Tuesday, 28 November 2017

I became hooked from day one!

Gill tried printmaking on one of our leisure courses. And she's never looked back...

Gill smiling and standing in front of some of her prints mounted on a wall
I still have the very first print I ever made at RACC. Not because it's particularly good - but because it started me on a fascinating journey. 

With a Business Studies degree, my background is in financial consultancy, but I've always been a 'maker'. I could sew, knit and cook from an early age. And draw a bit. But I wanted to learn something new, so I signed up for a Beginners' Printmaking course at Richmond Art School. 

I knew nothing at all about the various processes, but I became hooked from day one! That very first print was a drypoint - basically a scratched drawing on a piece of plastic, inked and printed onto dampened paper by putting it through the printing press. The whole process was fascinating and I can still remember the excitement of seeing the print appear as I pulled the paper from the printing plate. Other printmaking processes followed, each with new technicalities to learn and each equally intriguing. 

I followed the leisure course with a BTEC in Printmaking. It was during this course that I first met Jera, Head of the Art School, and she suggested I think about taking my studies further. After much research and agonising over whether it was the right thing to do (it was), I applied for and was accepted on the MA Visual Arts (Printmaking) course at Camberwell College of Arts, UAL in 2012.

During my time at RACC I'd become interested in the relationship between the traditional craft-led processes of printmaking, and the use of new digital technology. The MA let me explore this in greater depth and has been the foundation of my art practice. Although my practice is rooted in print and the concept of the multiple, it has now widened to include more sculptural one-off paper pieces, artists' books and handmade gifts made from my own digitally designed and printed fabric.

I absolutely believe that we can all be creative. It might not be obvious at first where your talents lie, but they are in there somewhere, just waiting on the right encouragement. RACC has a vast array of courses to light that spark, so I'd definitely encourage everyone to 'have a go' and sign up to learn something new. You never know where it will take you.

Gill will be selling her prints at our Winter Art & Craft Fair on Saturday 2nd December, 10am - 4pm. You can also follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and via her website. Fancy trying something new in January? Check out our courses

Monday, 16 October 2017

A sprinkling of choreography, a sizzle of ukes and a huge dash of humour!

The Decibelles are an a capello trio of our talented singing tutors, with a vintage vibe. Here Deirdre talks about how they got together. 

Vintage style photo of The Decibelles with polka dot dresses
(From left to right) Janet Oates, Wendy Linsey and Deirdre O'Kelly
We’ve known each other for about five years now. We first met when we were all involved in putting on a Christmas concert with our singing groups at RACC. Our line manager Dave suggested we sing a song together and we thought ‘why not?’, so we sang ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ in harmony. We really enjoyed it (and so did the audience...no false modesty!) so we thought we should keep going.

We’ve become a close harmony group and we’ve got our own website, Facebook and Twitter pages (even Instagram now!). We’ve sung at many different venues including the Pheasantry in Chelsea, the OSO Arts Centre in Barnes, the Ram Jam in Kingston and the Half Moon in Putney. We’ve done a mini tour (well, we’ve been to Whitstable and Worthing!) and we’ve been on BBC Radio Kent. When we’re not putting on our own shows, we quite often perform at private parties. We were asked to write our own arrangement of ‘All of Me’ for a recent wedding, and the bride and groom had their first dance to it which was lovely. (We forgot to warn them it was five minutes long, and the groom may not have been the best dancer in the world - ahem!)

Halloween poster advertising The Decibelles' next gig
We are really lucky that as tutors at RACC we have access to the brilliant facilities - and of course we’ve performed at the college many times. We premiered our first cabaret show, ‘The Decibelles Do Love’ at RACC on Valentine’s Day. We’ve since gone on to create two more shows - ‘The Decibelles Do Hollywood’ - and we’re currently working on ‘The Decibelles Do Halloween’ on 28th October at the OSO in Barnes. We'll have a lot of new songs with a spooky theme: ‘Bewitched’, ‘I Put a Spell on You’, ‘Ghost Town’, and of course,‘Thriller.' They’re all either a capella or we use our own instruments like ukuleles and percussion - Wendy even has a keytar (very 80s New Romantic look).

Being in the Decibelles is fun but it's hard work. Now that we’re branching out into cabaret and even doing little bits of comedy and choreography, we need LOADS of rehearsal as each show takes a lot of time to create. This year we also recorded a video and had a session in a recording studio. It’s probably time we got some help with the bookings etc - so that’s our next step.

