Here’s the second installment of my ‘Cuppa and a Chat’ with Fused Glass artist Rowena Mellows.
What is it that inspires you?
I like doing things that are inspired by nature. I’ve done quite a few little scenes with like butterflies and dragonflies and things like that on. I love those because you can be a little bit artistic with the colours of the wings, they don’t have to be exactly the colours that you’d see but especially with a really nice transparent glass you can get lovely sort of pictures of dragonflies, bees and ladybirds and things like that, plants as well, I’m trying to do a bit more with trees because I’ve seen some really lovely fused pictures with, sort of almost drawn in, the trunks, the leaves and the blossom using glass and I’d like to a little bit more of that. It’s what I see around me.
So, when you’re walking your dog you see something that you think would make a good piece?
Exactly yes. I do get a lot of ideas from Pinterest as well. I do think that what other people have done, it’s nice to see then get an idea and carry it forward in your own way and take it slightly differently.
I think it’s good to have the opportunity to access a resource like Pinterest to share ideas and develop your own ideas.
Yes, exactly it’s a great resource definitely.
So, what do you get personally from doing this style of craft?
I love to see a finished article and think, you know, that’s all my work and I enjoy selling them a little bit because you know, it’s nice when someone has bought something to think that they appreciate that enough to pay some money for it. It’s very very satisfying, it really is.
I make much too much just to give away! I give all of my friends and all of my family fused glass gifts you know for Christmas, birthdays and things like that. It’s nice to be able to share them with a wider public. I really enjoy going to craft fairs. It’s lovely to interact with the people that are buying things and explain to them how they are made.
So there’s a social aspect in it for you?
There is definitely.
I learned all my stained glass stuff at a night class. A really good night class at Hayfield school in Doncaster. I went for years. John Martin there taught me all I know about stained glass and that sort of opened the door to other things. I don’t do so much with the stained glass now. I was never very good with the soldering. I always made a bit of a mess when I was soldering my lead!
I don’t know a lot about stained glass but I guess that the style you’ve adopted now allows you a bit more freedom?
It does yes. With stained glass, you’re always dealing with flat pieces which you build up with different colours and things but you always end up with a flat piece of glass whereas with fused glass you’ve got more of a 3D effect and I really like that.
That and the not really knowing 100% what’s going to come out of the Kiln? Nerve wracking but also exciting?
Yes it is and sometimes things come out much better than you expected too and that’s quite nice.
You’ve already said that you like to see the finished article but are you always happy with your finished pieces or can it get to you if it’s not what you wanted or expected?
It really can be frustrating. I’ve got a box that’s under my table at home which is full of all the bits that haven’t turned out right, and it’s full! It’s so frustrating.
But you keep them?
Well what you can do is, you can break them up in to small pieces, but it’s not that easy because sometimes they’re really thick if they’ve gone wrong and they can be 6mm thick so it’s not that easy to do, and then you can do what they call a pot melt where you put them in the kiln and you take it up to a temperature where it actually will melt and you have a receptacle underneath to catch it and as it melts obviously all the colours interact, so sometimes you get a really interesting result from that. If you make it into a circle you can pop it into a bowl (mould). You can get a big glass saw called a Gemini saw, where you can actually cut it into pieces and almost use it end on. It’s difficult to explain how it will look but it comes out as an almost geometrical pattern and that’s really interesting. But I’ve not got that far yet! That’s why I’ve got this huge box of stuff underneath the table but it can be so frustrating, especially when I’ve done something for somebody and it’s a bigger piece and it doesn’t come out. It can be heartbreaking at times.
Would you say it’s an emotional connection then?
It can be yes. It’s often the pieces that you’ve spent time on. I mean if it’s a complicated piece, even that (Picking up the unfinished sweet bowl)even that, that’s a 4,6 hour day cutting them all out, working it all out before you’ve even put it in the kiln. So if you’ve spent a long time doing something and it’s a whole days work, you think “Oh no” and sometimes they crack if you’ve got the temperature slightly wrong. Especially the little things, If you’ve got it in your mind of what it’s going to turn out like. I’ve done a lot of nautical things this year and sometimes when I’ve taken them out of the kiln, they just weren’t as good as I’d hoped. It’s not quite the effect I wanted. It’s annoying because you don’t want to try and sell something that you’re not 100% happy with.
