On Trying Something New…

What are you like when it comes to trying new things? I don’t mean things like a new brand of ice cream, or a marmite-flavoured vodka but things like experiences, or a new hobby. 

For me, I’m pretty bad at it; I mean bad at actually making myself do it. When I was looking for a new hobby (glass fusing – which it was at the time), it took me months to summon the courage to book onto a course. I even sent Rich on a course first, just to try it out. I figured that if he couldn’t do it, he wouldn’t lose sleep over it and I certainly wouldn’t. That’s me, you see. Endlessly brave…

It’s called ‘perfectionism’ and it’s fair to say that it’s taken up far too much of my life. So many times, I have wanted to try something but haven’t because ‘I know I’ll be shit at it’. 

This is a crazy thing to think because really, who is good at something the first-time round? You can’t tell me that Usain Bolt shot out his mother’s womb so fast that he thought to himself ‘there’s something in this – I can move REALLY quickly’. Or that Edison literally had a lightbulb moment during a nappy change. 

It’s not the trying, it’s the humiliation…

Clearly, being really good at something, takes time and practice. So, I’ve asked myself why I expect to be good at something, immediately. I’ve thought long and hard about it and ultimately, I don’t think I’m scared of failing, but I AM scared of being humiliated. You see, in my world, I think it’s OK to try something and not be brilliant, but it’s not OK to try something and be really fucking terrible. Like, the worst attempt from anyone, ever, that’s tried that thing. That’s humiliating. 

I’ve realised that humiliation is one of the things I am most afraid of in life. It’s an emotion that feels the most uncomfortable and at the time, the most devastating. I remember one hideous moment taking part in an inter-school gym competition. I was average at gym, but well below-average at vaulting. When it came to my turn, I jumped on the springboard, tripped over the box and landed on my face the other side. I recall the hushed sounds and my gym teacher standing over me, ordering me to get up. I remember being face down and thinking I would rather die through suffocation on that mat than ever show my face again. Total humiliation. At an age when even walking into a room is humiliating. 

Be wary of the Red Shoes

Another time, I recall finding a beautiful pair of shoes when I was about 13. They were in the sale for a ridiculous price, so I snapped them up. I soon realised why they were in the sale because you couldn’t stand upright in them. The soles were so slippery that even walking on a piece of Velcro would have had me unwittingly auditioning for Ski Sunday. But they were bloody lovely. The brightest red. With a bow on the front. So, I wore them. And walked gingerly. 

One winter evening, I was meeting some friends. I would be literally getting out of my dad’s car, and walking to the front door of the village hall. With such a short distance, surely I could manage that in my Ski Sunday shoes? On arrival, I saw my other friend turn up in her dad’s car. I got out and walked over. I slipped and fell. She hadn’t noticed until she looked up and saw my hand grabbing onto the bonnet of their car and me hauling myself up, only to not get purchase in my shoes, like a cartoon mouse, and fall again. Her and her dad laughed like drains. She was still laughing 3 hours later when he came to pick her up again. The shoes went in the fucking bin. 

OK, I wasn’t trying anything new in those shoes. I could, after all, already walk. But the humiliation has stayed with me and it’s the possibility of feeling that intense shame again which threatens me when trying new things.

The Impressive Adult… 

About 18 months ago, I bought a glass course on a technique which has always intrigued me. It’s been in my inbox ever since because I’ve been too damn scared to try it. It’s technically advanced, but what worries me most is that it’s…arty. I cannot draw. I cannot paint. This course involves both. What a dick. 

I’ll not lie, I’ve been keener to clean out my cat’s litter tray than to begin this course and that’s never a joy. 

But, I’ve started. 

Wow. See, it’s never too late to become an impressive adult…

The first piece went in the kiln on Friday and came out two days later. It’s okay. Needs work, but it’s okay. It’s not exactly a Usain Bolt moment, but I’ll get there. I thought about putting a picture of it here for about, ooh, 3 milliseconds. 

But I’d rather be flat on my face on a gym mat. 

The One where I Dare to Dream

Apparently, in business, you’re advised to continue to write newsletters, blogs, and post on social media throughout January. I understand this, but understanding it, does not make it any easier to do. 

Believe it or not, I’m now going to write a blog, which I want you to read, on the subject of having nothing to report. Bear with me…

January…again

I don’t like doing much in January. It’s a time of recovering from the excesses of December, and the realisation that it’s bastard January again. I cut myself some slack because even plants can’t be bothered in January, and they have just one job. 

However, I accept that I must crank this old bird into first gear, and move off into 2024 with the caution that comes with starting a 1975 Mini after it’s been parked out in the rain for a couple of weeks. (As an aside, my first car was a 1975 mini. Old minis were notorious for breaking down in the rain because the distributor cap was right behind the grill. When it rained, the electrics got wet. In those days, I carried a can of WD40 around with me like a rancid bottle of Chanel No.5.) 

I know, I’ll do a workshop!

With this in mind, I decided to attend a ‘Vision Board’ workshop, with six brilliant and funny women. What’s a ‘Vision Board Workshop’? Well, you create a vision for your year ahead and, well, put it on a board.

I arrived at the venue (the most beautiful house) and on parking my car, was greeted by two black cats. I instantly thought ‘well, this is a Sign’! But then I realised you can’t really interpret animals as a ‘sign’, when you are visiting a place where they actually live. It’s a bit like visiting the bat enclosure at Edinburgh Zoo and declaring it a sign that your chosen career into witchcraft must be right because you’re practically inhaling bats. 

Where I practice signing my name

Anyway, at the start of the morning, we were going through some journal exercises to get us into the right frame of mind for vision board creation. They were thought-provoking questions but one of them stumped me:

‘What three things did you achieve last year which you are most proud of?’

All around me, I could hear the furious scratching of pens on paper whilst the six other super-beings wrote down all they were proud of. I, meanwhile, could not think of one. Single. Thing. I wrote my name a few times in my notebook, to make it look like I had something to write, then closed it quickly. I mean, I didn’t want the others to think I was some sort of idiot.

After lunch, it was time to get creative and put our boards together. We had piles of magazines to go through to cut out pictures, words or phrases which inspired us or meant something to our year ahead. Most magazines have eye-catching words in order to get you to read the articles within however, the first page I opened contained an advert for a Stannah stair lift…

Out ratting by the light of the silvery moon

So there I was, literally cutting and pasting. Words and phrases such as ‘getting older is liberating’, ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’, ‘storytelling’ and ‘whippet’ found their way onto my board in a wave of optimism and future manifesting. All the while, the conversations and witticisms of my fellow cut and pasters provided the soundtrack (the horse who thinks he’s a ‘fucking rhino’ and the descriptions of the two ‘Shitland’ Ponies; along with the phrase ‘oh yeah, chickens are bastards’; and the tale of rat brought in by one lady’s cat in the middle of the night, resulting in her carrying the then bag-wrapped rat, by the light of the silvery moon on the winter solstice, in her pyjamas to release it.)  

