Friday, 2 May 2014


The Art of Looking Good- ‘Spectacles- The Oliver Goldsmith Collection’ at the National Glass Centre

 ‘Spectacles’ charts the history of the Oliver Goldsmith Company: three generations of eyewear designers. The exhibition showcases some of their most striking designs and models.

The tenuous link to glass isn’t played up here, Goldsmiths isn’t particularly interested in the technology of seeing more the technology of plastic. The key to their success is their ability to mould plastic into new and exciting shapes for consumers. So, what relevance does this exhibition have at the National Glass Centre?

Since re-opening it’s doors last year the National Glass Centre promised a programme of contemporary exhibitions exploring the many facets of glass. This exhibition is the third since then. First the abstract work of Erwin Eisch then the searingly modern Jeffrey Sarmiento alongside smaller exhibitions from research students and staff at the University of Sunderland.

‘Spectaclesis a departure from these themes, other exhibitions have been keen to point out the artistic validity of glass, here we are given a history lesson in design. This is much more museum-like, text heavy, a video installation and almost interactive displays of suspended glasses providing huge amounts of information. The exhibition is laid out like a clock, working round the designs chronologically. This allows the exhibition to display changes in taste clearly, and also show how deeply ingrained and influential Goldsmith glasses are in fashion.

The glasses themselves are microcosms of fashion from their period. Austere 40s glasses remain owlish, 60’s wing-frames feel frivolous and fun, 70’s wrap around cut-out glasses seem appropriately futuristic, the huge 80’s colourful frames are gaudy and the 90’s slick frames are ho-hum.  Michael Caine looms down in a pair of Consul glasses in The Ipcress File. Audrey Hepburn flutters her eyelashes in the huge white frames of Bude in How to Steal a Million. Goldsmith glasses help create persona of either severity, playfulness or a hundred other aspects that the self-expression of fashion allows one.

After royalty, celebrity and the film industry endorsed Goldsmiths, glasses became fashionable. Sunglasses bourgeoned in popularity. Reading glasses had less stigma attached, though as Freeman pointed out in her acerbic treaty on fashion ‘The Meaning of Sunglasses’[1] women remain wary of wearing glasses. But thanks to Goldsmiths, and other similar designers, women have the choice of wearing flattering glasses that don’t scream of academia or secretarial silliness.

The famous clientele have created an opportunity for the National Glass Centre to market its show to an as yet untapped audience. People will come to see photographs of beautiful people wearing beautiful glasses, but they will garner some appreciation for the craft and skill involved in the design.

As craft practitioners we are all aware of the arguments that abound between function and art. In Oliver Goldsmith Ltd we see the same argument played out in fashion. Andrew Oliver Goldsmith’s aim is to create ‘face jewellery for women, face furniture for men’[2] rather than something that helps their astigmatism. It’s impossible to argue under such a heritage of innovation, design and popularity that he’s succeeded. There’s no other medicinal aid that has crossed the line from purposeful to beautiful as glasses have done, whether Goldsmiths, glass or plastic did this, it’s still true.

Glasses are intimate and here we see real people wearing their choice of glasses, see how they have dated, see how much thought and skill has gone into them. A better illustration of how our opinions on glasses and those who wear them is difficult to imagine.

It’s a bold move from the National Glass Centre to exhibit a designer who uses glass but doesn’t care that much about it. Proof that their gamble has worked is in how much glass lovers can take away from ‘Spectacles’, including how vital our medium is in everyday life. The quality and longevity of these designs is fascinating and surpasses the material differences we might have.

Beyond that, ‘Spectacles’ tells us all that the National Glass Centre isn’t afraid to show us different approaches to glass. There’s no news about what the next exhibition will be, and frankly, there’s no guessing.

Spectacles- The Oliver Goldsmith Collection runs from Saturday the 18th of January to Sunday the 4th of May 2014 at the National Glass Centre, Liberty Way, Sunderland, SR6 0GL. Get involved on twitter by uploading a photograph of yourself wearing glasses and using the hashtag #bespectacular

[1] Hadley Freeman, The Meaning of Sunglasses: A Guide to Almost All Things Fashionable, published by Penguin, 2008
[2] Andrew Oliver Goldsmith’s opening remarks for the Spectacles exhibition.

Thursday, 1 May 2014


A while ago I posed a question on Twitter:

“Should critics send their reviews to their subjects for feedback before publishing?

The resounding answer was a very loud and decisive “no”. I worry that this was simply because I did not explain that I had read an essay on the subject and wanted their opinion, perhaps some were trying to stop me committing professional suicide. The essay in question ‘The only author’ was by Ursula le Guine in her collection of essays ‘Dancing on the edge of the World’. Her arguments were ultimately flawed but the reason I was intrigued was she maintained that this used to be common practice between artists and critics. I find that very difficult to believe, it seems like such a counter-intuitive move. To place an objective, outsider view before someone who could never be objective or more of an insider.

