Category Archives: Being an Artist

Why being an artist is like being socially autistic

Make your own stained glass column lamp – a new 2-day workshop with Vitreus Art

A finished lamp, made to one of the designs we offer on our 2-day workshop

There are few stained glass projects more satisfying than making a piece that’s decorative and practical at the same time!
Our established stained glass mirror workshop gives you a chance to experience this joy for yourself in a beginner-friendly environment.

And now, after quite a bit of planning and thinking and experimenting, we’ve developed a new workshop – 2 days to make your own stained glass column lamp.
We’ve decided to go for a column lamp design for a couple of reasons – it’s a cool, modern design that suits contemporary home decor moods, and it’s a practical project for a beginner with two days to spend, and no prior experience.

That doesn’t mean it’s easy to make a lamp like this though – there are some challenges to overcome, and that’s what this workshop is all about!

Firstly, cutting your glass. For lamps, one generally uses opal glass – it conceals the lamp and gives a pleasing, diffused illumination. However, the partial opacity of opal glass means cutting on top of the deisng (how stained glass is usually cut) doesn’t work as the design’s cut lines are indistinct, or more likely, invisible!

Cutting glass using a lightbox – essential for accurately cutting opal glass

This is where the lightbox comes in, as the photo shows. Make sure the lightbox you use is sturdy enough to use as a cutting surface, like the ones we use in the studio. Most art lightboxes won’t be – they’re designed to be used for tracing.

It’s essential to make sure all the sides of your lamp will fit together precisely too. This depends partly on the accuracy of your glass cutting, and how you set up your sections when grinding.
This workshop will share all of these techniques with you.

 

 

Using jigs is the way to make sure all the sections of your lamp will fit together properly!

Take a look at how I’ve set up my grinding and soldering jig here – using pins and aluminium strips to ensure the sides of my lamp sections are parallel, and that the sides end up the same size!
I used this when grinding the glass, and then again when soldering.

All our stained glass classes for beginners include an emailed PDF info pack, sharing with you where you can buy tools, glass and hardware. Many of our students have gone on to set up their own studios and have told us this information was invaluable to them, along with our advice – provided free to anyone who’s attended one of our classes!

 

Now – soldering your pieces together.
This is where things get a bit trickier! It’s not possible to solder foiled glass unless it’s horizontal. Just a moment thinking about how lamps are made up of several ‘sides’ joined togther and it’s clear that some arrangement to hold the pieces together while soldering is needed.

Supporting all the sections when soldering them togther – we make our own jigs for this

This is where a jig comes in!
We make all our own kit like this – you may find something suitable online if you don’t have the resources to make your own kit.

The jig needs to perform two functions – holing sides together to allow them to be soldered on the outside, and then to hold them for soldering on the inside.
The jigs we use do both tasks to make life simpler for our students – and ourselves!

Soldering a lamp like this takes a bit of skill, and rather more patience.
Over the years we’ve been teaching lamp-making on our extended courses we’ve developed some techniques that take some of the worry out of this essential stage.
We share these on our workshops of course, and the aim is for each student to finish up with a well-soldered lamp.

The next stage – soldering a brass ‘spider’ gives the lamp more strength, and a means to mount the lamp holder.

For the lamps made on our 2-day workshops we update this with a modern, low-energy LED lamp, which we provide.
The skills and techniques are the same though, so if you fancy making a different type of lamp, you’ll know how to approach it.

The next stage is to patina the lamp – giving a finish that’s a blend of traditional and modern – enhancing the look and making the solder lines look smoother too.

And then it’s time to mount the lamp on to its base. We provide a stained wooden base to finish off the lamp, and conceal the bottom edges of the glass sections.

Want to have a go yourself on our lamp-making 2-day workshop?
This link takes you the page on the Vitreus Art website where you can check out the details and book your place.

Happy lamp-making!

Mike – Vitreus art

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Make your own silver jewellery with Precious Metal Clay – it’s like magic!

