Shannon Fennell's Blog

My life, art, travel, make-up, cooking and the occasional rant!


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Christmas… it’s coming!

Today was the first day of the Buckland Abbey annual Winter Food & Craft Fair. Today was a lot quieter than the Friday was last year. Probably has to do with the economy and lack of disposable income. We are hoping for more traffic the rest of the weekend.

We like to have a lot of items that are priced so that people can afford them. Anne always stocks items that she says are “for the kids to buy as gifts.” Our Christmas ornaments start at £,2.50 – very simple but pretty – and go up from there.

I spent most of today in production mode – made stars and my first sheep and dog ornaments. Both kilns are on and I should have these out for sale tomorrow afternoon. I was going right up to the last minute as I wanted to completely fill the kiln with a few more critters, but Anne was turning the lights off on me!

Last week I did a couple load of wreaths (my best seller), many Christmas trees and lots more icicles. We are selling the small wreaths mounted on a handmade Christmas card.

Tomorrow I’m assembling a new “Icicle Swag” with large icicles and silver chain – it will have five icicles and be made to hang on a mantle or in a window. There will be a limited number available. I’ll share a photo once I get one put together. I’m quite excited about the design.

I’ve also made tealights and many scenic hanging ornaments.

Tomorrow I’m going to take a bit of time to take photos of all the different things I’ve been making. I am really bad at remembering to take photos as I make things.


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Getting started

I’m now registered, enrolled and paid my tuition for year one of my MA Fine Art at the University of Plymouth.

I was assessed as an International Student (as I don’t have permanent residency status – I have to be here five years before I would be able apply,) so the tuition is pretty high. Percentage-wise it is a lot lower than my old school in Canada. For my program, UK residents pay £500/10 credits, international students pay £850/10 credits; it is 60 credits per year so my annual tuition (remember, this is a three-year program) is £5,100 (approximately $8,104 Canadian at the time I paid it!) And next year it increases.

Generally, international students are not part-time because you can’t get a Student Visa for part-time programs. But I am here on a different type of Visa that lets me do what I want, as in work, study or not. Figuring out how to classify me took three departments! But as I hadn’t met the specifics of permanent residency, I’m considered an International Student.

Masters are quite a different animal from undergraduate programs. Massive amounts of reading and research, group discussions/critiques, one-to-one tutorials, totally self-directed as to media/accessing studios/project scope, lots of “optional” activities like workshops, artist’s talks, gallery shows. I’m taking it all in and adapting to it. In my professional life I am a task oriented person – I like having a brief to fulfill (provided by clients/employers/or survival requirements.) Here, I will be setting my own parameters, and getting guidance and feedback on what I am doing. A bit different than I am used to, but I am looking forward to pushing myself past my comfort zone.

Last Tuesday we had an introductory workshop in the Mold Making/Casting Studio – somewhat of a refresher for me as I have done life casting, but wow – so many materials and options are available in the studio! It has opened my mind up to ways I can incorporate it into my project. Now that I’ve had the introduction to the studio I can book time in it to work on my project(s) and get advice and assistance from the technician. We got to make some coasters for practise, and create a small silicone mold after sculpting something to cast. The coaster molds were provided, I made three – the two blue ones were ready to take home but the yellow hadn’t set enough to remove, and the silicone mold had to cure a lot longer. The studio tech said she would take the cast from our molds for us, and that the molds would be reusable. I might use mine in ceramics! I didn’t remember to take a photo of my sculpted item before pouring in the silicone. I really need to remember to take photo of processes.

Tuesday this week is the introduction to the Metal Workshop – which is something I’m unfamiliar with. It involves power tools… I’m not a huge fan of those, but I am interested. There is always a chance of collaborating with others in our projects so… finding out what the possibilities are is important.


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Back to School, again!

I am really excited to share that I will be starting the MA Fine Art program at the University of Plymouth next week.

After deferring my other offers to 2022, I ended up withdrawing my applications (even with a £5,000 bursary attached to one of them) as I was/am still not all that comfortable with the continuing pandemic and needing to live in student housing, etc. Plus the costs of relocating to Ireland or too far away to compute to in the UK added huge costs. As I now live in Plymouth I won’t have to add the additional living costs to my school budget.

