Meet the Maker – Fused Glass artist Sally Banks from Granary Glass

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Meet the Maker: Granary Glass

As a child, fused glass artist Sally Banks from Granary Glass was spellbound by the colours cast on the floor as sunlight streamed through stained glass windows. Years later and she is still captivated by the quality and luminescence of glass. “I am mesmerised by the way coloured glass seems to take on a new luminance in sunlight and throws colour back into the room.” Ceramicist Kath Cooper interviews Sally to learn more about her craft, her inspirations and her fused glass techniques…

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How long have you been practising your craft and how did your interest start in it?
My fascination for making objects out of glass started about 20 years ago when I began using glass off cuts in my mosaic projects. I soon moved on to learning the traditional stained glass processes using lead cane and copper foil (the Tiffany technique) to make colourful windows, window hangings, lampshades and candle holders in ever more adventurous shapes. I’m interested in learning about other glass techniques as there are so many ways that this captivating material can be worked. Therefore about four years ago I invested in a glass kiln so I could start exploring the medium further and to bring glass fusing techniques into my work.

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Now I have a kiln I’m starting to appreciate the structure of glass more. Learning how to fuse different pieces of glass together and manipulating the shape of the glass through the heat of the kiln keeps fuelling my interest in this material.

Have you always been creative? Which other crafts had you tried before making with glass?
I love the sense of fulfilment that comes from taking a raw material and crafting it into something new and from a young age I was always making something with my hands. As a teenager I took up mosaics as a hobby and this craft has stayed with me ever since. I still use mosaic techniques in nearly all of my glass projects.

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I still use mosaic techniques in nearly all of my glass projects.

What are the qualities of glass that first drew you to working with this material?
I can remember as a child being spellbound by the colours being broadcast on the floor as sunlight streamed through stained glass windows. I am still mesmerised by the way coloured glass seems to take on a new luminance in sunlight and throws colour back into the room. Now I have a kiln I’m starting to appreciate the structure of glass more. Learning how to fuse different pieces of glass together and manipulating the shape of the glass through the heat of the kiln keeps fuelling my interest in this material.

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Fish work particularly well in fused glass as the lustre of the molten glass beautifully captures the sheen of the fish.

Where do you get the initial inspiration for your designs?
Marine life has been a longstanding fascination. Fish work particularly well in fused glass as the lustre of the molten glass beautifully captures the sheen of the fish. I’ve spent some time recently choosing new plants for my garden and I’m currently taking a lot of inspiration from botanical colours and forms. I always have my eyes open for new ideas and I have boxes of scraps from newspapers and magazines that I’ve torn out over the years. Anything can catch my eye, from a pattern on a plate, wallpaper or fabric to colour combinations of tulips in a plant catalogue. However, the best inspiration comes from the glass itself and the processes I use, as usually when I’m working one glass project I get inspiration for the next one.

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What are your favourite and least favourite parts of the making process?
In addition to the fused glass hanging decorations and bowls that I stock on Folksy, I make window panels, lampshades and candleholders using a mixture of mosaic, stained glass and kiln formed glass techniques. All these items are made up of many elements and glass pieces which take time to make and assemble. So my favourite part of the making process is when all the pieces have come together and I can finally hold the finished item up to the light.

I get completely absorbed in the whole of the making process, so it’s hard to think of a least favourite part. If I had to choose, it would be waiting for the kiln to do its magic. No matter how many times you put freshly cut blunt edged glass into the kiln you can never fully predict how it will turn out. Will all the pieces have stayed where I want them? Have any of the pieces changed colour in the heat? Do the colours work? So there is always a frisson of apprehension as well as excitement just before I open the kiln.

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My favourite part of the making process is when all the pieces have come together and I can finally hold the finished item up to the light.

Are there any new techniques you’d like to try and use in your work in the future?
I feel I’ve only just started to tap in to the potential of what I can achieve with my glass projects and there are still so many kiln techniques to explore and master. I’m interested in whether I can get melted glass to flow more in the kiln and last year I did a couple of experiments with pot melts. This is where scrap pieces of glass are melted in a heat-proof pot and the glass then flows through the hole in the bottom of the pot to form a puddle on the kiln floor. So far the results are mixed but this is a technique I’d like to explore further.

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I feel I’ve only just started to tap in to the potential of what I can achieve with my glass projects

What sort of studio space do you work in?
I work from a shed in the garden. I have a large window in front of my workbench which gives me ample light to help me choose glass colours. I never throw out any glass since I can always find a project to use it in, so I need plenty of storage. As such my studio is full of cabinets, units and shelves I’ve acquired over the years, which give it a lovely eclectic feel.

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What variety of different jobs do you do in a normal day in the studio?
I try to batch jobs together, so I may start by cutting a selection of bases for the hanging fish ornaments and a collection of the head, tail and fin pieces in a variety of different colours. While my cutting board is out I may move on to cut a stock of circles ready to form into bowls later. These take at least two kiln firings – the first to set the pattern and the second to shape the bowl. I make the patterns for both the fish and bowls out of small chunks of glass. These are made out of glass off cuts and I use my mosaic cutters to chop them to the right size. I like to have a supply of these chunks in hand for when I am ready to lay out the pattern on the item I am making. Each item is constructed as much as possible on the work bench before being carefully moved to the kiln for final assembly and tweaking.

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My studio is full of cabinets, units and shelves I’ve acquired over the years, which give it a lovely eclectic feel.

Is there a special tool that you use and couldn’t do without?
I’m not sure if it counts as a tool, but pretty much everything I make has a kiln-formed element, so I definitely wouldn’t be able to function without my kiln. Otherwise I would say my mosaic cutters are my most essential tool, as I spend hours using these to cut glass into the small chunks I need to make the patterns on my pieces.

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Have you got a piece of work that you’ve been most pleased with and why?
Although I’ve been working with glass for a long time, it’s only in the last five years that I’ve had the time to really devote myself to my craft. This has made a vast difference to my creativity and the quality of my work. Every new piece I produce I’m more pleased with than the last, as I can see my skills developing and techniques and processes become more natural and instinctive. This piece then becomes the muse for my next creation and this is what drives me on.

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What would you like to achieve with your glass in the next few years?
I love the technical challenge of constructing 3D objects in glass and I’m gradually moving towards creating more sculptural pieces making the most of all the glass making techniques available to me. I’m also looking at ways I can bring my products to a wider audience.

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Meet the interviewer

Kath Cooper Ceramics, decorative ceramics, handmade pottery, bird bowls, UK potter, British pottery, British ceramics,The maker asking the questions this week is ceramicist Kath Cooper. Kath Cooper makes miniature clay house, birds and ceramic jewellery, buttons and vessels in white earthenware and coloured slips. Her clay objects feature hand-drawn designs scratched into the glaze using the scraffito technique. She also uses her own handmade ceramic stamps to make impressed designs into the soft clay.

Read our interview with Kath Cooper >

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