Thursday, 27 January 2011

Garden Design Ideas - Stained Glass

I recently visited stained glass artist Amanda Winfield of Abinger Stained Glass at her studio and asked her some questions. Here’s what she had to say.

LE: How many years have you been creating stained glass art?

AW: I have been working with glass for about 25 years. My art foundation year was at Medway College of Art & Design. I enjoyed all the disciplines I had studied so I searched for a course that would allow me to do a little bit of everything. I found a new mural design course at the Chelsea School of Art, London that combined everything I liked and was right up my street. Each term we did a different project, working on a large scale and to a brief. During the course I worked with stained glass and really loved it.

When I graduated I worked with a scenic artist called Tom McPhillips, who designs sets for the theatre, bands on tour, and TV, it was really varied and interesting. Tom taught me you could earn a living doing something you loved. He also taught me that you had to be professional, and deliver on time. I left when Tom moved his business to the USA.

I decided to see if I could get a job at Goddard & Gibbs in London- the largest stained glass studio in the country at that time. I walked in, had a chat with the works manager and started the following Monday. I thought I would be there for about six months and ended up staying 15 years!

When I started at Goddard and Gibbs on the bench, I was leading and soldering stained glass panels, learning the craft from people with 30 or 40 years experience. It was an exceptional training ground. My first job was leading and soldering the individual parts that comprised huge pieces like decorative glass domes for mosques in the Middle East. Over the next couple of years I worked my way round the all the different skills within the company. Eventually I became the stained glass works manager. I was managing big projects, which was interesting, but this position took me away from the hands-on creative process, which I love, so I decided to leave Goddard and Gibbs and set up my own business.

LE: Tell me about your clients.

AW: At Goddard & Gibbs I worked on very large-scale projects, from Westminster Abbey to Brunei. Now I carry out mostly domestic work, bespoke stained glass and decorative fused glass.

I also restore stained glass and have recently completed the restoration of 63 stained glass panels for a National Trust property in Kent called Knole House.

LE: Where are your customers based?

AW: My customers are generally local within Surrey, Sussex and South London, but this year I’ve sent panels to Cheshire, Scotland, Anglesey and Switzerland.

LE: Could you describe the process for commissioning a piece of glass art?

AW: When someone approaches me one of the first things I ask about is budget. People often have an unrealistic idea of how much it costs to make a bespoke piece. It’s important to establish whether the client realizes this before commissioning.

Then we have a chat about colour and form, their likes and dislikes. Often my customers don’t know what they want but can quickly tell me what they don’t like! I get them to have a good look at the Web site *insert link* and tell me if they see anything that they like. I then think about their requirements for a while before putting pen to paper for a design.

Thinking time is essential. On a large project I’ll probably spend at least a week getting ideas before I actually start the work. I prepare a watercolour design and send this to the client with the quote. If necessary, I make changes to this design until the client is happy. At this point I will I ask for a 50% deposit and then I make their glass.

LE: Tell me about your training courses.

AW: I run six or seven 1-day workshops every month and they get booked up well in advance. The fused glass course is £140 and the leaded stained glass course is £130.
I take three people at a time; this is a number I’ve found works well. Restricting the number to three means that everyone gets enough attention without me breathing down their neck.

It’s a very enjoyable day. Everyone is here for the same reason, and even if they’re complete strangers by 10:30am they’re all chatting away like old buddies over a cup of tea and biscuits.

The stained glass course covers the whole process of creating a piece of stained glass art - glass cutting, glass fusing, leading and soldering using the traditional gas soldering iron. At the end of the day everyone has a finished piece of glass art of his or her own design.

I had a brilliant marketing boost for the courses when I was featured on the television as part of Kirstie’s Homemade Home. In the first programme I helped Kirstie to make a small panel for her house in Devon and in the second series I helped to make a leaded front door panel.

LE: What do you think glass art brings to the garden?

AW: Stained glass art can add interest to any garden regardless of size or style. In small courtyard garden you can use glass to add depth and interest, you could employ mirrors - reflective surfaces work wonders in the small garden. Decorative glass pieces help give a garden year-round colour and interest and glass sculptures make great focal points.

I like working with the natural shapes of the landscape. The views out of my workshop are amazing. I walk my dog up on the downs and it fills me with inspiration. The sculptures I made in the summer of 2010 take their form from the rolling Surrey Hills. The fused glass is contained in a stainless steel channel that reflects the surrounding planting. The glass panels incorporate natural forms and the gaps between the panels give the illusion that the landscape is part of the sculpture.

LE: How durable is the glass outside?

AW: The glass sculptures we were discussing earlier are made from fused glass 6mm thick, fastened into a stainless steel frame which fixes the structure into the ground using a long, sturdy spike. Stained glass is a little more delicate and would need to be placed in areas where balls are unlikely to be flying about!

I made a sculpture for a competition a few years ago in fused glass and I really wanted to make sure it would not break in transit. So, I made a test piece and took a hammer to it. I had to whack it repeatedly to get anything to happen at all – the hammer just kept bouncing off.

LE: If I want to find out more about stained glass where can I go?

AW: Ely Cathedral has a Stained Glass Museum, and it’s a great place for looking at examples of traditional stained glass. Also there is a great department t the V&A in London.

LE: Do you have a recognizable style?

AW: I don’t ever want to be pigeonholed. I design in a whole variety of styles. This reflects my customer’s different tastes. Fused glass is very popular at the moment. I often use a combination of styles in my stained glass panels including some of my fused pieces.
I’m always trying new things, creating, getting excited. When I get inspired I want to come in here put some bits of glass together, stick something in the kiln and see what happens and by doing that you constantly improving and adding to your palette. I don’t want to sit still and say ‘right this is what I do’. I haven’t been bored for quite a few years now!

I wanted to stick with my roots, which is why I called my business Abinger Stained Glass. I think people are sometimes surprised when they see my Web site - it’s not what they’re expecting. You say the words ‘stained glass’ and people usually think of church windows, but I like to think I’m doing contemporary and unusual things with a traditional medieval medium.

You can see some examples of Amanda's work by visiting her Web site.

If you'd like help designing your garden, and maybe even including some decorative glass art please visit my Web site for all contact details.

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