One of the best things is arranging our own music - we all take turns to do this, and we try to learn between three and six new songs for each show. It means each show is fresh and our audiences always have something new to hear. We’ve each got our own style, but it’s hard to put our finger on what makes each of our arrangements different (the only thing we agree on is that Janet’s are the most difficult!). 

Vintage style photo of The Decibelles in polka dot dressesWhen we're not singing or rehearsing with the Decibelles we're all doing other musical things like running our own choirs and teaching singing. Wendy sings with the Soul Trippers and various jazz trios (and she actually started out as a student here at RACC); Janet is into classical and weird contemporary music, and I run too many community and rock choirs to count! It’s great that we all have our own musical genre which we specialise in. It means between us we have a good range of musical knowledge and our arrangements are really varied.

We’re combining our teaching with The Decibelles now too - with a Christmas Workshop in December for any of our students who want to learn to sing in close harmony. We’ll be teaching some Christmas songs and taking students to perform in a local pub afterwards. We'd love you to join us!

You can find out more about The Decibelles by visiting their website, Facebook page, Twitter and Instagram accounts. You can also check out our singing courses starting in January. 

Friday, 15 September 2017

Studios are charged with creative energy, limited only by the artists' imagination

Have you ever wondered what goes through a Life Model's head as they pose for your drawings? 

Dominic Blake is a professional Life and Portrait Model, working with art colleges, Life Drawing groups, museums, galleries and independent artists in London and beyond. Here we get a glimpse into his perspective...

My path to Life and Portrait Modelling was an unexpected one

I hadn't considered the possibility of life modelling until a friend asked me to pose nude for a painting about three years ago. After initially rejecting the idea, when I finally decided to pose, it turned out to be one of the most profoundly moving moments of my life.

I had long harboured a desire to immerse myself in a more intimate and active way within the artistic community, and to find a way to express myself creatively that made sense to me. Through posing for my friend, I found a way of being that possessed great emotional meaning, through which results were tangible and immediate (in the form of drawings, paintings or sculptures).

After that initial sitting, I began posing for evening Life Drawing classes in art colleges while working in a full time admin job. But I quickly realised I wanted to pursue Life and Portrait Modelling as a profession, and leaving my desk job was an easy decision to make. 

There is something magical about the atmosphere in an art studio

They are charged with an infinitely positive creative energy, limited only by the imaginations of those people who inhabit them. I love working with artists as part of a creative exchange, challenging myself to create poses that will be the catalyst for new and interesting journeys through drawing. The immediacy of the relationship between the artist and their sitter is uniquely electric to me; every day I watch works of art unfold and evolve, knowing that I helped to inspire their creation. It is a really humbling experience.

Becoming the pose 

When you inhabit a pose, it can sometimes feel as if the universe beyond the studio has melted away, and you exist in a blissfully meditative state. In such moments, I feel like I have 'become the pose'; every part of my mind and body, every sensation and emotion I experience, is in sync and connected to the artists in the studio. I am focused in an instinctive way, on maintaining my pose. I make minor adjustments every so often to alleviate any pain or discomfort. I develop a heightened awareness of external sensory inputs, it feels as if I can hone in on each mark being made on a canvas. 

Time becomes distorted when you become the pose, and sometimes evaporates; 30 minutes can elapse in what feels like three. Of course, the reverse can be true, if you unwittingly engineer a pose that is very difficult to maintain!

Although to the outside observer I must appear very still, I think my poses convey drama through their stillness. There is a theatrical dimension to my work; I feel connected within a symbiotic relationship to all those people who have assembled to draw me, whether in a life or portrait class. It's endlessly interesting to witness how artists capture and interpret the energy of my poses.

Influences for poses 

Marble sculpture of Giambologna's 'Sampson Slaying a Philistine' in the V&A

My influences are drawn from a wide variety of sources; painting, sculpture, architecture, nature (I often find inspiration for poses in trees and clouds), music and literature all feed into my work. There are also some truly incredible Life Models working in London who I'm inspired by every day. I'm also influenced directly by the energy of the studio itself, by the atmosphere created by the artists in attendance.

Prior to embarking on my journey as a Life and Portrait Model, I worked for several years in the museum sector at the V&A and British Museum. I used to arrive really early at the V&A, before the museum had opened, to spend time admiring the Rodin's and my favourite sculpture, Giambologna's 'Sampson Slaying a Philistine'. I have developed several poses based on those sculptures.