It was a fabulous day, spent with fabulous women. Our awesome hostess fed and watered us with tasty home-cooked food, cake and a heavy dollop of encouragement.

I’ll put this out there now: I’ve never been one for Vision Boards. I’ve always thought them a bit too ‘woo’ for me. However, I now think that I shouldn’t really write something off without actually trying it. I’m glad I did. Dreaming for a day was fun and if just some of the stuff on my board comes into being, well then, I’m happy. Particularly if it’s being able to fly a broomstick – I’ve never been able to master that.

Photo showing my vision board
My Vision Board

2023…Close the Door on your Way Out

THIS YEAR has been pretty shit…how we can all help small businesses

I know, I know. The year hasn’t ended yet but I feel I can safely say that 2023 so far has been pretty dire for the majority of small businesses. And, to be perfectly honest, although the year is not yet at its end, I can’t see any glimmer of something spectacular in the few short weeks remaining. 

However, I am not a monster. I know this year has been pretty awful for ordinary people, not solely those running a business. Let’s face it, just trying to pay for 3 ½ minutes of electricity is on a par with your mortgage or rent. I am an ordinary person, too. I understand. The only living thing which eats like a fucking lord in this house is the cat. 

Despite this, I am a small business and this is a small business website so I am going to discuss in this blog why we need to worry about…small businesses.

Will the last person to leave, switch off the lights… 

It was at this point in the blog where I was going to impress you with statistics about how many businesses have closed in 2023. However, on searching the internet, I realised I needed a) more time to find this out and b) more intelligence than I have to decipher all the charts and graphs. Therefore, you will just have to humour me when I tell you that lots and lots of businesses have shut up shop this year. The ones I know of have all cited the cost of electricity, but let’s face it, it’s increases in fucking everything. Except air.  And I wonder how long that will remain free. 

If 2023 was a flower arrangement…

Quirky Shops and Craft Beer

So this is sad for businesses. But why should you care? I mean, you can still get what you want, can’t you?

This is why: small businesses give you something different. Think of all the times you have visited a quaint little town in the UK or abroad and what did you like about it? Chances are, it’s all the little quirky shops there are, selling things you don’t normally find. Or, when you go to a pub, how often do you try the craft beers made by small breweries? I don’t think anyone ever, would be heard saying ‘Barman, I don’t want any of that craft ale shit with all its depth of flavour and uniqueness; give me a nice pint of John Smith’s.’

In short, at the very least, small businesses give you something different. And in this day and age where the internet and social media is saturated with…well, people, don’t you want to have something different? Something not everybody else has? Small businesses give you that.

They also give to the local economy. A successful small business will spend its money locally, keeping other small businesses in 3 ½ minutes of electricity.

And another thing? Without small businesses, there will be fewer jobs. The more of them that close, the more people are looking for employment elsewhere. What happens with fewer jobs? Less money being made to spend in the economy. 

I’m not perfect…there’s a surprise

Listen, I am not saying you should never spend your money with big firms. Let’s face it, we don’t have a lot of choice when it comes to things such as…electricity. Also, businesses like Amazon are cheap and convenient. As much as I hate contributing to Jeff Bezo’s rocket fuel, I still do. I am trying to curb this but what I’m saying is that I do it too. 

So what’s the solution to this? As I’ve said earlier, it’s shit out there. Some people really are in the situation of having to choose to eat in the cold or not eat and be warm. Others are just worried and are spending less to feel a bit more in control of a world which is consistently showing itself to be anything but controllable. But there are still things you can do to support small businesses.

How we can all help small businesses

  1. Social media: comment and share business posts. Even if it’s just to say ‘I love this’, or ‘I saw you in town the other day and I have to say, you look really quite shocking in black’ (don’t say that – that’s cruel). Don’t have time to comment? Click the heart/laugh/wow emoji. This all helps with the dreaded and really fucking annoying social media algorithms.
  2. Leave a review. If you have shopped or used a business, no matter how big or small your purchase, leave a review. You can do this on Facebook (if they use it, otherwise that would be weird), Google, TripAdvisor or Trust Pilot. It may take you 5 minutes but it will make so much difference to the business you are leaving it for. Just do it in the daylight to avoid the cost of putting the lights on when it’s dark.
  3. Sign up to email lists. Showing an interest in a business by signing up to receive their newsletters can really help. If you read them too, that’s even better. How? Well if a business has lots of sign-ups, it gives them a boost; a bit of hope. And, if emails are opened and read, that also helps the mood of the person who has written them as it makes the sender feel they are at least being listened to. Obviously, it needs to be a business you are interested in; there would be little point in Suella Braverman signing up to receive information from a tent supplier for example.
  4. Visit fairs and exhibitions. I know there is this feeling that you are ‘expected’ to buy something. I used to feel like that, too before I started fusing glass. But, like with the newsletter, showing an interest is just as lovely. Your interest, even without parting with money is hugely valuable and greatly appreciated. 
  5. Buy a card. We all send a card occasionally. Consider sending one you have bought from a small business. The added bonus of that is the recipient will be hugely thankful that you have considered them enough to buy a card which isn’t the same old shite with the same old jokes WHSmiths have been selling for the last 35 years. 
  6. Spread the word. If you know of someone who would benefit from a small business you like, let them know. 
  7. Pick up a business card. If you are the sort of person I mention in (4) above and the thought of not buying anything makes you cringe, then here’s a tip: pick up a business card. That way, you have shown an interest. And, if you do have a friend who you think would benefit, pass on the business card to them. Easy. 

So, there are just 7 small ways you can help independent business in the shiteness that is Brexit Britain in 2023. Hopefully 2024 will be a little less bastard-ish and who knows, maybe you’ll be able to buy 5 minutes of electricity for the same price as your mortgage. How’s that for optimism?

On Selling…

On Selling

It is said that nobody can buy from you if they don’t know you exist. I like this phrase because you don’t need a degree in English to understand it. It’s not ‘psychobabble’. It’s a sentence that even in these divisive times, literally nobody can argue with.

I make things. I want to sell the things I make. So why do I find it SO hard to sell? You know what I’m talking about: having to put yourself out there. Having to present yourself to the world, whether online or otherwise, and say ‘this is what I do.’ Leaving yourself open to criticism.

The Master at Work

But it’s so…excruciating! Anyone who knows me will tell you that I’m not good at sales. In fact, I’m bloody terrible. Here’s an example: at a show a few years ago, a man was studying a piece on my stall with real interest. He walked away only to return 10 minutes later. He studied it again. And walked away. The third time he came back, he pointed at it and said ‘I’ll take that, please.’ And I said:

‘Are you sure’?

Let that sink in. I uttered those words ‘are you sure?’ I mean, what the actual fuck?

‘Are you sure?’

Honest to God, I bet there isn’t anyone else you know in the world, that would have said such a thing. It doesn’t stop there, though. You haven’t heard the apologetic tone in my voice when someone asks me the price of something. “It’s £95”, I say, in the same tone your doctor tells you ‘it’s your age, I’m afraid.’

