Meet the Maker: Ally Noble
Ally Noble is a fused glass artist who makes beautiful pieces inspired by nature from her summerhouse studio in Warrington. But it wasn’t always this way. Before discovering the magic of glass, Ally had a successful career designing best-selling computer games. Here she talks to fellow Folksy sellers Adam and Johnny from Godwin Vintage about her unusual creative journey and why she believes there is value in the purely decorative.
To celebrate being our featured maker Ally is offering a very rare discount. Use the code FEATURED15 before midnight on Sunday 23 May 2021 for 15% off all her pieces.
Shop Ally Noble Fused Glass on Folksy
I absolutely ‘needed’ to find a creative outlet for my brain and hands… I took evening classes in stained and foiled glass and, when the glass tutor fired my designs in his kiln, the result was magical! The softness of the edges and intense colours was a revelation. I was hooked.Ally Noble Fused Glass
Hi Ally. You’re so very talented and make such beautiful handmade products you make. Could you tell us a little about how you got into glass fusing and what inspired you to do it?
I trained as a graphic designer and worked as an artist in computer games for many years, creating some top-selling games. As I moved up the career ladder, I became an art team leader and project manager. It was when I stopped drawing every day that I absolutely ‘needed’ to find something else as a creative outlet for my brain and hands.
I took evening and day classes in ceramics, blacksmithing, silversmithing, woodwork, stained and foiled glass. I enjoyed it all but when the glass tutor took some of my designs away and fired them in his kiln, the result was magical and I was hooked! The softness of the edges, a ‘sucked toffee’ effect, the intense colours and mixing possible with overlaid colours, it was a revelation. After that, I worked with leaded and foiled glass for some time as I saved up for a kiln.
Describe a typical day at Ally Noble Fused Glass…
For my business I try to fire the kiln every week, so it might depend what day of the week it is. In the mornings I go to the gym (when possible), to practise yoga and pilates.
Early in the week, I will be in my summerhouse cutting glass from mid-morning. Each bird takes at least two pieces of glass (the wren is six), so potentially 100 pieces of glass will give me 50 birds. I’ll quite often cut for the rest of the day, knowing they won’t all get into one firing.
The following day will be cleaning the glass and painting, where I use ground glass in suspension (as medieval stained glass artists did), and paint the black elements on to the birds or fish. When they’re dry I scrape the edges to neaten them, if needed, then add the white or brown. I also bend up beaks and rings.
Day three will be adding ground colour to the lower layer and collating directly into the kiln bed after adding wire inclusions.
I use ground glass in suspension (as medieval stained glass artists did), and paint the black elements on to the birds or fish. When they’re dry, I scrape the edges to neaten them, then add the white or brown.Ally Noble Fused Glass
My firing schedule is about 20 hours, so then I have a day to do whatever else I need to. That might be: pack orders, research new work or some drawing. Apart from selling online, I supply various retail shops and take on commissions, so often any spare days are spoken for with deliveries or fresh commission work.
Once I empty the kiln, each piece needs to be checked for slippages, washed, polished, strung with a poly-carbon thread and bead, my label added and placed in a zip-lock bag to keep it clean. As you can imagine I don’t like fingerprints on the glass!
If I’m working with coloured art glass the week looks a bit different as I will cut and collate in my studio and then carry across to the garage – there is no danger of anything blowing away! It can also be more ‘freeform’ in terms of cutting and overlaying coloured glass.
All the wood for my fused glass standing birds comes from our garden tree prunings. I dry it, cut it and sand it. It feels good to use natural materials found on my ‘doorstep’ with a low impact on the world.
What do you find the most challenging part of the making process?
Definitely creating new work. Being trained as a designer means I work through a creative process, starting with research. Working from nature photos, I draw to understand the shapes fully, then move to a line drawing and to cutting. I will work on test pieces in clear glass to see if the shape is right, as the heat can change the shape enough for it to not look characterful enough. Sometimes the shapes need to be accentuated to work.