I most enjoy improvising short, dynamic gestural poses. Moving organically from one pose to the next, with each pose influencing the one that follows it, and never knowing quite where you will end up can be really exciting.  

Becoming part of the London art community 

I grew up in London and spent my childhood visiting museums and galleries. The National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery and Royal Academy became second homes to me. I now work regularly in the Royal Academy's historic Life Room, looking onto the benches that Stubbs, Reynolds and Constable sat at. I've also worked at the National Gallery, recently posing in front of Caravaggio's and Piero's. It's not easy putting into words how incredible it feels to be so intimately connected with works of art, and with artists, who have for meant so much to me for so long. 

Being a part of the artistic community in London has changed my life forever. I've had the privilege of working with some of my favourite artists, including Robin Lee Hall, Sarah Jane Moon, Kinga Markus, David Caldwell, Dan Whiteson and many others. I'm dedicated to honing my craft, which will be a life-long pursuit. 

Discovering Richmond Art School 

I first worked with Richmond Art School earlier this year, after being asked to model for a series of portrait classes delivered by artist and tutor Olivia Downey. Working at the college as a Life and Portrait Model is very rewarding; the art department is housed within a new purpose-built school with spacious drawing studios ideally suited for figurative art. 

The studios possess a myriad of lighting possibilities that allow tutors and artists alike to produce very specific conditions for drawing and painting. The art school has a positive and relaxed atmosphere fostering an easy creative environment, and I have enjoyed working with all the of artists in the life and portrait classes I have sat for very much. And I'm looking forward to returning to Richmond Art School this year - so see you in the studio! 

You can follow Dominic on Instagram. If you fancy trying Life Drawing, find out more about what we offer on Saturday mornings and Wednesday afternoons. 

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Ceramics is 75% science, 25% magic

Toby is now a regular student on our Ceramics Hand-building and Throwing courses. Read about his journey into the pottery studio, and his love for science and clay. 

Toby in the ceramics studio working on a bowl
My background is in science - ever since I finished university (Physics with Nuclear Astrophysics, if you're interested!), I've been working in various jobs that try to connect science with the public, so I love anything where I can get my geek on. In my spare time, I do a lot of crafting - I knit and bake and I was looking for a new creative challenge.

Last January, I signed up for RACC's Handbuilding and Throwing evening class to get my hands on some clay. It's safe to say, I've never looked back! In the last 18 months or so, I've had a huge amount of fun, met some lovely people and created some pieces of work that I'm truly proud of.

Hand-building vs throwing

From the beginning, I knew I wanted to focus on hand-building. Using techniques like pinching, coiling and slab-building, you can create whatever shapes you want, from geometric to organic. I love pieces that are obviously handmade (if it's too symmetrical, you may as well buy it from a shop!) and hand-building lets you work at your own pace, rather than be subject to the tyranny of the wheel. 

My favourite pieces that I've made are heavily textured with carving and facets (using tools to create texture), and look like they've been pulled from a quarry or an archaeological dig! I love playing with the contrasts between glazed and unglazed pottery, experimenting with different clays to get an interesting texture or finish in the final product.

Science + art = fun

For me, one of the most fascinating parts of pottery is glazing. I think of this as being around 75% science and 25% magic. The art school's glaze collection is really exciting; from glassy to matte, functional to sculptural, smooth to highly textured, there are lots of options to play with! 

Glazes are, essentially, chemically similar to clay itself, but with some extra little ingredients (and then mixed with water). Once you apply glaze to the bisque fired clay, it's these special ingredients that give your final piece its unique finish, colour or texture. You can also apply other chemicals (called oxides) to the glaze to add another layer of colour to your object. Then this is fired in the electric or gas kiln. Whilst both of the kilns are basically just ovens for pots (albeit really hot ones), the chemical reactions that they create make for another very exciting opportunity for creating something special. 

The magic of the kiln process

Handmade ramen bowl with colourful glaze insideThe really interesting part is the "25% magic" bit. You might think you have a good idea of what's going to happen after the kiln door is closed, but the results can really surprise you. The glaze can behave in all sorts of exciting ways, depending on how the kiln is packed, how thickly you apply the glaze and 1001 other factors that will subtly influence what your pot looks like. 

This makes the time when you first pick up your pot a very special one - will it look as you imagined it would or will it be totally different? Whilst, sometimes, you can be a bit disappointed, you can also be utterly delighted by something that you had no idea would happen! 

