Colin Reid Residency Week 2
It seems extraordinary that I have only just completed a residency that I applied for in February 2019….two years and eight months later but we live in extraordinary times. For all the blogs leading up to this final account of my residency resulting from the C.G.S Amanda Moriarty award.
Colin and I finally agreed on the above dates for the second and final week of my residency in his studio. In the interim months I had spent some time in my own workshop tweaking, sandblasting and finishing the forged steel re bar grills that I had used to impress texture into my clay originals. Their finish was with a waxed Ferric Nitrate produced patina ‘poor man’s Corten Steel ’( as a friend of mine calls it). The idea was to fit these metal elements back into the groves and channels of the cast Boro Silicate glass forms after some cold working.During a loosening of lockdown I had at least been able to pick up the glass in their moulds from Colin ( these had been de moulded and examined in my own workshop) but I’d decided against even the most rudimentary bit of cold working over my Belfast sink and to stick to the original residency plan ignoring the 19 month delay and learn how to do things properly in Colin’s studio.
So my van and I landed back in Stroud on a blustery Autumnal day and wound our way down Libby’s drive. Karen, Colin’s assistant was there to meet me as Colin would only be back from travelling the next day. It was great to see her and after so long it was something of a relief to be able to have a techy geeky conversation about glass again, recall our various lockdown experiences and ask all those many practical questions that build up after months of working alone, such as ‘can you cast glass a second time? What really is devitrification? How do you promote veiling? Is flashing a good thing?
My three pieces consisted of the two based on constricted tree forms 44cm and 36cm high and one cast from a clod of stony earth 14 x 26 x 30 cm (HxWxB)that I named Cotswold Clod. All had been impressed in some way with my forged steel grills.
Before any fine tuning of the forms could take place there was a lot of basic forming required just to get these huge lumps vaguely in order .I had miss- judged the amount of glass needed in the moulds using the water displacement method ( still not sure how) so the surplus had to be cut off. Karen suggested this could be milled off but my aim was only to use equipment that I could use back in my own workshop. After my initial week of the residency I had decided I couldn’t live without an air compressor and Machine Mart obliged with a swift delivery so air tools were ok. I removed the excess with an air grinder and cutting disc. I then started grinding back areas .Crosshatching them first with marker pen to check I didn’t miss one. I went against my own principles fairly quickly when I used the flatbed and Aluminium oxide to level the bases but hey ….rules are made to be broken
I then spent a couple of painful hours trying to decide how to make sense of the Tree forms. What is it about glass? It seems to have life of its own despite the most careful initial mould making of the Gelflex forms and fitting of the steel forms back to the waxes. I couldn’t see how the steel fitted back into the glass. Not only had shrinkage appeared to have taken place but distortion too. Steel feels a more flexible material to work with than glass but that may be just because of my difference level of experience .An added challenge was the sheer length of time that had elapsed since my initial drawings when I conceived the idea of the split tree guards and saplings. A degree of momentum had been lost.
Having more or less given up hope of slotting the grills back into the glass tree forms I started sanding down the roughly chopped areas and then threw caution to the wind and began boldly cutting away with the air grinder, deciding on the form and facets to be polished in a much more spontaneous way than I had first envisaged. There are many similarities in this process with grinding steel except that when you’re grinding steel you don’t generally get wet feet.
I treated the second piece ‘Cotswold Clod’ differently. For a start there was a better fit of the steel grill and less cold working needed. I cut away underneath so that the actual base was as small as possible bringing more lightness to the piece and it appeared less lumpy and top heavy. Karen suggested grinding and polishing the base to let more light in. A normal ‘no no’ because the bottom of a piece is very easily scratched but it worked well in this context and could be protect with small gel feet. Against my principle of don’t attempt anything you can’t do in your own workshop I succumbed to the easy joy of the vibrating reciprolap and arrived back in to the workshop the next day to find my clod had a wonderfully smooth shiny bottom.
I continued to cut and form my tree forms which were gradually becoming more and more tusk like. As I was working I felt more like a stone or ice sculptor. I did find a way to incorporate the grills back into the glass, cold working holes to push them into but they still seemed more and more like an add on. I let the shape and texture of the pieces start to dictate the form to me. Embracing a more spontaneous approach felt good and the hours passed quickly as I imprinted more texture, using the domed head of the air die grinder and the electric foot pedalled flexi drive for more precise areas. The forms started to make me think of some of the work of Helaine Blumenfeld www.helaineblumenfeld.com particularly her carved marble series ‘Metamorphosis’ where she combines smoother overlaid surfaces in contrast to roughness underneath.