If we look at literature for a little bit, literary theory has long since dismissed the writer. What the writer means does not matter, the reading is the only thing that matters. But of course, you could be an idiot critic with a grudge on a bad day and not be objective, in which case, such a practice of sending your review or opinions to a writer before you hypothesise on them could stop needless slander or hatchet jobs. But if we pretend all critics are level-headed and relatively well educated we could dismiss the rigmarole of bothering a writer.

Hemmingway famously never offered any notes on his own writing, preferring to leave such stuff to the audience. Few writers take that tack today, with most promoting their work with lengthy and in depth interviews, articles and appearances on morning telly. Has the interview done away with the need to send a review then? We have space for a dialogue between critic and artist. I suppose the problem I have with this is that I find the interview far more interesting than the review. The review exists alone in a vacuum, un-naturally, with critics proposing possibilities of meaning, often talking as if the artist is dead “Perhaps this is a reference to…” they pontificate. Send him an email? Even if you disagree with the answer, even if you’re reading is different “He says it means x but actually I see y” is far more interesting than a séance that no one turns up to.

I’m interested in criticism for a lot of reasons, one is because in some form or another I long to teach people about my craft, and teachers are often the worst critics. They point out errors with unnerving accuracy and can usually see through bullshit at a hundred yards. Yet some go too far, rather than pointing out a problem to a student they often offer up suggestions to improve it, and this is where I part ways with most critics as well. Usually when a critic suggest a different approach for an artist I have to fight back the urge to roll my eyes. By all means, tell me why you think the plot doesn’t work, why the sculpture is unappealing or the soundtrack ruins the movie. Don’t enter some sort of make believe world where your choices can be more valid than the artist. And I’m talking to you teachers, for heavens sake don’t tell a student what can improve their work (even is we all know it would). Most art students have issues reguarding their ego and want to have full ownership of their work, you telling them how to improve their work is a sure fire way to ensure they don’t do that, ask them the questions that will get them there on their own.

Le Guine referenced a critic who had started the process of sending their reviews to their subject before publication and her feedback was that it made the whole thing more considered and accurate. While I don’t think reviewers need do this the whole time, I think both of these qualities should always be at the front of a critics mind when they write an article about someone, its their responsibility. Criticism helps everyone, discussing art is the surest way to promote it, and sometimes can help more thoughtful experiences from an audience and on rare occasions even help an artist understand how their work is received.  

Thursday, 27 February 2014

How knitting has kept me sane

Since I graduated I've really struggled to figure out what to do with the dreggs of creativity left over from a glass and ceramics degree. To say I was burnt out would be  huge understatement. In my final weeks of the degree I hated my work and developed an abscess that would have me on bed rest for a little under a month. I managed to drag myself to London for New Designers, but let's be honest, that was my Northern miserly-ness making sure I didn't waste all the money I'd put into getting there. I mostly trundled back and forth from a drop-in centre and battled a couple of new, and unnecessary, infections.

I then had to start paying a mortage. So I got a job in a restaurant and worked on DIY-ing the heck out of my house. I don't remember why, but it was around this time I started to knit again. I'd gone to a couple of knitting nights and picked up some skills whilst I was in my third year, and had tried to learn by myself since coming back from Africa. But knitting seemed like a good way of making things but not stretching myself too thin.

I got a different job in a cafe and knitted my colleagues hideous scarves for Christmas. From then on I'd occasionally pick up some knitting, learn a new skill like knitting on the round, I made an ill-fitting cushion cover, more hideous scarves (my mother called me on Christmas day to ask if the snood I'd made her was a mini-skirt).  Then I called on Lydia Wysocki to teach me how to sew a cushion for the hiddeous cushion I'd made and she did a bang up job of teaching me. But now I had a load of wool that was doing nothing so I decided I'd knit a jumper. And I knit a bloody jumper. Addmitedly, I ran out of wool and one of the sleeves was the wrong colour, but it was a jumper! I'd made clothes! I decided it would be yet another Christmas present. I quickly knitted another. And started on a cardigan and slipper socks. 

I'm now knitting herrings for Follow the Herring and going to knitting school on Saturday to learn about cables.

This thing, with the needles and the wool has lead me back to being someone who liked making things. Thanks to the support of people like Stacey Whittle, Robyn Townsend, Megan Randall and all the old ladies who saw me struggling with dpn's on the bus or in cafe's I've managed to figure out how to make something out of a tangled ball of nothing. It's made me feel like I can make things, anything. And that they don't have to have a grand purpose, I just need to make them. It's lead me to accepting a workshop making buttons with a knitting group, starting a sketchbook project and feeling like a real craftswoman again.