On one of my recent pots, I used a glaze that (I thought) would give an all-over sapphire blue, but what came out of the kiln was mostly silvery grey with a full spectrum of colours that spanned turquoise through to a deep violet - I was thrilled! All of these magical factors come together and make your finished pot truly unique. It'd be boring if you knew exactly what was going to happen in the kiln, and the highs and lows of "discovering" your pot makes ceramics deeply satisfying.


Initially, I wanted to get confident with handling clay - learning how it behaves, and what you can make it do. My early pieces were heavy and chunky, but I'm still really pleased with them. I made platters with slabs, vases from coils and had lots of fun with pinched pots (from little bowls to lidded vessels). I also experimented with slips, glazes and oxides to understand how they can be used in a controlled way. From here, I want to make things that are intriguing, tactile and unique - and (hopefully!) a pleasure to use. 

Gathering inspiration

Where next? I've started using Pinterest and I've been drawn to Japanese and Korean pottery. I've been amassing a collection of ideas for new projects in this style. I've already made a sake set (a pitcher and three cups, which I entered into the St Helena's Trust competition at the college) and I've been exploring various forms. I like Chawan - relatively wide, shallow, straight-sided bowls used for the preparation of Matcha (frothy green tea) as part of the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. I'm interested in Yunomi - beakers for drinking regular green tea, and I've got a pair of these on my desk at work that I use for my tea and coffee.

Planning more ambitious works

Yunami handmade bowl in muted colours
I'm planning to do some more ambitious multi-part projects, like a teapot, and to work on refining my work to make my objects thinner and lighter. I'm thinking about making some pieces to sell in the college's Parkshot Gallery, so keep an eye out! I've also had my first commission - a storage pot for my friend's stained glass studio.

The art school is a fantastic place to learn - our tutor (hi Nic!), our helpful technicians (hi Zoe!) and my fellow students make the class a lot of fun. I'm so glad I gave ceramics a try! So much so I've signed up for the next three terms already...

You can follow Toby on Twitter and keep up to date with his latest creations. If you'd like to try ceramics yourself, have a look at our courses starting in September. Be quick, they fill up fast! 

Friday, 14 July 2017

Be creative, who knows where it may take you!

Tracy Nicholls is our current Artist in Residence. Here she tells us about her role and how she got into working with glass. 

Glass piece from 'Fragile Lace' series
Fragile Lace Series III

No one understands what your job is

Black and white portrait of Tracy smiling
I originally trained in childcare and worked as a nanny, which was much easier to explain! But as Artist in Residence, I get to use the Art School as my studio to work on my own practice. It garners the interest of the students and I get a lot of questions. I talk with them about the machines and techniques I use that they may not have come across before. It has put me back into a creative environment rather than working on my own, getting feedback and engaging with others.

Adult education is addictive

I attended many classes here to start with – interior design and painting and decorating amongst others before I discovered glass on an evening course, and I haven’t looked back. The tutors at Richmond Art School cajoled me to enrol onto an HNC course which I was reluctant to do. Jera (Head of the Art School) came into the class every week and stood by the machine I was working on until I finally gave in! I ended up doing an HNC, HND and then an MA at Farnham. I feel the solid teaching I received at RACC helped me achieve this and my further success. 

You’d never believe how expensive glass equipment is

Erosion #3
Some of the blades in glass equipment and machinery are lined with diamonds, so they are not the kind of thing you can easily have at home! Another reason it’s great to use the facilities at your local arts education establishment.

The opportunities for makers in London are amazing

There are lots of competitions and exhibitions in London that can really help to get your work seen as a new maker. I exhibited at New Designers which was brilliant, and came runner up in the Worshipful Company of Glass Student Award. Being selected for Collect 17 was amazing and daunting in equal amounts. It’s such a large and highly regarded show at the Saatchi Gallery, and I wanted everything to be as good as I could make it. My work can now be found in museums as well as private collections and publications – I would have never imagined it!

It’s never too late to try something new

To anyone wanting to try something new – go for it. You never know where it may take you, and you can always keep trying different things. Don’t be intimidated by others who may have been doing something longer than you, everyone was a beginner once and in your position. Even Grayson Perry first got into ceramics through an adult evening class!

