Studio Tour - November 2018
Words: Jo Dowsett
Photography: Carolyn Carter
Glass artist Cheryl has always been creative - from pottery and jewellery classes to making her own bespoke wedding dress. She studied geology at university and has always had an intrinsic sense of belonging with the coast, having grown up in Cornwall where she still visits as often as she can. Her love of the natural environment and the bedrock of the coastline has informed the basis of her beautiful craft. Cheryl loves to incorporate the natural surroundings into her work to evoke a sense of space, place and time.
Cheryl’s love affair with glass started following an evening course ten years ago. She became totally captivated with the material; the textures, depth of colour and reaction with light. Once she had the basics under her belt, she started building up a selection of tools and began to hone her craft at home.
When Cheryl is not busy looking after her young family, she can be found in her studio which is located at the end of her garden. A journey to the studio for Cheryl consists of walking past Biscuit and Pye, the family’s chickens and entering her large, pale green wooden workshop. Cheryl has her glass worktable table located under the large window, allowing natural light to fill the space. Glass jars filled with aquamarine shades of frit (shards of glass) sit shoulder to shoulder alongside her grinder ready to be incorporated into Cheryl’s designs.
She has a very organised array of shelving containing a multitude of differing hues of glass originating mainly from both the UK and the USA. Plastic containers holding tiny glass facades of houses and roofs, ready to be joined together to evoke Scottish bothies or Cornish cottages sit alongside sustainably sourced stones originating from around the UK; from Scottish sea worn pebbles to Welsh slate and Cotswold stone, all of differing shapes and sizes. Glass jars full of shells sit below a peg board displaying etched glass fish along with essential tools; copper wire, glass cutters and pliers, lining the rear of the studio. Cheryl’s finished pieces - tiny fishing boats, beautiful village scenes, cute houses and crashing waves all sitting atop carefully chosen stones are lined up, waiting patiently to be transported to the next craft fair or gallery.
As Cheryl is largely self taught, she is free to experiment with new techniques, constantly evolving her craft and thinking about the multitude of ways glass can be used. Each of Cheryl’s pieces can go through many different processes from traditional copper foil work and soldering, to fusing, to freehand engraving and adding fabrics and other materials before it is finished. Her work is sought after by a loyal customer base in the UK as well as further afield, mainly thanks to Instagram, in Canada, America and Australia.
Glass maker Cheryl lives in Knowle, Warwickshire with her husband and four young children.
How would you describe your style?
‘Coastal, happy and colourful. I don’t want tell the viewer too much about what the piece is. I keep my houses and cottages intentionally simple in order to free the imagination and allow the pieces to evoke the viewers’ own memories and free their imaginations to enable them to decide what the piece represents to them.’
What is your design process? Do you start with the materials or an idea first?
‘Both. Each pebble is different and the textures and markings on the surface can provide the inspiration for what the end piece might look like.’ Cheryl demonstrates by choosing a pebble with natural markings resembling waves crashing onto the rocks. ‘Or sometimes it starts with an idea; I wanted to make a tiny ladder work in a piece and found this stone which reminded me of a cliff and allowed me to do so’. An exquisite ladder cascades down the side of the pebble from an peaceful village scene topped with a perfect blue sky.
How often do you make?
Cheryl has a young family with four children aged from two to eight, but whenever she can, she makes time to visit her studio to create her beautiful coastal scenes. She does this ‘a couple of afternoons per week as a minimum and some evenings. I try to keep my weekends free as much as possible to allow for family time and for markets but the build up to Christmas is always busy.’
What are your can’t-live-without craft room essentials?
‘A glass cutter. By applying a steady pressure to the glass, I can cut it working with it’s constraints and then I smooth any sharp edges with the grinder. I wrap copper foil around the edge of each individual glass piece and crimp it over using my fingers, before smoothing it tightly to the surface using my trusty wooden peg. I find a wooden peg is best for this job as the wood is quite soft so it doesn’t rip the foil and it eventually takes on the shape of the glass. Plus pegs are something I always have handy! I then put the pieces together like a jigsaw before painting flux over the copper edge and using my soldering iron to solder the individual elements together, creating a nice bead or join.’
Speed is another ‘tool’ Cheryl explains must always be incorporated into her work. She must work quickly and efficiently as ‘heat and glass don’t always work together well! Too much heat in one spot for too long can make the glass shatter or any wirework to become undone.’
Describe your work in three words
‘Joyful, evocative and fun.’
Are you a messy or organised creative?
‘I try to be organised but am fighting a losing battle! I often get so excited, I jump from one piece to another, especially if I am working on something new or different. Often, it is the process that I enjoy more than the finished piece!’
Cheryl’s children are not allowed in her studio. ’Children and glass don’t go well together!’ She feels a sense of calm in her creative space and enjoys the peace and quiet; a focussed few hours away from the school runs and house renovations is something Cheryl appreciates.
What brings you the most joy in your creative business?
‘Seeing a customer feel a connection with something I have made is very special. Each piece has it’s own personality and I love finding out where the customer is going to put it in their home and why they wanted to purchase it.’
How long does it take for you to really build some confidence in your craft?
‘My confidence to sell my products came after 5 or 6 years. At first, I had a lot to learn and I really wanted to develop my own style. I took inspiration from my childhood in Cornwall, from holidays and even from my childrens’ drawings. I wanted to create a style which allows everyone to connect with it in some way; to remind people of a time and a place that is personal to them from childhood memories to where they have been on holiday. I have also always loved rocks and stones so it was a lightbulb moment when I thought of bringing the two together.’
Cheryl became more business focussed after attending the British Craft Trade Fair in Harrogate which although was a daunting experience, it gave her direct contact with galleries and from there she managed to find stockists and grow in confidence. ‘It was a wonderful opportunity to meet and speak to other artists and craftspeople and I was pleased that my work held its own with so many talented stallholders.’
What does the future hold?
Cheryl has so many ideas and wants to incorporate many different techniques into her glass making. She has recently purchased a kiln so she can experiment with ‘three dimensional and multi layered pieces allowing for more dynamic and individual textures’ in her pieces. ‘One of the things I love about glass is it’s limitless, there is always something new to learn.’
We look forward to seeing how Cheryl’s work evolves and develops.