17 December 2004

End of first term

I shall go quiet now until 10 January. Here is my final piece:
a 3-D copper-foil construct with sides in degussa enamel, lustre painting, stencil sandblasting, engraving and lamp-worked beads. It's OK, but not exactly my 'thing'.

I welcome now having a few weeks to think about what I have learned so far and where I want to go from here. We have been running hard to catch up with all the different techniques we have been learning, so reflection time has been scant.

However, there's the Festive Season to get through first. And will I or won't I do a glass-themed Christmas card? [Afternote: Reader, I did -- shaped like this box.]

08 December 2004

Assessment flurry

Everybody is running around this week trying to fulfill the assessment criteria. These are bullet points couched in vague language -- ergo, management speak. All the tutors want to pass us, but they are bounded by management protocol. Which is passed on to us. These criteria have quite little to do with personal learning, nor do they take a rounded view of the activity we are engaged in. Most of us are fulfilling what we think is required of us for the sake of the staff and the college and its future. Not for us.

That said, I don't mind forcing myself to play the game, to fulfill my part of the bargain, but the creativity or education in this? Where is it?

04 December 2004

Work in progress

Here are a few finished or abandoned pieces. 1. The object I wrote about in 'Taking a trail' saved by the inscription, 'from tiny acorns great oaks grow'. 2. The squirrel in colour.


3. A slumped piece (don't like it). 4. Experiments with lustres (also not satisfactory).

03 December 2004

Cameo glass

”cameo” An interesting afternoon in the workshop and then to Broadfield House to look at and talk about the techniques of cameo glass. I don't think I want to go down the Portland Vase route (base disc pictured) -- I couldn't acquire any of the skills -- but there are some interesting sculptural possibilites developed by modern makers which is might be fun to explore. We have been given a small square of blue glass coated in white to have a little try-out.

30 November 2004

Glass blower turned chimney sweep

Two chaps came to sweep my chimney this morning. One had been a glass blower at Webbs. Started at 15 as a taker in (the lad who breaks the pieces off the punty and puts them in the lehr), then progressed to being a gatherer (bringing glass to those in the chair) and then became a blower. Had his own business at 21 making yard of ales, but could only make 30 in a day and found that uneconomic. So he went back to piece work at Webbs where he was in the ‘large fancy’ department – salad bowls, rose bowls and so on. The quota was 60 large bowls a day, which meant that if you came in at 4.30 a.m. you could fill your quota by 10.30 and then be off for the rest of the day. But he and his mates were on piece work and made 125 a day. The economics of it sounded as if he got paid roughly what 2 bowls would finally retail for. When he then went to college, he found a Saturday job that paid him £500 a day – that was in the 80s.

29 November 2004

Venetian techniques

canes” We had an impressive afternoon’s demonstration on pulling canes, making twisted canes, rods for millefiore and murrine by two stalwart French girls. At one point, one gathered up a line of clear and white rods, fixed and twisted them on the marver, and then blew a beautiful tumbler. I asked if I could buy it but it broke as she cracked it off – the punty was apparently too hot. Someone said, ‘make one yourself’, but honestly I don’t think I will ever be able to do that. Two days later we watched again as they made a large plate and a large vase using the canes and tiles. Very impressive, but I felt they overworked the pieces and that they would have been more pleasing had they halted earlier in the process.

28 November 2004

Scratching and blasting

Stephen exhibited at Tracey Sheppard's open house studio this weekend and I had an interesting conversation with her and with Sally Scott about glass. They run a weekend course together at West Dean in the summer whichit might be fun to go to. I tremendously admire Tracey's craftsmanship. She had various works in progress and it was interesting to see them in their various stages. She's given me the name of a second-hand dealer should I want to get some equipment. I think I do. This is something I could practise at home -- there are only two hand-held enngraving tools at the college and someone is always using them.

Pictures to follow when back in London.