Fragile glass piece
Ethereality 523

You can come and see Tracy's work in our current exhibition in our atrium, or see one of her pieces on show at Vessel Gallery this summer. You can also find out more through her website. Fancy trying glass yourself? Check out our upcoming courses.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

To my amazement, I'm now an established ceramicist, creating objects that I love

Vicky is currently in her final year of an HNC here at Richmond Art School, specialising in ceramics. Here she talks about her unconventional route to the kiln… 

I was diagnosed seven years ago with Pulmonary Sarcoidosis, a chronic auto-immune condition. I had to reduce from a full time active role at the council to a part-time, desk-based position as a Housing Allocations Officer. The idea of being a ceramicist, an artist, or of engaging in any artistic activity, was the furthest thing from my mind.  

But after three years of chronic fatigue, aches and pains and a cocktail of drugs every day, I was encouraged to take ill health retirement, which I reluctantly agreed to.

Finding a new direction

I knew that in order to be happy, I needed to recreate myself, keep busy and find a new interest. So, with RACC just down the road, I decided to try my hand at pottery; a hobby that involved a lot of sitting, which I was good at, and not much physical exertion (or so I thought!). I explained that I wasn’t very good in the mornings, or evenings for that matter, that finances were a bit of an issue, and also that I hadn’t touched any clay since I was a child. On their advice I enrolled on the BTEC Level 1 in Ceramics at the old Clifden Centre in Twickenham which took place once a week in the middle of the day. 

Four small pinch pots in various coloursI was totally starting from scratch. But by the end of my first lesson I was hooked! I went home and began to read books, research potters, and I set up a Pinterest account to gather inspiration. For the first time in years, I was excited to be learning a new skill. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on clay again the following week. 

After six months, I’d learnt how to make pinch pots (how useful this was!), how to do soft slabbing, hard slabbing, coiling and I attempted (and failed) to throw pots. My most successful pieces were my end of year collection of little pinch pots, a theme I would return to again and again, with remarkable success.

Developing my skills

At the end of the summer term, having passed the BTEC with a Distinction, I was determined to carry on with ceramics. I spent the following 12 months attending a Handbuilding and Throwing class taught by Delyth Jones, where I continued to develop my ceramic techniques (although regretfully, not improving my throwing much!). 

Towards the end of the summer term, at the suggestion of our very supportive technician Sally, I decided to apply for the HNC in 3D Design Ceramics the following September. The fees were a real obstacle to me, as I was living on a very small pension following my retirement, but thanks to financial (and moral) support from Richmond Parish Land Charities, I was able to afford the course. I’m now at the end of my two years and approaching my final end of term exhibition. 

Vicky's ceramic horses mounted on a wooden board at the V&A 'Inspired By' exhibition

Discovering amazing opportunities

It has been an incredible two years of hard work, fun, laughter, new friends and amazing opportunities and experiences. I was lucky enough to be chosen to exhibit in the V&A’s annual ‘Inspired By...’ competition, along with five other HNC students. My piece ‘Gor Sig Fria’ meaning ‘Make Themselves Free’ in Swedish, was inspired by the little wooden Swedish Dala Horse.     
I also entered a competition last year by the clothing company TOAST called ‘Works of the Heart’, for the chance to display in one of their shop windows during February. I entered a mixed media piece called ‘Toadstool Blossom’ and I was one of 11 chosen from over 900 applicants! I had the thrill of installing my work in their first store in LLandeilo in Wales.

Vicky's Toadstool blossom installation in Toast shop window
It was a daunting task to install my work in a venue that I'd never seen until the day, but I was well prepared for all eventualities, and was provided with copious cups of tea during the nearly four hours it took to install the piece. 
In the summer of 2016 our theme for the term was inspired by the word ‘Enclosure.’ I used the word literally with the idea of re-enclosing eroded rocks and minerals found on the coast back into clay, to create a series of planters. This project really tied in with my love of gardening, and I used plants that are happy in confined spaces and crevices.   
These planters were very popular, and I sold two after the exhibition and was encouraged to take the others to a retail outlet. I decided to try my luck at the fantastic Petersham Nurseries in Richmond. Initially they weren’t sure, as they are admittedly, an unusual shape! However they asked if I could make half a dozen more without the holes to be used as vases.

Large unusually shaped planters with plants inside
They were also very enthusiastic about my little pinch pots, and asked me to make a couple of dozen more for their shop. Ever since then, they’ve requested a regular supply, and they tell me they are a continual best seller. They are opening a restaurant and shop in Covent Garden this summer, so I'm going to be kept very busy! To my amazement, I am an established professional ceramicist with a regular income, creating objects that I love.

Lots of small pinch pots

And now, in my final few weeks of the course, I’m so excited about the future and my continued journey. My next ambition is to have my own studio with a kiln. 

