Firstly, I wish you a belated Happy New Year.
I have emerged from my workshop at the end of the garden blinking into the light. My hair standing on end like some mad scientist, my working apron caked in glass dust, I have finally finished cutting glass for no less than five pieces. I normally concentrate on one thing at a time, but having drawn and planned an exhibition piece for Open Studios, I was inspired to make some smaller pieces on the same theme. And as I was cutting for one, I thought I might as well do the lot.
For anyone new to glass cutting, it can be frustrating. The idea is to score the glass with a cutter and encourage it to break cleanly. Sounds easy, doesn’t it! However, glass can be a fickle thing, and to break successfully requires applying the right amount of pressure and getting the right tone of scratchy sound as the cutter runs along. Each glass has its own characteristics, some colours make for a ‘softer’ glass which is easier to cut than others, transparent is softer than opaque and plain easier than textured. More complex shapes need multiple cuts and annoyingly breaks can include jagged edges that need grinding or ‘grozing’, nibbling off with pliers, hence the mad scientist hairdo.
After so much glass cutting, the workshop resembles a bombsite, with glass fragments sparkling on the floor and workbench, and tools everywhere. Piles of glass adorn the shelves, waiting to be tidied away, and my poor grinder is caked in a mush of glass dust and water and needs some serious attention. The less creative aspect of my art beckons – the tidying up. I have never been a tidy sort of person, and I confess to finding housekeeping of any sort irksome. For many years a paperweight has sat on my desk bearing the motto ‘a creative mess is better than idle tidiness’. I rest my case.
So, I made my way back to the house, to find my faithful hound, muzzle on paw, looking most neglected, and my mobile phone battery flat as a pancake. I tuned into the news on the telly, but not for long because no news is good news, and looked out of the window at the dull, dreary winter’s day and the drab greens that dominate a winter garden.
Cuppa in hand, I paused and took a really good look around to find that first appearances can be deceptive; winter can actually be quite stunning. Take in the last of the golden leaves clinging on tenaciously, branches tinged with purple, and the lush green of mosses. There are still plenty of signs of life, birds flitting from tree to tree or rooting around on the ground, the occasional insect on a mild day and hopeful snowdrops pushing upwards full of the promise of things to come. Look up too, for stunning sunsets and enjoy icy stars sparkling in the deep, dark night sky.
This brings me on to painting the moon. Using traditional black glass paint, I am currently facing the dilemma of how to not make it look like a scary pearly white Halloween lantern or something out of a Tim Burton film. This will require some thought.
Oh yes, the Open Studios website is now live, and I made the deadline by a day! If you would like to take a look the address is www.open-studios.org.uk.
Since I wrote last, I’ve been very busy. This is a bit of a departure for me at this time of year, as I usually spend a lot of time resisting my inner hamster, who just wants to snuggle down and hibernate until springtime.
In the middle of our garden is a large Acer tree that finally finished shedding its masses of leaves, so I spent a lot of time tidying up after it. Add a few misty mornings, the glimpse of a song thrush rooting around amongst the leaves and cue that indescribable moment when inspiration hits and ideas fall into place, leaving me feeling uncharacteristically energised.
Following much scribbling, it was off to the workshop to cut, grind, foil, solder and finish no less than three projects all at once, one of which was sort of abstract. If you have seen my work you will know that abstract is not really my thing. I find it worrisome and very challenging to throw caution to the wind and abandon my usual style.
I’ve also been experimenting with the alchemy that is glass fusing. Put very simply, fusing involves cutting up different bits of glass, making up a pattern or design and putting it in the kiln to melt back together again. I had this light-bulb moment type of idea about using fusing to customise backgrounds for my paintings. Brilliant! Now, I was never very good at science, but because of the way things happen, glass fuses to a certain thickness that doesn’t really lend itself to lead or copper foil work. So, this is another departure for me, especially as my few previous attempts at fusing were a bit of a disaster.
Needless to say, fusing isn’t as simple as it sounds, and it challenges my inner control freak to put something into the kiln not quite knowing what will emerge after firing. So I put together some small random pieces, which, kiln ready, looked like they had been just thrown together. However, apart from a few oddly shaped bits, which I think look nicely quirky, the results were surprisingly good, especially after I painted them up with whatever inspired me at the time.
Working seasonally, being immersed in and inspired by the season I am in, I don’t plan ahead, and as a consequence I miss the boat when it comes to things like Christmas. I am a member of Made in Mortimer and when I see the lovely seasonal wares made by other group members I feel somewhat conflicted about what I do. I find myself inexplicably worrying about whether stained glass is an art or a craft. Should I be more crafty than arty and make some Christmas decorations to sell or remain true to my art?
In the meantime, I received a nice email reminding me that the Open Studios website goes live in the New Year. As yet I haven’t even given it a thought. Oh dear!
It occurs to me that I may have been indulging in some displacement activity when I should be getting on with things Open Studios! And, although stained glass is an involved process, it does allow me a lot of time to think, maybe sometimes too much.
So, In the spirit of the coming festivities, I’ve resolved to let go of my worries, embrace the season and enjoy my art for what it is. Oh, and I made some snowflakes!
However, you are spending Christmas, I wish you peace and happiness, and hope you join me in the New Year to find out if I meet the deadline.
Guest Blog: Glass Artist with Julia Kellaway Week 1
Let me introduce myself. My name is Julia Kellaway, I am a glass artist living and working in Burghfield Common. This is my blog and it is for anyone who has ever wondered what artists do all day. Or at least this is my version of it in the run up to Newbury and North Hants Open Studios next May.
If you’ve heard my Paul Presents interview, you may recall that I have had several setbacks over the last few years which have seriously dented my output. So when my invitation to sign up for next year’s Open Studios arrived in my inbox, I thought ‘yes!’ and I duly registered. Then the panic set in.
Let me explain. I love stained glass, and find it an engrossing medium to work in, almost-all-consuming, and certainly time-consuming. Firstly, there is the question of what? When I work on a commission, I have some information to go on, but what about creating something from scratch? I can be inspired by almost anything, however small, from sun through raindrops to frosty spider webs, but will it be enough to create something worthwhile? Cue a cup of tea.
When I finally have my idea, I develop it through sketches, go down to my workshop and stare at bits of glass for a while, perhaps with another cuppa or two. Then I must turn my fledgling idea into a plan that works with glass. It isn’t as easy as it might at first seem, because the spaces in between the objects must be viable. As I mentioned to Paul, there is no way to cut an ”L’ shape in glass, or at least not one that I know of.
Plan made, details to be painted added, working-/drawing made, I am ready to begin. That is assuming that I have all the materials I need. In these lockdown/socially distanced times, I can still source glass online, but it really is no substitute for going into the shop or warehouse and behaving like a child in a sweetshop. I have an annoying tendency to pick up a piece of glass with no idea what to do with it and buy it anyway just because I like it. Then several years later it is still sat on the shelf, accusing me of ignoring it.
Anyway, then comes more tea, followed by glass cutting and grinding (not while drinking tea), possibly more tea, painting and firing, tea, leading or foiling, tea, soldering, and finally, applying patina and polishing, possibly interrupted by another cuppa. In fact, I’m considering changing my name to Tea-fuelled Glass Art! Seriously though, this doesn’t happen in one day. Even a small project can take the best part of a week to produce once the drawings have been completed.
Back to Open Studios. I have a page in a web directory to complete – it goes live in January, and so far, a month or so in, I haven’t given it a second thought. That is about to change. I will also be submitting a piece of work for the Insight 2021 exhibition which will be at The Base in Greenham during May next year.
I intend to write every few weeks, so please join me to find out how I’m getting on.