Why? Why aren’t I saying ‘it’s £95 and that’s the best £95 you’ll ever spend. All your friends will bow down to your superior taste in art and you will be forever known as a guru in interior design.’?  

The Master Online 

This doesn’t just apply in person of course. I put out social media posts showing a piece I have made. I might make a joke or two about how it’s come into being or the stress I encountered on making it. However, on coming to the part in the post which most people want to know …I can’t do it! IT’S LIKE MY POST IS WRITTEN IN CAPITALS UNTIL it gets to the bit where I tell people it’s £95.

It goes against every single cell in my body to say that I’ve made something beautiful and that I’m proud of it. Yet this is what marketing is: it’s telling everyone how great you are. It doesn’t bother me when other sellers do this because I want to know how great their product or service is, and yet, there is nothing I struggle with more in business.

There is also the issue of networking, or telling people what I do. I say ‘I’m BecciandIownandrunBlackCatGlassDesigns’ so quickly and so quietly that I hope they’ll just fear their hearing is going and are too embarrassed to ask me to repeat myself.

Me and the God Complex

So why is this? I honestly do not know. I am not ashamed of what I do; it’s not as if I pull the wings off ladybirds for a living. It’s obviously a confidence thing but I also think it’s part of my character that’s completely resistant to change. I find that if I dare to think I may be good at what I do, some lightning-bolt of shite will immediately deposit itself on my doorstep, clearly meant to send the message ‘THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU HAVE A GOD COMPLEX’

Maybe I’m just in the wrong job. Perhaps I should have been a librarian or an usher, scooting about in the dark – which is all well and good until I have sell ice-creams, even to those who actually want an ice-cream. 

Anyway, on that note, I’ve made this. It’s £150 and it’ll be the best £150 you’ll ever spent. All your friends will bow down to your superior taste in art and you will forever be known as the guru in interior design…

pink matte glass bowl

New Year, Same Old Me: Why I hate January

The other day, a fellow craftsmen sent me a message which said ‘how’s life and all that shit?’ Fair question, I thought. ‘Fine’, I replied, ‘considering it’s still fucking January.’ This got me to thinking: what is it about January which is just so awful? 

The Theory of Time

When you get older, if you are anything like me, you lament at the rapid speed at which time travels. It seems, with increasing age, comes increasing speed, though not in a useful sense, like faster brain processing in calculating your VAT, or the ability to outrun a rabbit on your morning dog walk. But the increasing speed in which time goes by. You wake up one day and it’s April 24th. You run a few errands, hoover the floor and suddenly it’s October 3rd. That sort of thing. 

Except January. 

January passes at a glacial rate, and a glacial rate before global warming at that. Every day lasts an eternity, which is ironic as January comprises most of the shortest days of the whole year. And the dark of a January morning! The dark morning mocks me with its faceless, all-encompassing presence. And as much as I like rain, if it’s raining on a January morning and I have to get up, I am Sin itself. Satan is just one in a whole box of puppies in comparison. 

An intelligent race? Really?

As an apparently intelligent race, what, therefore, do we do in January? We decide to do Dry January and to give up sugar and chocolate; to go on a massive health kick, even if we haven’t so much as lifted more than a hot coffee the previous year. We decide to completely reinvent ourselves into something SO much better than we ever were before. Yes, we opt to make the direst month of the year EVEN WORSE by not drinking, not eating sugar and trying to run 10k before eating breakfast, (which can consist of anything, provided it’s not carbs). 

It seems utterly bizarre to me that we would do this to ourselves. And I’m as much guilty of this as anyone else (apart from the running. I won’t run, ever. Chased by a bear? Fuck it – it can have me). I get through that mindless period between Christmas and New Year by promising myself a better ‘me’. A better life. What’s worse is at that time, I really believe it. Despite 40-odd years of repeating this behaviour, I still think that this new year will be the one! I feel almost dizzy with the optimism (I am not used to optimism, therefore when I feel it, it’s extreme and comes with dizziness).

Promises, promises

This optimism shows itself in my behaviour by my deciding not to go through my wardrobe and chuck out what I don’t wear. Come the New Year, I will lose so much weight, said item will look fabulous on the snake-hipped, new me. I look at holidays online because when I relaunch, I will consequently become so successful, a yacht holiday is entirely plausible. And as I eat the last Christmas chocolate, I look at the wrapper disdainfully as if to say ‘that’s that, you little shit – come the New Year, you won’t tempt me with your sugar rush anymore because…well, ‘new me’’. 

Of course, inevitably, ‘new me’ doesn’t arrive. ‘New me’ just becomes a more pissed off version of ‘old me’, because now I have failure to add to my persona. 

The Wisdom of Dormice

Listen, all I want to do in January is stay in and hibernate. Like a massive dormouse. (As a completely unrelated aside, that reminds me of a time when a gloriously funny friend of mine who I worked with, said of a short colleague ‘I don’t know if Gary is just short or a really fucking massive Borrower.’) 

I don’t want to go out. I don’t want to socialise. The only time I’m creative in January is in finding vastly outlandish reasons for staying in bed in the morning (“I can’t get up because I had a dream whereby I’d die if I get up before noon and I don’t want to tempt fate”) or for not going for a walk (“my walking socks are in the wash and they take five WHOLE DAYS to dry as they can only be dried by the breath of a fledgling wren”).

As I write this, it’s still January. It’s also at this stage of an essay whereby the writer comes up with a really positive outlook to counteract the essay’s earlier negativity. I’m not going to do that. It’s January. I hate it. 

SEPTEMBER TRAVELS WITH THE FAT HAMSTER

September was exhausting (I appreciate it is now nearly November, but it’s taken me that long to recover!) Some of it was fun, some of it wasn’t. What wasn’t? Well,

  • Chasing my tail – mostly my fault for not being organised
  • Driving behind tractors – always a joy…
  • Being sleep-deprived by a kitten with the shits
  • Noticing my uncanny resemblance to a fat hamster (followers of my Facebook page will be well aware of this discovery!)

But let’s not dwell on that! Let’s talk about what was fun.

I spent a lovely day in Oxford with my friends, Carolyn of Freedom Yoga and Relaxation, and Chris of Chris Lewis Jewellery Design. I’m not going to dress it up in business-speak because it was a jolly. Pure and simple. 

Getting Lost

Chris is driving. She ‘uses’ a satnav but doesn’t listen to it. She also has no sense of direction. As a result, what should have been a straight drive down the A40 became a meander along straw-thin roads OFF the A40, dodging hedges and cyclists, and passing the same pub three times. The destination was one of the 5 park and rides around Oxford. Even with Chris driving, we figured we should manage to find one of them.

Park and Ride

After parking, we find the payment machines. There are 4 of them but what we don’t realise until too late is we’ve paid at the ‘family’ ticket machine: £6.80 for two adults and three children. In our defence, this was really badly explained (i.e not at all), by the completely wank signage. 