Without RACC’s amazing tutors, technicians and the incredible facilities on offer in the art school, I would not have achieved any of this, and all I can say is thank you! 

You can visit Vicky’s end of year exhibition from Friday 7th July. Interested in trying a ceramics course? We have lots starting over summer and in September. 

Monday, 26 June 2017

I’m very glad I followed the urge to sign up to art classes, and now the rest is up to me.

Stephanie is a British-Brazilian artist living in Teddington. She specialises in colourful semi-abstract paintings on the themes of travel, interiors and women. 

Stephanie trained in Fine Art at RACC from 1996-2002 on a range of part time courses from A-Level to HND. Here she talks about her journey towards becoming an artist. 

If you’ve ever visited the north east of Brazil, you’ll know that it is a vibrant colourful place, with beautiful beaches and a wonderful climate. This is where I was born and where my passion for colour began. It was an idyllic place to grow up. 

I later moved to the UK and then in my 30s, with my husband and young family, lived in Indonesia for five years. It was whilst living in Jakarta that I saw an ad offering drawing lessons at an American artist’s house. I'd always loved art at school, so I decided to go along. It was like rediscovering a favourite pastime and I was eager to improve. It was inspiring to be taught by a professional artist, and I realised for the first time that maybe this was something I could spend the rest of my life doing!

Starting out at Richmond Art School

On my return to the UK in 1996 I enrolled at Richmond Art School at RACC to do A-Level Art. I enjoyed it so much that I progressed through all the stages - Foundation, HNC and HND over a number of years. I loved having the physical space and the time set aside to learn and develop my art skills. The years spent experimenting with different materials and ideas, the constant inspiration, guidance and tuition, the theory, the crits, and even the difficult challenges, have developed my creativity and resilience. I look back with fond gratitude to the many tutors who gave me key pointers or encouragement.

Plucking up courage

It felt like a big step for me to sign up for that initial A-Level course. I worried whether I'd be good enough. I had to arrange some childcare to give myself the space to do it. But sometimes you just have to go for opportunities that are important steps for your own growth and development. It's always a juggle, but most people find a way to do it somehow. 

At each stage of my training, I felt encouraged to progress to a higher level. When I reached the end of the HND course, one of my tutors suggested I should apply to do a degree, which I hadn't considered doing before. I applied to Wimbledon (UAL) on a Practice and Theory in Art and Design degree and was delighted to graduate in 2007.

I would really encourage anyone who has an inkling that they would like to try something new for themselves, to pluck up the courage and sign up.

Vibrant, colourful painting of a coffee set on a table

My new life as a working artist 

Now, I run a few painting workshops in my studio or in schools. I've also worked with organisations such at WWF at their headquarters in Woking. My specialism is semi-abstract colourful painting and I find that tailored, themed projects give students a great deal of freedom to express themselves, without being held back by a perceived lack of skills or experience.

I exhibit three to four times a year - annually at the Fountain Gallery by Hampton Court, where I'm a member artist, often at the Teddington Landmark Art Fair, and I've also exhibited at other venues including Mall Galleries and the Brazilian Embassy in London. 

I have a small studio in Teddington. It’s sometimes a bit messy when I’m in the middle of painting several pieces, but visitors are most welcome by appointment. 

vibrant, colourful painting depicting a cafe on a hill

I am currently preparing work for my solo exhibition in London called ‘Colour in the City’ at the Barbican Library from 30 June -26 July 2017. This is a wonderful opportunity for me to showcase 25 original and editioned pieces at an iconic London venue. Anyone is very welcome to come. 

Becoming an artist takes time and dedication. Talent needs nurturing and exhibition experience only comes with practice. My attitude is that I’m in it for the long haul – I like to think I will still be painting at 90, so building an art practice has to evolve rather than be forced. It has to compete with other priorities in life too. But I’m very glad I followed the urge to sign up to art classes when I did, and now the rest is up to me.

You can have a look at more of Stephanie's work on her website and follow her on social media. 

Feeling inspired? Take a look at our painting and drawing courses coming up over summer, and in the new Autumn term. 

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Creative learning in a Victorian museum

Today is Museum Day. Olwen, a glass artist and tutor here at Richmond Art School, teaches art to students with learning disabilities. Here she talks about an exciting new project at Langdon Down Museum. 