I had budgeted for living abroad before the pandemic started, but it threw my plans off. Living with roommates who didn’t share my concerns was very stressful. It really isn’t all that comfortable now, either, as I appear to be the only person still wearing a mask everywhere I go, but I will continue to take the actions I feel necessary.

The program is part-time over three years which suits me. I can continue working in the glass studio, have regular semester and summer breaks, etc. Tuition and supplies expense will be spread out too, which will be convenient. The campus is a 20-minute bus ride from the stop right outside my front door as well, which is fantastic.

The program I am joining is a small cohort of only ten people which includes all candidates in the program – first through third year. I was told that most on campus sessions (one per week) would consist of fewer than ten. That will keep me happy about contact with the masses and I’ll still be wearing a mask – probably the only one, but that doesn’t bother me.

And interesting, to me, in both MA applications that I’ve done, they have been keenly interested in my make-up and theatrical work – this interviewer, right off the top, said she hoped I would be bringing in my prop and costume skills to the program. Wanted to know if I had stopped doing that, as in completely retired. I assured her I was still happy to use all the skills. My last production closed in February 2020 and I hadn’t worked in the field since due to the pandemic lockdowns. It wasn’t a choice I made, but rather one I was forced into by circumstances.

Since I submitted my application (which was on September 7 online – totally last minute) my mind has switched into creative mode – I’m keeping notes of all the ideas that are popping into my head for creations and what media to mix to make them. I submitted a research proposal with the application for an area of interest I want to develop and I’ve got some interesting concepts brewing. I think glass is going to definitely be playing a role.

Induction is next Thursday. I still have to get all the paperwork done – the professor who interviewed me made the offer on the spot at the end of the interview, and I accepted. But it all has to go back through Admissions to get me actually registered and enrolled, fees paid, etc. I’m just waiting for emails so I can get it all done.

I am really happy to be getting back to school… I can understand how people can be “professional students.” It is so much fun learning and being creative in ways you hadn’t tried before and interacting with others who are there for the same reasons.

I’m having to set-up a workspace at home, Last night ordered a shelf/desk combo from IKEA which will be perfect (had to measure the space available in my room first!)

The IKEA desk I’ve ordered

The desk won’t be delivered until October 2nd, and delivery cost a fair bit BUT they will carry it upstairs. That is worth paying for.

I have a certain amount of art materials, obviously, and access to many more in our household as there is a room that is JUST art and craft materials and equipment which I can utilize. I am silently repeating my mantra “repurpose, reuse, recycle” as in, DO NOT buy new stuff if there is a suitable alternative to hand. I put a moratorium on myself to stop buying make-up many years ago, and it worked, I actually started to make a profit with my business. I do have excellent willpower and believe delayed gratification is a good thing.

Orcas at Sunset


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The dog days of summer ended, and I missed it

Apparently, the Dog Days of Summer ended on August 11th. I looked it up. The term refers to the hottest days of Summer, which lasted until a little over a week ago around here. The change was quite dramatic in our garden. We went from close to 30C to 20C daytime highs. We were getting sun from around 10 a.m. as it appeared over the buildings to hit the back fence, then as it moved, the rest of the garden would get time in direct sun until close to 8 p.m. in the evening. This last week it is now starting to hit the back fence around 1:30 p.m. and a strip of around four feet of ground along the fence until 4:30 p.m. Everything stuck in all-day shade in the rest of the garden has reverted to Autumn shutdown stage.

I did a bit of clean-up by removing summer squash plants that haven’t been productive and are stuck in 100% shade now. Even though they were blooming, all the flowers were male so no fruit. The last of the zucchini has several small fruits on it but they’ve been the same size for around three weeks! Not sure what’s up with that. Also pulled out done flowers and other vegetables, pruned the plum tree (apparently they need to be done late summer, not while dormant,) and have started cleaning up planters.

The cucumbers are in a perfect spot up high on the wall and are still getting all the sun – and being productive. And I move my peppers around to follow the sun as they are in pots.

