Playing with glass

Today I got to play with glass and make things  – not stained glass (did it once, made a panel, didn’t like all the splinters) or blown glass ( got offered an apprenticeship once by a flirty glass blower on the Isle of Wight) or melting glass panels. Instead I got to play with a rather unusual and wonderful glass paste that you can roll out like royal icing and cut into. It was at UWE’s Centre For Fine Print Research Make:Shift:Do 2017 – open doors day and it was fascinating to wander round and see how 3D print and AI/Machine Learning are now part of their research, alongside more tradional activities like cyanotype printing and artist book-making.

So, today I was lured down to Bower Ashton by the description of the glass paste workshop – “Shape and print into glass with normal household items at room temperature.” Sounded intriguing and it was. Even more delightful was that the drop-in workshop was run by Susanne Klein, who I first met working at HPlabs Bristol, and who has given talks about her research to Bristol Girl Geek Dinners.

Turns out, it was Susanne who basically invented the glass paste we were going to use – it’s a mix of ground glass, water and a powdered material that burns away in the kiln, and only has to heat to 800 degrees. Susanne showed me how to mix the three ingredients then knead and roll out the paste – just like making icing!

I picked a few simple shapes and pressed into them with some basic tools, had a go at freehand shapes then chose one of Susanne’s pre-made linocuts to play with, impressing it into the paste with a rolling pin then cutting round it. I tidied up the edges and sprinkled coloured frit (powdered glass) onto the white paste – I could have made coloured paste, just like icing, it depends what colour glass powder you mix. Now all I have to do is wait and see how they come out the kiln. My head is full of other ideas I could try out – theoretically I could do the making at home and then firing elsewhere, as long as was careful about breathing in glass dust or spreading it around the house.

Here’s a couple of the freehand pieces, a moon and a feather.

Moon – unbaked, with frit and glass chips

I couldn’t get the paste to hold a fingerprint impression so I focused on playing with dents and putting frit and glass chips in them to see what they’ll look like after the kiln.


Feather – unbaked, with frit and blue glass beads

Had to make a feather. I don’t have photos of all the pieces I made; can’t wait to see how they come out though.

I did also enjoy wandering around where I studied Fine Art, trying to see what was still there, what has shifted location and what has disappeared (bronze-casting and welding have gone). It got me thinking about the response from tutors to a few of us who were exploring photography and computers and incorporating them in our work and how it was definitely not encouraged (1989-92). Things have changed.


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Looking back to move forwards

I need to practice sharing my creative ideas in a way that makes it easy for others to understand, not just end products but the processes that lead me there. I tend to shy away from this, assuming that if people were really bothered to know then they would just ask, but unfortunately to be an artist means having to explain your art not just produce it, especially if you want to engage with funders. My games projects are as important to me as my past work in what we used to call ‘interactive art’ so I need to show where themes run through the work I have done.

I am writing a new outline of Shadowmaker; what it could look like and feel like and behave like if I could develop it in the direction I always wanted, as a VR project. I am revisiting past projects and drawing out the threads that show themes and interests and aesthetics that are about me and my work so I can write more confidently putting myself as Artist in the middle of a body of work that pulls together ideas and actions, thoughts and deeds. Applying for funding is a competitive process and that always puts me off, so reminding myself of past work that I am still pleased to have produced or been involved with is a good way to get into the right mood of:

I am brilliant, give me cash.

The funding form I am filling in wants examples of my track record as a maker of interactive work, so I am revisiting old lists of work and before I fire up all my old hard-drives and multiple back-ups I’m googling myself to see what documentation is online. It is an interesting way to remind myself of Things that I have done, and what Things might constitute Relevant Artistic Practice. It’s also easy to get distracted by internet rabbit-holes of things I’ve forgotten that may be a tiny bit relevant.