Students standing on the stage of the original Victorian theatre at Landon Down Museum

We have lots of learners with learning disabilities who come to Richmond to take part in art, drama, and skills for life courses. I teach a group of nine amazing students at the wonderful Langdon Down Museum. We’re very lucky to be able to hold our class there, where we can find inspiration from the amazing historical surroundings. 

The museum is in Normansfield, Teddington and was originally the home and institution of Victorian physician Dr John Langdon Down. At the time he had a revolutionary, enlightened approach to caring for and supporting people with learning disabilities.

The museum has some great exhibits with some very interesting historical artefacts. It’s fascinating to see how these institutions used to work. Although, it’s a great feeling to know that institutions are a thing of the past - our students with learning disabilities are now an integral part of Richmond Adult Community College, just like anyone else. 

The museum building also has a Grade II listed Victorian theatre, called Normansfield Theatre. It’s a real hidden gem, and is home to the largest collection of restored Victorian scenery. It’s one of only two theatres in the country with the original scene changing system in place. What’s great is that it is also still in use as a working theatre. 

Students working on their art projects at Langdon Down Museum
Michael, Emily and Anna creating their theatre artwork in this wonderful room with original features

Together, we’ve been working on a project about Victorian theatre and painted sceneries. The outcome of the project is a body of work in mixed medias. 

The class have absolutely loved it! They’ve been creating collages and paintings of the structure of the theatre, and creating their own landscape sceneries including forests, bays and rivers. It’s been amazing to see their work develop.

Anna, one of our students pictured above also works part time at the museum office. She told me, “I love being on this course and seeing my friends!” 

All of our student’s final pieces will be displayed at the museum in the next few weeks, so do pop along and see their hard work for yourself. 

To find out more about the Langdon Down Museum, you can check out their website. If you or someone you know is interested in joining an art course assisted by support workers, please email Theresa.May@racc.ac.uk or visit our website to find out more.  

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

From struggling student to Head of Art School

For International Women's Day, we're kicking off our new blog with our very own Jera May, Head of Richmond Art School. 

Jera's remit includes all art, craft, music and drama at RACC. It’s a large umbrella but one that offers countless opportunities and creative connections between artists, students and tutors. 

Here Jera talks about how she got into the art world, her weird and wonderful collections, her personal work, and what Richmond Art School has to offer now and in the future.

Discovering art and craft 

I first got into art in a round about way because I was dyslexic. I felt  bright, but I couldn’t really read or write properly and wasn’t doing very well academically at my local school. It was really frustrating. My mum and dad decided to put me in a convent school that recognised dyslexia and did arts based courses. So I learnt how to read and write through drama, art and literature instead.

My parents also had a huge influence on me. My mother is an extensive collector of antiquarian artefacts (junk), so when you walked into our family home, it was like walking into an installation, or a theatre set. The house was her sculpture, her art. She’s a highly creative person, and when we were growing up she expressed it through domestic means. Later in life she did it through attending numerous adult education classes, and she is now a painter. 

We had a completely Victorian kitchen, full of old equipment and culinary objects: butter churns, washing dollies, potato peelers with manual handle turning, everything. There were various collections of snuff boxes, art deco combs, and ceramics absolutely everywhere  – she is a real advocate for the Arts & Crafts and particularly likes William De Morgan, Lucy Rie and Clarice Cliff. 

Although most of the objects in the house were  from charity shops which she took us on regular outings to, we also went to the V&A Museum all the time, and would drive around London at the weekends  going to the theatre or exhibitions. She would always talk about the buildings and the era they were built. I got an amazing art education through having this wonderful period with my parents. I think it’s probably the most privileged experience I’ve had – getting that insight into art, culture and architecture from an early age.  

Going to art school

I wasn’t really interested in doing a degree. I’d just scraped through my BTEC in sculpture as I went backpacking to Madagascar half way through the course, and was more interested in travelling than art at that time. I was a really bad student!

But then, I had a bit of an epiphany. I opened a page of Crafts magazine and it said – “Stourbridge – beware of imitations.” As soon as I saw it, I just knew I had to apply. 

Stourbridge was a degree course in glass. I’d never used glass before, but I liked the idea of it because it encompasses sculpture, plaster, wax – glass is a composite material. The process to get to glass is all about casting, negative space, impressions, repetition – creating something out of different materials.