I’ve finally been able to make pickles!! Refrigerator pickles as I’ve no inclination to do actual canning – an issue of space for storage really. They’ll get eaten fast enough.

I was not able to find PROPER sour dill pickles here in the UK. So I made my own and they are fabulous! Salty and sour with garlic like I was used to getting in Canada. Everything here in the UK is sweet… EVERYTHING. It is crazy.

I had six pint jars which worked out well for the amount of room I had available in the fridge. I’ve already consumed most of the cucumber dills from my first jar. I made four jars of pickles so far, with a fifth jar that is just brine, ready to add the next batch of cucumbers to. And if my hot peppers ripen I’ll pickle them too!

One jar is just cucumbers from the garden; one is “recycling” a jar of gherkins that weren’t sour enough for me with added red pepper and some mushrooms; one is recycling supposedly “New York Deli Style” pickles that in no way resembled deli style dill pickles (I couldn’t bear to throw out perfectly good food product!) with green and red peppers; and one is asparagus. I’m quite happy now. No one else in the house likes pickles so they are all mine!

I’ve been on a baking kick this week making cookies. I’ve been trying new “keto/low carb” recipes I’ve found online. They all need tweaking to suit me better, but are tasty nonetheless! I made a Tahini Chocolate Nib cookie and a Almond/Peanut Butter Brownie cookie. I substituted things based on what I had – using chocolate nibs instead of chips, using some peanut butter as I only had half the required almond butter, etc.

The Tahini cookies need more tahini (recipe was half butter, half tahini,) needed to be flattened, less time and lower temp. The Brownie cookies need more moisture (I will probably add cream cheese next time) and need to be a bit flatter. But they did turn out and are not crumbling in my hand.

I am painting my bedroom. Last Sunday I did the front wall… almost died. I was up most of the night with vicious cramps in my upper thighs which I think were from balancing on the step ladder. Not fun – took almost four days for the tightness to ease. BUT, am happy with this wall. Anne is going to paint the opposite wall for me – says she’ll be MUCH faster and can cut in better than me. I won’t argue!

I managed to match the paint colour with my curtains without taking the fabric along to match – I’ve a very good eye/memory for colours. I had an ink & watercolour I did a couple years ago that is a perfect piece to go on the green wall so I got a frame for it.

This wall painting project is making me frame up a lot of the art I kept and get it on display. The new paint is making the other walls look bad, but I’m not up to painting THAT much. I’ll just cover them with lots of art.

Oh yeah… today is my one year anniversary of arriving in England! I can’t believe that much time has passed already. And we still are dealing with the bloody pandemic. At some point I hope I’ll be able to start travelling around Europe on short trips like I had been planning for the last seven years! I am not comfortable with the travel situation (virus, delays, unrest, etc.) so will keep occupied locally.

August 27, 2021 – Arrived at Heathrow (the mask stayed on until the car park!)


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June’s projects

I’ve been productive this month.

Spent a lot of time sorting out approximately 15 kg of scrap glass we acquired from another glass artist. Most of it was in containers by colours (i.e. “blue”) but not all of them by specifics (i.e. “transparent turquoise” etc.) I like my bits of glass to be sorted out so when I want something specific I can find it without digging through a large bin. It was a treasure trove! So many shades of blue that we didn’t have. I love both Turquoise Transparent & White Streaky AND Aqua Transparent & White Streaky – they are absolutely gorgeous and perfect “sky” glass for landscapes/seascapes. Watch this space to see what I do with all of it!

I made several lanterns in the last several weeks. All different – size, themes, etc. I’ll soon be making more as we’ve acquired a large selection of new lanterns of various styles. Some of these pictured are still available in the shop at Serendipity Glass Design.

I made another big bowl last week. I had one large circle of transparent sitting on my shelf so on the spur of the moment I decided to create a fruit bowl. I sketched it out on the “back” of the glass and then used tiny bits of scrap to create the mosaic. Working with scrap can be a challenge, in that sometimes you aren’t 100% positive if what you think the colour is, is actually what it is. Makes life interesting.