The bus driver did not buy into the argument that I took up fewer seats than 3 kids and therefore we had to pay a further £4.30 on the bus. A total of £11.10 for 3 adults to get on a bloody bus. They didn’t even serve drinks. 

As the bus drove off, Chris and I had this conversation:

Chris: we don’t have to worry about finding the car when we get back as I’ve taken a photo of it.

Me: you’ve taken a photo of the car?

Chris: yes!

Me: the car, and nothing else?

Chris: yes

I realise I have a whole day of this…

The Boat Trip

On arrival, we decide we want a trip down the river. Carolyn and Chris fancy taking a rowing boat. I refuse on the grounds that Chris has fallen off a chair in my presence, and torn a ligament walking along a flat, carpeted floor IN HER OWN HOUSE. I was not getting in a rowing boat with Chris Lewis. 

We go for a captained boat. We envisaged a gentle trip, on deck in the sun. The reality was somewhat different. The open-air seats on the boat were taken so we had to sit undercover in the back, with the engine, which was so loud, we couldn’t hear the Captain’s talk about our surroundings. ‘This is not what I had in mind’, shouted Chris as we chugged down the river. Carolyn, always a calming influence, is serene and enjoying the moment as only a true yogi can. 

Chris and I, tired of the noise, squeeze into the front of the boat – it’s not comfortable, but it is quiet (at least when Chris stops talking)

The Fish Restaurant

After the boat trip, we walked for 40 minutes to get to our restaurant of choice. On arrival, we were sat behind a large table of adults and children. They were drinking Moet and eating lobster. They also did a runner, leaving the waitress almost in tears. Bunch of arseholes. Clearly there was no intention to pay. They just thought they’d have lobster and champagne and then run off down a dark alley. And to think they had children – what an example to set. 

If I was a witch (which contrary to popular belief, I’m not), I’d’ve laid a curse on them. A curse in which they turned into lobsters and had to spend the rest of their lives being not particularly dextrous with their very large claws, and destined to sit on a pack of ice, half alive in a supermarket. 

I digress…

Cheesecake

It was unanimously decided to seek out dessert. Chris had to have cheesecake. Carolyn suggested we went to the beautiful café we passed on the way to the restaurant. We got there. No cheesecake. 

We googled ‘best cheesecake in Oxford’. It came up with a place and (oh God), Chris set up the satnav on her phone. In twenty minutes, we find the place and walk in. ‘Got any cheesecake?’, says Chris. ‘No’, says the bored, monosyllabic guy behind a sea of pastries. 

Cocktails

However, there is a cocktail bar, very close by. ‘Happy Hour, 4-9pm’ it gleefully states on a chalkboard outside (surely that’s happy hourS?) Several cocktails later, basking in the warm glow of the effects of alcohol (well, Carolyn and I were as Chris was driving) and we are ready for more food. Chris fancies sushi. 

Cocktails!

Sushi: In Rapid-Time

The restaurant can’t really fit us in but doesn’t want to turn us away. The waiter, as if welcoming Poundland customers to a Harrod’s private viewing tells us ‘ you need to be gone by 8pm’. That gave us 55 minutes. This worried me as I’m a slow eater. I chose poorly by going for a ramen, which whilst delicious, cannot be eaten quickly with a pair of chopsticks and a small ladle. 

The Pudding Place

At this point, the plan is to return to the very expensive bus but Carolyn spots a dessert place! The inside of the Pudding Place is totally pink, the walls emulsioned with Pepto Bismal. It’s like walking into a candy floss party at Barbie’s, held in a giant blancmange. But, there is CHEESECAKE!

Having waited six hours to get cheesecake, it is disappointingly bad. Chris prods it with her fork, and declares it ‘fucking awful’. To be fair, the cheesecake was terrible – it was still partly frozen for one thing. If you aren’t going to make your own cheesecake to sell, at least make sure it’s defrosted, otherwise, what is your speciality? On leaving the Pepto Palace, Chris goes up to the guy behind the counter and tells him the cheesecake was shit. The moral of this story? Don’t piss off a jeweller who has built up an appetite for cheesecake over the course of 6 hours.

Hometime

We found the car because Chris had taken a photo of it…(we found the car because it was the only one left in the car park). Luckily, Carolyn takes on the role of navigator so we get home on a straight road, in one piece, only passing the pub once. 

A good day …

…except for the cheesecake.

How NOT to Prepare for Art and Craft Fairs

Picture of sandblasted stock items piling up for a craft fair
A huge amount of stuff having been sandblasted – in a tiny room, hot as hell…

At the end of last year, I really looked forward to the four whole months I had to prepare for the art and craft fair season, which was starting in May. I could see the endless days of working in my nice, warm studio, drifting in a cloud of serenity, not under any pressure, just creating. 

Guess what? It hasn’t quite worked out how I planned. Why? Because I am a terrible procrastinator. I am not kidding when I say tell you that I bought a course on how to stop procrastinating and, well, I’ve not done it.

Here’s a snapshot of the last 4 months:

January: 4 months until craft season

There was the taster weekend, which to be fair, was a lot of work. I’m not complaining at all as it was great, (you can read about it here*) but it did take up much more time than I anticipated. I was also nervous about it and being nervous does not make me very creative. ‘I’ll start building stock when that’s done’, I said to myself. 

February: 3 months until craft season

Craft taster weekend, done. I start to make some pieces. But I also do an online course with an international glass artist so I need to start working on that technique. It can’t put it to one side to do later because part of the course is to upload the piece you’ve done so it can be assessed. This is a brilliant way to do a course, but it does mean that I’m not making art exhibition stock because I’m concentrating on this new technique. I just tell myself it’s only February and we all know how long winter lasts.

Fused glass bowl in a new technique, ready for art and craft fair.
The piece in the new technique: Firework – from start to finish

Early March: 2 months until craft season

Slight panic felt in my tummy. But we’ve still got weeks to go before the first craft fair so I can easily push that to one side. To make myself feel better, I draw up a plan to work to: what pieces do I need, and what is going in the kiln and when. This of course, is a form of procrastination but I kid myself I’ve done a really useful thing. And go and sit down and do a sudoku. 

Mid-March to April

Full-on panic-mode. I now know exactly what I’m doing. But wait a minute – what the hell is that hissing noise? It’s my sandblaster – having a meltdown – clearly it wanted a serene four months, too. Rich decides he will try and fix it and does some online research. Sadly, because we don’t know what is wrong with it, he has to finally admit that he can’t. Besides, his face is now a sort of hell-fire red, which is its default colour when he is stressed. We send the sandblaster off to be repaired. In a couple of hours, Rich’s face goes back to its normal colour.

No sandblaster. This is a real problem. I had no idea HOW much I use it. I don’t just use it to finish off a piece, I use it between firings, a lot. Each week I wait for a call from the repairers. At the end of week three, I ring to find it’s not even been started. Enter full-on rant mode. This wears me out. I calm down by doing a sudoku. 

