I have just enjoyed the most wonderful 12 days at North Lands Creative, on a 10-day course with Master glass artist and maestro Bruno Romanelli and his very talented assistant Tim Rawlinson, thanks to a Bullseye Glass Scholarship for which I am deeply grateful.
Bruno is the most delightful person; the sort of man you know you will like the moment you meet him, as well as an amazing wonderful teacher. Throughout the 10 long days Bruno shared his in-depth knowledge with the 8 artists in the group, in a logical detailed step by step way, helping each of us develop new skills and techniques in the art of casting glass through the lost wax method. As if this wasn’t enough, he also encouraged us to grow as artists as well! So, from the first day, when after introductions we ventured out to Latheronwheel to draw at the harbour, he pushed us to see beyond the natural. Beyond the awe of the crashing grey blue waves, beyond skies so brooding and majestic they took your breath away and beyond scenery so gorgeous and heritage so fascinating that you wanted to forget you were on a course and run off and explore. Instead Bruno asked us to dwell on what we were drawn to. And why? Encouraging us to sketch large images, take photos or just to simply observe, we sat meditatively in the drizzling rain gazing out to the sea and the towering cliffs, strolled silently around the wet harbour walls or explored thoughtfully the caves and derelict buildings. On return Bruno invited us to share our reaction and response to this very special highland place and what it spoke to us, and why.
This experience was repeated later in the week with a trip to mysterious Grey Cairns of Camster, which are 5000 years old and some of the oldest structures in Scotland. Blessed with a beautiful sunny, late summers day we crawled into the structures and sat drawing or contemplating them; a deeply profound experience. We then ventured further up the road to see some very modern structures at Camster Wind Farm where we were able to walk right up to the turbines and even lie on the grass beneath them. The contrast between the old and new was stark and the beauty of each differing manmade structure was not lost on the group. Ending our trip on Berriedale Beach, once again Bruno sought to stretch us even further, asking us to see beyond what we were drawn to and why, and to find the very ‘essence’ of what we were experiencing. And then, to consider how we could portray this through our work.
The first moulds I made were based on the sea and rocks. What I was drawn to, were the oval shapes within the waves which were repeated in the rock formations. Why was I drawn to this I pondered? Was this pattern beaten into the rocks by the sea or is it reflected onto the sea by the rock formations themselves? Perhaps it is both, part of the cycle of life. I was also really drawn to the deep grey blue and even ‘purpleness’ of the water, which is not a shade I recall seeing in our Scottish seas before.
My second set of moulds were made from pondering the deeper question of what the ‘essence’ was from my experience of Camster Cairns. Since my art is based on the spiritual aspects or the ‘inner being’ of our lives, I loved the whole experience of being inside these womb-like structures. But in the end, as I dwelt on the idea of the ‘essence’, I felt it was the entrances and exits to the cairn, which are barred and yet open, windows of light from which you can barely see in or see out, which captured me. Drawn to the shadows, the bars on the cairns’ openings created, I decided this time to explore some of these effects within the cast glass itself.
I made two very simple rectangular shaped moulds, reminiscent of the Cairn exit openings which allowed me to stack sheet glass in one and sheet glass and frits in the other, with the aim of allowing the glass to move during casting just as the shadows move in the changing light. Since I used very little clear glass one of the pieces came out very dark, which was indeed what the inner chambers of the Cairns are like. So I asked Tim to cut it in half and this opened up the beauty within the dark piece, just as the light opened up the beauty inside the dark Cairn. I was also really pleased with the way the stacked glass moved during firing and feel these two little experiments should be explored further. Along with contemplating more about the essence of what I am trying to say, and finally built upon for some larger scale future work.
There were too many highlights during the 10 days to share them all, but one was a visit to Lani McGregor and Dan Schwoerer’s Scottish home and on-site Gallery; The Byre in Latheron. This lovely former manse is filled with some of Lani and Dan’s collection of glass art, much of which is inspired by the sea and sky and landscapes of Caithness and all of which is made from glass from their Bullseye Glass Company in Portland Oregon. While The Byre hosts contemporary thought-provoking art glass installations. To see such a beautiful collection of glass from all over the world, all in one place, and to realise the vast scope of artwork their glass production company enables, was an amazing experience and a wonderful privilege to behold. Thank you Lani and Dan for opening up your home and gallery to us, we loved our visit there.
Other highlights were the interesting presentations from Bruno, Tim and the class participants; all of whom are interesting artists in their own right. In particular Bruno shared how his work had moved from creating unique figurative sculptures, into abstract geometrical forms that combine nature, light, symmetry and colour. He then graciously answered all our questions even drawing pictures to explain how he made his complex stunning creations. This presentation was such an inspiration, that it is something I will treasure and think about for a long, long time.
Throughout the course Bruno also shared his 30 years of casting experience; his vast knowledge of how glass flows and reacts, his mould making expertise, aspects of his creative practice such as the use of specialist equipment and most generous of all, very detailed, in depth firing schedules. Along with oceans of personal advice, support and insight. What an incredible gift; I just hope I can remember it all!
All good courses have great food and good fellowship and that was enjoyed every evening both at Whaligoe Steps café and restaurant with the amazing food of Karen Davis, herself a glass artist, and her partner John McMaster. Or at the Portland Hotel which also served up the most satisfying hearty Scottish grub. And I have to mention my lovely stay at Rose Cottage with Murray and Moria too, with the cute attic bedrooms, comfy beds, electric blankets and Scottish breakfasts, what more could anyone ask for? Not having to rush back to the studio to do more work after dinner, but able to chat longer to one another, enjoy a second, or even third glass of wine or pet Karen’s adorable Scottie dogs enabled everyone to relax at the end of each busy day and enabled us all to keep the pace.
Sadly there is no space left to tell you about the filming of The Crown or the crab rolls at Lybster Harbour, or our visit to Dunrobin Castle with its Hawk display and museum of stuffed animals and standing stones. Or the dangerous walk down the 300 Steps at Whaligoe Cliff and the great many other awesome experiences we all enjoyed.
It’s rare to go on a course where the tutor is a true master, is able to teach well and is always pleasant helpful and fun. Where the staff are lovely, the food is amazing, the scenery is stunning, the learning outcomes far exceed your wildest expectations, where its action packed with wonderful experiences, where everyone gets on really well and where meaningful friendships and connections are made. But that is what happened! And since this was my first experience of North Lands Creative I hope to be back again very soon!
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