Meet the Maker: Sarah Myatt
Artist Sarah Myatt didn’t set out to work with glass – it was a detour through the glass department of an art college that introduced her to the possibilities of the material and changed her path. “I love the feel of glass and the way light can completely change a piece,” she explains. Almost 20 years on and Sarah has built a name for herself as a respected glass artist making beautiful glass birds and decorations from her garden studio in Staffordshire. We caught up with Sarah to discover more about her craft, her studio and her inspirations…
Can you introduce yourself and describe what you do?
Hello! My name is Sarah Woolliscroft (Sarah Myatt is my maiden and business name) and I’m a glass artist from Leek in Staffordshire. I’ve been running my business for eight years but I’ve only been fully self-employed for two years. I work from my studio, which is based in my garden at home.
How did you start working with glass?
I never chose glass – it definitely chose me. I always loved making 3D objects so I did an art foundation course at a local college, fully intending to go on to do a degree course in Wood, Metals and Plastics (this was a long time ago and I have no idea what they call that type of course now). On my way to the open day for the course at the University of Wolverhampton I dropped into the glass department. That was that – I was hooked straight away. Something just felt right.
I graduated way back in 2000 with a 2:1 BA (Hons) in 3D Glass Design. It feels (and is) a very long time ago. We learned many different glass techniques, from stained glass and glass blowing to kiln forming, which I loved and that’s what I use now in my practice.
I’ve only ever wanted to be a maker. I can’t imagine doing anything else.
What was it about glass that got you hooked?
I love everything about glass: the huge number of colours and patterns, the feel of glass and the way light can completely change a piece. The possibilities are endless. It can be quite an unpredictable material but it keeps you on your toes! Sometimes the pieces that don’t come out of the kiln exactly as you planned can spark an idea for something else.
How did you make that leap to selling?
When I finished university, I was completely broke and needed a job, pronto! I did a couple of different jobs before settling in a design-led role for a local company and six years zipped by in a flash. I saved as much as I could to buy equipment and slowly started making glass again around 2006. My dad bought me an old reconditioned ceramic kiln to help me on my way and I set up a workshop in our garden so I didn’t need to rent studio space anywhere. This meant I could start experimenting again in my free time and gradually I made a few pieces of jewellery that I sold at craft fairs… and it just snowballed from there really.
I saved as much as I could to buy equipment and slowly started making glass again and experimenting in my free time.
I got to a point where I knew that I had to take the plunge and leave my full-time job. I didn’t want to regret not pursuing a career in glass making. So I took a part-time job to give me a regular income and I started my business in 2008. Since then I’ve built up stockists and I also sell at local craft fairs. Once the Christmas season kicks in, I sometimes travel to fairs a bit further afield. I really love the social side of doing markets, as I get to meet my friends who are makers, see their new work, share ideas or just have a natter.
Where do you look for inspiration?
Oh everywhere! The countryside that surrounds us inspires me – we live on the edge of the Peak District and it’s simply stunning. When I can’t look at the birds going about their daily routines in the wild, I love researching them through the many books I’ve collected over the years but also via Pinterest and Instagram – I spend hours looking at Pinterest boards on patterns and styles and have a slight obsession with colour mood boards.
My studio is my little bit of heaven. I spend more time in there than in the house.
Can you give us a mini tour of your garden studio?
My studio is a brick out-building in our garden which was refurbished this year with new windows, worktops and storage. It’s become a lovely light space to work in. I still have my little kiln that my dad bought me, but I invested in a new larger glass kiln a few years ago and I can fit lots of glass goodies into that. As well as the two kilns, my studio is full of large sheets of glass, rods, frits (crushed glass), metals, foils and enamels… it’s my little bit of heaven. I spend more time in there than the house.
I’m slowly putting everything back in after the refurbishment and sorting all the materials I’ve gathered over the years. The price of glass has crept up significantly this year, so every bit of scrap glass is saved for use in another project. Because I have more space now, I’m looking into running fused glass workshops, which I’m really excited about as that’s something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time.
Lilac fused glass bird decoration by Sarah Myatt Glass
Can you explain your creative process?
Sometimes I sketch out ideas, but usually I make a sample piece out of glass straight away, fire it and then make adjustments from there. My range of garden birds have taken the longest to develop. Because I have my Folksy shop and two regular artisan markets every month throughout the year, I need to keep my work fresh so I need to make new pieces quite regularly. That helps to keep it interesting. I’m lucky to have a following of customers who collect my work and look out for new pieces.
Fused glass blue tit bird by Sarah Myatt Glass
Which is your most popular piece? Do you have your own favourite?
The most popular pieces by far are the quirky birds. I’ve been making those for three years but I still love making them and even now they make me smile when I open the kiln. My favourites at the moment are the glass blue tits. Each one is made from lot of pieces cut out by hand, so they’re quite fiddly, but they’re my all-time favourite garden bird – real colourful little characters.
Are there any other glass artists you particularly admire?
There are so many glass artists that I love who work in all aspects of glass making: Amanda Simmons, David Reekie, Bert Frijns to name just a few. But the most inspirational work, which I could look at for hours, is by Czech artists Stanislav Libenský and Jaroslava Brychtová. Their work is simply beautiful –mostly large scale pieces that are created from the most sublime colours that change in hue as the light passes through them. My favourite piece is Arcus 1 which is in the V&A glass collection – I get goosebumps every time I see it. I was lucky enough to visit their studio on a group trip with university. It was very special and something I’ll never forget.
My new studio affords me so many new possibilities that I think the best is still yet to come.
What’s been your career highlight so far?
My career has followed a steady development path up to this point, with many little highlights and the odd Force 10 gale at a makers’ markets! That said, my new studio affords me so many new possibilities that I think the best is still yet to come.
If you weren’t a maker, what would you be?
I’ve only ever wanted to be a maker. I can’t imagine doing anything else.
How would you spend your perfect day?
I love visiting London, so it would be a day there with my husband, cramming in as many galleries as we could. If I only had time for one gallery, it would be the V&A and you’d find me in the glass section. Then we would spend some time at Borough Market, taking in the sights and smells. That would be perfect.
What does craft mean to you?
Craft is the ability to make unique objects and express yourself through a chosen material and style using skills developed over years. Researching and understanding your material is hugely satisfying.
But craft is also about the joy it brings to others. There’s no better feeling than when you see someone’s face light up when they look at your work, or when they choose to spend their hard-earned cash, not only because they love your product but because they appreciate the work that goes into it. I’ve had messages from customers who have bought one of my glass pieces for a friend or relative who is having a rough time or a bereavement to say that my work has brightened their day and made them smile. That makes me extremely happy.
See more fused glass artwork by Sarah Myatt in her shop
Use code GLASS10 before 1st August 2016 for 10% off all Sarah Myatt fused glass
Credits: Studio photographs by Daniel Norton Photography