Early April: just a few weeks until craft season

The sandblaster is back and I spend what feels like days locked in a tiny room with something that is actually louder than my dog. I emerge only when I just get too hot to stay sane.

Now: what feels like just hours until craft season

Well, we are getting somewhere but I still worry I don’t have enough stock. If I had a magic wand, my wish would be that kilns didn’t take so damn long; that firings could be done in 2 hours instead of 24. (Mind you, I’d also like a bigger house, a fancier car, 33” legs and thicker hair but I guess you have to just get on with what you’ve got).  

We still have things to do: order some nice card for our displays, order wall fittings for the wall art, drive all the way to bloody Ledbury to get change for the float because every branch of sodding Barclays even slightly close to us has been closed. (Incidentally, I found out last week that the Post Office don’t like giving change because of potential fraud. I mean if I was into some massive fraud, I’m damn sure I’d be doing it with more than £20 in five-pound notes and £30 in mixed change but there you go).

Reader, this is how NOT to prepare for craft events. Of course I have simplified it. I haven’t really spent hours sat on my arse with sudokus and I have spent a lot of time doing commissions, marketing, etc but nonetheless, I could have done it better. I’d like to say ‘lesson learned’ but I’m not convinced this short-legged, fine-haired old crone, in a small house with an old car is realistically going to do anything different next time…unless of course I actually finish the procrastination course.

*if you fancy doing the next taster session in June, you can book here.

So tell me, do you do fused glass workshops?

Photo by Heather Wright Photography

‘Do you do fused glass workshops?’ is a consistent question I am asked when doing craft fairs. My answer is always the same: no. This is because my studio is too small (this is true) and I have reactive dogs (true). What I don’t say, however, is ‘because I’d rather set fire to my hair’, (also true). 

You may think this is extreme and wonder why I have this reaction. I’ve pondered on this and decided it’s because I catastrophise. In your head, you’re asking ‘I wonder if she does workshops?’; in my head, I’m thinking ‘what if a student cuts off their hand with some glass and I get sued and lose my house and then there’ll be nowhere for me and Rich to live and that means the dogs and rats will have nowhere to live and we’ll have to live in my car, which is tiny and only one dog will fit in it and how can I possibly decide which dog to keep and what about all my shoes…’ (btw, this isn’t bad grammar, though it is, it’s literally a running commentary in my head which features no full stops, commas or semi-colons). Anyway, you get the idea. 

A Jump into the Abyss

So why, three weeks ago, did I do not one fused glass workshop, but eight? Let me explain. I was one of a group of six artists and makers who came together in two of the artists’ adjoining studios to run a craft taster weekend. Participants chose 4 out of 6 crafts to ‘taste’ the very basics of their selected crafts. It resulted in a total of 8 sessions, with 5 participants in each, over the whole weekend. This was what is known as a baptism of fire, or, what I refer to as shitting myself.  

Bleeding

I began my first workshop. ‘Are you bleeding?’ said a kind soul as I looked down at my hand to see it leaking copious amounts of blood. Yes, thirty seconds in, I had cut myself and DIDN’T EVEN NOTICE. I made some lame joke, patched myself up with a plaster and carried on despite the blushing warmth radiating from my face like a small woodburner.  However the rest of the day ticked along nicely and I even relaxed enough to take off my coat.  I got home and sat in front of the TV and milked it for a bit whilst Rich got my tea. When I got to bed, I lay there for a while, musing over ‘plastergate’ until sleep took over. 

A 70’s popstar

Teaching fused glass workshop
As Alvin Stardust…

By day two,  I was feeling a little more confident, (despite Rich telling me ‘you look like Alvin Stardust in that jumper’ as I left the house). First session and up comes this concerned voice ‘have you cut yourself?’ Cue blood all over my hand. By now, I was wondering if my subconscious was having a laugh at my expense, (the bastard), and had a small frisson of panic run through me. 

But do you know what? It was fine. All of it. The students were fabulous: eager to get stuck in, and interested. By the end of the weekend, I was buzzing; chuffed to bits with what the students had produced and more than a little proud of myself. Of course, without the support of the other artists, I would’ve found it much more daunting. They all run workshops so I took my cues from them. They had let me practice on them a week before, which gave me confidence. I’m very grateful for their support and for trusting me to live up to their standards. I know that I know my craft extremely well and that questions wouldn’t phase me. My fear stemmed from being the centre of attention; even more so as I was dressed as Alvin Stardust. 

Fused glass workshop. Coasters to be fired in the kiln
Selection of students’ coasters about to be taken away and fired

…and on to the next one

So where does that leave things? Well, we are doing another Craft Taster weekend on 11th and 12th June 2022. I will be there…with a suitcase full of plasters. 

Note: My partners in crime for the weekend were: Chris Lewis, Jen Johnson, Rachel Shilston, Yvette Farrell and Jo Snowdon

Why You Shouldn’t be Scared of Stall Holders

Image of craft fair showing stall holders
Does this image fill you with both fascination and fear? Read on…

‘Why you shouldn’t be scared of stall holders’. That seems like a strange title for a blog, doesn’t it? By scared, I don’t mean ‘scared’ as you may feel walking through a dark alley, or as in the sweaty mess you become when you see a spider/snake/clown/buttons (delete as appropriate). I mean scared as in ‘a little bit wary’. But ‘why you shouldn’t be a little bit wary of stall holders’ is frankly a terrible blog title. So. Let me explain what I mean.

Me: in the beginning

I’ve always loved craft, long, long before I learned one myself. For those of you who know me, you will be fully aware that I was not an art success at school. I couldn’t draw, couldn’t summon up the courage to try the potters’ wheel and thought I’d got away with not doing a screen print in Design Technology until I read my report from that teacher which said ‘it’s a shame Rebecca decided not bother with a screen print.’ (I honestly thought she hadn’t noticed – that if I stayed really quiet, slunk under the desk or squeezed between the slats in the blinds…I was a very tiny teenager…that she wouldn’t notice me). In metalwork, I filed my aluminium key fob to the width of a dog hair. Obviously to be a successful key fob, it needs to be wider than this. 

Too scared to approach

Being this inadequate myself meant I loved to visit a craft fair. So many talented people in one place! The downside of this was although I wanted to look at every stall and talk to the artist to find out how they did something, I was just too scared. This wasn’t because they all looked like they’d happily knife you in the head but simply put, I thought, if I engaged with them, they’d expect me to buy. This resulted in me only being confident in approaching a table if there were already people there so I could both look and fade into the background simultaneously. There was one time when I did look at something. I liked it, but under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t have bought it. I felt I had to because we’d had a conversation. Luckily, it wasn’t a diamond seller. 

