This Week’s Blog with Julia Kellaway
Having removed my glass from the kiln, I inspect each piece as I carefully lift it off the kiln shelf.
This is not because I am worried about dropping it! It’s about now that I amaze myself with how blasé I can be about handling something fragile that I have spent an age cutting, grinding and painting. No, instead it’s because of the ceramic-based kiln paper that I line my shelf with, which tends to turn to dust at the slightest touch after firing.
I am now ready to copper-foil my glass. I use this method a lot, and often together with leading because it allows me to use more different types of glass in a panel, as well as adding variety to the thickness of lines in the design. So I gather the tools for this part of the process: a roll of copper-foil, obviously, a pair of scissors, a board to work on, and my fid. This is a funny-looking tool used to manipulate lead came, but is also most handy for the job in hand.
Copper-foiling is perfect for occupying a winter’s afternoon, preferably in front of a roaring fire, and definitely with a cuppa to hand. The recent run of bitter weather was perfect!
It’s a pretty straight forward operation. Take the roll of adhesive foil, hold the glass on edge, centre the foil and attach it around the entire perimeter of the piece of glass, cut and secure by overlapping slightly with the beginning. Then carefully fold and press the foil onto both the front and back.
Easy – Well sort of! The trick is getting an even coverage to both front and back. Long stretches can be difficult to stay centred, small shapes can be tricky, the inside of curves may split and corners need to be hospital-bed sharp, and so on. After that, the foil needs to be secured by burnishing – rubbing to thoroughly secure it to the glass, which is where my fid comes in. Repeat until all of the glass is wrapped.
It is a slow, repetitive and careful job. A useful time for contemplation, drinking tea, or simply taking in what my Dad fondly referred to as ‘a grotty old film’ (basically anything in black & white, a war film or made before about 1960 (don’t ask me why), or a combination of all three).
Job done! I like this bit, because the process of getting this far has been quite time-consuming and now things are really beginning to take shape. I can see the end result in those pieces of glass, each one wrapped in copper foil and placed together on my working drawing – now usually well-covered in pencil scrawls, small amendments and blood stains. My capacity to pick up a piece of freshly cut glass extremely carefully and still end up stabbing the end of my finger with it always amazes me!
Most of my pieces are small, and I usually work on a few at once, for instance a trio of pieces inspired by a visit late last year to Bodmin Moor. Illogically, while I am still totally engrossed in my current project, not bored by it one bit, and looking forward to the next step, it’s about now-ish that my mind begins to flit butterfly-like among all the things I could be making next.
I seem to be inspired by so many things, that I can’t keep up. At the moment I simply lack the stamina. Right now I find myself captivated by the stunning skies we’ve had recently, dramatic stormy clouds, heart-warming sunrises and relaxing dog-walk sunsets. But then again, the cold has been banished, however temporarily, and I catch sight of some optimistic little catkins, a subtle interplay of greens and pinks gently swaying in the breeze. Then again, there’s the picturesque pair of bullfinches that have taken to visiting the mess of shrubs outside my window…
So it is time for me to move on to painting.
When I emerge from the workshop with my design a mass of shiny different coloured glass, it reminds me of a kaleidoscope I had when I was young. It is my not quite blank canvas awaiting the detail I envisaged in my original drawing, which at this point, seems a distant memory!
I work from sketches and photographs for ideas and have a small pocket camera that I take everywhere with me. To the casual observer my photos can seem a bit pointless – what on earth did she want to take a picture of THAT for? But I find that even the most insignificant thing can be inspiring, and keep snapping away. So when you see what will hopefully be my exhibition panel, yes I did take the pictures of those horses and foals on Bodmin moor.
Before I returned to stained glass, many, many years after taking an adult education evening course, I painted on canvas and paper. I still do, but just not very often, and when I do, I prefer using something with a bit of substance, like acrylics or plant-based oils. It suits my style – messy! Using thin paint like watercolours worries me for some reason, so if I use them, I make the paint as dry as possible.
Imagine then, my dismay then, when on my stained glass painting course, I discovered the consistency of glass paint is something similar to watercolours! Here I am prepared to confess that my initial efforts were a bit primitive and I began to wonder if I hadn’t wandered onto the wrong course by mistake. However, after some effort, I got my act together and by the end of my time began to enjoy myself immensely.
Also somewhat worrisome was my discovery that glass paint comes in powder form, contains some nasty things, including lead, and carries a weighty health warning to boot. But I didn’t let that little nugget put me off either. So when I mix my paint, I do so with care, and when I begin, I put on some gloves. As a rule I detest wearing gloves while working, but when dealing with glass paint, patinas and polish, I make an exception. Please don’t let this put you off, as, once fired, the paint is safe to handle – not food safe, think decorative instead.
Paint thoroughly mixed up, I assemble my tools. I flip a switch and my light-box splutters to life, a small amount of paint goes onto a glass slab, and each piece of glass is cleaned thoroughly. The light box is there for any tracing that needs to be done, and to illuminate the glass while working, and the paint needs to be re-mixed before each application as it separates easily, hence the glass slab. I fill my brush and draw a line to test the consistency. I am ready to begin.
As to method, traditionally, glass paint is fired twice, once to fix the fine line work, and then again after texture and form have been applied. The reason for this is that it dries quickly and an image can spoil if worked after a certain point. However, I favour a single firing, which means that I when I begin, I work quickly on the whole piece of glass, tracing lines and adding stippling and texture as I go. I find this makes my painting more fluid and suits the natural subject matter I prefer.
I become so engrossed in my work that I only take a break when I begin to feel tired, or another cuppa beckons. At the end of the day, I derive great satisfaction from closing the kin lid over a fully loaded shelf of painted glass, setting the timer and pressing the ‘On’ button. Then I’m off to walk the dog, and afterwards settle down with a well-earned glass of wine.
I wake the next morning with a sense of anticipation, waiting for the moment when I open the kiln and find out whether my efforts have been a success.
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.