Jera in Bolivia sitting in front of a handmade kiln
Jera in Bolivia, in front of her handmade kiln
The course moved to Wolverhampton University, and I was one of the first students to go there – I think I only got in because they were desperate for people. I had a fantastic professor called Keith Cummings, and I really flourished there. Although I ended up going back to fine art sculpture and took my MA in Fine Art at UAL (with another amazing professor, Jordan Baseman), my craft /design degree taught me invaluable knowledge concerning the importance of skills and materials, and a real appreciation of functional crafts. 

After my BA, I continued travelling. I got involved in a WWF funded project setting up a community crafts centre in Bolivia, where I lived and worked for two years. I taught ceramics and worked with indigenous tribes to enable them to rediscover lost crafts, as a means of creating fair trade products as an income. This amazing experience reinforced my passion for the handmade, taught me the importance of community and really made me realise how creativity can change lives.

My vast range of collections

I went through a period of working with house clearers. I like memories and sentimental things that aren’t necessarily my own, and incorporating them into my artwork or my own home. There’s a connection between the house I grew up in and the relationship between the self and the environment, that I recurrently refer to in my sculptural practice – I talk about objects and how they identify with people, and vice versa.

Many of my own collections have experiential or sentimental value - things people have made or found for me, I also have a fossil collection, a photographic plate collection, a scientific glass and equipment collection - I particularly like transparent materials, and old instruments that measure things for some reason.

Usually what happens is people donate their rubbish to me because they know I will take it!

My personal work as a practising artist

A high sculptural installation consisting of lots of wood and furniture, held together by rope
The Delirium of Joy, 2008

I tend to work in the genre of sculptural installation often with a projected element, although I do also make drawings and collages. I have some lifetime projects that continue all the time – they’re never ending. 

The Delirium of Joy from 2008 was my final MA work. It was a milestone where everything came together and I really understood a piece of work to its best potential. The integration of ethereal video component with real materials both personal and found became a metaphor that I have used repeatedly. So I might consider the virtual projected element as some kind of utopian ideal or escape, or a deluded reality. The physical aspect of the work is very much on another plane. 

Stills from the Delirium of Joy video piece, showing a seagull flying in front of an old painting of the sea
Video stills from The Delirium of Joy, 2008

The facilities and ethos of Richmond Art School

Art building

When realising the new Art School, we worked with the architects Duggan & Morris very closely to design the new building, and went through a whole consultation process with students and stakeholders. We had fantastic double-height drawing studios at Clifden, and extensive craft facilities which we were determined to preserve. Our new building has been absolutely built to be an art school – the windows, the industrialist look, the raw materials – steel, brick, concrete, glass – very neo brutalist and incorporating the environmental aspects. 

We took all the old furniture from our site at Clifden, so it’s a mixture of the old and new which works really well. Part of the new building also has an amazing contemporary exhibiton space, gallery and theatre for drama performances and music concerts– it’s all about collaborative experience and community.

The art school, and whole college has a great atmosphere – it’s very inclusive and welcoming. We’ve got some fantastic staff – really experienced practitioners, and the facilities are great. 

Three women sitting at potter's wheels throwing clay

We wanted a multi-disciplinary dialogue to happen, even if only visually. So people studying ceramics could walk past a workshop doing bookbinding, or people doing print can engage with people doing plaster moulding because everything is on site. We want people to be able to move laterally between studios.

It’s so important to keep teaching the crafts. Lots of colleges that have these traditional facilities are closing their craft provision to make way for the digital age, but at Richmond Art School we know you can have both. We feel it’s meaningful not only for maintaining heritage and improving quality of life, but also looking at a sustainable future by teaching people skills to make things they can use in their everyday lives. Our gallery shop supports this idea by enabling students to sell the work they make at the college, which we are hoping to expand this year into an online shop. I call myself a Progressive Traditionalist and I think it applies to the art school as well!

A key role we can provide is to try to offer creativity for all people, of all ages, backgrounds and cultures and abilities. We’re a real conduit for opportunity. People might want to learn a new skill, or to try ceramics with their children, learn how to make clothes, or they might just want to feel better about something in their life. Here they can do a course, progress onto another, then maybe go onto higher education, and then onto a whole new career or just come and enjoy themselves and meet new people, learn practical skills and be creative. 

The sky’s the limit. Arts for everyone! 

You can see more of Jera's work on Axisweb.

We’ll also be having an Open Day on Saturday 15th July with tasters, free demonstrations and tours of the art school. More info to follow, but put it in your diary! 

This blog will be a platform for all things creative around Richmond and South-east London. We’ll be celebrating the work of our students, tutors and local creative folk – so if you’d like to get involved, please email us at art@racc.ac.uk.