Tag Archives: students

To share your craft…. Or not?

A guest post by Jenny Timms, Vitreus Art.

To share your craft…. Or not?

Vitreus Art - Jenny Timms teaching stained glass
Jenny teaching a group of intermediate students

As you may know I am one half of Vitreus Art – a small stained glass art studio based in Buckinghamshire. We design and make stained glass art to be displayed in the home,in windows or the garden.
We make pieces ranging in size from small simple sun-catchers to large statement, privately commissioned work.

Mike (the other half, of Vitreus Art!) and I started our company a few years ago after taking a one day stained glass course. This was after seeing some glass work which we both really liked in our favourite place – Porthleven, Cornwall (pay it a visit sometime, it is the most Southerly Harbour on the UK mainland – and it’s a wonderful place).

Anyway I digress, sorry.

Mike and I now teach our craft (or is it an art form? That I think is another question to look at another time).

One of the questions we’re often asked by our students, and others is, “Aren’t you teaching people to become competition?”
Well,  maybe we are, but I don’t mind. It’s taken us sometime to get to where we are, so I think it will probably take our students sometime to catch us up (I hope!).

In years gone past people would have learnt the craft – which was needed back then to create windows for the home – by being trained as an apprentice or by the craft being handed down from father to son. But that is no longer the case. If you want to learn the craft of stained glass art you have to study at college or like us take a simple course and follow that up with years of practice.

Personally, for me I think it is important to share this craft with others, as otherwise it risks being a dying art form.

Both Mike and I get an immense amount of pleasure seeing our students arriving in the morning with little knowledge of what they will be going home with at the end of the day, and then  seeing them leave us exhausted, but having achieved so much, in just 8 hours!
They will have learnt many new skills and will be taking home a beautiful piece of art work which we hope they will treasure for many years to come.

Some of our students will go on to take up the craft; others may tell their friends about the course. We’re always delighted to hear from past students who have bitten the bullet and bought a set of tools and started making pieces!

Even if they do no more glass work, their friends may join us and take up the craft – so one way or another this chain will go on and the craft thrive.

So for me, yes, it is important to share the craft, and I hope others agree.

Get in touch or leave a comment and tell us about your craft experiences!

Jenny

Flickr – fantastic for artists of all kinds

Stained glass garden panel finished, ready for cleaning
Stained glass garden panel finished, ready for cleaning

You know how sometimes you wish you’d started using something a long while ago because it’s just so brilliant?

That’s the position I’m in with Flickr. I’ve been recommending Flickr to artists who didn’t feel the need for a website of their own, or who couldn’t afford one (although ‘free’ websites are readily available now).

Because we’ve had our own website from the start we’ve put off developing a presence on Flickr, but now we have, boy do we wish we’d done it before!

We’re using it to publish photos of students on our stained glass classes.
Of course we’ve been taking photos of class attendees working, and the pieces they make, since we started teaching about 3 years ago. But we’ve lacked that simple way to make them available without selecting and emailing them.

Instead, any of our students can choose to copy the images that feature them or their work and save them.

Why didn’t we do that before?!

Have a look at our Flickr stream and let me know what you think.

And of course, we want other folks to be able to see what we do – after all, we’re looking to drive traffic to our website and grow our visitors and business.

So we’ve added folders of stained glass pieces we’ve made as commissions, and a selection of glass art from our archives too.

What a great way to get your artwork in front of a larger audience – I’m sold!

To all artists capable of photographing their work – Flickr is a brilliant marketing opportunity for you – it just needs a bit of thought and planning.

A couple of tips:

  • Make sure you get good photos of whatever it is you’re doing – a good selection of shots that are in focus, well-lit and well composed is invaluable for all sorts of marketing activities
  • Make sure you get the permission of your students (or anyone else in the shot) to use the photo
  • Take photos at the highest resolution your camera offers, and downsize on your PC if necessary
  • Keep a record of which photo is where and when – useful as an archive and helps to track your progress as an artist
  • Don’t post the high-resolution versions on Flickr – you’ll use up your 300mb monthly allowance very quickly – resize them first
  • Tag the images to aid search engine indexing – think about which words people might use if they were looking for photos of what you do
  • Watermark your images if there’s a chance others might use them for unauthorised commercial use
  • Fill in your profile on Flickr so people can find you, contact you, or visit your website

If you’re an artist or a craftworker, or an avid user of Flickr, I’d love to hear any other tips you have that others can benefit from!

Happy posting….Mike

What does it cost to get set up in stained glass?

Using the circle cutter for stained glass
Using the circle cutter for stained glass

We get this question often – at craft fairs, exhibitions and gallery demo days: I fancy having a go – what will it cost me?

The flippant answer is – your soul! It’s an engrossing hobby, can become an all-consuming lifestyle, and some even do it for a living!

But sliding back into reality for a moment, it’s not cheap to get started, which is why a day’s course or spending time with an established glass artist is a good idea: it’s not like buying a pad and some paints!