I found a bunch of academic papers & references and reminders of conference presentations, and a reference to the first computer-based interactive piece I worked on (Media, Myth & Mania) and then stumbled across a podcast from March 2011: Mobile is Pervasive (part2), a recording of a roundtable conversation at the Pervasive Media Studio. It’s a bit of a diversion from what I was looking for but a nice reminder of what I used to get up to; paid to create conversations with interesting people aka R&D. This one is Proff.Jon Dovey & Me & a bunch of BBC Natural History Unit people, talking about what was then quite ground-breaking research into Design Dimensions for creating mobile/locative/pervasive media and how it might be relevant to the BBC archive. We refer to the about-to-go-live Pervasive Media Cookbook which is still a useful online resource if you want to find out more about developing an interactive experience.

nb Wordles get a mention. This refers to wordclouds we generated about immersive/mobile/pervasive experiences from audience descriptions,  to show what words were being used most frequently. This was all part of our research into the then-developing language around pervasive media.

Listening to this podcast, I can recognise a couple of voices and names that are now quite familiar; pretty sure I hear Rebecca Bangay (who is now experimenting with 360film & VR) and we mention Jackie Calderwood, who was an early experimenter with pervasive technologies, creating experimental experiences in rural settings.

But time to close this rabbit hole and get back to writing a new portrait of I, the Artist, as an older woman…

Time for a new image of myself as artist

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falling featherhouse

I’ve had to take it down,  featherhouse. It started to detach itself from some of the windows so I peeled most of it off. Not everywhere but mostly. Still fascinated by the feeling it gave of being inside an ice cube; the way  those tracing paper windows diffused the light. I sat inside the house and stared at the windows and the paper white feather outlines.

I still haven’t taken down all the paper on all the windows. I think I will miss it, that iced-in feeling. But it is spring, officially, and time to clean the spray mount from the glass.

I am tempted to echo my temporary featherhouse on some of the lower panes in each bay window by putting up fake-etch plastic film, with or without feathers. This is instead of rehanging the cotton muslin that did as net curtains before Window Wanderland.

I’m not very good with window decor – our living room curtains are lined dustsheets, another example of my inability to choose a definite pattern, or colour.

Curtain & feathers

As I took the first of the featherhouse down I enjoyed layering up half a dozen sheets of the tracing paper and using the window as a lightbox. I am thinking about framing all the layers together when I take them down so I can look through and imagine the Russian swan goddesses as they made it snow:

“let feathers fall like snow on the earth below”

featherhouse layers

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featherhouse revisited

I signed up for Window Wanderland. Not Winter, not Wonder ~ Window Wanderland. It’s a popular event for dark winter evenings in different parts of Bristol, when people decorate their windows so that other people can wander along the local streets and admire the display, like an arts trail but without anyone coming inside, and with participants of all ages exhibiting. There have been a few now, and this weekend it is the turn of Ashton, Bedminster, Southville. So I signed up.

Inside featherhouse

We have a lot of windows on our corner house – two double bays and one window in between gives us a total of 25 windows at the front of the house, then another half a dozen at the side. That’s a lot of glass-cleaning, but it did give me time to think about what was going to replace the grime, in the end and after talking with Harriet I stuck to a simple theme and just turned the front of the house into a giant featherhouse. The original featherhouse first appeared at a Ship of Fools exhibition in around 1998/99 and I am still very attached to it.

original featherhouse

featherhouse sits in an upstairs window in my room, slightly dusty these days and probably makes no sense to anyone but me. This weekend I turned it round to present the house shape end to passers-by who stop to look. Now above it for Winter Wonderland there are ghostly feathers of tracing paper. All the bay windows are covered in tracing paper to mimic the etched effect on featherhouse, but instead of cut-outs like the swan feathers on the original, I used thin white paper and hand cut lots of feathers. I was struck by how non-featherlike the outlines of real feathers can be, as I copied those from featherhouse and translated them into paper.

outside featherhouse

I think it works, but will add some more upstairs tomorrow.


Inside, during daylight hours, it feels as if we are snowed in, or inside a house made of ice. The light it creates is strangely wintry.


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