What is PMC (Precious Metal Clay)?

At its most fundamental level, PMC is particles of fine silver bound up with an organic binder and a little water to make a malleable clay-like material.

 

 

 
When shapes made out of this clay are fired (in a kiln or with a blow-torch) the binder and water burn away, leaving a fine silver piece, ready for polishing.

The finished piece contains higher-purity silver than 925 sterling silver and can be hall-marked just like silver jewellery made with silver sheet, wire and blocks.
The binder materials accounts for about 10% of the overall volume of the clay, so the fired piece ends up 10% smaller. This is important to know when making rings, for example!

Because the clay is 90% silver, it’s not an inexpensive material to work with. Many crafters will be familiar with polymer clay (you may recognise brand names like Fimo) and graduate to PMC to make silver jewellery using similar techniques.
The cost of the materials, and the discipline this imposes on managing waste and controlling the size of projects sometimes comes as a shock!

Why is PMC good for home experimenting?

The upside of PMC though, is that a starter kit of tools isn’t expensive to buy, and small pieces (like earrings or small necklaces) can be fired with a chef’s blow-torch instead of a kiln.

 

 

 

Unlike the benches, bench-hooks and silver-smithing tools needed to make silver jewellery using traditional techniques, PMC can be shaped and refined using clay modelling processes – great for home experimenting.

PMC is available from many retailers in the UK, and in a variety of pack sizes, so the experimenter on a budget can carefully control their use of their key raw material!
One aspect to note is that opened packs of clay will dry out if not handled carefully, or left unused for a while. Open a pack of the size needed only when needed and carefully preserve the remainder!

What will you learn on our class?

We’ve structured our beginner’s class to give you a feel for a range of clay-modelling techniques you can develop at home.

You’ll learn about the properties of the clay to begin with – important to minimise costly waste and ensure you’ll have enough clay for all your beginner’s projects.

You’ll also learn about rolling and shaping, taking a lump of silver clay and making the basic shapes for your pieces.

 

 

 

We’ll introduce you to the use of textured surfaces to give your jewellery more interest and show you how to add bails to necklaces.

We’ll cover the stages of clay shaping, drying, refining, firing (also called sintering) and polishing; each one of these is an important step towards making a finished piece that will be strong enough to be worn regularly.

What can you make on our class?

You’ll make three pieces on our class. If you have spare clay and finish your three pieces before the end of the class, we’ll aim to make a further piece.

First, you’ll make a pair of earrings (like Jenny’s).
This will introduce you to clay handling, shaping, cutting and sanding. The size of these allows these to be fired with a blow-torch – instant gratification!

 

 

Then you’ll make an initial letter necklace – any letter of your choice!
You’ll discover how to roll a smooth snake of clay and shape it in to a letter.
We provide a template for all 26 letters of the alphabet to work to.

This is a tricky assignment but worth it as rolling and shaping is a key technique, applicable to many jewellery design elements.

 

 

 

Finally, you’ll make a pendant incorporating a bail to hang from a necklace, textures, added silver details and a highly-polished section – known as ‘high shine’ in the trade.
You’ll learn about rolling textures in to your clay, cutting shapes and integrating layers.

You’ll also learn about making bails and securely adding them to a pendant base as well as polishing and finishing.

 

 

 

After your three projects, if you have clay (and time) left over you’re welcome to make another project. We’ll help you decide what is achievable in the time, with the clay that remains.

The aim of this beginner’s class is to give you a feel for the versatility of PMC, introduce you to some key techniques you can use at home, and to send you away with three pieces of silver jewellery you’ve made yourself!

Want to have a go yourself and enjoy the magic of making silver jewellery out of clay?
Visit our PMC begonners class website page here and let’s get creative!

If you’re not ready to book but you’d like to receive updates and our monthly newsletter, you can subscribe here.

Happy crafting
Mike

The pleasure of learning something entirely new…

How often do we, as adults, set out to learn a completely new skill?GlassBlowing

I don’t mean learning how a new phone works, or becoming familiar with the latest version of an established piece of software – I mean learning a skill unlike the ones we already have.
Possibly not very often if you’re at all like me.

