The grinding machine is just about to be started. “There’s water in the tray” Nicola explains, “use the grey part of the grinder, where you can see the water bubbling away as it spins”. The grinding wheel is not sharp as Nicola demonstrates by using it to file her nail and then puts her finger on it to show the students not to be afraid.
Grinding wheels and glass don’t immediately sound ‘cuddly’ in my experience but in glass work techniques, Nicola makes the tools and materials approachable, and works confidently to reassure those who are new to this craft. The machine has a safety screen and the cold water keeps things cool and dust free. Nicola shows her students how to grind nano-slices from the edges of their glass jigsaw pieces so that the final fit in their lead mounts and frame will be perfect. The students follow suit – growing in confidence as they feel their way with new tools. There are sparkling pieces of orange, red, yellow, turquoise and purple glass taking their turns on the grinder.
Earlier, the students had worked their designs up on a graph paper template. “Shapes are best quite fluid”, Nicola explains, “so that if there are any small slip ups in cutting, then it’s easy to compensate and change the design as they go”. There are few constraints on what the design should be, so students can choose shapes and colours to suit themselves. Nicola helps by reviewing the designs so that they can be easily achieved within this one day course. There are lots of steps to get through, so the aim is to get cracking (couldn’t resist sorry!) as quickly as possible.
The lead used in this craft is what is known as an H section. Cleverly, the lines in the original design on paper are drawn up with a marker pen that is the same thickness as the centre H of the lead. Students have to cut each section of glass so that it fits inside the marker pen lines, thus the finished piece will keep its proportions once the lead is added. This is where the grinding wheel becomes so important, to fine tune the shapes.
There’s a great range of sounds in this classroom. There are boxes of glass and as the students explore the colours and textures, there is a noise reminiscent of stacking china plates. Then you can hear the sound of the glass cutters moving across the glass. It sounds like an electric fuse – fizzing and hissing as it uses a tiny steel wheel to score into the glass. Nicola has two types of glass cutter and she explains “the preference is down to the user – both tools do the same job. Left handed people often prefer the side handled cutter, but it just depends”. She uses the straight handled cutter to demonstrate how easy it is to make a simple score line and then snap the glass with her fingers. The grinding wheel gets switched back on and it adds a lovely hum to the background chinking, fizzing and ambient conversation.
Looking around the room at the range of designs, the students are comparing colours to work out what effects they want to achieve. One student, Mandy, has done some lovely leaf shapes in Autumn shades of gold and bronze and is deliberating over whether to put greens around them or blue as the sky. Another, Lynn, has found a piece of the most beautiful ruby red, and is incorporating it into her geometric design. The glass pieces look like sparkling jewels. They are carefully assembled onto a larger clear glass panel and held in place with plasticine as they are finalised, ready for the leading, soldering and cementing processes likely to start after lunch.
The noises in the room change after lunch, as students start to hammer the pieces of their designs into place with the end of the lead cutting knife with horseshoe nails. There are lead stretchers, soldering tools, frame guides, pliers, hammers…..One student remarks “this is so different to my usual painting class!” It certainly is but she has also taken much from her painting experience into this one, “I’ve chosen these colours because of their relationships in the colour wheel” she confides.
Wide lead for the outside, smaller lead to secure the inside sections, Nicola works from one long side to the other to create the finished work. Absolutely beautiful and also very hands on. This is a craft for those who like getting really stuck in and love a nice tool kit.