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Open Studios – The Art of Glass by Noreen Todd

The Art of Glass by Noreen Todd

I have been asked to blog about glass in the run up to the Open Studios week in Cornwall. It has been suggested to me that I blog about ‘Art of Glass’ – a how to guide about creating pieces of art from glass. The technique of creating pieces of art using glass. Wow, is all I can say to that. This could take forever. So how to approach such a request? Mmmm.  Just the way I would eat an elephant (if I would ever eat an elephant) one bite at a time.

Glass Art can be made in a number of different ways. Fundamentally, glass can be made using hot glass techniques or cold glass techniques. Some say there is a third technique – warm glass. I am not one to argue with the powers that know so I am going with the three different methodologies here.

Hot glass is the manipulation of molten glass picked out of a furnace at a whopping great 1000°C (yes that is right centigrade not Fahrenheit). See this wonderful video from the Corning Museum of Glass in New York State on glass blowing.

Cold glass techniques work, unsurprisingly, with cold glass. Glass can be used in a variety of forms from flat glass sheets, through lumps or billets of glass, and all kinds of sizes and shapes in between. The glass is put into a kiln and the heat (anywhere between approx. 700°C and 900°C) is used to melt and manipulate the glass into desired shapes, often using pre-prepared moulds: A very simplified explanation, you understand. See here a video on shaping flat glass pieces in a kiln to make jewelry.

Warm glass is the technique of manipulating cold glass in a flame to melt and shape it as desired. Yet another video, this time on making a glass sculpture in the flame.

So in essence there it is – the three ways of making glass.

The results of these three methods include and/or lead to traditional stained glass, sculptural glass, kiln-formed glass, glass blown vessels and sculptural work, beads and flame-work sculptural pieces, sand-casted pieces, and sand-blasted and engraved glass.

Now how do I make my glass? You guessed it. I use all methods as I see fit and depending on the result I want. Of course, I am better at some methods more than others. I also have to take into account the cost of each method – hot glass is decidedly more difficult and decidedly more costly. And to be truthful I am decidedly a beginner when it comes to hot glass work.


Figure 1 – Inspiration


Figure 2 – Memories

My favourite technique combines both cold and hot techniques, and is called the ‘roll-up’ technique. Although this was developed by the Romans, or the Egyptians, or Syrians –  I forget who – this technique has more recently been re-invented by one of our Aussie friends Scott Chaseling (although I am not sure he can take all the credit for this as the technique is used by all sorts of people all over the world  in reality).I cut flat 3 mm thick sheets of coloured glass (normally opaque glass), into 2mm strips. I them arrange these strips into my design, standing them on their edge like little toy soldiers. These strips are them put into the kiln and heated to 804°C in order to fuse them into a 2 mm sheet of glass which is A4 in size.

The A4 sheet is then reheated in a kiln to 550°C, then the kiln is opened and the sheet is rolled onto the end of a blowing iron. At this stage the glass has softened sufficiently that it can be bend slightly around the blowing iron. The glass is reheated numerous times in the  glory hole until it softens sufficiently to allow the sides to be folded around the blowing iron and attached to each other to form a cylinder. With further reheating the ends are squeezed in to form an enclosed space within the glass. This space forms the bubble that is later blown and shaped to whatever I want.

This is how my pieces ‘Memories’ and ‘Inspiration’ where made.

I hope you have enjoyed this blog and that you will now visit my website at http://www.balmaidenstudioglass.co.uk and my studio at Wheal Betty, Trevenen Bal, Helston, TR13 0PR during Open Studios You never know you might get as hooked on glass as I am, and end up joining me on my courses, which are great fun. This year I am really excited to be offering ‘Glass tit-bits’ which are very short (2hr) taster sessions to make a simple piece of glass. So do book in and bring your ideas along. 25th May;26th May;1st June; 2nd June. (4 x 2hrs separate workshops). 10-12 am. For bookings tel: 01326574693 or 07808612074 or email: noreentodd@btinternet.com

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An Eye for Glass -Cornwall Life magazine article – readable text

It’s a case of better late than never for an artist who is creating a stir with her glass creations, as JULIE ROBINS discovers.

