Feeling Accomplished

Dissertation front cover

Reflecting on the Year


This year has been very challenging after my father died in February, 2015.  I think stress put a strain on my health in the Autumn term and I was unwell until Christmas.

Mum had died three years earlier and I think losing both of your parents is life changing and it forces you to reassess everything. Thankfully this creative path I have decided to follow, provides me with comfort and purpose.  This is partly due to the fact I find it challenging and the dissertation was no exception.

Following my Level 5 Field module on Work for the Public Realm, I became interested in the fact people seem to use going for coffee and tea, as an excuse to engage in conversations.  In fact, I had the feeling that drinking tea and coffee actually promoted conversation. Talking to my dissertation tutor about this, she said that I could pursue it as a topic for my paper.  I felt very excited about researching this, but had no idea what angle I would approach it from.

In general, the most challenging element of my studies as a mature student, is time or lack of it. I have so many commitments to other people it is hard to prioritise my studies over other people’s needs.  However, as a family we enjoy going out for coffee after my husband finishes work, so I used this time to research and read.  I also did a lot of people watching in the coffee shop, it was amazing how many different types of conversations were going on around me.  It was obvious that some business meetings were being conducted at large communal tables and a group of nurses would often come in after work.  There would be small groups of people, husbands and wives, groups of friends, families like my own, some would be local and some originally from Eastern Europe. Even though there was such a diversity of people, one thing remained constant; the conversation.

Initial investigations didn’t really lead me to anything substantial with regards to formulating an argument and I was stressing about this for a quite a long time.  My tutor told me to just write and things would become clearer.  I borrowed a lot of books from the University and Cardiff Central libraries; read newspaper articles physically and online and looked for anything to do with tea or coffee.

My approach to everything is methodical, I think it comes from years of working in administration and then as a data analyst in the civil service. So I decided to start at the very beginning, where tea and coffee were discovered and when they were introduced into Britain. I then progressed along a timeline of key events that involved these two drinks. I found the process interesting and satisfying; when I made discoveries that I felt linked to my ideas it was actually exciting.  An example of this was when I discovered evidence that Samuel Pepys (1633-1703), famous for his diary, had documented going to the early coffee houses, primarily for the conversation.

I think my subject for my dissertation may have looked simple, not related to my degree and lacking in substance. I certainly had some of those thoughts myself on times and worried I would not find what I was looking for. However, after making the connection with Samuel Pepys and the coffee houses, I felt inspired and I was on a mission to find more information.

Through my constellation lectures, I learned that to really understand a piece of art, you have to have a knowledge of what was going on at the time it was created. Whether that was the personal circumstances of the artist, his/her country or the world at that time. This has prompted me to look at the bigger picture and question everything. So much so that my initial ideas for the dissertation, included exploring everything from the the way these drinks were advertised, (PG Tips chimps, romantic encounters with Nescafe), tourism relating to the drinks, the Japanese tea ceremony etc. It has left me feeling a little disappointed that I couldn’t cover everything.  I feel there was enough evidence to write a paper on each of the drinks separately but, that would have meant looking at it from a different angle.

When I started writing the dissertation it was unknown territory and I was afraid of getting something wrong. I produced a draft for my tutor to read and although she said it was fine, she said there was not enough of my thoughts in it. She said it would be that, which would make it unique. I think that my methodical approach can make my work a little ‘stiff’ and I was concerned this was happening with the dissertation too. Following that tutorial I came home and thought about why I wanted to write this dissertation and what had been my motivation.  I remembered my experience of the coffee culture in Australia and decided to tell it from that angle, which made it a lot easier to write.

I think the chapter on the early coffee houses, was my strongest, it was definitely my favourite, with the evidence of the conversations between the mathematicians and the scientists and the diary entries of Samuel Pepys.  I have enjoyed the dissertation process and it has made me realise how much I enjoy research.

This research was also feeding into other areas and fuelling my interest to explore this subject in my making. During the holidays I visited places of interest such as St Michael’s Mount which I found fascinating. I have noticed that I am seeing the world differently since studying art and design.  I look at the finest detail in everything, including architecture, textiles and nature. I think this has come from the Field module I did in Level 4, where I basically put Cardiff under the microscope and went out taking photographs of the streets surrounding Howard Gardens. I looked at all the elements, such as textures and patterns, things you would normally take for granted and basically not notice.  Since then I feel I really ‘see’ the world around me. This has led me to seek out the hidden story, whether it is a person’s story or the stories associated with places and it is this narrative that I want to capture in my work.

I returned to University in September, with a clear idea of using dissolvable fabric, thread and free machine embroidery to make sculptural objects.  Although my initial ideas have changed and evolved following tutorials and group ‘crit’ sessions, I am keen to use this material and process, to achieve my final outcome.  This is a fairly new process for me, especially trying to use free machine embroidery to achieve a sculptural form.  It is very challenging but that makes it exciting too. I have had some frustrating attempts which did not work out as I had anticipated.  However, I have gone to the library and sourced some books that I hope will give me ideas for a different approach.