So, come on Mike, what’s involved?

Well – the fundamental tools you will need for copper-foil (Tiffany method) stained glass are:

A glass cutter – not the £3 job you can buy from a DIY store, a proper oil-filled tungsten-wheeled one. Our preference – Toyo Supercutter, costs about £25.

A good pair of grozing pliers, for nibbling, and a pair of cut runners, or glass snappers. Together these are about £15. We use Glastar snappers.

Next, you’ll need a grinder. We have several Glastar grinders, large and small, for teaching, and the lowest-priced one we’ve found that lasts is the Superstar, at £150 now that VAT has gone up.

You’ll also need  decent soldering iron. There seem to be two that are worth considering, both by Weller, the giant of soldering technology! The 80W ‘starter’ iron is ok for occasional use and costs about £50 with a stand to keep it safe when working. The 100W ‘pro’ tool is about £90.

So those are the main tools you’ll need.

But you’ll also need a work surface, a straight edge, layout strips and pins to hold your design together when soldering, and pens, paper, something to keep your glass in, and a good working light. All this lot could cost you £50 if bought in one go.

Oh, and let’s not forget – the consumables!
Foil is now about £10 a roll, and you’ll need at least a couple of rolls to begin with, and solder is now about £10 for half-a-kilo, which is enough to get started with. And flux and grinding lubricant for your grinder, and cutting oil (or white spirit) will add about £10 on top.

And now – glass!
This is a tricky one. We start our students off on clear ‘horticultural’ glass initially while they learn to score and break glass consistently.

This is cheap, but once you’re confident enough to make something with ‘proper’ coloured glass, you’ll find that sheets about 12″ by 12″ cost from £5 up. The fancier glass costs more, but we always recommend newcomers start with Spectrum glass as it’s affordable and easy to cut. And looks great!

For any sort of interesting design, you’ll need several different sheets, and the off-cuts may not be very usable shapes or sizes.

As a guide, we reckon on about £30 for glass and consumables each for our students on our Vitreus Art one-day class.

If you’re looking at leading, a collection of tools to add to the basics above can be bought for about £25, plus the lead itself.

Check back next time for info on some other tools that are fun to use, like the circle cutter in the picture above.
In the meantime, do leave a comment and let me know which tools you’d recommend to a novice, or which you found hardest to use!

Happy glass making,
Mike

P.S. If you’d like to know more about our one-day beginner’s classes, go to:
www.vitreus-art.co.uk/classes

Or email me via this blog.

Why do we teach stained glass when we already have enough competition?!

Vitreus Art beginners stained glass Workshop
Vitreus Art beginners stained glass workshop

By now you know we teach stained glass, right? I go on about it often enough!

Well, one of the reasons we teach (aside from wanting to share the craft we’ve become passionate about!) is that we often hear from would-be stained glass artists who’ve gone out and bought tools and glass and materials and then found they just couldn’t make it work.

They cut themselves to shreds, their pieces didn’t fit together, they wasted loads of expensive glass, their soldering was lumpy and ugly, or their fledgling abilities just didn’t develop.

Net result – most of them gave up.

We had the benefit of a day’s class when we were starting. We had no idea what was required, where to begin, what tools were needed – we just knew we wanted to find out if we liked it, and if we might show any early promise!

It could have been so different – Lord knows it’s sometimes a frustrating craft!
However, decent tuition,  access to the right tools,  and the desire to learn from someone clearly very skilled set us off in the right direction.

Starting teaching

Fast-forward 5 years and we’re making commissions,  selling through galleries and teaching. Why?

Coming from marketing and PR backgrounds, we both felt that we were good communicators, and we’d been on a very steep learning curve.  So as we began to field questions from people who wanted to try, or who’d tried and given up, we set up our first class.

Crikey – that was hard work! And the investment – we decided that 6 was a good number of students so we needed 6 sets of tools. And you may already know, a complete set of  tools costs about £150 per person, not including a grinder. And don’t forget the glass – we get through a lot!

We hooked up with a local gallery with spare workshop space (thanks Sally!) and set some dates. Luckily we found enough students (that always seems like the wrong word!) and set off on our journey.

We did a lot of planning, a lot of cost analysis to be sure we knew how long and how many classes it would take to repay the investment in tools and glass. And we sweated over the lesson plan and rehearsed, and tested.

The comments we had back after our early sessions encouraged us to carry on. We now run 13 or more sessions a year, some at an intermediate level now that we have students who are keen to progress to making bolder and more ambitious pieces.

As an example of the type of comment that led us to develop our programme, here’s one from an early student:

2009 hasn’t been the best of years for me but I can truly say that this one day was my real highlight. Your passion for the subject really shone through and your professionalism in guiding us in all the task was amazing. I am delighted with the pieces I made.  I suspect my husband actually thought I’d bought them!