At a relatively young age Noreen Todd knew she wanted to become an artist, but concerns at home and a lack of interest from school took her down a more academic route and into accountancy.

“My parents were really worried that a career in art would mean I could not support myself financially and my grammar school in Hertfordshire pushed ‘pure subjects’, so I dropped art in favour of maths and contented myself with sketching on the beach on our annual holidays to Cornwall.”

All that was 40 years ago and in a complete turnaround Noreen has managed to realise her childhood dream and achieve two long-held ambitions: to move permanently to Cornwall and to open a centre of excellence in glass.“It has been quite a journey to get this far, but one that keeps carrying on and is just getting more interesting and challenging,” she says.

Tucked away in rolling hills just outside Helston, she and her husband Roger have completely remodelled an old homestead, converting stables and a piggery into purpose built studios. It is here that Noreen, now in her 60’s, is intent on building on the reputation she has made for herself in the highly competitive world of contemporary craft and glass.

As a mature student at University College Falmouth her talents were soon recognised as her degree progressed and she was shortlisted for the coveted national Bohle prize for her work with kiln cast glass.

This was swiftly followed by the distinction of becoming the highest selling degree show student in the history of the craft courses. She had created Cinderella style glass slippers, but with her trade mark twist of wanting to shock, she modelled them on the ancient Chinese tradition of foot binding. “I was told I couldn’t possibly charge the amount I was asking, and I thought why not, they are worth double that”

Until then her abilities were mainly acknowledged within academic circles, but a chance   recommendation at a meeting of the Contemporary Glass Society led to national media coverage when she appeared on Paul Martin’s Handmade Revolution on BBC2 . The programme launched a campaign to get Britain back in touch with proud traditional skills and featured five different talented amateur craftspeople in each of ten programs, competing to be named judge’s favourite. Although she was not chosen, the experience led to nationwide interest and some valued commissions.

Not content to simply produce a beautiful piece of art, Noreen cannot resist the impulse to cause a bit of a stir. “I do like to shock”, she confesses “and I sometimes think the real art is seeing people’s reaction to my work. The piece I had to submit for the programme was reasonably conventional in design but inside I embellished it with a fairly wacky naked Adam and Eve, complete with a serpent. Technically it was extremely difficult and time-consuming, but I was aware it would not be everyone’s cup of tea.”

Many of her influences come from a strong sense of justice and fair play, exerting a compelling desire to produce conceptual pieces based on her interests in political comment sex and women’s issues.

“When I was halfway through my arts foundation course ‘’I realised I was very figurative and had a natural talent for sculpture.” During the first year of my fine art degree, it was all about ‘installations’ and I just didn’t get it”, she admits, ‘’so I opted to transfer to the Contemporary Crafts course.’’

Firmly fixed on this new inspirational path Noreen intending to spend a year attending every workshop she could. The course of true art did not run smooth at this stage and juggling a home life and husband in Welwyn Garden City, working as a full-time chartered accountant specialising in American tax and travelling several times a week from her holiday home in Mullion to Falmouth, unsurprisingly took its toll.

“It was exhausting”, she explains, “but I am not a quitter and I ended up staying on for the full three years where I was really happy to gain ceramicist skills while exploring and discovering glass.”

Everything about working in this medium fascinates her, from the alchemy of the processes to the unpredictability of firing. In her studio – named Bal Maiden Studio Glass after the old Cornish word for mine (bal) and the female workers who laboured in the county’s mining industry a century ago – she has a range of different sized kilns where she can experiment with methods of fusing and casting and explore new styles and techniques, pushing the boundaries of her art.

The work is absorbing and not without its difficulties, one slip in concentration can lead to disaster at any stage, but particularly when trying to make the pieces blow out evenly. “You can’t substitute experience but I do have some happy accidents, say when a colour becomes translucent in the kiln and I think, oh that’s really beautiful,” she says.

One of her favourite techniques is called ‘roll-up’, an intricate process which incorporates a combination of hot and cold working for glass blowing, but does not require a furnace full of molten glass – ideal if she is working on her own. For this she uses hand-rolled sheets of bullseye glass, imported from America, where each colour is compatible with the others when fused or melted.

