Monday, 23 August 2010

Award For Excellence - Northlands Creative Glass

I have now arrived at the final section of my final report which describes the work I did at Northlands Creative Glass in the Scottish Highlands. This section shall be brief as I only spent a very short time there, just a ten days. I was there as an assistant to the technician Michael Bullen who was very kind to me. Northlands is an educational institution for glass artists although it is now starting to introduce other art forms such as ceramics. It holds seminars, short classes and masterclasses and is a place of excellence. People, often established artists themselves, come from around the world to be taught on these masterclasses by world renowned artist, designers and maker. It is somewhere I have wanted to go and see for some time and somewhere I would love to do a course if only I could afford it. I asked Michael if I could come down as part of this award to help him out and get to see the place. While I was there Catherine Newell was holding a masterclass and she is an artist I very much admire. She paints on glass with frits and powders building up layers of colour and using an architectural format which works both in buildings as well as gallery spaces. It was great to see her work and hear her talk and see the designs the students came up with and the art they created under her tutelage. Everyone I spoke to left at the end very happy.

Although I got see all of this I was not actually part of the class. I believe I got the best of both worlds, seeing the work people came up with and being able to get on with what Michael wanted me to do at the same time. The first task he gave me was to cut glass. I cut eight squares 30cm x 30cm x 6mm using a glass cutter and running pliers.

(Fig. 37. Glass cut for lightbox and for paint palettes.)

I still get a little nervous handling big sheets of thick glass but I didn't break any much to my delight. These eight panes were going to be turned into paint palettes. I also cut three pieces at 56cm x 53.5cm x 6mm for lightboxes Michael was making. He made the boxes slender without legs so they could be moves around and places on different surfaces freely. They were not too heavy and I believe a very good design. The glass was sandblasted on the inside and two strip lights were used. If ever I get my own studio I am going to copy these because they were much more manageable than an immobile table.

I made safe all the glass on a lathe which had a platform screwed onto it that you could rest your glass on while you used it. This was really useful and made it much easier to handle the bigger sheets. I had never seen an attachment like this on any lathe I'd used before but it was very straight forward and I would recommend it. The palettes were then ground by hand giving them an opaque quality. Michael wanted them done this way because they didn't have etching facilities and he believed sandblasting was too coarse and when paint was mixed on top of it all the vehicle be it oil or water fell to the bottom and got stuck there between the grooves. I used 360 silicone carbine green powder/grit mixed with a little water on the surface of the palette and ground in with a flat edged slab of glass. Each palette took twenty minutes.

The next job I did, which was really the final job that stretched for the rest of my stay there, was to make up test pieces. Michael who was originally a painter by trade wants to start having painting and glazing courses at Northlands, something they don't specifically do at the moment. One of the things he will need for this is a comprehensive set of tests for all the paints, stains, enamels and powders they will offer, so students can pick what colours they want to use.

(Fig. 38. Tetra and float glass cut for test pieces.)

I had to start doing these from scratch. Michael said I could double all the tests so I could keep a set for myself, which was really great of him and will be extremely helpful to me in the future.

First I cut all the glass, 140 tetra clear bullseye and 142 float all of which were doubled for my own use. I safetied all the edges so they would be easy for students to handle and not damage the brushes and I cleaned them using meths. I then began my tests. Each rectangle of glass was masking taped at the bottom so that once it was painted this could be peeled off to reveal a clean area to be written on.

(Fig. 39. Painting the test pieces.)

The top section is a gradiated matt going from dark to light so the whole range of possible colours can be seen. Beneath it I painted a straight line fading from dark to light and a wiggily line to show what the paint behaves like when it is traced with. At the very bottom I wrote on all of them with black trace giving the manufacturer, the colour and code, the firing temperature. All of the paints were mixed with water and gum. Where paints were sieved it is specified on the test. Dugusso, Optul and Thompson were all sieved. Dugusso, Reusche, Reusche high fire, Debitus, Pot Clay, Pottery Craft and Dekkend were painted.

I cannot begin to explain how useful this experience was for me, getting to go through all of these paints, enamels and powders like this and comparing their qualities.

(Fig. 40. A selection of the test pieces ready for firing in the kiln.)

I have never had this opportunity before. Getting to keep a copy has also been immensely kind as it would cost me a fortune to have to buy each of the paints in order to make up the tests myself. Now I can look back at them, decide the colours to use and buy those alone. It was a real treat getting to go to Northlands. It was a beautiful and friendly place and I was very well taken care of.

I feel truly privileged to have been a recipient of the Award for Excellence 2009 bestowed upon me by The Worshipful company of Glaziers and Glass Painters. I have learnt so much this past year, if I think back to what I knew before I started and what I know now it just doesn't compare. The more I learn the more I realise I do not know. I hope to continue my training and continue to seek out knowledge where ever I can. I am very lucky to have had this opportunity, because no matter what happens in the future no one can ever take away your education, and the skills and techniques I have learned this year are the building blocks for a lifetime. Thank you for granting me this gift and I will strive to prove myself worthy and make you proud.


  1. Well done on this years work! The posts about what you have been doing are very interesting. JollyGreenMonkey

  2. Nice colours the glass is so bright!

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  4. A major step to making glass art is coming up with stained glass designs & projects to get the ball rolling. Creativity plays a big role in any art form, but it never hurts to have other enthusiasts help you brainstorm stained glass patterns