Home Interviews Robyn Coetzee – meet the glass artist who grew up with an aviary in her courtyard
Robyn Coetzee studio

Robyn Coetzee – meet the glass artist who grew up with an aviary in her courtyard

by Camilla

Meet the Maker: glass artist Robyn Coetzee

Bristol-based glass artist Robyn Coetzee spent her childhood in Cape Town, South Africa, with the seaside as her playground and an aviary in her courtyard. The interplay of light and colour she experienced under the ocean is evident in the way she works with glass, while the emotional attachment she formed with birds and the natural world comes through strongly in her collections of birds and sea-inspired pieces. Although Robyn has been working in glass for over 20 years, she only recently started selling her pieces on Folksy, so we asked one of our best-selling artists Susie West to find out more about Robyn’s craft, her background and the dreams she has for her creative business…

Get 10% off all Robyn beautiful glass art and jewellery with the code ‘FolksyMeetTheMaker’ – valid until midnight on Sunday 29th September 2019. Click here to shop https://folksy.com/shops/RobynCoetzee

Robyn Coetzee glass designs logo

Hi Robyn, I’ve loved having a look through your Folksy shop. Could you introduce yourself and tell us a little about your wonderful glass designs. 
Hello! I am Robyn Coetzee Glass Designs. In my sunny home studio in Bristol I create kiln-formed decorative artworks for the home and jewellery to make you feel good about yourself. All my work is influenced by the natural world.

Robyn Coetzee long tailed tits
Long-tailed tits – part of Robyn Coetzee’s British Birds Collection

My work is my soul and it is what makes me most happy. 

Robyn Coetzee

I see that you were brought up in South Africa – such a rich cultural heritage. Does that still influence your work today?
Yes, I grew up in the vibrant city of Cape Town. As a child the seaside was my playground, collecting shells, loving the colours and patterns. As a teenager I went scuba diving with my dad, looking for sea life among the shadows and sunbeams of the kelp forest. The interplay of light and colour influences my work.

Robyn Coetzee fused glass whales
Kelp Whales by Robyn Coetzee

As a child in Cape Town, the seaside was my playground, collecting shells, loving the colours and patterns. As a teenager I went scuba diving with my dad, looking for sea life among the shadows and sunbeams of the kelp forest.

Robyn Coetzee

Art and creativity have always been the lifeblood of Cape Town, from the new amazing modern architecture nestled beneath Table Mountain, through the decades-old tradition of creating decorative work from recycled materials, to the traditional African glass beadwork sold at street junctions. In fact it was my love of that beadwork which started my journey into glass. I wanted to try it for myself so attended my first workshop 20 years ago and fell in love with the medium. From there, I went on to larger glass works.

Robyn Coetzee fused glass birds
Glass Birds with lace pattern by Robyn Coetzee – find them here

I left home when I was 17 but have returned to South Africa nearly every Christmas over the 30 years that I’ve lived in the UK. Each time I visit somewhere new and immerse myself in the natural world. Africa is the most beautiful part of the world, and South Africa in particular is deeply etched into my heart. 

Robyn Coetzee cockerels
Glass Cockerels by Robyn Coetzee

Africa is the most beautiful part of the world, and South Africa in particular is deeply etched into my heart. 

Robyn Coetzee

Your love of the natural world shines through your work, but I wonder what are your favourite pieces to make?
Birds! All my life I have felt an emotional attachment them. My earliest memories are intertwined with birds. The first home that I can remember was built around a large courtyard aviary with around 200 birds. I spent hours in there. My older brother and I also caught wild birds (!) with a propped-up box and string, luring them in with food and then releasing them. I had a pet cockatiel which we reared from the day he hatched, and fed with a syringe.

Robyn Coetzee as child
Robyn’s childhood home had an aviary with around 200 birds – this is Robyn with her pet cockatiel

I love every bird, from pigeons, seagulls to vultures – they are more intelligent than we give them credit for and you can form great bonds with them.

Robyn Coetzee

On our travels my husband and I are always on the look-out for birds. Obviously nowadays we don’t catch them! I also encourage our native British birds to visit my garden. I love every bird, from pigeons, seagulls to vultures – they are more intelligent than we give them credit for and you can form great bonds with them. Basically I just want to cuddle them (weird… 😊)

Robyn Coetzee fused glass British birds
Robyn Coetzee’s British garden birds are her bestselling items – find them here

Do you have a best-selling item? 
Yes, my British garden bird range. It’s a close contest between the blue-tit, long-tailed tit and the robin. Some of my regular customers collect them as I make them. My relatively new blackbirds are proving popular too.