Although her work requires skill and talent in equal measure, one of the reasons she loves sculpting with glass is that it can be kept simple and still achieve stunning results. To prove the point she now runs workshops, in conjunction with fellow graduate Rachel Newham, who between them have over 15 years experience in all forms of glass working and teaching, and have exhibited nationally and internationally.

The classes are generally held over a weekend for a maximum of six people and can cover anything from basic techniques of cutting and handling glass to jewellery making, sculpture, firing schedules and painting on glass; in two days each student can make four or more individual pieces to take home with them.

At a stage when many of her contemporaries are gliding gently towards retirement she is busier than ever.

“Although I arrived late at this creative place, I have gathered skills in every area of glass making and decorating, and I am determined to put these to good use in both my own work and in introducing students to the wonders and excitement of working in this fabulous material.’ ‘

You can see more of Noreen’s work at http://www.balmaidenstudioglass.co.uk or by visiting the St Ives Contemporary Gallery – scheduled to open on 3rd December. Commissions and classes can be discussed with her on 01326 574693. Just be prepared to leave a message as she might have a handful of glass when you call.

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Cornwall Life Magazine article

The Http://www.balmaidenstudioglass.co.ukhttp://www.balmaidenstudioglass.co.ukFebruary issue of Cornwall Life boasted a 2 page article on me. Whey-Hey.

The articel is reproduced here as it appears in the magazine and the text (in a readable size) is in the next blog

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The Prince Rupert Drop – an explanation


Take a look at this brilliant little video which shows how a Prince Rupert Drop is made and a fabulous explanation of how and why it explodes

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When I opened the kiln this morning


When I opened the kiln this morning here is what I saw:

Opening the kiln – Students work

Impressive isn’t it. This is work from 4 students who spent the weekend with me on a Fusing Extravaganza weekend. This is the second kiln load they produced over the weekend –

not a bad days work from one pure novice and three who had only ever done small amounts of copper-foil work before the weekend started.

Students hard at work

I am so impressed at the wide variety of artistic interpretation and the sheer volume of work they produced.

As for me I really enjoyed myself. I love passing on this knowledge – and I love seeing how engrossed these ladies get and how enamoured they are of glass.

‘Follow-on’ sessions are going well too. My students love the freedom to play with glass while I am on hand to sort out problems, help with technical issues and dispense tea, coffee, biscuits and the occassion sticking plaster.

Last week saw me give my first ‘one-on-one’ session with a stained glass artist who wanted to get into casting. She needed help in making simple models and refractory moulds. She then struck out and attempted some Pate-de-Verre. She made a pretty good effort with a vertical sided mould (bet she is cursing me though).

Student’s first ever Pate-De-Verre

Had I realised that we would get into Pate-de-Verre I would have made a slightly easier mould for her initiation. Still I am proud of what she turned out – I hope she is too.        Roll-on the next course – I just can’t wait. It is so exciting.

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Avoid bubbles when using decals

Here is a very helpful Tipsheet produced by Tanya Veil at AAE glass, detailing how to reduce the bubbles in your decal work:

Tip #3 Keeping bubbles out of your dichroic glass jewelry pendants and decals
One of the biggest enemies to any dichroic glass fused pendant jeweler is the dreaded bubble. No matter how hard we try, sometimes a bubble creeps into our pieces and is it unavoidable. It is frustrating when working with fusible glass water slide decals and a bubble appears just above the decal. Hopefully we can offer you a few tips on how to avoid the curse of the bubble. While there is no sure fire way to avoid a bubble, following these 4 steps should help.

1-Once the decal is applied, blot out any excess water with a paper towel.
2-When the excess water is removed, wrap the paper towel around your fore finger and GENTLY brush the entire decal design after the excess water is removed. Be sure to smooth out any wrinkles or folds in the decal.
3-You must let the decal dry for at least 12 hours before firing the glass.
4-***HOT TIP*** If you are in a hurry and can’t wait 12 hours to fire, use a blow dryer at close range for 20 minutes.

If you have any questions, feel free to email us at info@aaeglass.com. We have had several emails over the past few weeks and hopefully we have offered some helpful info.


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