Glass Robin Studio
Tired of sitting at a desk and not achieving enough that felt meaningful or interesting, Jim Mayor did something radical. He left his job to try making a living from making, as Glass Robin Studio. He’s given himself a year to see what happens, and although it’s been all-consuming so far, Jim’s natural affinity and skill with glass is remarkable and his beautiful creations have already gathered many fans. Here he talks to fellow Folksy maker Kat from Tula and the Whale about how it all started, the wildness and peace he finds living by the coast, and why he wishes we would all give more consideration to the creatures of the sea.
To celebrate being our featured maker, Jim is offering 10% off all his pieces with code ‘BlueSteel’ throughout October 2020. Click here to shop Glass Robin Studio on Folksy >
I decided to leave my job and see what else came along, on the basis that whatever did happen it was probably going to be preferable to staying in that swivel chair.Jim Mayor, Glass Robin Studio
Hi Jim, I’m very excited to ask you some questions. Firstly please tell us about yourself and how you got into glasswork.
Hi Kat! I’m lucky enough to live in Brighton on the south coast. I’ve done a few interesting things prior to getting into glass – I used to be in a band and my academic / professional specialism is urban design. But a couple of years ago I found myself in a job that, whilst being relatively well paid and convenient, involved sitting in an office all day staring at a computer and not achieving much. I decided to leave and see what else came along on the basis that whatever did happen, it was probably going to be preferable to staying in that swivel chair knowing I was wasting my life.
Last Christmas I made a few stained glass robin decorations and asked a local gallery if they would like to take some.Jim Mayor, Glass Robin Studio
Last Christmas I made a few stained glass robin decorations and asked a local gallery if they would like to take some. They did, and suggested I may be able to make a little money from glass. I bought a kiln in January – mainly because I wanted to be able to add paint to the stained glass. I got distracted by fusing and over the last few months have started to focus on making fish and sea creatures. It seems a natural niche that I enjoy and touch wood its started paying the bills.
Your sea creatures are wonderful. Have you always been interested in the ocean and its contents?
Thank you! Well, the short answer is yes, since memories of watching Jacques Cousteau as a kid. I think most people have an affinity with, or are drawn to, the sea – it’s a place of mystery, beauty, wildness and peace, and gives a grounding sense of place. I don’t think I could move away from it. I’m not sure my interest stretches to all its contents though, some are pretty grotty.
Even when I try to read at the moment, I just end up thinking about glass.Jim Mayor, Glass Robin Studio
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
As a newbie to making I seem to be working pretty much 24/7, so don’t really have mental space for doing much else. I used to like reading and was a half-decent marathon runner, and we still grow most of our own food. But even when I try to read at the moment, I just end up thinking about glass. It’s something I need to work on. The only thing I do that does take my mind off the business is watching Sheffield Wednesday, but that’s filed under self-flagellation rather than pleasure.
The one thing I am probably proud of myself for is having the courage to leave my old job, although it took time.Jim Mayor, Glass Robin Studio
What is or will be your most ambitious project or the piece of work you’re most proud of?
There are a few things I’m satisfied to have done, like a John Peel session and hitting the ‘good for age’ marathon time. I tend to feel proud of what other people have achieved rather than me. I’m proud of my old work buddy Emma who has set up Steel and Stitch and just become a force of nature, proud of the kids for getting involved in a bit of equality activism, and proud of the design teams I’ve worked with who have come up with some pretty amazing city space transformations.
On the glass front, the one thing I am probably proud of myself for is having the courage to leave the old job, although it took time. And my favourite thing I have made from glass so far are my barracuda.
You talk a lot about conservation. How does this affect the way you work?
We all have blind spots, sometimes because we don’t want to see things, but most often because we just don’t think about things that become obvious as soon as someone points them out. Sometimes it takes a great book, like Tom Hodgkinson’s How to be Free (which I’d recommend as a source of courage, inspiration and solace for all makers): sometimes it’s a friend sharing an insight.
If I get the opportunity to throw a little bit of interesting information out there that may make someone re-think their relationship with these animals in a positive way, I think I have a responsibility to do that.Jim Mayor, Glass Robin Studio
If you care about your health or the environment, or just don’t want to be responsible for cruelty, it’s better not to be eating or otherwise exploiting sea creatures. Whilst that’s true of all animals, our blind spots tend to be greater when it comes to underwater animals, partly because they are out of sight and partly because our way of valuing animals literally dates from pre-Victorian times and suggests fish in particular are unintelligent and don’t feel pain (both of which have subsequently been proven to be untrue).
No one wants to be preached at, but if I get the opportunity to throw a little bit of interesting information out there that may make someone re-think their relationship with these animals in a positive way, I have an opportunity and I think a responsibility to do that.
Like wood, glass has an inherent beauty, meaning your main challenge is to accentuate and avoid damaging the qualities already present in the material.Jim Mayor, Glass Robin Studio
If you became allergic to glass overnight, what other materials would you choose to work with?
Ooh that’s tricky — there are so many options. But I’m constantly amazed by what other people can make. For example, I can only imagine Emma Herian uses some form of magic to create her felt animals. So if we narrow it down to things I may actually be capable of, I think wood. It’s similar to glass in that it has an inherent beauty, meaning your main challenge is to accentuate / avoid damaging the qualities already present in the material.
I like to listen to comedy podcasts when I work. Do you have something you listen to or a ritual to create the right atmosphere to help you concentrate?
My absolutely favourite thing about making is getting to spend time in the workshop each day with everyone from Stephen Fry to Cate Le Bon. There is definitely always some music, an audiobook or podcast going on.
I guess podcasts are my favourite thing because whilst I love learning about new things, audiobooks can be a bit tricky to follow when you are focused on finding a specific piece of glass. My favourite workshop podcaster is Rich Roll, which works well as Mrs GRS won’t let me listen to him in the house. On the comedy front I’d happily listen to re-runs of Adam and Joe and The Parapod forever. I don’t know what you’ve heard about rituals but you’ll have to speak to my lawyer about that.
I’ve been struck by how mutually supportive and generous the making community is.Jim Mayor, Glass Robin Studio
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in setting up your own business and do you have any advice to others?
The biggest unexpected challenge is the myriad of peripheral things you need to get to grips with – from sourcing packing boxes to wrapping your head around SEO. For the first few months at least, you may only spend about 25% of your time actually making.
But I’ve been struck by how mutually supportive and generous the making community is. So my advice would be don’t be scared to ask for help and advice, and accept that you are starting on what will be a big learning curve and it will take time. Treat yourself with the understanding you would an employee, because ultimately that’s the relationship you have with yourself now.
I am kind of on the search for the perfect mackerel, so achieving that would be good.Jim Mayor, Glass Robin Studio
Do you think you have found your style or do you have plans to evolve? What does the future have in store?
I decided to give this a go for a year and see what happens, so I’m just happy to be where I am right now. I’m sure there is lots of scope for evolution but I’ve no idea where it may be yet. I am kind of on the search for the perfect mackerel though, so achieving that would be good.
Get 10% off Glass Robin Studio with code ‘BlueSteel’ before the end of October 2020
Meet the interviewer
The maker asking the questions this week is Kat from Tula and the Whale. Kat makes sustainable statement jewellery using offcuts of leather from the fashion industry and vegan cork.