When I have a good shape, I add painted detail on the top layer and colour on the bottom layer. I can iterate seven or eight times before I’m happy. Sometimes it just doesn’t work and the glass doesn’t have the personality I see in the creature. When that happens I leave the piece and come back to it in a few weeks, months or even years. I find can have ideas ‘brewing’ for years too.
No matter how many times I open the kiln, even with the same work, it’s still exciting to see what I have or haven’t got.Ally Noble Fused Glass
What’s your favourite part of the process and why?
Opening the kiln! No matter how many times I do it, even with the same work, it’s still exciting to see what I have or haven’t got. When there is new work, I can be on tenterhooks, not wanting to look but also desperate to look.
Also having a delighted and enthused customer is the most lovely compliment and I find I pick up their joy. It’s particularly wonderful to see a customer’s face break into a smile when they see a glass version of a bird they love from their own garden.
If you could make a commission for any celebrity who would it be and what would you like to make for them?
I’m an old hippy at heart and it would be Jon Anderson, the singer from the prog rock band Yes. His lyrics about nature and how interconnected we all are have inspired me all my life. I can remember drawing a flick book of the lyrics to one song when I was supposed to revising for my A levels! I would make him a window hanging that involved peace doves, with nature themes around them.
What’s been your biggest achievement or the most satisfying moment in your business so far?
At the beginning of my glass journey I was foiling and leading pre-coloured glass but wanted to be fusing. I applied for a grant for a kiln from the Crafts Council and was lucky enough to be accepted. The interview went so well, and that’s not normally what I would say about an interview! I came out walking on air and when I got the OK, I ordered the kiln immediately. It was several sizes bigger than the one I was saving up for. It’s the one I use now and it has been a fantastic tool that has enabled me to expand my style and grow my output.
Another satisfying moment was when someone at an event in Liverpool recognised my style from a show at the Millennium Gallery in Sheffield, several years before, where she had bought one of my pieces. It did make me feel as though I had (slightly) arrived!
Creatively learning and growing is a time-consuming process, which in my view can’t be rushed. All the steps I took to get to where I am now, needed to be taken.Ally Noble Fused Glass
If you had to start over again, is there anything you would change or anything you would do differently?
Creatively learning and growing is a time-consuming process, which in my view can’t be rushed. All the steps I took to get to where I am now, needed to be taken. For that reason I wouldn’t change anything in my journey so far. However, I would move to full-time making earlier than I did, as working every day does compact the process of forming a style and body of work, which is so enjoyable and means, as a creative, I’m taken more seriously.
Where do you see your business in the future?
Creatively, I’d like to explore nature’s details further and make pieces that involve more elements and complexity. I’d also like to make bigger sculptural pieces mounted on wood and add some carving to the bases. I think wood and glass work so well together.
Business-wise, I would like a much larger space where I could employ a glass trainee to help while offering them a chance to learn and experiment.
What does craft mean to you?
Craft is making unique items by hand with skill and experience. There might be multiple items but they are not mass produced. Each one has a level of quality in its vision or execution that is personal to the creator. They are items that someone else couldn’t make in a way that looked the same as the originators.
Grayson Perry said: “Craft is a form of making which generally produces an object that has a function: such as something you can wear or eat or drink from.” But I think craft, like art, can and should produce something that is entirely decorative and doesn’t need to have a function, other than to give pleasure or be beautiful. If it provokes an emotion in the viewer, then that’s good enough and that can be all that’s needed.
Use code FEATURED15 for 15% off all Ally Noble’s pieces – only valid until midnight, Sunday 23 May 2021.
Shop Ally Noble Fused Glass on Folksy
Meet the interviewer
The makers asking the questions this week are Adam and Johnny from Godwin Vintage, who create upcycled vintage and retro-styled lamps and other items from their home studio in Scotland.
Shop Godwin Vintage on Folksy – https://folksy.com/shops/GodwinVintage
Read more about Adam and Johnny in our Meet the Maker interview – Meet the Maker – Godwin Vintage