Built from Scratch

On the Bank Holiday, I had to make an unexpected trip down to West Sussex to deliver work. Strangely, two days earlier my mobile phone had gone crazy and was inexplicably sending texts to a client of mine instead of the friend with whom I was trying to arrange my Friday night plans, but it was timely as my client mentioned that the windows I made for him last year had finally been installed. This gave me a second reason to go down to West Sussex, so I jumped in the car and made it down in record time.

I was delighted to see the almost completely finished house, a magnificent building which the clients had designed and built from scratch on a lovely site near the Cowdray Estate. My windows were designed for the porch so they were the last things to go in, to avoid any builders’ accidents going in and out of the building.

I brought my camera to capture the windows in situ and I was glad to see that the light was balanced well and the panels looked bright and colourful even on this slightly overcast day. The porch acted a little like a lightbox with the light coming through the glass into the darker space within, and with a strong light inside the porch the windows will look lovely from the outside at nighttime. The constant frustration for us glass artists is that our panels can’t simultaneously look good from inside and outside but, such is the nature of the material as it always looks its best viewed from the dark side with the light flooding through.

However with the panels illuminated, lots of detail could be seen up close and these panels were designed to reward closer looking. The clients have an affinity with racehorses and wanted references for this to be subtly included in the panels, as well as a couple of wagtails, one of which had flown into the outbuilding while it was being constructed. The features in each of the panels were inspired by the topology of the surrounding area, so as visitors come in through the porch they will see echoes of the land behind the house. The clients have always owned cats, and so I included a hidden cat in the ‘Water’ panel – I had assumed visitors would spot it fairly quickly but apparently it consistently evades identification. Can you see it?!

Read about the making of the panels here.


A Hard Week’s Work

I spent last week down in the beautiful surroundings of West Dean College for my annual Summer School sojourn. This is a week-long course which combines both fused glass and leaded glass and, as I always tell my students, it is challenging!

There are always a few problems to overcome when trying to fit a slightly distorted, rounded off shape made from kiln formed glass into a jigsaw-like leaded panel which requires meticulous accuracy. Usually there is some kind of trade off  – a slight deviation from the cutline or a bit of ‘creative interpreting’ (otherwise known as botching!) – but in fact my students this year managed very well with what were fairly complicated panels.

Three pairs of hands

We had a range of approaches, from heavily detailed kiln formed textures to panels which only used a touch of fusing or slumping to achieve an interesting surface. The students worked incredibly hard, and there was some additional teamwork to get one or two of the panels finished on time. At one point I counted four pairs of hands working in combination to cement a panel, including my hands which took a brief break in order to take the photo above.

And what was the rush? Well, it is a long tradition at West Dean’s Summer School that the final evening is for a celebratory party. Each group usually creates a set of masks or hats or some such creative endeavour to mark them apart from the other groups during the party. But my students had worked so hard it seemed churlish to expect them to make anything more, so instead we went to the party dinner in our (clean) blue surgical gloves… the Blue Hand Gang!

Friday morning was the wonderful moment when we held the eight beautiful panels up to the light to finally see what everyone had produced over the course of the previous six days.

Just as much enjoyment was had by wandering around the college to see the work that had been produced on other courses.This year our neighbouring workshop was filled with amazing wooden automata by the students of Robert Race (below left). Each piece turned or moved back and forth in its own uniquely humorous way and we were amazed to see some students had produced five or six diffferent toys.

Up the stairs to the drawing studio and we came across beautifully conceived books made by students on Freya Pocklington’s ‘Creative Drawing’ course (top right). Wormholes and ragged edges made an appearance in various pages to show glimpses of the page beyond, and every one of those books made me want to create a little treasure of my own.

Downstairs in the courtyard was an installation created by resident poet Gary Goodman (bottom right). This had been growing across the course of the week and students had been intrigued to read the new phrases that were being added over time.


Land and Water in West Sussex

I’ve been working on a commission for the last few weeks which has been delivered but not yet installed. I gave a talk over my Summer School course at West Dean College on the making of the two glass panels for this commission so I have photographs of the making process. These panels will be installed into the porch of a house which is currently being built in West Sussex, and they are leaded panels but using thick textured kiln formed glass which will really hold and bounce the light around the patterned surfaces. My clients showed me images of traditional glass windows that they liked so I had an idea of their taste, and they were keen that the panels would include references to the local river, the sandstone in the village houses, local wildlife and the clients’ connection with cats and horses.


After a few weeks of design development they agreed on my designs (above) which included an inscription in English and Latin, their initials and my monogram. The ‘Land’ panel on the left included a depiction of the row of sweet chestnuts behind their house and their kitchen garden as seen from above as well as the racing horses and a horseshoe to imbue the new house with luck. The ‘Water’ panel on the right includes the river flowing past the sandstone walls of the village, a pair of wagtails, and a hidden cat watching the birds, as well as its paw prints following the line of the wall.

Samples were sent (above left) to show the colours and level of texture of each piece in the designs. Once approved, the glass was cut to a full size cartoon. Every part of the panel was made with two layers of glass and its textural qualities were achieved in the kiln using a variety of techniques. Sometimes the texture was on the back surface, but most was on the front where it would be able to be touched once in situ.


Once each piece had been formed in the kiln to get the right colour and textural qualities, I used blue tac to stick them up against my studio windows to get an overall impression with light coming through. Part of the glass artist’s challenge is to envision the whole image as it will be seen in situ. The light can change a composition dramatically with colours or textures reacting in various ways to the differing quality of light coming through the glass. However at this stage the clients were happy and I could see that although some pieces needed tweaking, the overall effect was good.

So the final stage was adding detail either with fusing, or with sandblasting (above left) or screenprinting (above right) and firing at a lower temperature to fix these details. Once all the glass had gone through the kiln for the final time, I used a grinder to get the exact fit between the pieces. This wouldn’t normally be needed with traditional painted glass, but when working with kiln formed glass which is 6mm thick and can get misshapen in the kiln, there is often some fine fitting work to be done which can take a while. Finally the glass is all leaded together using traditional tools, and the joints soldered so that the whole puzzle one has just created holds together. Cement is applied in all the gaps to give the panel strength and durability and then comes the unenviable task of polishing and cleaning the lead and glass….  not an easy job when the glass is pitted and textured. However it is always worth spending a bit of time on the final clean to really get it all pristine and to maximise the contrasts between the coloured glass and the dark lead lines.

final panels

The final pieces were taped up against a background of laminated glass so that I could get a quick snap of them before they were delivered to the site. Proper photos will be taken once the panels are installed.