THEY both worked in London, they both raised their young families and then at the same time, went on to study art at West Herts College and the University of Hertfordshire.

And although they graduated only this year from Hatfield with first class honours degrees, there is already a buzz around the work of HVAF members Juliette Purdy and Fiona Tunmore.

Next month Juliette and Fiona will be showcasing work at the Mall Galleries, London as part of Designer Crafts 2010, having each received a licentiateship award from the Society of Designer Craftsmen.

But despite the fact they have followed the same study path for the past seven years, including the steady germination of ideas during a five year part-time degree course to develop highly refined practices, their work could not be more different.

Juliette utilises porcelain paper clay; exploiting material qualities of strength, brittleness and elasticity to construct figurative pieces. Her hand built ceramic figures often take the form of elderly people and dogs; sketches brought to life.

“I use porcelain which has a mimetic quality which, as it dries, begins to resemble the concertina-like folds of human skin, in particular older skins that can have a fragile, translucent appearance,” said Juliette.

“My work has been inspired by conversations I've had with older people and I have tried to capture the character of the person. I will sometimes sketch as the person talks to me, observing their movements, particularly emotions, as they talk.”

The facility for drawing has followed Juliette since childhood, and during her career in PR as an Events Coordinator for Hilton International. Sketching from memory or real life, and gathering people's real life stories, is the basis of her ceramic work.

By contrast, Fiona's work is inspired by landscape features, in both form and colour. In recent works, colours are influenced by rocks produced through volcanic activity, which Fiona collected during trips to Europe and Indonesia.

Through textile and jewellery making techniques, Fiona creates conceptual work to include wall pieces and free standing decorative objects, which combine handmade felt, various threads and metal.

The traditional basketry technique of coiling is also utilised alongside mixed media to produce non functional contemporary art forms and jewellery.

“I am interested in turning a linear form into a constructed fabric and combining different techniques and materials to provide contrasts in both the surface appearance and the tactile qualities of my pieces,” said Fiona.

Any surprise that Fiona, a former Investment Accountant and Analyst, also developed her craft interest from an early age, using the skills her mother and grandmother taught her? Fiona now plans to pass on her knowledge by setting up beginners workshops in felt making, concurrent with her own practice.

Fiona Tunmore has also shown with the Embroiders' Guild at Alexandra Palace, at New Designers at the Business Design Centre, Islington, and has been selected by the Crafts Council for the Emerging Makers Development Programme 2009. Her work is currently on show at the Watford Art Space.

Juliette Purdy has been commissioned to make work for the Hertfordshire Art Collection and shown at Candid Arts Trust, London. Juliette's work was also shown at New Designers at the Business Design Centre, Islington.

The Society of Designer Craftsmen Exhibition will be at Mall Galleries, The Mall, London from January 9 to 17.

Photos: (top) Dorothy and Dog by Juliette Purdy, (middle) Geysers - A Set of Three Pieces by Fiona Tunmore and (bottom) Porcelain Dog by Juliette Purdy