Creative education varies depending on which school you go to. It has also changed over the years and trends occur too. My creative education mainly involved ‘Fine Art’ which generally covered drawing, painting and mixed media, with very occasional sculpture. I enjoyed my art classes; trying to express myself and use different materials, although I never felt I was naturally talented at it; I just really wanted to be and so I tried hard and spent hours on my pieces. I never really enjoyed sketchbook work or doing any of the research into artists or the history of art. I felt that apart from looking at the work of artists that I liked, the rest never really helped me to develop my own work or my own style. It felt more oppressive than motivating or inspiring; like a barrier that the teachers put up to say, “do it like this, produce your artist forgery to understand the style…”. I did what I had to in order to complete the course and pass it and produced some work that I am still very proud of (as well as work I’d rather forget). Art remained fine art through GCSE and A-Level studies and there were no alternatives in this field.
The other aspect of my creative education was much more practical and process based, and that was ‘Resistant Materials’ at GCSE and ‘Product Design’ at A-Level. I loved almost everything about these subjects… the workshop, the materials, the equipment and the technician’s assistance and company. Mr Nibbs (Steve) was a fantastic mentor to me and inspired me to work as a creative technician in a school or college (which I later went on to do at further education colleges in Aylesbury, Rugby and Royal Leamington Spa). I worked with woods, metals and plastics and my final project for A-Level was making a trolley for my awkward and heavy musical instrument… the cello. Yes, I was also a musician back in the day and played the cello, piano and acoustic guitar. It seems that string instruments are my particular interest although I always wanted to try the saxophone too… what a wonderful sound they can make when played well!
After completing my formal education until the age of 18, most of my year group wanted to go to university (the ones that had studied up to A-Level and not left after GCSE’s), but I had my sights on college and an Art Foundation Diploma. The thought of continuing to study the creative arts and learn more skills while exploring new materials for an uninterrupted year was like a dream! That was probably the most enjoyable year of education I can remember. We completed rotations in a number of different departments including illustration, graphic design, fine arts, photography, print making, animation, textiles (maybe others…) and 3D crafts which is where I specialised from Christmas time. This involved clay, metal and wood, and in my case; playing with glass processes too. This is where I started my glass education. My teacher; Andrew Jelly, a ceramicist in his own practice, was always very supportive and encouraging for the exploration of materials and processes and taught me how to throw pottery and Raku glaze ceramics as well as fusing, slumping and kiln casting glass.
The Art Foundation Diploma (Pre Degree) course serves mainly for that purpose… to be a stepping stone for those wanting to go on to study at university after exploring their options for specialisms during the one-year programme. I had never wanted to go to university and didn’t see it in my future; the expenses for fees and accommodation and 3 more years of education… I wanted a change, to earn some money and get on with living! But during the course, there were the inevitable moments (as with during my final year of sixth form) when the staff would talk to us about our applications, personal statements and UCAS points. They encouraged us to go on open days to explore and decide where to go and what to apply for as our 1st, 2nd and 3rd choices etcetera… I still wasn’t interested and focused on my own work and imagining my future working in a creative department at a school or in a college. Our teacher did organise a trip for us though on one occasion to try hot glass sand casting which was as fun as it sounds! We took a trip from Bedford (our college) to Wolverhampton in the West Midlands, for a workshop in the School of Art and Design (SAD) glass department. After this exciting activity, we were able to explore the university facilities and talk to the lecturers about the courses. I was in awe of the facilities and seeing the workspaces of the students with all their material experiments and works in progress, mood boards pinned to their boarded booths and toolboxes too. It was a great day out and the others also returned with handfuls of leaflets for their possible future courses.
