I never considered pursuing a career as an artist, even though I come from an Anglo - Italian family, most of whom are artists or designers. Art was my best subject at school and I won many local and national art competitions. When I came to leave school, I didn't really have a clue about what I wanted to do for a career. Due to the fact I was good at sciences, I ended up studied engineering and embarked on a career in car design and engineering for 15 years. In some ways I had my 'dream job', because I love cars and worked on new product concepts for some of the best brands in the world. However, I always had a strong feeling that this wasn't my path in life and that I should be doing something more creative - but I didn't know what.
I've always been interested in music and enjoyed playing keyboards and guitar for quite a few years. At one stage I considered the idea of working in the music industry as a studio engineer or producer, which would combine my creative skills with my technical skills. But I felt trapped by the status of a good job. I couldn't face the idea of re-training and starting all over again from scratch in a new career, with little or no money to pay the bills.
In 1999, I was introduced to glass making through a friend. I felt really inspired and bought a small test kiln, which I installed in a spare room and started to experiment with, learning the necessary skills from books and information on the Internet. At the time, there were only a few kiln-fused glass artists in the UK and it was a very niche process. It took lots of research to source the necessary tools and materials from various companies based all over the world.
I seemed to have a natural ability to make glass and decided to take a risk and leave my job to set up a glass design business. I realised that there was a huge commercial opportunity to use the process to produce contemporary glass wall tiles, which were not widely available in the UK at the time. Although there were a few raised eyebrows, my decision paid off. Within a year my start up business was booming. I had set up a workshop and was supplying major high street retail chains with my glass tile designs for bathrooms and kitchens.
A few years later, I became interested in art as a result of looking around galleries to find art for my own home. I found it difficult to find things that I liked, so I experimented by making a few pieces myself. My concept was to mount hand made glass tiles onto frames to create contemporary art. Although my first pieces were fairly crude, the reaction was positive and I decided I wanted to pursue it further. I also wanted to make better use of my creative and glass making skills. Designing wall tiles is quite limiting and customers tend to like very simple conservative designs in their bathrooms and kitchens.
By 2005 I had converted an old stable / garage at the back of my house into my own home studio, to enable me to work more flexibly at my own pace and without the pressure of leasing expensive commercial premises. I then spent almost two years developing my creative ideas and testing the reaction with a number of local galleries and art fairs before finally launching my first collection of art in February 2007. The reaction to it so far has been fantastic.
Ideas & Inspirations.
I'm a very visual person and in my everyday life I'm constantly looking at my surroundings and the media to soak up ideas and inspiration. I'm not really interested in traditional painting. For me, the best artwork around today is in the form of adverts, video games and the imagery in music videos. I can spend hours watching music videos on MTV or You Tube. When anything inspires me, I store an image of it on my computer, so that I can go back to it at a later date.
When I was a kid, the first artist I really became aware of was Andy Warhol, through the bands and music I liked at that time such as David Bowie, Lou Reed and Blondie who worked with him. Most of his work was graphical in nature and photography was at the core of his artistic practice. His high contrast silkscreen editions are one of the main influences in my work. From these I learned that if the subject matter is strong, easily recognisable and iconic in nature, it can be reproduced in a simplistic way with just a couple of colours. This is relevant to what I do, because I produce very graphic artwork that I can reproduce in glass. Another artist from New York who has inspired me in the past few years is Joshua Davis, who pioneered the use of digital filters and computer code to randomly generate artwork.
Although I have experimented with other genres, cityscapes and architecture seem to have popular appeal, because people connect to it, through their own affinity with the various cities and buildings. Also, because glass is an architectural material, it seems to fit with the architectural subject matter. However, one of the exciting things about being an artist is that you never know what you might do next; so although I love what I'm doing right now, I know that I might come up with something completely different in the future!
From Palette to Picture.
I work in a very different way to most other artists, who draw or paint a picture and then publish an edition from the original. I produce every single number in my editions by hand in my studio, so every piece is a 'limited edition original' by the artist.