Despite the watermelon rind interior ending up pink, I love it. Next one I’ll take the white from a labeled piece of glass! This bowl is now in the shop, Serendipity Glass Design, for sale at £75.

And here are a few photos from the garden, which is doing phenomenally well! I’ve been eating salad daily as I over planted the lettuce (should have succession planted, not all at once – I do know better, just didn’t.) I’ve got masses of baby cucumbers starting and the zucchini are setting as well. Not to mention all the herbs flourishing. Also, finally, the garlic has started. I was worried about it as it took so long, but it is looking good – but won’t be ready until late Fall.

As it is officially Summer I’m hoping the weather will settle into a calmer pattern. Although, I will not hold my breath – this is England after all. The winds really smack around the plants in the garden and the heavy rain beats them up! Not to mention walking the dog in the wind and rain isn’t fun.

Hope you’re having a good start to Summer wherever you are.


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Heading into Jubilee Celebrations

This weekend will the be designated period to celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee here in the UK. Thursday and Friday have been designated as bank holidays (aka statutory holidays as they are called in other places) and Saturday is the big party day – community block parties, etc. Here on the estate I live on there is a community BBQ and party on Saturday afternoon. I’ll be staying home with the dog – still not interested in mingling with unmasked people in a crowd.

We put up Jubilee bunting out at the shop/studio for the occasion.

Have been working on more art over the last month – finished assembling my glass mobile yesterday and hung it up in the shop. Came out a bit longer than I was expecting in the end, but I didn’t want the glass pieces to strike each other constantly. I’m really pleased with it. I plan to make more but with fewer parts and more compact. I’ve figured out more efficient ways to make them now too.

I was planning to hang it in the shop window but it is too long to fit, so it is on the wall. We’re thinking of taking commissions using a “pick your option menu” for components and quantity, a header piece shape, colour scheme/theme, length, etc. with each option having a set price.

We accidentally ended up ordering three different types of chain for the mobile. I wanted stainless steel for it, but first order was miscalculated regarding link size (too small) so ordered a larger chain. Was supposed to be stainless… however it was aluminum and the links came apart easily simply by pulling. So, third try, got a good size and strength, even if not 100% what I was wanting. But it worked for this quite well.

I also finished up another batch of fridge magnets that are miniature acrylic and ink paintings of scenes of Dartmoor. The squares are approx. 2×2″, the larger are 2×3″ – I like painting little landscapes! I’ve got another batch with the bases done which will be sunrise/sunsets and seascapes/shorelines based on South Devon.

I’m also starting a series of slightly larger (4×6″) mixed media paintings (on canvas board and framed) of specific plants and animals that are resident on Dartmoor. First one in progress is of bracken, then I’m planning flowers (i.e. bluebells, foxglove, etc.) and bushes (gorse, etc.) and ponies and other native animals and birds. I’m taking photos to use for reference for these.

Tourist season has started, albeit slowly. Coaches are starting to come to the Abbey now so we are getting little waves of people looking for souvenirs and gifts. I convinced Anne that we should put out a small display of our Christmas ornaments and cards… last year she wouldn’t let me put out Christmas items until November (even though we had people who wanted them.) And we’ve been selling them fairly steady! I explained to her, when I travel I look for items that can be Christmas ornaments, and the people who are buying them are doing the same! Now Anne is suggesting maybe I should start making more wreaths (which is my best seller!)

I remerchandised the shop – my sense of order was somewhat frustrated. So I moved some displays around – moved light coloured items from a white painted shelf to glass so they were more visible, spaced items out more, rearranged signage, etc. I was pleased with the results and it is really obvious that people are now looking at all the displays whereas before they walked by some without stopping to look.

We’re hoping the weather is going to cooperate for the Jubilee weekend as so many events are outdoors. Fingers crossed. Hope you enjoy your celebrations if you are participating in any.


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April has been busy

I love Spring. All the shades of green start appearing, flowers start blooming, babies start arriving out on the moors… and the gardening at home gets underway.

This year I helped with a massive back garden overhaul and reconstruction which has been extremely satisfying. It is your typical terraced house walled and fenced back garden… approximately 20 x 22 feet so not all that huge, but we’ve got a lot of things in and are really thrilled with what we’ve accomplished.