After completing the course, exhibiting at the end of year show and all of that, my remaining school friends who joined me on the course and the new friends I had made, mostly went off to university (a year after the rest of our school friends) and I started working in the local council Housing department. I signed up for creative evening classes in jewellery making and ceramics, and continued my creative journey in an informal manner. However, it started to play on my mind that the possibilities of using glass were very limited in my region as there weren’t really any places with the facilities to offer courses in glass making. So I began to consider the option of applying to Wolverhampton University to join the Applied Arts, Glass BA course and continue what I had started. Most of my friends had already moved away for uni anyway and my work colleagues were generally much older than me so I was mixing with a different crowd of office workers or the bar / restaurant staff where I worked part time. Of course, having not researched the university application process or writing a personal statement with a view to applying, it was a bit of a mystery to me. I had to contact my old teachers and college staff to ask them for references and feedback on my personal statement etc. I only applied for 1 university and 1 course; the only one I wanted of course, and so I also paid a smaller fee too – bonus!
Portfolio preparation for an interview to join a creative course is incredibly important. Present your work well, include the best things, in the right order and be prepared to talk about them later. Portfolio viewing often happens without you so the work needs to speak for itself mostly and needs to reflect your skills and passion for it. My portfolio is still the most precious thing I own and has developed over time to be a digital record on websites and social media, a photo book too but it is a real challenge to create a great hard copy to present to galleries and the like. I would be quite overwhelmed if I had to create a new one of my recent work as the items are 3D and would need professional photographs too (which is difficult when your work is already in the homes of other people, also in different countries!). Photography of your work is incredibly important and needs to be done continuously which is time consuming too. Don’t underestimate the skill involved in professional artwork photography… particularly with glass pieces! Money well spent with Simon Bruntnell as my glass photographer who gave me the most wonderful collection of photographs of my final collection of kiln cast glass work at the end of my degree.
Completing a degree isn’t always simple for everyone. My circumstances are my own… starting later than everyone else, starting my first relationship before moving away (that was emotional), deciding to move away and ‘abandon’ my sister (in my eyes as she was still young), my Nan passed away (my first close relative to pass away) days before starting the course, and it was all too much ultimately with the stress of living away for the first time too. After my first year, I decided to take a break and re-assess what I really wanted from life and whether the degree is really what I wanted. After returning, my relationship ended and I was back at my parents house and back working at the council in a different role. I enjoyed having money again and attending regular massages and facial treatments etc. But ultimately I decided that I really did want to return to complete my degree which I did very successfully. I gained a 2:1 in Applied Arts and the Keith Cummings Award for Excellence in Glass Kiln Casting (Keith is a renowned kiln caster and was an associate professor at the university), I had been a volunteer for the Student Union over the final 2 years, made more friends, helped organise everts to fundraise for the New Designers 2012 exhibition at the Business Design Centre in Islington, London and exhibited at the Degree Show at uni before that too among others. I entered a competition with the British Association of Medals Society BAMS and exhibited with them in Birmingham too with a glass piece made especially for that opportunity.
Following my degree I was invited to exhibit my work at the Art in Woodstock Festival event at the end of 2012 for the Junction Art Gallery, where I was spotted and approached to exhibit at West Ox Arts Gallery in Bampton during Oxforshire Artweeks in the middle of 2013. I then also applied to exhibit my work in an exhibition organised by a fellow graduate from WLV Uni called Oh My Glass! for which I had to create a new piece of glass to show next to my degree work to show what I have done since graduating. This was a challenge as I had bought a glass fusing kiln but my work is kiln cast and so I had to improvise slightly with my design. I was able to produce a piece of kiln glass glass from my parents shed though which I am very proud of, and this was all while finishing a post-graduate degree in education, also at Wolves Uni.
Bringing you ahead to today, I have been living in Italy since the beginning of 2016 where I have worked both in childcare and as an English language teacher (never imagined I would do that as I hated English lessons at school) and constantly try to keep up my creative practice. I focus mainly on crafts and 3D processes making a wide selection of items. It has never been easy for me to describe myself with a minimum number of words or give myself a title like Artist, Teacher, Instructor, etc. as I never feel any of the describe the whole ME. I am many things to many people but the words I land on every time without fail are; creative, ambitious and determined. I intend to pursue the creative arts until I am no longer able and I will always drive for personal and professional development as well as enjoying things that life offers, especially travel and relationships. For now, I like the labels crafter and educator but ultimately I’m happy to be recognised for my skills and my heart and would love anyone who agrees to get in touch so we can work together on your special project. Thanks for reading about me, I hope to hear about you.