From the ‘Other Sideas a stall holder

Life being strange even in ‘normal’ times, I now find myself the other side of the stall. What I notice more than anything from the Other Side, is that there are an awful lot of visitors to craft fairs who think like I did. I look at them to say hello but an awful lot of visitors don’t want this. To say hello is to in fact say ‘don’t you dare leave without buying something from me because I can send you to hell and eternal damnation, just with my thoughts’. Those who do reply then scuttle off as if their clothes have just caught fire and they need to find a puddle of water pretty damn quick if they are to survive. 

Readers, I know how you feel. This was me. But you have nothing whatsoever to be scared of.

I’m rarely enthused. But I am about my craft

Clearly, I can’t talk for all crafters. However, I think I can when I say that we like to talk about what we do. When I was 13, I could talk about Duran Duran until the New Moon on Monday came up. I was that enthusiastic about them. These days, this is how enthused I am with my craft. And I can talk to you for as long as you want to. Want to know how I have done something or how or why I choose certain colours? Want to know if I have a furnace at home? Let me tell you! I am not telling you because if I explain everything that’s involved you’ll feel sorry for me and feel obliged to buy because otherwise I won’t eat for a week. I’m telling you because I love what I do and you’re interested enough to ask.

Of Course we Like to Sell…

Now don’t get me wrong, all crafters like to sell their wares. I am no different. If you talk to me and want to buy something I have made then yes, I am a very, very happy person. I believe this is something a lot of crafters refer to as ‘doing a happy dance’. I can’t bring myself to do that in public so I just say thank you. But inside I feel like a spaniel in a tennis ball factory. 

However, we crafters also know that not everyone can afford to buy; not everyone can find a place for what we make in their home; not everyone who can afford to buy, wants to (one lady told me she couldn’t buy because she’d be dead soon and then what would happen to it?). And do you know what? It’s totally fine! If you have come over to say you like what we’re doing, to ask how things are done or even remark on how shit the weather is, this is all good! Because otherwise, we would all be stood behind our stalls, bored shitless, with each second that passes feeling more like the hours they’re made up of. Selling and talking to enthusiastic people is fantastic. Not selling but talking to enthusiastic people is certainly the next best thing. But not selling and not talking to anyone is just soul-destroying. 

Not convinced? One final tip…

I’ll leave you with this: please don’t be reticent at a craft show. For all the reasons I have stated above, you really don’t have to be. Here’s a little tip: If you still feel uncomfortable walking away with nothing, then just pick up a business card and mutter something about it being Christmas soon. That works, too. 

Note: want to know where we are exhibiting? Click here.

What’s the Difference between Glass Blowing and Glass Fusing?

When I meet people for the first time (this was a LONG time ago…I have, since Covid, lost all social abilities…), they ask me what I do as a job. When I say I’m a glass fuser, the assumption is immediately that I have a furnace going 24/7 and I spend my life blowing into a steel pipe to make pretty things. 

You see, people think I’m a glass blower. It’s glass blowing which involves a steel pipe and funnily enough, blowing into it. This assumption has led me to write this blog: what is the difference between glass blowing and glass fusing? And where does ‘slumping’ come into it?

Glass blowing

Glass blowing involves very bloody hot furnaces. This is the reason it’s referred to as ‘hot glass’ (whereas glass fusing is known as ‘warm glass’). In the first furnace, known as the Crucible, clear glass is melted. It is from this furnace that the first load of melted molten glass is collected onto the blow pipe. 

After collecting the clear glass, colour can be added by rolling this molten glass into coloured glass powder. The glass is worked on at this point by rolling it to shape and blowing into the pipe to create a bubble. Whilst the glass is worked to shape, it goes in and out of the second furnace, (called the Glory Hole…). This keeps the glass at the workable temperature and allows the coloured glass to melt into the clear glass. 

Finally, there’s the annealing furnace, which is also known as the kiln: this cools the glass at a controlled rate down to room temperature, usually over a period of 14 hours. This slow cooling prevents the glass from thermal shock, resulting in a cracked piece. 

Photo by Johannes W on Unsplash

Glass Fusing

Glass fusing is using an electric kiln to melt two or more pieces of glass together. If glass fusers want coloured glass pieces, they generally use sheet glass which is already coloured. They can also use glass powder but this is added to the sheet glass at the cold stage, and is heated onto the glass in the kiln, rather than collecting powder onto a piece of molten glass. 

Fusers also have to anneal their work to prevent thermal shock however, rather than having a separate annealing kiln, the annealing stage is programmed into the overall firing schedule in the one kiln. 

As for shaping, whilst glass blowers shape by rolling the glass and blowing into the pipe, fusers ‘slump’ their glass into shape. This is a separate firing in the kiln: the glass is heated and then as it softens, it ‘slumps’ into the shape of the mould required. 

As you can see, the two processes are very different. There is something quite wild and dangerous about glass blowing. I have seen it in action and it is a fascinating process. I literally could have watched all day.

Clumsy As F…

Here’s the thing though: if you know me and/or Rich even slightly, you would know without asking that we could never be glass blowers. We are both very clumsy. Only yesterday, Rich knocked his glasses off just getting into the car.  At a friend’s house, many moons ago, Rich walked into their patio door and broke his glasses. The patio door had those bird stickers on to stop birds from flying into it, but turns out they don’t work on humans. I once fell over in town, prompting an elderly lady to ask me if I was alright. Indeed it was a monumental fall in the student café at University which lead to me doing fused glass in the first place: I was on a doctorate course in Psychology and the embarrassment of that incident meant I never went back to university again after that day. 

So, you see we could never have furnaces anywhere where we are. The only advantage of them would be not having to pay for cremation after accidentally falling head-first into one of them. 

Music at Work: To Play or not to Play

The other day, I wrote an introduction post to Black Cat Glass Designs on our Facebook page. One of the things I mentioned was the music we liked, and ELO’s ‘Mr Blue Sky’ in particular. Turns out a lot of people like ELO and it made me think about how music can make a difference, or not, to people’s work or studio environment. 

Working in silence?

Some people like to work in complete silence and I can understand that as there are occasions when any noise to me is intrusive. If I’m really concentrating and trying to make sure I’m cutting glass to the correct size, I need silence. Too many strips have been cut to the wrong size when bellowing out Fleetwood Mac’s ‘The Chain’. However, mostly when I’m in the studio, I do like to have some music to sing along to, loudly. I like to tell myself that as well as being a glass artist, I could also have been a singer. This of course, is not true, I couldn’t have been, not least because my singing voice can be a little ‘squeaky’ on the top notes. I wasn’t called ‘Squeakins’ at school for nothing. But that doesn’t stop my enjoyment of singing whilst I’m working.

Happiness is…

For real, feel-good songs, you cannot beat ELO. I love Mr Blue Sky (which incidentally was voted the happiest song ever, in a study by Greatest Hits Radio last year). I also love ‘Don’t bring me down’ – it’s happy and it reminds me of my dad, as he loves it, too. There isn’t a song which reminds me of my mother as she doesn’t really listen to any music. I remember her coming home from Stroud one Saturday with a Manhattan Transfer album. Well, that was almost as disappointing as when she came home with a spatula to get more of the cake mix out of the bowl. 

