“Better an interesting failure than a boring success”.

Ben Dombey demonstrates combining cast and blown glass in the hotshop.

Ben Dombey demonstrates combining cast and blown glass in the hotshop.

Thanks to Michael Rogers for the above quote! That sums up the spirit of our masterclass – try things with hope and a spirit of adventure.

These past two days I’ve seen things done with molten glass that you wouldn’t believe! Ben Dombey, Michael’s technical assistant is a very accomplished young glass blower, a student of Michael’s and they work together with us students to demonstrate ways to combine cast glass objects with hot and blown glass.

We have been making moulds of objects we brought along in preparation for casting. I am working on the peregrine remains I found on the beach (I abandoned the antique concealed boot I intended to work with when I discovered it would be altered in the process as I have been asked to return it undamaged).

This evening we had presentations by Cappy Thompson and Michael, along with Ben and Jeff Zimmer, who is Cappy’s T.A.

Ben’s work is coloured, and often silvered, blown glass and he uses the material to explore surfaces and ideas about the relationship of inside to outside. Amazing layers of colour and sometimes mirrored interiors revealed by carving into the outer surface. Jeff,s pieces are multi-layered constructions of painted flat glass and are often ambiguous visually and in meaning. His work is driven by his political as well as personal inspiration, and include works made in response to environmental issues and the Iraq war. They demand interaction with the viewer and I can’t wait to see them in the flesh.

Cappy is an influential glass artist from Seattle. She paints stories about her life on blown glass vessel forms using a mediaeval glass painting technique called ‘grisaille’. Her work is extraordinarily intricate, colourful and beautiful and she often draws on myths and legends to give context and meaning to her own personal story. She also undertakes major large-scale commissions for public buildings including an enormous wall of windows for Sea Tac airport in Seattle.

Michael is Professor of Glass at Rochester University, New York and is one of America’s leading glass artists. His work often combines cast, blown and engraved glass. Sometimes he incorporates delicate sewn and embroidered, or quilted elements made by his wife, Betty, who is a textile artist. He puts these elements together in a poetic, rather than a logical way, to evoke layers of meaning rather as a poet uses metaphor.

Tomorrow I hope to prepare my first lost wax mould in readiness for casting the falcon talons. Bullseye glass company have donated lots of glass in every colour for this class, so it will be wonderful to have the chance to experiment with some gorgeous glass!

We are putting in 13 hours or more a day and we are having a ball! I feel utterly privileged to be here.

“We are all amateurs, life is too short to be anything else”, Charlie Chaplin

Cappy Thompson demonstrates her glass painting technique.

Cappy Thompson demonstrates her glass painting technique.

An inspirational second day at the Northlands conference included a fascinating talk by Paul Faber from the Troppe Museum in Amsterdam about textiles printed to commemorate political or significant events in Africa. Paul showed us many examples of these cloths (largely printed in Europe, and recently in China and India) and how they are worn and used as propaganda right up to cloth made to celebrate the election of Obama. Thanks to Paul for the quote above which is going right into my inspirational suitcase!

This was followed by a presentation by Ivana Srámková who showed slides of her beautiful large scale animal sculptures in glass. Ivana is an artist from Czech Republic and her work is beautifully evocative and has a mythical quality…I can feel a trip to Prague coming on!!

We visited the glass studios where I shall be working for the next 9 days. The facilities look amazing and I can’t wait to get started! Cappy Thompson, an American glass painter who is running a course parallel to mine, demonstrated her technique. I got very caught up with having a go at it, so that took most of my attention, the rest of the place will have to wait until Tuesday – what an opportunity!

Of the afternoon lectures Philip Eglin’s stands out. Philip is a thoroughly irreverent ceramicist who has just co-run a masterclass here and who is in the process of moving to Wales and we will be a richer nation for it!

Tessa Clegg’s talk painted a depressing picture of the situation for glass artists and glass education in Britain today and her dissatisfaction with her chosen profession was powerfully communicated. She highlighted the dark side of life as a glass artist, from which she is retiring after a long and fruitful career during which she has produced some of the most exquisite contemporary glass work around.

It was rather a difficult way to end what was an inspirational conference with speakers and participants who were full of knowledge and enthusiasm for their area of work. We all have our dark periods, its just a pity the conference ended on this note because it didn’t reflect the optimistic and enthusiastic attitude of most of the makers I have met.

I am still full of enthusiasm however, and I never went into this expecting it to be easy. Today I am visiting Wick to rifle through the detritus of Caithness life in the charity shops and see what I can find!