Meet the Glassmaker - Jane Charles
She originally planned to become a ceramicist, but 30 years ago Jane Charles left her Scottish roots to set up a hot glass studio in the North East
How did you get into glass making?
My mum was a potter so for me the natural route was to go and do ceramics. I was given a place to go and do ceramics at a very prestigious college in the 1970s, but when I got there I found the glass department was next door and I thought that was far more exciting. Basically I jumped ship. I tried very hard to not get involved with glass, but I started to find that the more I drew, the more they were looking very glassy. I remember there was a pivotal moment at the end of my second year when I suddenly realised, ‘I’m actually quite serious about this.’
Could you describe the process of glass making?
I work in the traditional method of hot glass, which means that I am working with the glass in its molten state. There’s lots of heat and noise. When I started, I was really interested in outdoor adventure, and in a way I got the same buzz from working with glass. I work in what’s called a glass maker’s chair. So I sit in it, constantly turning the blowing iron, and then I mould it with wet newspaper. I can blow into it to make vessel forms or I can shape it with a series of tools. I’m totally hands-on with the whole process from start to finish.
Why did you decide to set up your own company?
Originally I came from Edinburgh so for me the obvious thing was to go back and set up a studio there. The problem was the cost of setting up a studio extremely high. Newcastle City Council was way ahead at this point and I heard that they were setting up a hot glass studio, which was the first of its kind in the country. I would come down to Newcastle, blow all the blanks and take them all back up to my studio where I would finish them at my leisure. It made me realise that as much as I loved Edinburgh, it wasn’t supporting me as much as the North East was, so I moved to Newcastle.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
It has changed over the years. I was taught to work on paper and then take the design into the studio and produce it. For me I found that was too rigid, because quite often if you have a very set drawing that you are trying to follow, you miss all sorts of exciting things that happen in between. Over the years I have stopped drawing and I write instead. I have a real affinity with water and the sea, so I get a lot of inspiration from the light, colour and textures of the natural world.
How would you describe your designs?
It’s predominately vessel forms: perfume bottle, paperweights, bowls and vases, very organic and tactile. People don’t think of glass as being tactile but it is. People who like colour will like my work. I am constantly looking at new ways of using colour and different colour combinations.
What’s your favourite piece that you’ve designed?
Although I have been making them for a while, I still like my sea forms. I find them challenging to make because they are quite large. It’s funny – you spend years practising the craft of hot glass making, but with the sea forms they go against everything i’ve learned because I have to knock them off centre. After spending all that time getting things right, I now want to make them slightly warped-looking and organic.
What’s the best part about what you do?
I just really enjoy the whole process. It has held my attention for well over 30 years and it’s such an exciting material. I will never be the richest person in the world, but I consider myself to be extraordinarily lucky to be able to work with a material that I love.
If you could go back and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
Be a little less sensitive about my work. In the early days I found it very difficult if somebody didn’t like what I had made. It took me a long time to realise that you would never be in a situation where everybody was going to love your work.
Where would you like to be in five years time?
Very much where I am now. I feel like I’ve got the balance right and I’m pretty much back to working on my own which, surprisingly, I really enjoy. I have had to make some hard decisions over the last few years – I had a gallery in the centre of Newcastle but it didn’t work so I had to make the decision to shut that. Now it’s back to the material again, so I feel more creative I suppose.
Jane Charles Studio Glass
0191 340 7479