Considering how refreshing learning a new skill can be, especially if it’s learnt for pleasure rather than for work, this tells me lots of us are missing out on a real pleasure, and possibly on new life chances too.

Jenny and I have been thinking about this recently and decided that we would set out to gain some new skills by attending courses in art forms completely new to us. We’d like to offer a wider range of classes at our studio-gallery and that’s part of our motivation to look for new skills.

Since that point (about 18 months ago) we’ve progressed a fair distance in our desire to develop our capabilities as glass fusers, for instance. In fact, our beginner’s classes in glass fusing (which we ‘Fusion-Inclusion’ as we focus on using inclusions to make fused glass art) have become our 3rd most popular class, right behind our stained glass beginners’ classes.

We’re at the point now that our starter kiln is pretty much fully used all the time and the capabilities (and cost) of a larger kiln is often on our minds.

Another one of these new skills is to be the subject for future classes at Vitreus Art and I’m keeping our powder dry on this one! Suffice to say we set out on a certificated course to gain an appreciation of how the art-form ‘works’ and to figure out if we could build our proficiency to a level that would enable us to teach our own students in time.

Of course we don’t expect to be brilliant straight away, but we flatter ourselves that with practice, plenty of ideas to experiment with and recourse to our organisational and planning skills we’ll be able to put on a good show when we feel we’re ready.

We’ve enjoyed (and learned from) the process of following a structured teaching environment too – it’s not all about the new skill, some of the learning has been about the process of learning!
And more recently we tried something even more removed from our present artistic activities – glass blowing.

We set out with no expectation that we would ever want to blow glass on our own.
This was purely for pleasure and to satisfy an urge Jenny has nursed since seeing glass makers on the Venetian island of Murano where some of the world’s most accomplished glass-blowers make their magic.
And what a blast it was!

We chose to attend a one-day introduction to glass blowing at ‘The Glass Hub’ near Bath, in the UK. One of several creative businesses located on a farm complex, the whole place feels like it’s dedicated to artistic endeavour, which is a stimulating environment to learn in – no adult-education at a formal college feels like this!

Glass blowing is hot, potentially dangerous, exciting, and a little scary.

In stark contrast to much of our own glass work, glass-blowing is very much ‘in the moment’ – things happen quickly, glass heats and cools rapidly, the processes need to be timed carefully.

Our tutor Dylan was at pains to apologise for seeming to bark instructions at us but we understood perfectly why that was – something needs to be done – re-heating the glass, rolling it, shaping the molten glass, blowing air in to the embryonic vessel – and there’s little time for thinking, it’s all about action!

The end results were (to be completely candid) not perfect!

We watched Dylan and his colleagues effortlessly melting, shaping, colouring all manner of beautiful blown glass vessels and then made lumpy, uneven attempts of our own. But we love what we’ve made, and we loved every minute of the process. It’s fast moving, sweaty and challenging, but the emotional high of making something recognisably like a glass object from scratch is powerful.

The patience and skill demonstrated by our tutors, their delicately timed interventions, and the humour of the whole class left us a bit breathless and a lot excited!

Now we understand the ‘high’ our own students have told us about – learning new skills, the pleasure of owning a piece of art you’ve made, the collaborative experience of working with craftspeople to create something long-lasting – we’ve felt it and we always hope to deliver that same feeling in our own studio.

From now on we’ll be thinking a lot more about how we can spread that pleasure – it’s not just about making something, it’s about discovering that our hands can achieve results we hadn’t imagined, and enjoying the distinctive pleasure of learning new skills.

What sort of art-form would you like to try that’s new to you?
How would you like to learn a new craft skill and discover what your hands can achieve?

You could do worse than having a look at the classes and courses we run at Vitreus Art.
We’ll help you discover tghe pleasure of learning something new!

Who would start a gallery with the economy the way it is?