26 November 2004

Pâte de verre (2)

This is an ancient Egyptian technique, revived by modern glass-makers to make opaque glass through which light glows - looks a bit like alabaster. We saw a film of the work of Shinichi & Kimiake Higuchi who specialize in cabbage leaves and special secretive boxes. Very fine work – though not my taste.
I didn’t know mosaics are made from this technique and would like to try that. You can achieve sculptures like the one pictured by Dan Dailey which I quite like though as a technique I have not much enjoyed this one

my tiles waiting to be fired

25 November 2004

Pâte de verre (1)

”handles” This is a complex series of processes that involves making some clay tiles with textures and patterns indented in them. Then clamping them within boards into which you pour a mixture of plaster and molochite. When this has set, you take out the clay, clean up the mould and clean the floor (which is very messy by then). You then take home some glass cullet - looks a bit like washing soda crystals - wash it and sieve it through three different sieves to get a coarse one (like large sugar crystals), medium (like granulated sugar) and ideally a fine one like caster sugar. But few students have a pestle and mortar in their digs, so I haven't achieved that one. My tiles (one pictured)are waiting now for the next stage which is to add colour and fire each one at a different setting.

22 November 2004

Taking a trail

Decided to have fun in hot glass today and not worry about making something half-way reasonable. So I did a bit of pinching, a bit of taking trails round an object, and trying to blow to the right thickness or stick on something you could call a handle. Got a few nasty looking 'expressive' objects into the lehr - to be pictured here if they come out uncracked. It's all about getting to understand the material and the things you use to shape it. Might get there some day.

21 November 2004

Thinking about design

”beads” To what extent does this slumped plate by Liz Lowe (at the V&A) start out as a meticulous design and how much does it grow organically? I have been thinking all week about designing as you make something rather than knowing beforehand what you are going to do. I feel there is room for both approaches. I tend to adapt all the time as I go along -- rather like a musician does in interpreting a score. The college ethic seems to be to be able to show and document all your thinking processes. It's not so linear for me. Sometimes you go in seemingly aimless spirals, and arrive at a place you might not get to with step-by-step thinking.

19 November 2004

A day at the V&A


”pezzato” I spent hours in the glass gallery at the V&A looking closely at modern and more recent glass -- not my old favourites, the 18th century twists. Took some photos and made drawings and notes. Lots of ideas to take further. I also watched all the videos on the touch screens. They're quite good. I learned a great deal about technique -- not more than by watching the real thing, of course, but they did fill in a lot of gaps of understanding. Then I went to the library http://www.vam.ac.uk/nal/ and made a favpurites list of periodicals and books to look at next time. It's a better collection than the Harrison Learning Centre.
A day very well spent.

pix: millefiore knife handles; pezzato Venini vase; mosaic-blown bowl

16 November 2004

Slumped glass

It’s as it sounds – a sheet of decorated glass sagging into a ceramic shape. We made the forms out of an oblong of rolled out clay last week, incised design textures into them with shells, string and other items and then suspended the whole across an upturned chair, rather like a jelly bag and something of that shape. Here’s mine . I can’t say I like this sort of shape. I used a degussa enamel panel that I didn’t feel like working on any further. I might add some lustres to it.

15 November 2004

Batch calculations

”batch” Today we learned how to calculate the weight of raw materials needed for a batch of glass and the percentage of metal oxides – sand (silica) being, of course the central ingredient with other compounds (e.g. lead, soda ash, borosilicate, etc) varying the consistency and brightness. I found this strangely compelling, though the chances of my needing to do it myself are slim. At £600 a ton of molten glass, I am unlikely to need to make up a batch. Took me back to chemistry at school.

picture shows float batch from Siemens website

08 November 2004

Visit to Wolverhampton

”beads”We used our design session for a trip to the Harrison Learning Centre at Wolverhampton University to browse through its collection of books and journals on glass. Fairly inspiring and generally useful, but I thought it cut into studio time a bit too much. There's quite little usable time when you can get in to a workshop continue a project -- if you are like me and need to feel unconstrained by time.

07 November 2004

Making beads

Back from half term and in our hot workshop today we did lampworking. All the health and safety fandangle again -- but it is important. This is potentially very dangerous as the propane can whizz round the room and ignite in seconds. Like all hot-working, it is far from as easy as it looks.
”beads”I made 7 beads(pictured) of which 3 wouldn't come off the mandrel. I look forward to going on with this -- lots of possibilities here.