The sad side of music

As well as making me feel happy, I also find music can take you straight back to the past and all the feelings which accompany that. I don’t just mean ‘oh I remember this song’ – it’s more of a physical feeling that I had at the time it was released. Take Whitney Houston’s ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody’: when I hear the first few bars of that song, I am straight back to the excitement of being 17, in my first ever job, and going out every weekend to Gas, the popular nightclub at the time; I was finding ‘life’. Problem is, it’s this which means I can no longer listen to that song at all because just as soon as I have the fizzy feeling of being 17 again, it’s immediately followed by the constant shock that I’m now 50 and if I cast my eye to the right of me, I might just catch the Grim Reaper playing along with his tambourine. 

The culture of lyrics

You can define an era not just by the style of the song, but also their lyrics. As you will have gathered, I was a teenager in the 80s and I like most of that decade’s music. I had an 80s compilation CD for Christmas a few years ago and I downloaded it straight onto my phone, without selecting for the best songs. This explains why the other day ‘Never stop me from Loving You’ by Sonia, was played whilst I was working in the studio. This is literally one of the worst songs in the world. The tune itself is ghastly, but the lyrics! Oh my God! Can you imagine a female artist these days singing the lines:

 ‘you’ll never stop me from loving you, it doesn’t really matter what you put me through’ or ‘even when you’re home, you won’t pick up the phone’? 

I mean, get a grip, Sonia! 

Compare this with today’s music – Pink’s ‘U and UR hand’: I’m not here for your entertainment/you don’t really wanna mess with me tonight’; or Lily Allen’s song simply called ‘Fuck You’.  Thank goodness today’s lyrics depict women as the strong, independent women they are. In the 80s of course, I didn’t question this and that makes me feel a bit ashamed. 

The husband’s sacrifice

When Rich is in the studio, it’s got an altogether different vibe. Rich likes rock, particularly prog rock. I don’t like it, mainly because I can’t stand organ music. The difference between us is, I cannot listen to music I don’t like, whereas Rich can. He can just switch his mind off to it. His ability to do this makes me very grateful because there aren’t many husbands who love prog rock, who would attend an Atomic Kitten concert with their wives. Yes, Rich did this. In the early 2000s, we went to see Atomic Kitten in Birmingham. We were by far the oldest there; the mosh pit was more like the ball pit at a soft play park. I think Rich made a real sacrifice there – I doubt he ever told his friends about it. He can thank me for this, later. 

Death’s soundtrack

This all means that when Rich is in the studio, he tends to be in there alone. Even the dogs can’t stand his music. He cuts his glass listening to Cats in Space, Spocks Beard and Pig Iron, to name just three. Most have organ solos in them which sounds like a soundtrack to the slow death of a thousand souls (this is no exaggeration). The other day when I popped in there to take him a cup of tea, there was the most dreadful song on. I asked him what it was – he said ‘it’s Thomas Wynn and the Believers – ‘We Could All Die Screaming’. 

That, says it all.

________________________________________________________________________________

Becci’s Playlist:

  • Mr Blue Sky: ELO
  • The Chain: Fleetwood Mac
  • Magic: Kylie Minogue
  • Uprising: Muse
  • Tatler Magazine: The Struts (love this! Watch it here)
  • Paranoid: Black Sabbath
  • West End Girls: Pet Shop Boys
  • Don’t leave me this Way: The Communards
  • Black Magic: Little Mix

Rich’s Playlist:

  • Anything shit with an organ.

                                                       

I Love a Craft Fair…

Sometime late last year, I wrote a blog for this website about craft fairs. It appeared on the site for only a short time. This is because when I tried to do updates on my website, I messed up the whole site, big time. I had to write a creeping email to my step-son-in-law (who looks after my website) asking if he would kindly fix the mess I’d made. He had to restore the website to a previous back-up when the craft fair blog hadn’t been done.

By this time, I was diagnosed with cancer, and then Covid reared its (very) ugly head. I didn’t put the blog back as suddenly there were no craft fairs, and wouldn’t be for a long time. It didn’t seem right to put up the blog at a time like that. Additionally, whilst my blog was tongue-in-cheek but quite subversive, I found myself really, really missing craft fairs. The upside of Covid has been that when we can go back to doing them, I literally cannot bloody wait.

Whether you believe in vaccines or not, the fact theres now one on the horizon means I can visualise being at a show. I have therefore decided to publish the craft fair blog again. When you read it, bear in mind that it is all meant in a jokey manner, for you to enjoy. Rest assured, I simply cannot wait to see you all at shows again – I will be bringing out the bunting.

So…here it is:

If you’re a crafter, you will at some point attend a craft fair in an attempt to sell your wares. Craft fairs can be good fun, or utterly soul destroying, depending on how well you do and whether you are a pessimist, like me (you won’t find me filling in a crossword with ink).

How enjoyable is a craft fair?

Craft fairs are a unique experience. If you’re a people-person you’ll think how great it is to spend the day selling your products and talking to a variety of people who you would never have met if you weren’t there! Win-win. If you are somebody who finds socialising more difficult, the thought of strapping a smile with the girth of a small ocean to your face all day makes you feel a little apprehensive.

Are you an optimist, or a pessimist…

Whichever camp you fall into, craft fairs are not easy. It may feel easy on the day the sun’s shining, you’re taking lots of money from some wonderful people and the lid on your cashbox won’t close when you come to go home. However, that just doesn’t happen very often. If you are lucky, you’ll live off the optimism from that single show for quite a few weeks. But when the weather is frankly, shit, people aren’t buying or worse, aren’t even looking at your stall, then it’s hard to go home and feel good about yourself, your life and your career choices. Even an exuberant dog, so excited to see you, tearing round the house with the sheer joy of you being home, won’t lift your spirits (especially if said dog expresses its joy by carrying one of your slippers out into the pissing rain). 

Bloody Hard Work….even without the Chairs

Fairs are hard work. You’ve usually got up at some ungodly hour to go and set up. It’s often cold. The cheap chairs you bought because ‘they’re only for craft shows’ are so uncomfortable that by lunchtime, you’d sooner sit on your banner pole. The flask of coffee you brought with you to save you money is so bitter, you wonder if you actually put arsenic in it instead of coffee (and if it’s a really bad show, you hope you did…).

You realise that you actually are the sort of person that eats a family-sized bag of crisps in one sitting. And if one more person says they can’t buy anything because ‘it’ll collect dust/the cat will knock it over/I’ve got too much stuff as it is’ you will drown yourself in the remains of your awful coffee. (Incidentally, the ‘best’ reason I had from somebody to not buy something of mine was as she was elderly, she would be dead soon and ‘then what’ll happen to it’. I struggled to answer that one. 

