Surviving as a glass artist

 1 April 2011

Jen Davies is part of the Creative Glass Guild in Bristol. She spoke to Choices about her work as a glass artist, and how a creative business can survive in tough times.

"I've been a glass artist for the last 12 years. I did a degree in stained glass at the Swansea Institute of Architectural Stained Glass, an internationally renowned art school. The glass school there has been around for hundreds of years.

"I've done a lot of commissions for the last five or six years - whether they be in churches or private houses. I moved to Bristol five years ago and I've been working in the studio here, doing a lot of teaching and part-time work in the shop."

Building a creative business

"Material costs are more expensive. All materials are brought in from abroad, as Britain no longer has its glass trade."

"Creative Glass Guild themselves set up in 1979. They were a small design studio working on terrariums and windows.

"That developed into having a small-scale business of supplies on the side. A lot of local artists and hobbyists were looking for somewhere to buy things and that's how it started.

"A lot of people are doing it on a hobbyist basis, so just doing it for fun. Even though we're in a climate of people saying that they're tightening their belts, we haven't seen that here. The hobbyist side is really buoyant at the moment.

"We get people in for the courses, and that generates shop business. So our supplies are definitely the forefront of our business at the moment. The commissions and the courses are secondary to that, but they all link in together. Effectively, they're all supporting each other."

Challenges for glass artists

"It's not the easiest time at the momentfor glass artists. Material costs are more expensive - all materials are brought in from abroad, as Britain no longer has its glass trade. The costs of having to import things can't be absorbed by a small place like us. That's having to be transferred to the customer themselves.

"Tradespeople are finding that lead prices have gone through the roof lately, and that has a knock-on effect. They're having to control the costs and make sure they have profits from their work.

"Being a tradesperson, you are having to put your heart and soul into these things. If you're not actually getting any money after the cost of the materials, it's not worth doing."

How to succeed in a tough climate for crafts

"I think some artists have been struggling. You really have to push yourself.

"Even though people are tightening their belts, the hobbyist side is really buoyant at the moment."

"Go out to craft fairs, do the arts trails. Bristol is a great place for that, there's South Bank, there's Art on the Hill. They're all great ways of promoting yourself as an artist.

"Being a singular artist myself, I go to all these fairs, I do all these art trails. It's the best way of getting myself out. I also promote Creative Glass Guild because I'm an employee here as well. So it makes for the best of both worlds."

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