Where have I been for 2 weeks?

Working on my design sketchbook.
On a surprise birthday holiday in Andalucia.
Spoiling our pussy-cat who returned home after having gone missing for three and a half weeks.
Coping with sick-computer syndrome - a virus? Painfully slow - hence no pictures.

06 November 2004

My flat

I've rather enjoyed having my own space and making it look nice without having to negotiate with anyone else. At first, I was going to keep the white walls empty, but I can't seem to do that. Acquisition creep has crrept.

22 October 2004


”cutting” This is me in the hot shop, looking surprisingly convincing (considering I can't do it). But look at that red hot bit of glass at the end of the iron (not a bad gather) and look at the angle of my pucella (that's the pincery thing) which is OK. I ruined it after that by blowing too much, natch. But you learn from mistakes.

”cutting” And here is my first -- what shall I call it -- um, vessel. It looks better in this picture than it actually is. Ashtray sized. I hope I will be horribly ashamed of it in a few weeks, but just now I do admit to being a little bit chuffed. Even this, wobbly though it is, is quite hard to achieve.

09 October 2004

Week 6 at a glance

paint Two features of week 6. First, learning to play about in photoshop. This is an image I painted with various brushes and then put through various filters and distortions. This could be worked on to make a stained glass window. I have now begun a first bit of copper-foil work, which is growing organically and will be ready to photograph next week.

wrap The other was using this Photoshopped design for Degusse enamelling -- so far I have only done the black lining and stippling firings, but am thoroughly enjoying it -- and then the same design for trying out different depths of sand-blasting. Not quite so successful, but I do see the potential of this technique.

07 October 2004

Using enamels

”cappy” Our 'model' here is the artist Cappy Thompson from whose site this picture comes. Big bold stuff that this vignette doesn't do justice to. We have started by painting in the black outlines ready for adding colour next week. A very happy morning spent playing about with this technique (and also catching up on my tones and lustre pieces). Three of us then spent the afternoon in the kiln room continuing our work. Hope we can manage that every Thursday. I started some experimental bits with a view to trying out copper-foiling.

04 October 2004

Copper foil decorative work

It is Week 5 of the Monday morning class and we have still done nothing except for cutting up little bits of glass for about 20 minutes to experiment with copper foil work. Plenty of listening, but no doing. All of us are anxious to get on and try things out.

”bingo” However, on the accommodation front, I am feeling more upbeat as I have moved into a self-contained flat with white walls and wooden flooring and I think I can make it quite nice and somewhere I can do some work in the evenings -- what though it is in Brierley High Street, next door to a take-away and opposite a bingo hall. Picture is retrospective as I can only post them up at weekends when I am at home, and this one shows my first 'light-catcher' (very badly made with the bingo hall in view).

01 October 2004

Painting with tones and lustres

”kiln” This is the first stage of my first bit of glass painting; picking out the dark lines from a Degas mezzotint with a black glaze and fired once ready for the half tones and stippling effects. I've photographed it and experimented with tones and silver oxide (yellow) possiblities in Photoshop. It will probably be quite different in the end.

”Loetz” We've also had a bash at painting with lustres (very expensive) and that's in the kiln as we speak. Here's a pic I took last weekend when we went to Blackwells on Lake Windermere and I saw these vases by Loetz. Don't like them much, but I enjoyed the lustre session.

29 September 2004


There was a whole arc of a rainbow over the Malvern Hills early this morning as I looked out of the window of my dreadful digs for the last time. A good omen. I am so relieved to be moving out of Pensnett Road. Perhaps having my own self-contained flat with my own things around me will raise the cheerfulness level. It's been a difficult month.

