Architectural glass business

 29 July 2011

Lauren Sagar is a practising glass artist. She spoke about the various projects, insights and experiences of her creative business Sagar and Campbell.

Cellist Li Lu played the ''Summer House' glass project for the Manchester Royal Infirmary.
Cellist Li Lu played the ''Summer House' glass project for the Manchester Royal Infirmary.

Glass art has a long history. Glass art of the past is often awe-inspiring, encapsulating enormously impressive feats of imagination and engineering. In its modern application, architectural glass retains its important as a building material.

Becoming a glass artist

"Our success comes through winning public commissions rather than being part of the gallery network."

Like many artists, Lauren considers her work to be far more than just a job.

“Being an artist always sat there in my heart since I can remember. It was like whatever I did in my life it would involve creativity in some form; it is who I am.

“When I discovered glass as a material it just captured my creative imagination: the colour, the play with light, the feel of it.”

But things could have been very different for Lauren. During her time in education she received little encouragement or useful career advice. Luckily, chance intervened:

“Having abandoned art after school due to unimaginative and unambitious school guidance (‘you should train as a secretary…’), I taught in adult education for a while.

"In my 20s an old friend was leaving the country and offered me her stained glass equipment. On the way to the airport she spent an hour with me passing on her skills. I was hooked.”

Turning a passion into a creative career

Beginning by teaching herself, Lauren began to train in a more formal context. She later set up her own working environment to further develop her practice and experience.

“I was taken on as an apprentice stained glass artist and found that I was a natural. Later, I got together with a painter friend and we set up a studio making bespoke furniture that was painted and had stained glass in it – original and new to the market. We did trade shows and went to shops to sell our wares.”

As Lauren’s career progressed, she found opportunities to take her art in new directions.

“I had a few valuable opportunities come my way. I found that I had a natural ability and enthusiasm for facilitation. I could assist groups to meet their creative potential. The combination of glass work and group facilitation through creativity has since been an important and common thread in my career.”

Finding work for a creative business

"Money has become short, competition tight and expectations unrealistic. Most artists are self-employed and are expected to carry out a lot of work unpaid.”

An important consideration for an artist is how his or her work fits into a broader context. This is especially important for Lauren, as her work has become increasingly public and increasingly reliant on her ability to accurately position its relevance.

“We see our practice as part of an increasing number of artists whose success comes through winning public commissions rather than being part of the gallery network.

“Our work is usually site-specific and driven by a process of engagement and collaboration, often incorporating elements that involve interaction with the community or audience.”

Public commissions can present problems. Lauren suggests that having your future closely bound up with the broader political and economic climate can have its drawbacks.

“Carrying out projects for private or public organizations can be hard. In the last year money has become short, competition tight and expectations of artists’ input unrealistic. Most artists are self-employed and are expected to carry out a lot of work unpaid.”

The challenges of a creative business

The financial pressures of Lauren’s work can considerable, not least because of the time-consuming and unknowable nature of the bidding process.

“One of the primary ways to find work currently is by bidding for tenders and competitions. This is a very lengthy process; typically you can spend 2 or 3 weeks preparing a bid in your own time. Because the choice of artwork is inevitably subjective it is almost impossible to know how to pitch an application.”

Despite these challenges, passion, drive and a belief in the value of her art continues to sustain Lauren.

“I love what I do. I met a complete stranger who works in an area where there is one of our public art works. On discovering that we had done this work he said, ‘I love that, it makes me smile every day!’”


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