Glass Art with Julia Kellaway

Things didn’t quite go to plan.

Returning to my spring-time experiment with fusing, the opening of the kiln revealed thin, curly catkins that were too small. So I persevered and made another batch. This time they turned out too thick. Beginning to feel a bit like Goldilocks, I created some more, hopefully this time they would be just right!

The next grand opening of the kiln revealed catkins, buds and flecks of amber, if not quite how I’d imagined them, then pretty darned close and ready to go. Phew! I breathed a sigh of relief and spent some time holding each catkin set up to the light. Okay, most of the subtle colours had been subsumed by the springtime lime green, but that fresh lime of leaves and buds is one of the reasons I like this season. Lesson 1 – don’t be quite so subtle with the other colours next time.

Anyway, I continued with my experiment and got handy with glass powder, carefully positioned the catkins, buds and flecks, and filled the kiln shelf. There was a lot of glass on there, and it took all of my packing skills to get it all to fit on – so much so that I had to take a picture so I could see what went where to get it all on again for the paint firing!

Next there was the question of how to paint the catkins to give them detail. Looking back, this is where things really started to go downhill. I found myself puzzling as to why they didn’t look the part, until my son pointed out I was painting horizontally rather than vertically. I know it sounds a bit OCD but, as they say, ‘the devil is in the detail’, and this was borne out by the results.

So, at last, birds, catkins, buds and branches painted, the whole lot was returned to the kiln. I don’t wish to sound smug, but I generally know what to expect when a batch of painting comes out of the kiln, or so I thought. As I held up each piece of glass, my carefully painted Dunnocks and branches faded disappointingly into the sunlight.

Again, I puzzled. Eventually I concluded that traditional stained glass images emerge from a dark background. This way it has more impact – cue Lesson 2. What I’d done is paint onto the glass as I would onto paper, imagining all those delicate brush strokes would remain. I can’t quite account for my change of technique, but it didn’t quite work, hence the images fading away when held up to bright light.

By this time I had invested a lot in this project, so it was back to the light box to repaint. So unsettling was the experience that I found myself absent-mindedly cleaning off my glass slab, which I usually leave to dry and reuse, and all my brushes. I even found myself doing some ironing, an activity that I loathe with a passion, and putting away some laundry. At this point I had to sit down and have a cuppa.

Paint now dry, I duly loaded up the shelf and headed off to the kiln. I can honestly say that my poor kiln hasn’t seen this much use all at once and I half expected to see an empty space where it stands with a little note saying ‘I can’t stand no more!’

Fortunately for me that wasn’t the case, and yet another firing later, all that remained for me was to assemble my piece and engage in the calming process of cementing and finishing with polish to give the lead and solder seams a dark sheen.

The making of The Bug Hunters has certainly been an experience. Partially frustrating, a bit disconcerting, but engaging, perhaps also Lesson 3 in the value of a more considered approach to experimenting and a bit of displacement activity if needs be. At the end of the day, I am content that I persevered and turned it around when things didn’t quite go to plan.

On a final note, I am looking forward to opening my studio, but have pushed opening back to after 17th May in line with guidelines. Now all I need to do is get online and update my Open Studios profile which has all the details…

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