Does it knock your confidence a little bit when things like that happen?
Yeah, yeah it can do because when you try it again you’re really worried when you do it again, is it going to turn out the same?
What do you hope other people get from your work?
I think especially if they’re things like sun catchers, that they’ll get some pleasure just using it. You know, it’s like bowls and things, it’s lovely even if it’s going to friends’ houses and seeing the things being used. It’s really lovely. This summer I made a lot of toadstools and mushrooms with a little glass top and a plastic base on it. It’s amazing the number of gardens I’ve been in this year and thought, oh there’s one of my mushrooms there, having suddenly seen it. It’s quite nice really.
What is your workspace for your Art like? Are you lucky enough to have a room you can call your studio or are you a ‘Kitchen table Crafter’?
Well, I used to be at the kitchen table but I do use the little spare room. We have a tiny box room so I’m in there but it is absolutely crammed. I’m sure everybody is the same. My husband made me quite a nice sized table. It’s things like storing all your glass. I’ve got a whole side that’s just got pieces of glass in it. I’ve got various bits and bobs and it’s just chaos in there! But I am lucky because I can just go and shut myself in there.
Is it a comfortable place for you to be?
Yes, yes it is. It’s not bad at all. The kilns in a shed out the back, but apart from that I’ve got everything I need. A lot of the stuff, when you cut it (glass) you need to grind it so I’ve got my grinder and I’ve got various other tools to cut things up with when I need to use them.
Yes, my studio is a place where I am happy to be. It’s somewhere I can go if I need a bit of time out too. I’m in the process of reorganising my studio area because I think I had become a bit of a hoarder with my materials! Do you think it’s in the nature of creative people to perhaps hoard or collect things as they might find a use for it one day?
Yes, It’s like moulds! I mean they’re quite expensive but I must admit that if I see a really decent one that I want on the website then I tend to buy it. I’ve got a whole pile of moulds some of which I’ve probably never used and I think “I will use them one day!”
How do you feel about ‘craft in the community’? Is it important to encourage people to learn new skills?
Definitely. I think this (Ministry of Craft 35) is fantastic. The fact that they put on little workshop days and bring people in. I think nowadays everybody’s doing more crafts. I think we’re lucky, you know. It’s got back to that whereas I think twenty years ago people just weren’t doing things like this. To be able to share how you do things with somebody is brilliant because we can probably all do something. I would never have called myself artistic but we have all got within us the ability to do things and unless we know what we can do or try things out we’ll never know.
It’s just finding the right medium for you isn’t it?
It is. I don’t know if you have ever been down to ‘Patchings’ (Art festival). I went this year, first time and it just opened my eyes to the things that you can do. It was fantastic. I really enjoyed it. Just walking around the stalls and seeing what’s available and I’m thinking “Oh I’d love to do that” but then I think “no you’ve got enough…”
…and that comes back to the hoarding again!
Yes! But it just stimulated me to want to have a try at things. I think somewhere like this (Ministry of Craft 35) makes you walk around and think “Oh how did they that?” or “I wonder if I could do that” and that can stimulate you to go on and find out about things.
I find it inspiring when I walk around MoC35 as I don’t think we all realised in our small community how many talented people there were because up until now these people didn’t perhaps show what they could do or they didn’t know how to. It’s a good platform.
It definitely is and it does give you the confidence to do other things. You know, I’ve only been in here six months or so but having sold a few things I’ve now thought right. I’ll do a bit more at Christmas, or I’ll try a bigger fair, things like that. It’s given me the confidence to move on and I think that’s what it does for a lot of artists.
Thanks Rowena. It was really lovely talking to you and finding out what you do and why you do it.