It’s a good question – who would start a gallery with the economy the way it is?

I intended to write this a year ago, when our gallery-workshop was just a few months old.
Back then we felt full of optimism but still heard nagging inner voices telling us we were a bit daft for even thinking of setting up what was effectively a shop, just when so many others were going to the wall.

On top of that, it was necessary for Jenny to leave the stability (and predictable income!) of a regular job. What were we thinking?

One year on from that part-written blog post and nearly a year and a half since we got our slightly sweaty hands on the keys to unit 4 Wakefield Country Courtyard the optimism is still there, the inner voices have been quelled and our early marketing efforts have paid off.VitreusArt-gallery-studio-Wakefield-Country-Courtyard

We’re delighted to have regular customers who seem to come in just after we’ve put new stock on display.
Our classes are steadily drawing new would-be and established artists and crafters keen to develop their skills or gain new ones.
Our studio is being used to create interesting (sometimes amazing) projects by students.
And we’re finding that folks who used to visit the Courtyard have started returning, having discovered that there’s more to see, do, eat and drink than there used to be.

So of course we’re optimistic – we’re working hard to make our business a success and seeing that pay off.

Some of the things that have really worked for us include:

Having a mix of income – we sell our own stained and fused glass, we sell other artists’ work for a commission, we run a host of our own classes in fusing, stained glass, glass appliqué and more.

We also have a talented band of artists who teach their own art forms to students for us, and we make our space and facilities available for a small fee to those who want to create but lack the tools or a suitable place to work at home.

We’ve built up a really good mailing list over the years. Our regular emails get open rates and click-through rates (which is actually much more important than opens) that are significantly higher than is common in our line of business.

A testament to this is that we’ve just taught a couple of ladies who joined our mailing list after attending our third ever class about 10 years ago; they’ve been receiving our monthly emails ever since and got in touch to ask for a private class at our studio this year.

We keep up our advertising in local magazines. When we get visitors telling us they saw us in a local magazine we know our adverts are being seen. Of course this doesn’t translate in to ROI, but we’re still ‘young’ and working to build our footfall.

We’ve also taken a leading role in encouraging our neighbouring businesses to join us in co-op advertising and that’s making a noticeable difference to the footfall across the site. It’s tempting to ease off on the advertising now we’re in our second year –it costs money after all – but we plan to keep the momentum up.

Running demo days and taster days to show visitors what we’ve got going on. These have been a huge success for us, and are a blast to run too. We invite our artists to join us for our demo days, and show off their skills.
Visitors get to see artists in action and are often inspired to join a class and have a go themselves.

The outcomes of our taster days are similar – we give customers the chance to try one of our glass crafts in a short session for just a fiver. Many then book a place on a full class knowing that they’ll enjoy it, thus reducing the risk!

Listening to customers and hunting out work we think they will like. We’ve tried hard to find work that synchronises with what our customers tell us they like, or actively looking for. We’ve also had to learn that what we like may not appeal to our customers. We remind ourselves every now and again that we are not our own customers!

Of course there’s a lot more we do that’s helping bring in customers – giving talks at WIs for example.
It’s all part of doing what we can to build our gallery, grow our reputation and help our lovely customers own or give art as a present, or even make their own art.

We’d love to hear from you if you’ve seen art you like, have tried a class and enjoyed it, or if you’re an artist yourself.

If you’d like to visit and find out about art and craft classes or check out the art we’ve got on display you’ll find us here:

Vitreus Art, Unit 4 Wakefield Country Courtyard,
Off the A5, near Potterspury, Northants NN12 7QX
Tel 01327 810320

Join our email newsletter group here…

VitreusArt-mapWakefield-Country-Courtyard

 

Small retailers – it’s time to smile!

Yes, a lot of retailers are finding it tough out there.VitreusArtGallery

Despite recent reports that new car registrations are higher than ever suggesting that the UK economy is booming, the underlying story is that cheap finance is driving much of consumer behaviour, but that’s only benefitting sales of high-value goods – like cars and kitchens, and white goods and massive TVs too big for most UK living rooms!