If you're a knitter I'm on ravelry as terracottalily.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Drawing to tell the Tale

I'm drawing in a book. I'm worried it's a little twee or hip, but honestly, I wanted to start drawing in January and I knew that the obstacle of going out and buying a sketchbook could derail this fragile little yearning for creativity. So instead of risk it, I took out the copy of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Living to Tell the Tale that I'd finally finished after dragging it around for the last three years. I'd made notes in it to keep myself engaged whilst I read so I knew no one else would be able to enjoy it so I didn't feel too bad.

I started with little doodles that related to the book, the idea of belonging, family and coffee. But after a while I realised I didn't want to be drawing about anything prescriptive so I went more free form. This pencil sketch came from my love of all things folk art and Marquez's No One Writes to the Colonel in which the titular Colonel feels like lillies are growing in his guts. Well, that's too good an image to leave alone, right?

Someone on Radio 2 (I suspect it was some sort of famous reverend) said the phrase "searching for our calm circle". I don't know if it was a reference or even a mistake but it stirred something.

Then I wanted to get less abstract so played with a figure who was trying to claw her way out of her "calm circle". Somewhere along the way I lost her momentum. I think it has something to do with  trying to learn how to cable knit whilst drawing this and therefore her jumper got a lot more attention than I had originally planned.

I painted a page to go behind my escaping woman but decided I'd like to add another layer behind that so created a doorway. Behind it was supposed to be a monster, but it became someone sad, twisted and alone. There's a bible in her room, I'm not sure why.

In retrospect I can see that after my woman trying to escape and my lonely trapped woman I must have been feeling the need for something lighter, so here we have Red Riding Hood looking into a mirror and finding the big bad wolf. There's nothing deep about this, I wanted more layers so used a mirror. And then I got to play with embroidery. Which, I quickly learnt, is very difficult. Still not happy with this wolf.

Something totally different. Cutting, collage, watercolours and a printout of a map of the world with a church mistakenly printed on it that I found at work. It's an exercise in composition I think and I'm sure in the hands of someone else could have been pushed more but I just wanted something faster than embroidery.

And then I went back to embroidery. Just because you don't know how to do something, doesn't mean you shouldn't, right? I was inspired after seeing a twitter exchange (that I now can't find) about how exciting sketching dancers is. It's a lot more muddled than originally planned but I like it.

Then the same thing happened, the embroidered piece took me hours so I wanted something fast, and we'd just been to see James Wilton at the Customs House and felt that I wanted to play with rhythm.

Then collage with a face, lots of it. A little reference to Marquez's Love and other Demons and Sierva Maria's ever-growing hair.

A reference to The Saint in Strange Pilgrims and the flowers that remain preserved in her coffin.

This page was all about how much Marquez's parents loved each other, but his father was incapable of fidelity.

I found one of my little faces and wanted to use it, so made a witch doctor of unknown origins.

I'll keep drawing until I run out of pages.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

We have a winner!

Below is a report from the wonderful Philippa Abbott of Phileigh's Cakes. Phil is the best friend a gal could have, she sent me this knowing that I would be going crazy not knowing what was happening at the degree show. Enjoy her account of the night, I know I did.

Hi Lil!
Well we arrived to find a mass of people in the foyer of the Glass
Centre which was not what we were expecting. It was jam packed!
Unfortunately we missed all of the talk about how amazing you all are
and missed you getting your prize. But Daniel told us all about it and
I have to say that I was not at all surprised! You deserve it! We
walked through the glass history exhibition not really knowning where
we were being taken but were amazed when we saw the room! It was
beautiful, and full of amazing art.
I told my Mam to "Look out for terracotta" to which she immediately
responded "There!" and there were your lovely little men on the floor
sitting in their circle. We were totally amazed at them and spent so
much time looking at all their faces. We wondered what was going
through your mind when you did them but as soon as we read the little
blurb about it in the catalogue we totally understood it! It wasn't
long before I saw people pointing and commenting and taking loads of
photos! My Mam was a little worried about them getting hurt because
they were quite vulnerable on the floor, but her threat to kill anyone
who knocked them didn't have to become reality! We met your Mam who we
chatted to, and as usual my Mam told her how lovely you are and how
much we loved your piece. Then we saw Daniel who told me all about how
poorly sick you are, which made me sad. But I was plesantly surprised
to hear that he seemed to be taking very good care of you which made me
a lot more settled.
I recognised some of the names on the pieces and some of the faces I
saw around and about. Some of our other favourite pieces were Alice's
birds, Helen's wall piece with the black pictures on clear glass, Emma
Hollin's piece, Emma Evett's piece which we decided we would like as an
ornament and Julie's pots and jars were also lovely. However, all of
you clearly put a lot of work into your pieces and each was fantastic
in their own right.

