The Story So Far... How I Became A Full- Time Glass Artist

Jenny in the studio in front of the sheets of coloured glass she uses to create her peroducts


Becoming a glass artist is never something that I expected to do with my life.  Although I love experimenting with all kinds of arts and crafts, glass was never something that particularly interested me or drew my attention.


Having said that, I can’t really tell you what I really ever have expected to do with my life! When I was tiny, I wanted to run a post office, but this dream lost a lot of it’s appeal when I learned of the early mornings that would be involved!


When I was doing my A-levels, I thought I would be a writer. Then I changed my focus to Art and ended up going to university to study Fine Art. 7 years after graduating, I still had no idea what on earth to do with my life- although I had added a few more skills to my repertoire. 


I had just left a job as a youth and children’s worker after suffering a mental health crisis, and was struggling to figure out what on earth came next. As I tried to get back to some normality, I started making art again after years of ‘never having time’. I realised that art was the one thing I have always been drawn to, and have always come back to in times of stress or contemplation. So I started exploring the idea of running my own business, perhaps creating and selling my artworks, perhaps blogging and writing about art and creativity, perhaps a combination of the two.

One day, whilst out shopping with my Mum, we saw a poster advertising stained glass classes in a nearby town. My Mum commented that she’d always wanted to give glass making a try and I took a sneaky pic of the poster when she wasn’t paying attention.


A few months later, I proudly presented my mum with an envelope for her birthday. Inside were two places on the course, which would start just after Easter and ran through till the summer. 


One dark April evening,  we pootled along to Ramsbottom Library to meet Sam Finning, a local glass artist and teacher. Sam was (still is) an incredibly talented maker and a really skilled teacher, and after presenting us with a slightly daunting ‘materials needed’ list, she proceeded to take us through all the basics of stained glass making, from cutting and grinding the glass into shape, to foiling and soldering it together. There were about 5 of us in the class who were new starters that term, the rest of the class had been there since September at least and were happily getting on with their own projects. 


As I looked round at the diverse array of things people were creating, and flicked through the pattern books and project folders Sam provided for inspiration, I realised that glass making was going to be something I was going to enjoy. 

The second lesson we returned with bags loaded down with our new purchases of tools, glass and foil. I wasn't really drawn to any of the templates available, and so in the end I drafted my own pattern for a simple, geometric feather. I completed my feather in one session and was officially hooked from there on in. 

My second project was a gift for my friend, Hannah, who had just launched her business creating beeswax candles and vegan skincare. To celebrate the launch of her new venture, I ambitiously decided to create her logo, a cartoon bee named Jeremy, in glass. 


Making Jeremy was ...tricky, he had curved stripes on his body and big white eyes that I had to find a way to fit into his head! Thankfully, I hadn’t told Hannah what I was up to, because he took me weeks and weeks to finish, but when I finally presented her with my masterpiece, I think she was pretty chuffed.

Jeremy the bee- a cartoon bee in stained glass hanging in a busy market place

I made a few other things that term and over the summer, as we continued to attend Sam’s classes, and I loved the challenge of finding ways to get my ideas to turn into a reality. I was never really interested in the ready made patterns and templates, and began really enjoying coming up with my own ideas and finding new ways to make them a reality. The weekly classes were something I really looked forward to, and I found that I was growing more confident with every project I completed.


That autumn my Mum and I decided to splash out on some more equipment of our own, including a glass grinder, and ended up turning the dining room into a makeshift glass studio (with a compulsory baby gate to keep the dog out!)


Then I got a text message that changed everything-

‘I’ve put Jeremy up on my stall and people keep trying to buy him! You need to make more for me so I can sell them for you!’


I was stunned! Although I was still trying to make an income from my artwork, it had ever occurred to me that I could make and sell glass pieces. I was terrified, convinced that I was nowhere near good enough to sell what I was making, and at the same time, hugely excited. 


I’ve never really looked back from that point, although my business has changed and developed a lot since then.  I started doing craft fairs and markets, quickly learning ways to make my process more efficient as I suddenly had all of this space on a stall to fill with completed pieces. In January 2017 I became a full time stall holder at Altrincham Market in Cheshire, joining an amazing community of makers and small business owners. Then in 2019 I left the market and went full time selling my work online, which was once again an incredibly steep learning curve. 


I still love the challenge of working with glass, and the designing/ prototyping phase is definitely my favourite. I enjoy figuring out how the different shapes will fit together, what shapes can be cut all in one, and which will need to be in several pieces. As my skill has grown, I’ve become more adventurous with the types of shapes I can cut, but there is still a limit!


Whilst I'm designing, I have to think about the types of glass that I’m going to use to create the final piece- not just which colours would look best, but also which textures, which level of opacity and whether to choose a glass that has had an iridescent finish applied to one side. 


Putting together new collections feels like an exploration each time, which colours of glass will go best together in a set but still be strong enough to stand on their own?


I’ve also grown so much and developed my skills in running my own business, figuring out everything from bookkeeping and marketing, to finding a healthy balance between working on my passion and actually having a life outside of work! Whilst I still struggle with my mental health from time to time, knowing that I have my business making work that I love helps me keep on keeping on, and, as I have slowly become more successful, my confidence has grown too.


As I write this blog post, in October 2020, I’m having my most successful year yet and am so excited for the future of my business. So many new things on the horizon, and so many ideas of how I can grow and develop further.


Thanks so much for visiting my site and reading my story so far, 

Jenny


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