Friday, 28 May 2010

The lure of the new

I've just been leaning on the side of the kitchen waiting for the jasmine tea to brew, and contemplating life and glass. I've ordered a number of essential items today - nothing fancy, just tube cutters and memory card readers. While thinking how the post tomorrow would be more interesting than just bills and junk mail, I thought how much I look forward to new things arriving. This led me on to thinking how much we glass people look forward to new glass, and then to the creative issues surrounding new products.
I read a forum post recently that suggested getting to know each borosilicate glass colour for at least a few weeks before moving on to another, so that you absorbed all its possibilities. I am nowhere near that disciplined, but nonetheless have bought very few new colours at all this year. I haven't even bought many tools, instead trying to concentrate on learning more about the glass itself and the possibilities it holds.
Soft glass varies in viscosity and reacts differently with different colour types and flame chemistries. This effect is magnified several times over with boro. Glass can be pulled, pushed and pinched into so many shapes and manipulated to give stunning effects. A pair of pliers can produce an extraordinary work of art, just by pulling and pushing, pinching and twisting. Why do we constantly lust after new things, when we can make so much with what we already have to hand?
I wonder if a constant desire for new tools and new colours can be a substitute for new ideas. If we stop buying new things and instead focus on what we already have, or even cut down on what is available to us, do we push ourselves into finding new ways to use existing colours and shapes? Would having less make us learn to do more with what we do have?

Tuesday, 25 May 2010


The Hungarian language has 44 letters. It isn't the longest alphabet in the world - that honour goes to the Cambodian alphabet with 79 - but it's long enough to confuse me! Not only is it long, it also has several (to the English ear) things that make it very difficult to pronounce. Looking at the Wikipedia entry, E with an umlaut should be pronounced as in "same" while e with an acute accent is as in "hey". Personally, I struggle to see the difference. Added to that, I live with a Cumbrian who pronounces "hey" as "hey" and "same" as "serm". Goodness knows what a Hungarian would make of any attempt he might make on their language! Some letters (like u with a double acute accent) don't even get an English pronounciation equivalent. I occasionally try pronouncing Hungarian words (street names etc...) while in Budapest. Invariably I get them wrong, and am often surprised my feeble attempts don't meet with more hilarity. This really isn't a language (even on a pronounciation level, let alone a comprehension one) for the faint-hearted.
And yes, that is a poor attempt at Queen Elizabeth 1! She is commemorating a special event this week.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Don't mention the dragon.....

I've eventually made a different type of dragon! One with horns, whiskers and big flared nostrils. The really nice thing about this one is that, having made it, I feel freed from the one type of dragon and am suddenly full of ideas for pointed horns and odd-shaped wings. Goodness knows how any of them will translate into glass, but it is going to be fun trying!
One of my Etsy customers has asked me to make her a dark dragon for her fiance. I'm not a fan of commissions but this seemed a fairly straightforward one, so I agreed. I can make dark dragons, the colour choice is easy, what could go wrong? Humph. What went wrong was me, of course. As soon as I sat down to make this dark dragon, all I could think about was that it was a commission so it had to be good - and that was enough to give me 10 thumbs. I've got boiled-frit dark dragon, squished-eye dark dragon and really quite unusual dark dragon, but nothing I'd happily send out of the door in one piece. It was like a bad episode of Fawlty Towers - Don't Mention the Dragon! Of course, as soon as I got fed up and made other colours, I got a couple of lovely pieces. Aaaagh!!!

Thursday, 13 May 2010


I have an ironing board full of glass pieces, many of which I have made and won't sell. Dragons with wings that are too skew, bad cases of Nipple Eye (nasty disease affecting lampworked dragons and related to Sunken Eye), odd phoenixes and strange-coloured elephants. Often people come and coo over them and often I'm told I'm too fussy and should be putting some of them up for sale.
Many years ago, I studied metallurgy at university. It was a four year course, the last year of which was spent doing a dissertation - helping with a project and writing up the results. From the many interesting projects on offer, I chose that which had as little to do with metallurgy as possible and so ended up in the Department of Archaeological Metallurgy (total population: 2), studying a find of iron age objects including some gold jewellery. It was an interesting year, but the work I produced at the end of it could hardly be said to have been excellent. Looking back at it a couple of years later, I felt that I could have done a much better job had my mind been better focussed on the task in hand and less on social life and other things.
Imagine my feelings then to discover that this "important work" is now likely to be incorporated into a British Museum publication and that a Time Team programme may be in the offing. I should be excited, but instead find myself more than a bit embarrassed!
This is a very good reason for all those 'substandard' pieces to continue to reside on my ironing board, one day maybe to move to a windowsill or displayed on a wall outside. We will continue to live with unironed shirts and I will be happy in the knowledge that I won't wake up one day to find my 'very important dragons with nipple eyes' in the British Museum.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Family meals

I'm a firm believer in family meals, and tonight is a good reason why. Its election night and my daughter has just voted for the first time. Her voting strategy was dictated by the suggestions of the hottest local lad (but also her own gut instinct....honest....) and the conversation at table, while ranging from the availability of striped skirts and the feasibility of getting a meal in Preston train station in under 12 minutes to the rise of Hitler after World War One, also included a long discussion on what would happen in the morning, now that we've all voted. The kids decided - and I love this idea - that the results would be announced, and then there would be one giant National Awkward Silence......with one embarrassed cough.....

Now, that's worth laying the table for!

Its been the usual full week. We've been press-ganged into agreeing to be in Budapest for Sziget - the apartment is already booked, but we may have a handy solution (watch this space..) My parents have been in Turkey to get the villas put in order for the season ahead, leaving me free to cope with the stresses of the International Baccalaureate and 2 imminent sets of GCSE exams. Mother was nearly arrested on the way home (her art pastels apparently looked like gelignite) and my son rang last night to say he'd got lost in the Alps on Monday. Did he realise he was lost? "Ummm....well, I wasn't really sure...."
All this has left plenty of time for a bit of glassy lateral thinking. I've been struggling with goddesses and the human form in general. Waist too high, stomach around the knees, thick waist, sagging backside, stick insect, lopsided hips. You name it and I've produced it in glass. Then I realised - if you can't make goddesses with great features, hide them and make a mermaid! The tail covers a multitude of sins....and even looks quite tasteful.
I've also had a go at a couple of wineglass stems and some jellyfish marbles. The jellies are fun and very flirty with the camera. One look at the lens and they appear to shake their tentacles and put their best face on. Great for showing off! They are also a fascinating example of how colour and glass movement at different temperatures can be used to advantage. To make a jellyfish, take a clear cane striped with 'tentacles', put a blob of colour at the tip and then plunge into a glob of molten clear glass. The coloured tip travels through the hot glass, melting as it goes. As it meets cooler glass towards the back of the glob, it spreads to form the jellyfish body, leaving the 'tentacles' waving behind it. My problem has been that pushing this body in leaves a divot behind it that can trap air. It has taken a bit of playing with thicknesses of cane and the heat of the glob to get a good balance and overcome this.
The wine glasses are going to take longer to get right, not least because it isn't easy to get hold of borosilicate blanks, and I can't blow glass that well. The results are fun and I have loads of ideas, from mermaids to Henry Moore, tattoos and (of course) eyeballs.
As usual, glass is a never-ending journey, and as soon as one problem (sagging waists or the air in a jellyfish) is solved, the next temptation beckons, bringing a new set of challenges.