while a no-nonsense enamel sink crouched against one wall.

Of course I was instantly jealous of the space. Imagine having a dedicated place to make a mess and *not have to clean it all up straight away*! Amazing. Also, who wouldn't want to sit here to work on projects and enjoy the view:

A side room showcased Alison's (apparently quite famous) hand-knitted items.

The knitting techniques were indeed impressive, although the finished items were pretty, um, 'statement making'. Actually there were a couple of hemp ones which were a little more discreet.

Finally we were shown a little willow-weaving action:

Apparently it's possible to plant the vertical branches into the ground and have them continue to grow so that after a while you will get a living and leafy play-house. Very cool indeed, although apparently it takes a lot of maintenance.

The things one finds in the British countryside! I really enjoyed this rather bohemian set-up, surrounded by leafy greenness. Best wishes to all the arty ladies and thanks for their generosity in explaining their techniques and their infectious passion for their work. Maybe we'll see some of them at one of the events at Farnham Maltings soon.


Friends are great pretty much all the time. But sometimes they out-do themselves. Like when they give you a chocolate-making workshop for your Birthday - whoo!!

Yes, a week or so ago it was finally time to head down to MyChocolate (weirdly located in the same building as the silver jewellery workshop) and begin our instruction.

We began by sampling some chocolate pieces of varying sugar and cocoa-solid content while our instructor extolled the benefits of raw chocolate and encouraged us to experiment with adding it to various savoury dishes. Chocolate and fish? Apparently divine..

Do note how *clean* everything looks here. Yes, that might change.

Having had some large metal bowls full of melted chocolate plonked in front of us, we were told that our first job was to 'temper' it. Basically we had to bring it down to the right temperature but stirring and adding extra chunks of chocolate. Fair enough.

A bit of elbow grease later and we were ready for the next stage: making a giant chocolate button. Although of course when the teacher announced that there would be a prize for the most creative 'button', all convention went out the window and everyone began work on their masterpieces:

Next up was ganache, and this is when things started to get *really* messy.. Two parts melted chocolate to one part cream, and some piping later, it was time to dip and decorate our truffles:

Utter chocolate-coated carnage, but miraculously they turned out alright in the end. I think the little cellophane bags helped a lot.

And my heart-shaped chocolate button turned out ok too, even though it didn't win the 'most creative' award. That was nabbed by the cat-head shaped one. Well, there's no accounting for taste ;)

Still, it made the perfect Father's Day present!

Thanks to the fabulous C&M and T&C for our sumptuous outing. In fact, any chance you might want to come around and sample some of the produce? I don't think we'll be stuffing ourselves with chocolate again for a little while..

Friday, 17 June 2011

More, more, more!

Oh yes, once a get a taste for something I can get quite smitten. Especially when it comes to a new craft I can add to my arsenal. So of course I had to get some silver clay of my own to play with.

This time I wanted to make a ring or two, and the lack of know-how wasn't going to stop me. I quite fancied a chunky and irregular one, a bit like Charlotte Lyngaard's rings. The first job was to find something in my flat that I could use as a mandrel for my rings. After much hunting (and measuring, using my iPod cable - so professional!), I found something that would do: my food brush. You know, the ones you use to brush oil on chicken and such-like. Perfect.
After much cursing, this was the result:

I was intending to also create another ring and bracelet using some Fimo moulds I had created using some small twigs to make impressions. Unfortunately these kept falling apart, and I had to settle for another ring. This time a wrapped design with a 'hammered' finish created by poking the surface of the clay repeatedly with the end of a paintbrush.
Result below, supported by some twists of cling film so stop it slipping:

I was tempted to purchase a creme brulee torch for myself in order to fire the pieces, but as luck would have it, my friend J spotted a coupon for a half-price class at the London Jewellery School. She was keen to try the silver clay class, and I certainly didn't mind going again!

So off we went. Our lovely teacher Chu-Mei didn't mind me adding my own pieces to the kiln, and soon I was excitedly excavating my silver rings out from under their coat of organic binder clay.
Here's the first one:

And the second:

Not bad eh? And the best thing is that they FIT!!

I also made a series of tiny hearts in the class:

Which I later stuck together to make this:

Quite cute, but I think I'm going to need some stronger glue. The whole piece is a little bendy at the moment.

I did make one more piece in the second class, but I'm afraid you're going to have to wait until after the coming weekend for me to unveil it..