Guest Post: Rebecca Milling, RSA artist-in-residence

Guest blog post from Rebecca Milling:

I have been lucky enough to receive funding from the Royal Scottish Academy Residency Scheme, to spend time at North Lands Creative Glass. I am learning the art of scientific glass blowing so that I can make glass sculptures which have required skill to produce before I take photographs which capture the instant of their destruction. My latest series of work has involved building glass structures from off cuts of picture frame glass, in an attempt to build as high as possible without any particular thought or skill attributed to the construction.

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Week 1 – July 2013
I’ve never travelled as far north as Lybster before so the six and a half hour drive up from Edinburgh was filled with excitement and anticipation of what I was going to discover during my first week learning the art of scientific glass blowing. Arriving to find huge and fully equipped workshops with Michael Bullen, an enthusiastic and dedicated technician, I was not disappointed at the mind blowing potential of what could be achieved!

Trying to focus on my original plan, I was very happy to meet my tutor, Ian Pearson, an expert in his field and immediately keen to point out to me that he can make anything out of glass – just say it and he will make it! Ian loves to show off his prowess working in the flame as I looked on wondering what I had let myself in for.

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However, Ian gave me little time to back out and I was turning, spinning and blowing in no time

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Ian was not keen on the large metal hammer in my photographs and so made me a glass one in about 10 minutes proving his point that he really can make anything!

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I was left to my own devices on days 2 and 3 faced with this workbench, many glass spindles and Ian’s instructions hastily scrawled on a notebook the day before.

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I set to work and as you can see came up with these uneven/organic glass forms

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I became fond of them and gradually, especially after another day’s teaching, they became smoother and I started to feel a bit more in control of the limitations of my newfound medium. It also became evident that the scope to play with reflection and distortion in the glass shapes was going to be a key element for future photographs. I returned home with a car full of distorted and wonky glass tubes – some better than others!

During my first week, I also took the opportunity to drive the 30 miles north to John O’Groats one evening and then to the most northerly point in mainland Britain – Dunnet Head. Castletown Harbour was well worth a visit too.

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Week 2 October 2013
Having spent time in the studio back home where I’d been able to experiment with what I had made during my first week, I returned to North Lands with a mission to make as many organic shapes as possible with smooth unridged bubbles to get best effects for reflection and distortion. I had ordered various tube widths and varying wall thicknesses of tubing to try and get different sizes when blowing.

I had asked Ian to leave spindles out for me so that I could get to work immediately. I was also keen to try working with soda tubing as well as pyrex. Soda tubing breaks much more easily than pyrex tubing so I wanted to put this to the test considering that my ultimate intention was to smash my sculpture, it seemed logical to work with the material which would smash most easily and hopefully dramatically.

Ian was a little taken aback at the prospect of working with soda but game as ever and delighting in the inevitable regular explosions which came from working with a more unstable material. I enjoyed working with the soda and liked the extra malleable qualities of it and how it retained its heat for longer.

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It must be noted that when faced with a large metal hammer being thrown at the blown thin walled organic shapes – both pyrex and soda smashed just as well and it was impossible to tell the difference!

I spent 4 days blowing glass and had eventually taken over the workshop with my efforts.

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Ian made me an awful lot of spindles to blow and I also gave him the challenge to blow large and even elongated bubbles so that I could experiment with regular reflection.

A team of happy helpers turned up at the weekend and we set to work first of all in the sheltered courtyard taking photographs against black velvet and also in the garden of the house shooting with the dusk sky as a backdrop.

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Please see www.rebeccamilling.com Reflective Construction to see more of the final images from that week.

I have again come home with a car full of glass and am planning my next adventure to North Lands in 2014.

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