We took 4 or 5 loads of stuff to the tip, put a lot in the regular household waste, and got rid of other things. Some things are being repurposed. We also scrounged up some paving bricks and stepping stones for free. And spent quite a lot too, on paving slabs, lumber, plants, seeds, etc. with some more spending coming in the next month when I have to pot up the summer plants.

Neither of us thought to take before photos, which is annoying as we were planning this serious project involving removing soil and sod, pavers, laying new pavers and moving others, adding concrete and generally building new things and doing repairs. But there you go. I am the worst about remembering to take photos of things.

I pulled out a large dead cedar shrub, yanked out other large shrubs and plants, and pruned a couple of boxwoods within a inch of their lives and a lot of other plants were seriously hacked back as well. We hauled out old plastic mini-shed, old planters, wood edging from around all the beds, metal, broken swing, etc. Anne tore up the old sod and dug out where it had been in order to lay new pavers – we filled up dozens of rubble bags with that. She also repaired the shelter roof which had been torn off in the winds storms back in Feb/March.

I had to dig out two manhole covers – storm drains apparently. I cleared away the dirt and other debris that had built up on top of them as access is supposed to be available. Well… Anne stepped on the top of one and the lid flipped up and down she went! One leg, down the hole. She was spectacularly bruised, but no other injury, thank goodness. They are now each covered with a large, heavy, paving slabs with a water fountain sitting on the back one. We filled the area with gravel to level up the slabs. Hopefully Anne won’t end up in the drain again.

We bought lumber to create new edging for the flower beds – I directed and Anne cut and screwed it all together. I moved pavers that I uncovered buried in various parts of the garden, cleaned them up and paved other areas with them.

I bought a large raised planter, more pots and lots of seeds and plants. We’ve spent close to four weeks all told and I’m calling Phase One complete now. The rest of what is planned is summer planting – so we have to wait for the warmer weather at the end of May.

The photos start looking out of the kitchen door, then work around to the dining room door, then towards the back fence.

My herbs and vegetables will all be in planters, including the large wooden trough against the wall – that’s my salad garden. The fish pond has been cleaned out, new filters in, new pond weed and the fish seem happy.

Anne bought a heated propagator . the heat was NOT required, but we didn’t realize that until the giant cucumbers and squash started pushing the lids off 4 days later! We’ve named them Audrey Three through Fourteen. We now have them in larger pots and recycled coffee cups… we won’t have room for everything that needs potting up! We can’t put the rest out until the end of May at least.

I’ve been productive out at the glass studio too this month, making more sunflower items – bowls, clocks, etc. We’ve been very pleased with the response to our Ukraine Appeal fundraiser – 50% of the sale price of all sunflower themed items is donated to the DEC Appeal/Red Cross.

Large Bowl (sold)
Small bowls in progress – second batch
Small bowls – two still available
Clock faces – hands and mechanisms will be added this week
Tealights, hangers and parts of a mobile
Mobile, laid out… awaiting the chain to link it all together

Spring has also been productive out on Dartmoor! All the babies bounding about, blocking the roads -but really, who minds waiting when you can watch a lamb or foal nursing?

The bluebells are out now too… but I haven’t managed any flower photos… yet.

Hope you’re having a good Spring.


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Sunflowers and more

Our two auctions of fused glass mosaic sunflower pictures are complete – one went for £60 and the other for £55, we’ve also donated another £18 from our sunflower sales. So far our total is £133 to the DEC Ukraine Appeal via the Red Cross in the UK. We have more sold which is still to be processed, and more items were put out yesterday. And I’ve more in the kiln!

50% of the sale price of all sunflower themed items is being donated to the Ukraine Appeal on an ongoing basis.

I’ve been making small sunflower pieces as fridge magnets which we are selling for £5. My first batch of seven sold to a customer before they were even finished! He saw them on the work surface where they were waiting for the magnets to be affixed and bought the lot of them! I’ve another 30 in the kiln so they will be out in the shop on the weekend.