And now that our classes are getting fully booked months in advance, we’ve taken the plunge and set up a 5-day workshop in Cornwall too! We must be mad!

So the message here is – if you’ve struggled to make the glass work for you, if you’ve become frustrated at lack of progress, or you want to find out what stained glass is all about before you jump in, get some tuition – for two reasons:

one – you might save a lot of money on tools if you don’t enjoy it!

two (much more likely!) – starting off with someone to show you the basics and to offer constructive feedback might get you totally hooked, like it did for us!

three – knowing someone in the trade, and being able to ask them how they got started, and what they found hardest at the beginning is great background info and reassurance

I’d love to find out how you got started, or even what made you give up.
We might be able to offer some advice!

I’m considering running a tips and tricks column on our stained glass website, or in our monthly newsletters, or on this blog.
I’d like to know if this would be useful to you – leave a comment and let me know.

Happy creating!
Mike

Are you teaching, or sharing?

A lot of artists teach these days – it’s a good way to boost income, and if you’re good at it, it’s very satisfying. Especially if you take absolute beginners and set them off on a life-changing path towards artistic endeavour.

But it occurs to me there are some points to be aware of when considering going into teaching (as we know many of our artist friends are).

Firstly, being good at something doesn’t make you good at teaching it. Being able to show students how you paint ain’t the same as helping them do it. Teaching is a skill.

We find when teaching our stained glass beginner’s class that it’s vital to step out of the comfortable zone of competency that we enjoy: to imagine holding a glass cutter for the first time, feeling the glass score. And students often are frightened of breaking the glass – will it shatter into a million shards?
Will it break, but not according to the design?

After a couple of successful breaks most students begin to trust the cutters and their growing confidence in applying enough pressure along the score. And that moment is a pleasure for us too – it means we’ve got through to the nervous learner. And that’s the point where the sharing takes over from the teaching.

Our hope is that we’ve shared our passion for the subject, and provided the technical skills for students to set off on the journey, like we did 5 or 6 years ago.

Secondly – a good class needs structure and clear objectives.
Where do you start, what’s the end point?
What can you expect your students to realistically achieve in the time?
What can you do to instill the fundamentals and inspire an interest in continuing to develop?

We started out be building a class plan, and it still works. We’ve found ways to improve it, but we sat down and worked out what needed to be covered, and when, and what could be left out in the interests of time, or avoiding complexity. This lesson plan is now so ingrained that we rarely refer to it. But the effort of working it out was vital.

Thirdly – what is a realistic price to charge?
In our case, on top of renting a venue, we had to consider our investment in 6 sets of tools (about £275 per student to begin with, plus ongoing updating and replacements). Over what period do you expect or need to repay this investment?
We also use quite a lot of glass for each session as our students go home with a nice piece to show their family and friends. We have to carefully account for the costs here too.

And how do you value your time? Our rule of thumb is if we could make a piece each in the same time that we’d charge, say, £500 for, we’d expect to make more than the profit on those pieces as the ‘personal time’ element of the class costs.

Are your students coming to you to learn something as a hobby, or as the start of a potential business? The owner of Hertfordshire School of Jewellery (one of our teaching venues) offers intensive sessions for prospective jewellery makers who expect to go into the craft as a business. The structure and costs associated with classes like these is different to ones held for hobbyists.

Next, how do you identify where students are having difficulty and divert attention to help? For me this was the hardest aspect of learning how to teach stained glass.
We now know most of the signs – slow progress is the most obvious.
We look out for this, and step in. Not to do the work ourselves, but to isolate the aspect that’s holding the student up, and work on it. Is it a problem coordinating the meeting of the soldering iron and the solder on the join, for example?

In your environment there will be challenges that some students will struggle to overcome. The more you can prepare for these, the easier it will be to get students back on track.

Finally – creating a stimulating and fun environment.
Most of our students are looking for a fun day, learning something new, away from job, family, or other responsibilities. More and more people are discovering an interest in making things instead of just buying them, and these make up the majority of our students.

How do you ensure they have a good time, learn something, and go home happy?
We aim to create an informal atmosphere; all the students can see what the others are doing, and pick up tips often. We maintain a level of jolly banter, with support and encouragement, but honest appraisal too. We point out where a little more work, or a slightly different approach will yield a better result. We encourage students to critique their own work. We keep the level light at all times.

Above all, we share – our passion, our glasswork experience, and lessons learned about life and business. Many of our students are curious about what it’s like being an artist and we tell them. We also give them an insight into the other skills artists need – business, marketing, publicity, cost-management, how to photograph your own work and so on. This is all part of the sharing package – students go home feeling like they’ve discovered insights beyond the simple mechanical ones related to making stained glass.

What can you offer your students beyond helping them to develop their eye, and gaining technical skills and knowledge?

I’d like to hear how you teach, or what your concerns are if you’re getting in to it.
Do leave me a comment!

You can see details of the stained glass classes we run as Vitreus Art here.