Robyn Coetzee glass art on display in Fig gallery in Bristol
Robyn runs a gallery and shop called Fig in Bristol, along with five other makers

You’re part of a collective in your home town of Bristol. Can you tell us a bit about that?
I am a member of a collective of six makers who run a shop/gallery called Fig on Gloucester Road in Bristol. Gloucester Road is famous for its thriving independent shops and our little shop is a popular destination. We sell our own work there too, which is nice because we meet our customers face to face. We also take commissions or create new works on request. Fig also features guest makers. I feel extremely lucky to be part of this group. We were very proud to celebrate our tenth anniversary in May this year. 

Robyn Coetzee studio
Robyn Coetzee’s studio in Bristol

What does your working day look like?
As soon as I wake up I go downstairs and have a peek inside my cooling but still hot kiln! I love to see how the previous day’s pieces are turning out. While the kiln is cooling down I get admin, social media stuff and order packing done. I also cut new glass pieces early while I am still feeling energetic.

Robyn Coetzee making fused glass bird
Cutting the glass shapes
Robyn Coetzee making fused glass bird
Shaping the glass
Robyn Coetzee making fused glass bird
Grinding the glass into shape
Robyn Coetzee making fused glass bird
Applying powder to the glass designs before firing
Robyn Coetzee making fused glass bird
The finished designs laid out on the kiln shelf ready for firing

When the kiln is sufficiently cool I take my pieces out and check them over. Any finishing is done now, for example grinding the edges or drilling holes for hanging. I have a small photography setup in my studio and take pictures of my work around 2pm as this is when the light is best. In the afternoon I lay out the newly-cut glass and put it in the kiln for a firing overnight.

Festive Glass Robin by Robyn Coetzeefind it here

My day is a bit of a juggling act so things are not always in that order. It depends on how much work I have lined up. I also have to take orders to the Post Office and walk two energetic dogs. Phew! 

Robyn Coetzee fused glass fish
Glass Fish by Robyn Coetzee – find them here

You run workshops and there’s one to create the cutest little hedgehog. Can you tell us more about that? I only wish I was closer. 
Yes, I run hedgehog-making workshops! I have just started bird-making workshops too. They are two-hour workshops where I guide you through each step and help with the cutting. I assist as little or as much as you need. 

participants at glass workshop making hedgehogs

My workshops are aimed toward those with no experience in glass and who want to make something for themselves or as a gift.

Robyn Coetzee

My studio is not huge so I only take three people at time (maybe four at a push), so you really get personal attention. The workshops are aimed toward those with no experience in glass and who want to make something for themselves or as a gift for a friend or loved one. A workshop session is also a fun gift in itself! 

Learn more about Robyn’s workshops here >
Read more about how to run your own art or craft workshops here >

Robyn Coetzee fused glass blackbirds
Blackbirds – a new addition to Robyn Coetzee’s British Birds collection

My best-selling item? It’s a close contest between the blue-tit, long-tailed tit and the robin. Some of my regular customers collect them as I make them. My relatively new blackbirds are proving popular too.

Robyn Coetzee

Where would you love to see your business five years from now?
Oh my goodness! A plan?!? I know that in business you’re supposed to have a plan but I can’t think that far ahead. My main goal is to have a larger social media presence so that it doesn’t matter where I live. In my ideal world I would live half the year in Bristol and half the year in a seaside retreat. Oh, wait a minute, that means I will need two studios! Hmmm.

Really, the only important thing to me is that I am still able to be creative and make a living out of it. My work is my soul and it is what makes me most happy. 

Robyn Coetzee glass bird necklace
Fused Glass Bird Brooch – part of Robyn Coetzee‘s jewellery collection

To celebrate being our featured maker Robyn Coetzee is offering 10% off her glass art and jewellery on Folksy. Just use code ‘FolksyMeetTheMaker’ before midnight on Sunday 29 September 2019.

Shop Robyn Coetzee on Folksy


Meet the Interviewer

artist Susie West in her studio

The maker asking the questions this week is artist Susie West. Read more about Susie in this interview and visit her Folksy shop here – folksy.com/shops/SusieWest

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