Swindon

Stages of Making by Sasha Ward

Left: Strips of 6mm float glass                       Right: After first firing, the simple part of the design.

Left: Strips of 6mm float glass                       Right: After first firing, the simple part of the design.

This summer I installed a commission in the garden of Booth House, a Salvation Army Lifehouse in Swindon. It's a donations panel, with removable glass tiles so that names can be added to the work, mounted on a fence and therefore with no back lighting. These constraints made it a technically complicated commission so I photographed the stages of making, showing how the glass went from a pile of strips in my studio (above left) to the finished piece at the bottom of this post. 

Left: Lee at Booth House with one of his pieces before firing.  Right: Sgraffito pieces from the workshops after firing.

Left: Lee at Booth House with one of his pieces before firing.  Right: Sgraffito pieces from the workshops after firing.

The design also had to incorporate contributions from the residents of Booth House who were invited to join glass workshops. Their sgraffito drawings on enamelled glass tiles with inscriptions in mirror writing really enlivened the simple composition. This is based on rows of staggered plants climbing up an imaginary trellis. Everything from the workshops was included in the finished artwork so the design changed and grew during the making process.

When you take your work outside, it suddenly looks very small, dwarfed by the big wide world. To fill a reasonable amount of space on the fence, I worked out that I needed to make 72 pieces of glass, each measuring 120mm x 250-350mm. Every piece is unique - with a tiny number scratched in the enamel after the first layer of green/brown painting and firing (top right). The second layer of painting added plain colours as backgrounds for the names, these commemorate people and organisations who have made donations of various kinds to Booth House. 

Left: first batch of glass pieces on the lightbox before second firing.  Right: all the pieces have been painted twice, half of them still need their second firing.

Left: first batch of glass pieces on the lightbox before second firing.  Right: all the pieces have been painted twice, half of them still need their second firing.

Left: the master list                                                        Right: piece no. 51, just the name left to add

Left: the master list                                                        Right: piece no. 51, just the name left to add

That was really the fun part over. The fired pieces had to be taken to the tougheners, then brought back to the studio along with 72 pieces of mirrored glass slightly taller than the enamelled pieces to create tiles with two stepped edges, able to slide in and out of the frame.  Next I cut three layers of laminating stuff and taped them between the enamelled and mirrored glass, ready for lamination. The last process was sandblasting names onto the front of some of the tiles. And the most time consuming part of the process - scraping off the stuff that oozes out during lamination - didn't even appear on my master list. The piles of glass pieces looked great, really bright and reflective on a sunny day in the studio (below left). The colours of our green, shady garden were reflected when I piled them on the table outside.

Reflected colours: inside the studio (left),      in the garden (right).

Reflected colours: inside the studio (left),      in the garden (right).

Corner in the garden of Booth House                                          Detail with reflections

Corner in the garden of Booth House                                          Detail with reflections

The frame for the glass pieces is an ingenious thing devised by friend and neighbour Fred Baier. We customised strips of composite decking material and slotted them together on two boards which we installed on a section of fence that creates a little corner. The colours on a summer's day couldn't be brighter, with reflections from the garden and the wall opposite and a spectacular merging of colours, names and patterns at the corner joint. I took a photo from Spring Gardens car park that overlooks the garden, of one of the residents looking for her painted piece (bottom right), showing how the mirrored enamel stands out even from such a distance.

Detail showing corner and neat end caps                                                    From Spring Gardens car park

Detail showing corner and neat end caps                                                    From Spring Gardens car park

Sliding squares by Sasha Ward

The Motorway from a field in Wanborough, 146 x 217mm    View of Motorway and Swindon, 146 x 217 mm

The Motorway from a field in Wanborough, 146 x 217mm    View of Motorway and Swindon, 146 x 217 mm

I found some of my old glass squares and decided they needed rearranging, much like the sliding squares game in feel (especially as I tried to use the thinnest possible lead and the slightly smaller blue piece kept dropping out of place). The glass came from a project I worked on for The Community Forest in Wanborough in 1993, where I did pages of sketches looking at the view towards Swindon.

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Drawings from a field in Wanborough 1993, the two views were used in the glass panels above.

Drawings from a field in Wanborough 1993, the two views were used in the glass panels above.

I still find that area fascinating, just a couple of fields separating some classic Wiltshire villages from the motorway cutting and the dual carriageway that marks the start of Swindon. I particularly love the view of the Honda factory on the east edge of town, in the sunshine it looks like a shiny ocean liner.

'Honda Factory and Charlbury Hill', drawings numbered 7 & 8 from my 1993 series.

'Honda Factory and Charlbury Hill', drawings numbered 7 & 8 from my 1993 series.

I was so happy with the results, it seemed such an easy way of getting somewhere that I thought I'd do some more - pulling apart old stained glass panels, sandblasting, painting and refiring sections. However, it is hard to make something that looks effortless. My next composition needed a lot of shifting around, eliminating unnecessary pieces, trying to keep hold of my original intentions and retain an element of playfulness.

Work still in progress 'Sliding Squares: Honda Factory' 1993 -2016

Work still in progress 'Sliding Squares: Honda Factory' 1993 -2016

A Sense Of Place by Sasha Ward

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Guess which town is the subject of this post. There may be clues on the sign (above) which greets you as you descend from the Old Town to the spreading acres of the new. Confused? Maybe the graphics don't help, I think there are some arrows missing as there is an outer and an inner ring linking the five mini roundabouts that make up Swindon's Magic Roundabout. 

In my depictions of places it is my long term practice to combine drawings and photos from viewpoints with maps and diagrams, it helps me find my "sense of place". Although I am often asked to research a particular place for a public commission, in this case I am investigating the magic roundabout, twelve miles from where I live, just for fun. 

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Nine drawings on thin paper (above) helped me work out what I needed to leave in and take out to make a satisfactory image that also explains the workings of a roundabout that is both logical and mysterious.

The first four glass roundabouts, sandblasting, enamels, oxides & silverstain on clear glass

The first four glass roundabouts, sandblasting, enamels, oxides & silverstain on clear glass

 Magic Roundabout number five, image size 100mm square.

 Magic Roundabout number five, image size 100mm square.

Going smaller for Magic Roundabout number six, image size 75mm square.

Going smaller for Magic Roundabout number six, image size 75mm square.

P.S. I hope I haven't overthought this one - I've never worried about navigating it before, let's see what happens when we get there for an evening out in Swindon tonight.

Improving The Local Landscape by Sasha Ward

Sketch from the end of the drive today

Sketch from the end of the drive today

It's Saturday so the noise from the building sites in this small English country town has stopped. The crane at the end of the drive is parked with a lovely row of blocks dangling in mid air. What is being built may not improve the local landscape, but while the cranes are here I find this landscape more interesting, more drawable. I found the same type of crane in my photos of Swindon this week  - can you find a view without a crane in it these days?

View from the top storey of a Swindon car park

View from the top storey of a Swindon car park

The question sent me to my sketch books, I wondered where I'd drawn cranes from previously. 

Answers: from a Malmö balcony in 2013 (above), from floor 7, RCA London (one example from 1984 below), and from a school rooftop in Slough - my favourite type of drawing spot.

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