Down at the lower-cost end of the scale, shoppers are being careful what they spend their disposable income on and that’s affecting many smaller shops.

Today we learn that M&S has had a woeful set of Christmas results; even my beloved Waitrose didn’t have such a brilliant Christmas, which was a surprise to me.

Doubtless there are lots of reasons for the prevailing sense of doom among many retailers but not being qualified in economics, I’m going to refrain from speculating. What I do know is – there’s a lot we can all do to help ourselves.

Part of this is marketing – I’ll come back to that.

Most immediately for me, having experienced extremely lack-lustre service in more than one smaller shop lately, and with Jenny prodding me to write about some of her experiences too, I’m going to ask you some questions…

  • Do you greet a visitor to your shop (or your stand at a craft fair?!) when they first step inside?
  • Do you offer to help, or ask a friendly question a minute or two after?
  • Do you manage to smile when on duty, and especially when customers are present?
  • When you see a potential customer is in need of help, do you get up off your chair and talk to them?

I hope so, but on the example of shops I and Jenny have visited recently not all independent shopkeepers do…

A key part of the appeal small, independent shops have for customers weary of high-street homogeneity is friendly service from people who are willing to help.
Product knowledge, genuinely helpful service and a cheery welcome are key differentiators – essential when we small retailers really need to stand out!

In our case, as a working studio-gallery with our own and other artists’ work on sale, going the extra mile to help a customer choose, or transport a piece of art, finding out if the artist has ‘something similar in different colours’  or getting something broken fixed efficiently, these are all aspects of service we consider to be the minimum necessary – not extras.

Given a chance, most consumers will moan and complain about the service they receive in our chain stores; I hear that and think – then come to our little shop and be treated like a human!

And that brings us to marketing. We need to get that point about treating customers as humans across to our future customers, and gently remind our current customers about it too.

So many small retailers are hoping that customers will find them, and then spend money in their shops. For me, hoping is not a strategy.

I do detect an element of ‘I have a shop – people will come in and buy things’ without the ‘I need to make sure people know about my shop’ among some of the small retailers I know.

Again, in our case, we advertise locally, we use national and local ‘what’s on’ websites and Facebook pages, we continually develop our email subscription and regularly (about every two weeks) email our list with news, questions, updates on our art courses and much more.

We speak at WI and U3A events about our craft, we take part in craft shows and cultural do’s.

We host events where visitors can see art being created and even have a go themselves, we get together with our neighbouring retailers to put on open days and outdoor events, we use our own social media pages too of course, but we don’t rely on them, and we do everything we can to encourage word-of-mouth promotion.

This is especially important – although we’ve only been in our gallery for a year, we’re increasingly getting visitors who tell us their friend (or relative, partner, neighbour) recommended us. Lovely!

But this only happens if we give good service and make our gallery a fun and interesting place to browse. And on top of this, we make sure we always have some work in progress on the bench. We’re a working studio-gallery and it’s proving to be a real winner for us – seeing work being made is a great conversation starter, it allows us to demonstrate our competence.

And another blessing – when we’re running classes at our studio visitors see what we’re doing and some of them want to get involved; we almost always take booking for classes when we’re running a class that day!

So the take-away from this last point is – activity. What can you do in your own shop to get activity going, get interest going, get customers asking you for more?

Demos? Have-a-go sessions? Events and talks, taster days?
Special products that the chains don’t or won’t stock?
Offering true expertise in your field that the staff in the chains just can’t provide?

An interesting, fun, quirky environment far removed from the corporate boxes on retail parks?  Yes, that all might sound like a lot of work, perhaps?

Maybe a better way of thinking about this is – marketing is a fundamental component of every business; just having a shop and putting things in it isn’t going to cut it any more (if it ever did).

It’s tough out there so get on with the marketing, make your offer really distinctive and fun, and remember to smile!