Monday, 16 March 2009

Martin Cheek Workshop

Last weekend I drove down to Broadstairs to attend Martin Cheek’s advanced weekend workshop.

This was a big deal for me, not least because I am not used to driving long distance on my own – particularly when I hit fog thicker than marshmallows half-way and can’t see beyond my own bumper. But it was also a big deal to be abandoning my hubby and daughter for a whole weekend, not just a night but two whole days as well. Plus I was attending a course with the word advanced in the title so I was already feeling out of my depth before I’d even turned the sat nav on.

Despite the fog, which dispersed fairly quickly, I made it to Broadstairs alive, I found the car-park and the guest house easily and arrived in plenty of time to drop of my bags, go to the loo and have a cup of tea before heading round the corner to Martin Cheek’s Flint House.

Arriving at the same time as a couple of other students I was given a warm welcome and ushered through to the studio at the back of the house overlooking the garden, which in turn overlooked the sea. We chatted a bit and I discovered most of the others had either been on the course before or were actual proper artists already.

Oh gawd.

The first morning started with an introduction from Martin and a kind of mini lecture on the history of smalti and how it is made etc. I found Martin to be a fascinating teacher, some people can just make anything sound interesting and he is one of those few. We were then given a tour of some of the pieces hanging around the house, then we went into the garden for some more absorbing stories about the different kinds of materials and methods and a look at the wonderful mosaics hidden there.
Though some were more obvious than others of course…!

We then had a browse through the second studio at the end of the garden and started to collect together materials for our mosaics. At this point I was feeling totally and utterly overwhelmed. I was surrounded by artists who really knew what they were doing, who were confident and direct and knew what tone and contrast were. I had a dreadful cold and the range of materials was so vast I really didn’t know where to begin.

This is not how I usually feel at the beginning of a day where I can sit and mosaic uninterrupted! Normally I would be full of delight at the prospect, I really don’t know why I was struggling. I think I wanted to impress too much, which of course I shouldn’t have. I should have just chilled out and enjoyed it. Lord knows why I was so uptight. Too many Halls Soothers perhaps?

I selected some lovely tactile glass fusions in all shapes and colours and arranged them to form the butterfly I was mosaicing. I had chosen the picture of the butterfly from the end of Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar as my inspiration. My little girl adores butterflies so the finished piece is to hang in her bedroom.

I had never used the glass fusions before and it was odd but fun to be working with an entirely new material. I got quite frustrated at times (internally!) and found myself needing to get up and walk away from it on a few occasions. By the end of the first day I had the main form of the butterfly glued down ready for embellishments and background to be added either the next day or when I got home.

That evening my cold worsened and my throat started to sting quite badly. It was becoming obvious to me that I had a throat infection, which I am prone to, so I tucked myself up in my cosy guesthouse with a lemsip from the landlady and some paper to doodle on. I slept incredibly well – a full nine hours straight – and I woke raring to get on with day two.

I had breakfast in the loveliest setting at my guesthouse along with a couple of my fellow mosaicists.

I arrived back at Flint House bright and early. Martin generously lets students work in his studio before the start time of the actual course. I put my butterfly to one side to start working on another piece; a seascape in smalti. But at this point I got really stuck; I didn’t like what I was doing, I was becoming concerned about the cost of the materials and I felt constrained by time. I realised, after a quick chat with Martin, that I had being trying to do too much. So I decided to finish my butterfly instead.

I am really glad now that I did make that decision. I should have focused on one thing from the outset. I started to fill some of the gaps in the butterfly’s wings with some millefiori, and I glued down some copper wire for antennae. I decided to make my background in different shades of white – some of the expensive stuff, some cheap, some translucent and some iridescent. I outlined the butterfly first and then began on the background. There are proper latin names for the two techniques I used here, but without my course notes to hand I couldn’t tell you!

By 4.30pm my throat was on fire, I was up to my eyeballs in snot and I still had a long lonely drive ahead of me. It was time to call it a day. So I made my farewells, wrapped my mosaic up in my coat to protect it from the rain that was just starting and set off. The drive was painful – pouring with rain but full-on sunny with the light directly in my eyes the whole way home, beaming off the wet roads and blinding me.

I got home in time to read my daughter her bedtime stories and she was so happy to have me home, it was lovely. And she adored her butterfly and was really excited at the prospect of “helping” me finish it.

I went to the doc’s the next day and was diagnosed with a throat infection; something beginning with m and ending in itis for which I was given some pretty strong drugs. It knocked me sideways and I ended up staying home from work on Tuesday. Inspired my the weekend I threw myself into another mosaic and was really please with the results (to be posted later).

I learnt a lot at the weekend, and actually I have learnt a lot about my creative self in the last few days too – I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. But that’s a story for another day…

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