Fridge Magnets – fused glass sunflowers, size varies but approximately 2″ (6 cm) and “squarish”

I’ve created five more pictures that are now for sale, these are smaller than the ones we auctioned off. There are three in the plain wood frames, and two in the white frames.

Next work session I am planning to make windchimes using the same colours – it is a bit of an experiment. I know the glass has a nice ping, but playing around with the length of the rods to make it melodious will be interesting. After that I am moving on to create some bowls and tealights.

It is always exciting to open the kiln in the morning as glass can have a mind of its own, so it is a relief when everything looks like I intended it to!

Most of my time is spent preparing the glass I need to make all of these items. I spent days snipping yellow glass for petals, breaking up the blue for backgrounds, and cutting stems and leaves. But the hardest is making dots. For the larger items I am planning to make I need small round dots of glass to create the centres of the flowers so I have to make them. It means I need very small pieces of glass, which I put in the kiln neatly so they won’t touch and fuse together, then I have to pick them out one by one…

This lot is around 1200 dots, near as I can figure… so that means I performed a repetitive motion 4800 times in around a 24 hour period. My right wrist and shoulder are still sore.

Yesterday we created a new window display out at Serendipity Glass Design which is in the Ox Yard at Buckland Abbey (National Trust property – Sir Francis Drake used to live there!) with the sunflowers and tied in the colours of the other items in the shop.

If you are interested in any of the items I’ve posted you can message Serendipity Glass Design via Facebook or email at sales@serendipityglassdesign.co.uk


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Our second fundraiser for Ukraine

This week we are auctioning off a second fused glass mosaic picture I created to raise funds for the Red Cross Ukraine Appeal. 100% of the winning bid amount will be donated.

The frame is 33 x 28 cms and can be wall-mounted or free standing.

Auction runs until Friday, March 18th at 4 p.m. GMT. Further details and bidding is on Serendipity Glass Design’s Facebook page – Click HERE to reach the auction.

Our piece from last week went for the winning bid of £60 and it was quite a bit smaller that this work. This one took a full day to assemble, not counting all the pre-cutting of the petals and the rest! But I really enjoy the process even with the cuts, pokes and blisters.

Further sunflower themed items are ready to post once we get them mounted. These will be for sale with 50% of the purchase price being donated.

I’ve spent days pre-cutting petals, leaves and squares to use in the making of the sunflower designs and I have enough on hand to go straight into mass production starting tomorrow. There will be smaller framed pictures, standing panels, suncatchers, keyrings/magnets, tealights and possibly lanterns, coming soon.

12″ standing Sunflowers will be on sale next week.

Check in with Serendipity Glass Design on Facebook to see the latest items for sale as they are posted.


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Support for Ukraine

It is really hard to sit here in comfort and safety while watching and hearing what is happening to Ukraine and the Ukrainians fleeing for safety.

I did make a cash donation but it felt like there was no effort involved, if you know what I mean?

So this week in the studio I’ve been making glass mosaic sunflower pictures and items and we are auctioning them off to raise money for the Red Cross Ukraine Appeal.

We’ve got the first framed fused glass picture up on auction right now until Friday, March 11 at 4 p.m. GMT. Bidding and details are on Serendipity Glass Design’s FB Page at Serendipity Glass Design.

I’ve got another, larger, one finished and we’ll be posting the auction for that one on Wednesday.

And I’ve started making smaller items – small pictures, standing glass panels/tealights, suncatchers, coasters, and keychains – which will be for sale in the shop and online once they’re finished and fired.

The effort to physically produce these pieces makes me feel like I am doing something. The work of cutting and laying the glass gives me a feeling of satisfaction and a fair amount of back pain to work through. I ripped all the skin off the inside of my right thumb snipping glass and required four bandages for pokes and cuts – my one day record – yesterday.

My discomfort in no way resembles what the people of Ukraine are suffering – I cry a lot watching the news or doom-scrolling on Twitter. I have stopped turning on the news as soon as I wake up in the morning as I am scared to hear what the latest developments are. I catch up later in the day.

I hope you can check out the auction for my sunflower art on the link Serendipity Glass Design and share it with your friends and followers. Any support is appreciated.