It is safe to say that all your efforts and hard work paid off and
everyone was amazed at the work you guys had produced and were
thoroughly enjoying themselves. You did yourself and everyone else
proud! I appologise for not being the best photographer on planet earth
but I hope you can see that your piece looked amazing and that there
were a lot of people there to see it. Well done Lil! Love you! xxxxx

I think it's only fair to say that Philippa obviously wins one of my little men for her sheer awesomeness. Today and tomorrow are the last days you can see the show, get on down to the National Glass Centre!

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Big day

Tomorrow is the big day; my degree show. Under ordinary circumstances I'd be excited. I'd have an outfit picked out and I'd have my magic clipboard with all the jobs I need to do outlined on it.
All that changed on Sunday. I had to go to hospital because a pilonidal abscess I was diagnosed with last Thursday started giving me far more pain than it should have. Hours of discomfort later I was admitted over night and expecting surgery in the morning. Everything went well and I came back to Daniel's on Tuesday ready to recover.
Part of the healing process is that everyday the packing in the wound has to be changed. This mostly leaves me a quivering wreck for the rest of the day.
I'm only really comfortable lying down. But mostly I'm upset that I won't be able to go to the opening. I worked hard for this show, I helped raise the money, choose the invites, publicise it and put my work in it. And tomorrow I won't be able to celebrate all that work. We had a little party on Friday when all the work was installed but I was in too much pain then to really join in. I can't imagine being in better shape tomorrow.
So- I need photojournalists. I need bloggers. I need tweeters. I need anyone with a smart phone or a good memory to go to the opening night tomorrow at the National Glass Centre from 6 o'clock and tell me what happened. Best tweet, facebook status or blog about the event wins one of my little men. If you tweet it use the hashtag #gac2012, if you're facebooking it pop a link on the event page and if you're blogging it send me a link through the comments or to .
Have a look at our facebook event or check out our website.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Meet and Greet- Amy Edmondson

This weeks Meet and Greet is Amy Edmondson, Amy is new to our class and has flung herself into it, she's a considerate little soul and (I think) that's what makes her work so haunting.

Use five words to describe your work


How do you make your pieces?

In autumn I collect the fallen sycamore seeds like a crazy woman, scratching around in the leaves. Once they're dry I systematically hang each one up and coat it with my own blend of porcelain paper clay slip. I then remove the seed pod from the bulb and place it on a tile to be fired. If they're going to be glazed I drop very watery glaze inside them and put them in sand to stop the glaze sticking to anything. 

What makes your work different from everybody else’s?

This work has really gotten to the heart of a lot of things in my life. While I've been working on it, a lot of things have changed but it couldn't be more current or appropriate. I never wanted to make a piece of work which was personal but that is definitely what makes the work different from everybody elses. Rightly or wrongly, I've put 22 years worth of feelings into it meaning it has more aspects to it than I care to remember! It deals with issues from when I was much younger to things which bother me daily. I hope when the work is complete and constructed I can accept the inspiration  behind it.

 If you had to work in any other medium, what would it be?

Pen and paper. No question. Although not in terms of writing but drawing. I love how permanent a drawing in ink is. When you put pen to paper you and truely committing your vision to paper without being able to easily alter it like pencil allows.  Drawing is so portable, it's a beautiful tool, allowing you to record places and events in a completely unique and deeply personal way. 

What is the biggest challenge you face with your work?

I had the idea of porcelain sycamore seeds long before I knew whether it was possible. I spent months figuring out that porcelain paper clay was the best medium to cover them, then started making my own ratios of porcelain to paper pulp.  Once I'd deduced the best ratio I experimented with the number of layers and application method. I tried different firing temperatures and positions in the kiln; small changes here made all the difference. Finally I needed to engineer a way of getting the glaze inside the seed and preventing it from sticking to the shelf during firing. Although the early stages of the work were by far my biggest challenge I preservered and either over came or found ways to work around all the teething problems. Although frustrating at the time I am incredibly greatful for them. I have an appreciation for the tiny seeds I don't think I would have gained any other way.  To many people this might sound like the most dull process but I work in quite a scientific, structured way and it couldn't have been better suited to that.

The personal aspect to my work is something I'm not used to and as such I've found it quite hard to deal with. I've shyed away from talking about the real meaning behind my work and in a lot of ways I still am. I know very shortly I'm going to have to put it out there to either be accepted or over looked as another bit of conceptual rubbish. 

 How do you want people to react to your work?

I suppose it's the obvious thing to say but I really want people to consider the work in order to deduce its meaning (in that case maybe I should've made it more clear). I whole-heartedly believe everyone could take something from the concept behind the work. Although its very personal its important people look beyond that at how it can affect and hopefully improve their life rather then how it fits into mine. 

Check Amy's work out at our degree show site and visit her blog for more info. Don't forget to see her work in person at our degree show from the 15th of June at the National Glass Centre.