I'm self-taught, which gives me the edge, because I don't have any pre-conceived ideas about what is possible and I bring different ideas to the mix from outside the world of art and glass making. My attitude is 'do whatever it takes to achieve the end result'. I combine many completely different artistic disciplines together including photography, digital art, stenciling, ceramics and fused glass to achieve the end result. I'm definitely a 'jack of all trades' and although I'm not the best photographer, digital artist or glass maker in the world, when I combine all my different skills together, I like to think that I create something truly unique!
The starting point is to select a photo to work from. The most fun part of my work is going on a photography trips to take photos of the subject matter. I very occasionally work from a stock photo, but I get better results when I work from my own photos, because I can take dozens from all different perspectives to get the exact composition I'm looking for.
I then work from the photos to produce the artwork on my computer, building the final image up in individual layers of color, so that I can then create elaborate stencils for each layer to reproduce the artwork in glass. Working on computer enables me to produce stencils with a level of complexity that would be impossible by hand. You would not immediately guess that my work is stenciled when you see the final piece. The stencil stage is very time consuming and I like to print the artwork out and 'sit on it' for a few weeks to make sure I'm happy, before cutting out stencils by hand, which takes about a week for a single image!
The glass panels are made by painstakingly hand stenciling the several different layers of colour between a sandwich of two layers of glass. It is then fired in a kiln at over 1000 degrees farenheight, to form a single piece of glass. The image is then 'inside' the glass. The colours are created from special glazes I have developed myself (similar concept to pottery glazes) by combining various glass and metal compounds together to create a particular colour. It has taken years of experimentation and experience to produce the colour palette.
Random air bubbles form inside the glass during firing, emphasising the liquid and tactile nature of glass. This also means that no two pieces in the edition are ever identical. The firing process takes over 24 hours and when the glass is cooled down, the finished pieces are expertly finished off and engraved with my signature before bonding them onto specially designed frames to hang on the wall.
A day in the Life of...
I don't really have a typical day, because there are so many facets to what I do. As well as being an artist and producing the editions myself, a lot of my time is taken up with many peripheral tasks and business activities such as maintaining the kilns and workshop, ordering stock of tools and materials from around 15 different suppliers, computer maintenance, dispatching my work, designing and programming the website, promoting my work through galleries and exhibitions as well as numerous other admin tasks. In short, I rarely have much 'spare time'. Luckily I have a very supportive family who live near by, who help me out when the going gets really tough!
If I'm not out and about promoting work or doing photography, a typical day is: Get up about 9.00 in the morning (I'm not a morning person) After a large cooked breakfast and six cups of coffee, I'm almost feeling human again and ready to tackle the days work. I like to spend what is left of the morning, sorting out all my admin things such as post, bills, e-mails, orders, invoices and make phone calls etc. I find it hard to be creative and artistic, knowing that I have all those things sitting on my desk! I might also go out and get food from the supermarket, which leaves the afternoon and early evening to work without any interruptions. With glass, you need to have a few solid hours uninterrupted time to complete the work ready for the firing phase.
Whilst I'm working, I always listen to music or the radio. The hours pass very quickly. When I'm producing the editions, the work requires a great deal of patience and accuracy. I find I'm able to relax and 'switch off' whilst I'm doing it. However, it is quite physically intense work with your hands, so I have to take lots of short breaks to avoid injury.
By about 7.00 in the evening I'm feeling much livelier, and after I've finished up working, I like to either go out socialising or visit the gym for a workout. Because I work on my own for most of the day, the last thing I want to do, is stay in and watch TV. Sometimes, I find myself buzzing and being my most creative very late at night. It's not unusual for me to get back home late and spend hours on my computer working on new ideas or getting inspiration from surfing the net. If I'm producing glass, I start the firing cycle at night to get the cheap electricity rate. (I have very large electricity bills!)
My long-term work pattern has 3 phases: Developing new artwork, producing the editions and then promoting the work. I try to take one day at a time and concentrate on whatever the immediate priority is. It is very hard work having to switch between so many different activities. For example, I sometimes forget how to do certain things on my graphic software, if I haven't used it for a few months.
Although it's the hardest job I've ever done, it suits my personality and gives me a varied and fulfilling lifestyle. It took a very long time for me to discover my creative potential. However, looking back I think my previous careers gave me most of the skills I needed to do what I do now.