27 September 2004

More design links

Today, to cool down after an astonishingly hot session in the hot glass studio, in which I just about mananged to make a double knop, I did a bit of browsing:
Dale Chihuly Loopy chandeliers in noisy multicolours. I like some of this kind of thing, but mostly not. Seems undsciplined to me.
Marek Fisar Nice spiral on home page.
”spiral” Specialises in sculptural melted glass forms drawn from nature.
eBay - amazing what's there.
Murano glass Modern and traditional. Lots of beautiful vessel shapes here. On sale - and at what a price!
Art Alliance of Contemporary Glass What's nice about this is that the site describes the composition of the glass it shows. Useful for our technology class. E.g a vase by William Morris composed of silica, soda ash, lime, boric oxide, cadmium, silver, copper, cobalt.

24 September 2004

Words describing glass

So far, I've got to:

”fractured”transparent, translucent, crystal-clear, see-through, lustrous, vitreous, gleaming, glinting, sparkle, spangle, glisten, shine, reflective, refractive, magnify, irridescent, brilliant, prismic, glassy stare, icy, watery, pellucid, frosted, filmy, screen, filter, pane, opaque, cloudy, crizzled, crazed, fragile, shattering, shatter-proof, brittle, sharp, shattered, jagged, splinter, shard, polished, burnished, glazed, glacé, toughened, exclusion, inclusion, facetted, fissile, cut, conductive, liquid, solid, fractured, ductile

but I am sure there are lots more.

Picture is some fractured glass from http://www.uroboros.com/

23 September 2004


”corning” It's in the spirit of a blog to log other sites of interest, so here goes. Might as well nick some pictures off them as well.

Corning Museum of Glass - very good on the art and history of glass and glassmaking with useful crib sheets
Museum of Glass (Tacoma) - contemporary collection. And an interactive teach-yourself-to-blow game (kept crashing though)
Glass Notes - technical tasters from a book by Henry Halem and a couple of QuickTime film clips
”spectrum” Spectrum glass- a supplier of kiln products, but lots of technical information available too. They have filligree cane, which I am sure to be interested in.

22 September 2004

Making bottles into tumblers

Spent an interesting afternoon with the alarming diamond cutter, slicing through bottles and bevelling the edges to make tumblers. Quite fun. I then tried the mitre and carborundum cutting wheels again to incise design marks round the resulting glasses. Didn't like the results as I'm not that keen on cut or textured glass anyway. But I did try a bit of calligraphy engraving round a small medicine bottle, with the rubric 'Drink Me'. Also difficult to control, but this is a technique I feel I could practice and would like to master.

16 September 2004

Glass painting

We had our first session of kiln work today and started some experimental glass staining and stippling. This is almost certainly going to be my area; I feel instinctively most interested and as I discover what the techniques are, I am getting ideas about what I could do. I wonder if my watercolour style could adapt to glass. It's not so immediate since a painted piece has to be fired maybe 5 or 6 times as you build it up layer by layer. Alas, because of the change in timetable I am going to miss the next two sessions so it will be a while before I find out. If only I could do some of the work at home.

15 September 2004

Digital photography

Last night I went to a digital photography class that I hope I have the energy to continue – a long day plus travelling issue. We’ll be learning to manipulate in Photoshop (I’ve already picked up some tips) and the theme for the first term is Time. Right up my street. It would be sensible to choose a glass-related interpretation. It’s a City & Guilds course – I’d have preferred an informal evening class. This is the moment to take the plunge and buy a digital camera. The teacher not awfully helpful on which one.

14 September 2004

First engraving

At last we’ve started to do something. After a slow, dull and disappointing start to the day in which a delightfully free Friday was re-timetabled out, I got some hands-on experience of trying the engraving wheels. It’s difficult to control and I’ll need a lot of practice. Luckily, I am not that keen on engraved glass. It’s fun to try, though I am alarmed by all the accident potential. My first taste of machinery was on the excitingly-named linisher – to smooth the edges of a cut sheet.

This was an illicit gatecrash into a parallel group’s class doing what we will be doing on Friday afternoon, because I am trying to find ways of clawing back a 3-day weekend. Our (excellent) design class triggered all sorts of ideas that I need my own space for. I could spend one day at home doing preparation work. Looking forward to this bit.

11 September 2004

My interest in glass

Our first assignment is to write about our interest in glass. So I am posting what I said right here.