In the afternoon Karen was packing up a large piece of Colin’s work to send to a gallery and she explained some of the best ways to construct a packing case from 10mm ply with rope handles arranging the 10 cm thick foam around the edges which she glued to the box with a spray adhesive used for upholstery. Although I had made my own boxes for my glass degree show piece it was a long time ago and such practical intermittent chats throughout the week were very informative and it is often where I find gaps in my knowledge needed to run a studio.
Chats over tea breaks also became a valuable source of information. Such as which is the best wax to use, which suppliers were most reliable and the best way to incorporate pigment into your moulds and which glue to use for which application and where to apply for residencies. The Covid delay did give me an advantage ( and possibly Colin and Karen a disadvantage) in that I had had more time to develop my own practise in my workshop so had more practical questions to ask.
In the morning the sandblaster and I got to know each other.. Colin has an American beast of a machine and it made light work of both the Cotswold clod (once its shiny bottom had been masked off) and gave greater uniformity to the tree form pieces so the ground down areas merged with the textured parts and at last I could start seeing them as homogenous pieces.
In the afternoon Colin kindly agreed to give me bit of a ‘tutorial ‘about firing schedules. All immensely helpful and I left our chat feeling more confident and armed with some useful literature on annealing temperatures by the American studio glass artist Fritz Dreisbach…. The proof of course will be in the pudding the next time my kiln goes on. I learnt a new word of Colins ‘Crizzle’ Something between crack and fizzle and what happens when you plunge hot glass into cold water in a tin bucket in order to make frit. I’m still not sure if it is an actual word or just a Colin-ism but whatever… it would be a great name for a curly haired Labradoodle.
And so at long last the polishing day dawned.
I had pinpointed some main focus areas of my tree forms where I wanted to let the light in and Colin showed me how to work my way up from a green Diasol pad to a brown smoothing pad on the pneumatic air polisher achieving a flawless polished finish. This was going to be learning by doing and there was something very meditative in this methodical process. Once I had carefully crosshatched and polished away the spines, I could start to see how powerful a particular polished area could be in contrast to a sandblasted textured one and loved being able to highlight a definite ridge and becoming seduced by being able to look into languid depths of veiling. Until now I have not been much of a fan of polished glass (shock horror…) perhaps this has in part been due of my lack of equipment but I could now see that with relatively simple purchases I could achieve the same results in my cowshed and my organic dusky pools of cast glass that lay side by side my forged copper forms might benefit from spots of clarity if only as a nudge to appreciation of the rest of the opaqueness.
My pieces were nearly finished .I masked off the polished areas and gave all the pieces a final sandblasting and treated those matt areas with a protective liquid called Clear shield (Cleen tec is a similar product)
At the beginning of the week Colin had needed to photograph some pieces and I asked him about his photography set up on the top floor of his Mill building studio. I have always struggled with the whole photography thing and normally find that I ended up employing a photographer to get decent results which is of course is costly and less spontaneous. Colin takes all his own photos and gets great results. After so many years of experience, he knows his subject, his equipment and audience well and he has found his formula. He backlights his polished glass against a black background and generally uses only one and maybe sometimes two Bowen studio lights.
I had bought my own Canon camera with me which luckily wasn’t too dissimilar to his. He helped me set up my pieces and after some poking around on the internet we found a way that I could use his flash head so we could link his studio light operation to my camera. Systematically adjusting the aperture to a range of exposures I spent the next couple of hours getting some shots, the quality of which I would normally only of dreamt of. Most thrilling of all was that I could actually see how I could achieve similar results with the same set up in my office at home.
That afternoon I loaded up my van with three new pieces of work but having three new pieces of work in my portfolio was just the half of it. More importantly I left armed with more tools in my technique tool box than I could have possibly imagined. Despite the Covid Pandemic both parts of this residency took place at exactly the right time for me in my life and work practice. I had had a good idea of what I needed to learn to move forward with my own practice but I had no idea that the whole experience would be so comprehensive and fulfilling. I have notebooks full of information and new tools on order and I know that slowly over the next months it will feed into my work and workshop practise .My mould making process is already greatly improved as a result of my first residency and now I can start opening up and letting light in to my copper pieces through areas of cast class. Something that I had only imagined would be possible nearly 6 years ago when I started combining glass with forged metal during a Master’s Degree at UCA Farnham.
All that remains is for me to say is a huge and sincere thankyou to the board of the Contemporary Glass Society for giving me this opportunity and of course to Karen Browning for all her knowledge and patient help. I have been inspired and enabled throughout the residency by her.
My final thanks must go to Colin himself for inviting me in to his beautiful richly creative studio and sharing his vast expertise, knowledge of technique and his time.