I would love to have more time to experiment, as I think it can lead to ‘happy accidents’.  I played with adding a little felting wool to my thread and was pleased with the outcome.  The areas with the wool, appeared dense while the areas without had a light and lacy appearance. I get hung up on perfection and I am overly critical of my own work for that reason.  On one occasion, I produced a bowl on the wood lathe and was very happy with it, as I had worked hard to sand and wax the finish. I think the reason why I liked it was that the lines and edges were clean and well defined.  However, with my free machine embroidery, the appearance is not so polished and I feel sometimes it does not look good enough. I am getting there; I have been looking more critically at other textile artists’ work and accepting that these are the qualities of the materials and I just need to learn to love them.

This course has made me seek more opportunities to learn and given me the confidence to pursue them.  I have done workshops at Craft in the Bay, attended artists talks at Llantarnum Grange Arts Centre and a lecture by Mark Miodownik a British materials scientist.  Just before Christmas I attended a winter lecture by David Sproxton of Aardman, which was organised by the museum in Bristol. I was very interested to hear how he co-founded Aardman, who are the creators of Wallace and Grommit.  However, it was the short introduction by the gentleman from the museum, that has stayed with me the most. He talked about the role of the museum, that I had never considered and that was deciding now, what was going to be of historical value in the years to come.

This made me think about my own work and the fact I aim to produce an heirloom for the future.  An heirloom is normally an object that has been treasured and has memories attached to it. This is why it is special and passed down through families, to help keep the stories that are associated with it alive. I am aiming to produce a sculptural object that relates to someone or an event, which can be linked to an online platform, to access film/photographs/audio etc., connected to that person. I hope that this will be a way I can help people have a record of those special people and events, to treasure through the years.

Coffee One – Newport

This is the new coffee shop in Friars Walk, Newport.  It is in a brand new unit, but they have opted for old style decor.  I think there are many similarities to the original coffee houses; large book cases, daily newspapers and even a few communal tables.

I like the fact they have included old photos of Newport and a mural depicting the historic Chartist Riots, giving the store a local identity.


Books for dissertation research

Books for dissertation research

Dissertation Inspiration


Same dissertation – different coffee shop!

Nothing like a nice cappuccino for a bit of inspiration.




Dissertation – a recap on what I want to achieve and to gather my thoughts

I haven’t written a great deal for my dissertation to date, but I am constantly looking at anything related to tea and coffee and gathering as much information as possible.

I am still not completely sure what angle I will write the dissertation from, but I am fascinated how tea and coffee are intrinsic to our lives.  It is proving to be a more diverse subject than I ever imagined.

It is remarkable how having a ‘nice cup of tea’ is so British, given that tea is made from plants grown in India, China or Africa and often sweetened with sugar from the Caribbean.  So I am aiming to look at how we came to adopt this drink and the complex history surrounding it.

I am also fascinated with the history of how Britain was introduced to coffee and the fact, its early popularity led to the opening of coffee houses/shops.  These coffee houses were as much about conversation as they were about drinking coffee and over 300 years later coffee shops, are still attracting people in much the same way. However, I am interested to see how they might have changed through the years.

I also would like to explore how the introduction of tea and coffee into our culture, affected the ‘bigger picture’.  One example of this would be the demand to produce cups and saucers etc., which I would imagine would have helped grow the ceramic industry.

There are many different areas where tea and coffee have been integrated into our lives, but the main avenue that I want to discover is the affect on conversation.  Today social media plays a big part in our lives and many ‘conversations’ that we have now, are carried out electronically, with buttons to push to ‘like’ what has been posted.  Some people say electronic communication is killing the art of conversation.  However, I feel it has a place in our lives as it has brought more frequent contact with friends and family that are living a great distance away.  Although you cannot replace the personal connection you get in a ‘face to face’ meeting, especially in a relaxed environment enjoying a chat over a cup of tea or coffee.

A Few Items from The John Wait Teapot Collection at Newport Museum & Art Gallery

This collection was part of my original inspiration, when I was researching the public art project and I was interested in promoting positive conversation.  The Auld Land Syne teapot was the focus of this with its message ‘take a cup of kindness’.

Coffee Shops in London in 1950’s & 1960’s – Video

This is a video I found on YouTube about coffee shops in the 1950’s and 1960’s


Tea inspiration is everywhere, this lovely painting popped up in my feed on Facebook today.  Tea Time by James Tissot 1872

by James Tissot

Whittard of Chelsea Shop, Cardiff

Shopping in Cardiff today when I stumbled across this lovely speciality tea shop, Whittard of Chelsea in Queens Arcade.  This delightful tea set caught my eye as I passed the doorway and I stopped to look.  The lady working in the shop was very friendly and invited me in.  We were chatting and I told her about my dissertation; she explained they sell a variety of speciality teas and a selection of coffee and hot chocolate. She had two varieties of tea holding warm and gave me a sample to try. One was a green tea the other a toffee apple flavoured herbal tea, not being a tea drinker I was pleasantly surprised.

This dissertation research has intrigued me about the serenity surrounding tea and I am keen to experience a good tea.  I certainly didn’t like the tradition PG Tips type of tea with milk, when I was young, but I am willing to try some of the speciality varieties available today.