I have been modestly buying drinking glasses of all kinds. My particular passion is for 18th century opaque twists, roughly between 1740 and 1777 - though I can't afford to buy them any more. I like their purity of form; I'm not too keen on engraved glass, though I expect I shall change my mind as I learn to do it and look more closely. I also rather dislike 'art' glass: I found about 80% of the work at the biennale aesthetically unappealing. Will I change my mind about that too as I discover how knowledge of techniques impacts on design?
glassesI have done pencil drawings of my 18th century twists, but it is impossible to capture their quality. These watercolours were for a Christmas card puzzle I made a few years ago. I should love to learn to make some modest form of a twist, though I can see already that the control and experience would take years to learn. I hope I will discover why no one is making them now.

10 September 2004

Health & safety

I've bunked today's induction on health and safety to have a 3-day weekend at home as I needed to regroup. But I am doing a bit of research on the internet. I wonder if they are being advised to grow pots of aloe barbadensis miller as a ready supply of leaves to rub on burns. There are even more hazards to working with hot glass than are obvious when you are watching someone else do it -- not just cuts and burns, but possible damage to the lungs and eyes. I know we are getting protective glasses, but what about masks so we don't breathe in silica dust? A Health and Safety Executive document tells me that 41% of all injuries in the glass industry are caused by handling (however they define that). I feel some anxiety about my current back injury: glass is heavy stuff. And I think I've got the wrong kind of clothing -- my floaty garments are a bit hazardous and natural fibres are safer, plus I need more solid shoes.

09 September 2004

Factory visit

The mid-week induction day was a coach trip to various glass places -- at last something interesting! We visited MRJ Furnaces where they make sheet glass for windows and for stained glass in the way it used to be made -- blown into a cylinder, like a large drainpipe, and then opened out and flattened with a wooden 'iron'. The curved tops of these, called muffs, are first cut off and were available for us to buy for £1.50 each. They look like bowls with a hole in the bottom and a jagged edge. We were advised that they would be a good source of colour. I bought a green one and a deep Bristol blue one, not really knowing what I would be able to do with them, but taking a risk on it. Someone said you could do things with slumped glass. I have a lot to learn. Only one other student did the same. The factory also blows circular panes. In fact, there is only one expert blower and their output is quite small. He made it look so easy, but we all knew it isn't.

Picture by Alan Shuttleworth

07 September 2004


It's Day 2 of the first week, all of which seems to be taken up with induction -- so there is a great deal of running round campuses, being talked at and attempting to get to know the names of fellow students. Some of us are longing to get on with it, but I anticipated this would be quite a boring week and am not too distressed. In addition to the glass course, I have signed up for digital photography and life drawing evening classes. It's a bit displacing being a student again.

My digs are dreary and unaesthetic, but could be a lot worse. I have a sunny view of the Malvern Hills, the house seems fairly quiet and quite well appointed. The landlord is a pleasant, bluff sort of fellow who is reasonably eager to please. It's not his fault he has such dire taste.

At least the sun is shining.

04 September 2004

The glass college

Well, this is where I will be spending my days. Lovely Brierley Hill as seen from just outside the college, then the college itself (it used to be a library, which is why it is so light and airy and has good feng shui).

Up these stairs, everyday, and past this window.

03 September 2004

Steps in the dark

JaneI am packed, and ready to go up to Brierley Hill (part of Dudley College) in the Midlands for a full-time course in the Techniques and Technology of Glass at the International Glass Centre. It starts on Monday. I'll be learning glass blowing, enamelling, stained glass, painting, engraving and I don't know what else. It's going back to a previous me -- the artistic side -- that I have not fully explored and I feel time is running short. It isn't as huge a leap into the dark as it might sound -- I have been thinking a lot about 'glass pages' and about interactivitiy and creativity. In the back of my mind are some connections between writing, glass and technology that I want to think about. I am fortunate to get an EU-funded place, but if this goes anywhere further I shall be looking out for some sort of grant or residency.

Am I scared -- oh yes! But looking forward to a new challenge.