I did a foundation art course a long time ago in Sweden – that’s where I’m from originally. I studied everything: watercolour painting, oil painting, photography, ceramics. I tried glass painting too, which was fun but didn’t feel very creative since the glass itself was bought in. I started to look at how I could make my own forms and found a place where you could learn how to blow glass. I applied to Orrefors Glass School, in the south of Sweden, and I was hooked straight away. I quickly forgot about the painting part of it. It’s a very craft-based school – it was purely about learning how to blow glass. Working with a molten material is really exciting. It takes just minutes to make something – once you’ve learnt the basics, which can take years. It’s a very difficult skill but if you can master it, it’s really rewarding. It’s just an amazing material. It’s like nothing else. After the course, I applied for apprenticeships, working in studios, working on stemware – wine glasses, champagne glasses. It was good experience and showed me what you could do, working in hot glass. I realised that if you are making small, delicate things, you don’t need huge premises. I also realised that it’s not so much fun assisting others! I wanted to do my own thing so I decided to do a design degree in glass to find my own way of designing things. I applied to Edinburgh College of Art, even though I’d never been to Britain before. It was very different: the school I’d been at in the south of Sweden had been very isolated – a small village community of just 200 people. There are only two design schools in Sweden and they are very difficult to get in to. Most people do foundation courses first, so they tend to be around 25 before they go there. I suppose I felt quite old going to ECA at 24. That was in 2001. I found it quite difficult to adjust to thinking about the theory behind the practice, going from making things every day to thinking, “Why am I making it?”, “What should I be making in the future?”, “What will my path be?” It’s a good feeling, though, working out what sort of artist you are going to be, and I think it’s important to do both the craft-based study and the design. I did a BA, then an MA and then I was artist-in-residence at ECA between 2006 and 2008. Then I set up my own business in Stirling. There’s definitely a Scandinavian influence still there in my work. I tend to do very simple, tactile forms. I want people to touch the pieces I make. I enjoy making delicate things but because it is hand-blown, it’s actually quite sturdy. Glass is a very hard material. I like to blend colours so that they’re not too harsh. It’s a bit like watercolour painting, where you blend and shift colours; I use that sort of technique. A white opaque powder acts as the base and I use transparent colour on top of that. This pushes the powder away and leaves a watercolour effect. I run courses from my workshop and I find that this is a chance for people to understand what goes into what I do. They can see how expensive it is – the equipment that’s needed, the space for the machinery. It gives them more of an appreciation. They can see it’s not just a hobby. My day tends to start with a late night! If I’m blowing glass, I start the night before by charging the furnace, turning the kiln off and letting it cool and then turning up the furnace. I’ll put in the colour that I’m using that day. Even if you’ve been blowing glass for a long time, you have good days and bad. Timings go wrong, things fall on the floor… Sometimes I’ll have to change what I’m doing, depending on the weather. Sometimes it’s not physically possible. If it’s 25ºC outside and 50ºC in the studio, in front of the furnace it’s 1600ºC. It’s very demanding.
You can browse the full article with more stunning photography on pages 107-108, issue 104.
Interview Catherine Coyle
Photography Neale Smith