The Upside…..yes, there’s an upside

However, this is all the negative. When a craft fair is good, it’s absolutely brilliant. You love meeting your customers who smile when they see the products you have made; your fellow craft fair buddies are funny, kind, and frankly damn good company; your credit card machine hasn’t let you down once; you’ve sold some stuff so can legitimately go and buy a coffee that doesn’t taste like something’s died in it. You’ve ‘earned’ that cake, the size of a small child which you have just bought from a fellow vendor. It’s a wonderful feeling. And no matter how seldom it happens, when it does, oh, it’s just heaven. 

Black Cat Glass Designs’ stall at an exhibition with the Herefordshire Guild of Craftsmen

How Does Mindset Affect a Creative Glass Artist in Business?

The other day, I had someone contact Black Cat Glass Designs to ask me how long it would take them to learn stained glass techniques. As always with such question, the short answer is ‘it depends’ but it got me thinking about mindset because mindset is everywhere at the moment, and mindset, particularly when you are learning, is important. 

Me, in the beginning

You may have heard of the phrases ‘growth mindset’ and/or ‘fixed mindset’. In a nutshell, a growth mindset means you want to learn and you think you can do pretty much anything if you put your mind and enough effort into it. In contrast, a fixed mindset means you tend to think talent is innate, a natural ability and if you don’t have that natural ability, you will fail. If you are going to fail, what’s the point in trying?

I, Becci Meakins, was a fixed mindset guru. At school, I was useless at rounders (actually, still am but I can honestly say I don’t give a shit about that now…) But I was also useless at art, particularly drawing. I remember one lesson when we had to draw a head to represent our minds and what we were thinking about. For example, a calculator for maths or a dictionary for language.  

I just drew a massive question mark. 

I recall the teacher coming round and saying to me ‘is that all that’s in your head?’ No doubt, all that was in her head at the time was the need to be massively sarcastic and acerbic, but that aside, the reason I only had a question mark in my head was because I couldn’t bloody draw anything else. 

And that’s where I stayed with drawing. I can’t do it and that’s that. 

But natural talent does exist, doesn’t it?

Yes, probably, natural talent does exist (although some psychologists argue against this idea: see Oliver James’s book ‘Not in your Genes’ for that argument). My thinking though was that if I couldn’t do anything straight away, there was little point in even learning because in my fixed mindset, it was natural ability, or nothing. 

Fast-forward a bit

In view of the fact that I was so fixed, you may be asking if it turned out I had a natural ability for fused glass art. The answer is: no. So why did I try it? I very nearly didn’t. I had already assumed that I’d be the worst in the class. But for some reason, something made me sign up. In a rare moment of positivity (welI, my version of positivity), I thought ‘if I am the worst, I will never see the others in the class again, anyway’. And besides, Rich was on the course with me so if I was the worst, I could always swap my work with his…

My mistakes: All-round idiocy or par for the course?

When I made mistakes with kiln-formed glass, initially, I felt like chucking it all in. Sentences such as ‘people like me just don’t have success’ or ‘why don’t you just go back to bed, you useless peasant’ haunted me for a while. But then curiosity got the better of me: why did that particular piece stick to the kiln shelf? Why did that strip of glass bulge out? Why has that slumped so unevenly? I would go off to find out the answers. And, as I learned the answers, I used it to my advantage. Suddenly, the reasons why things went wrong became another chance to learn, and with learning, I was improving.

This fused glass vessel here was created out of another piece of work which stuck to the kiln furniture and cracked. I not only learnt my lesson (kiln wash was too thin), but also wondered what I could do with the glass which had cracked. This glass art piece wouldn’t have existed if I hadn’t made that mistake. It’s a cliché that you learn from mistakes but you really do – but the learning only really comes if you adopt more of a growth mindset. 

Fused glass multi-coloured, matte vessel, which would not have existed without a growth mindset of a creative glass artist.
This piece wouldn’t have existed if it wasn’t for a mistake I had made previously.

To sum-up

So going back to my initial enquirer about how long does it take to learn stained glass. My answer should have been – it depends on your mindset. If you don’t expect to be brilliant from the off, and are prepared to stick at the niggling, annoyances that come at the start, then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t learn quickly. Overall though, give it a go, because how will you know, otherwise?

As for me, I am waxing lyrical about a growth mindset but I still have a fixed mindset in many respects. It’s something I am continuing to work on. My drawings look like they were done by a 2-year old because I am still terrible at drawing.  And rounders. 

(Note: I had further help with my mindset from the brilliant Lauren Malone from Lemon Tree Coaching and Development. Click here to visit her website).

How to Commission a Piece of Glass Art from Black Cat Glass Designs: Hints and Tips

How to Commission a Piece of Glass Art from Black Cat Glass Designs: Hints and Tips

How to Commission a Piece of Art from Black Cat Glass Designs

Back in the good old days, when we artists could sell face-to-face at craft shows, we were often asked if we do commissions. At Black Cat Glass Designs we do fused glass, and some leaded glass, commissions, provided there is a good fit between what we usually create, and what you, as the client, require. And this is what this blog is about. I have put together some things for you to think about before you request a personal glass commission from us. These thoughts will also help you if you are thinking of commissioning other artists, not just glass artists, in the future. I do hope you find them helpful. 

Be Specific About Colour 

‘I quite fancy that design but in blue’.  Great! I mean, I love blue glass! However, we use Bullseye glass and currently, they have a total of 50 types of blue…to include transparent, opal, iridised and streaky glass. Now we aren’t expecting you to know all these styles of blues, but you need to think more about what type of blue: more turquoise or dark blue, more of a pale blue or a mere tint? We can help you to decide, no problem. If it’s to match a room décor, provide a swatch or sample and we can either match it or contrast it to your preference. But you do need to know that you want more than just ‘blue’.

Have a Good Idea of Design

You do need to have some idea of the types of designs you like. This can even be as vague as ‘something abstract that’s bright and vibrant’ or ‘something square, patterned, fun’. We can ask you more questions to clarify so don’t worry about nailing it completely if you don’t feel you can. Whilst thinking about personal design, check first that we actually do the style of things you like. Take a look at our mission statement here: if you don’t like colour we probably aren’t the right people for you. This may sound obvious but I once had someone ask me to do ‘something with a wolf on’, even though I have no such items on my website and there were no mammal-type themes on any of my work. I admired his optimism though…

Have a look through the website to see what you like. A commission we loved working on was a fused glass house sign for a flat which overlooked the sea. The client told us specifically she wanted a ‘sea garden’ theme, with elements of… and she then listed all the pieces on our website which matched her ideas. 

Fused glass house name plate the garden flat
HOUSE SIGN COMMISSION PIECE

Size of Piece

OK, so this is actually quite an obvious one! But it still needs thinking about. For glass artists, our limitations will be down to the kiln size. At Black Cat Glass Designs, we simply can’t do a full-length piece for your Olympic-size swimming pool! Don’t just think about size overall, also have a think about thickness of your one-off piece – does it matter to you? Is your ideal piece nice and thin or do you like a bit more substance with a thicker piece? 

Think about how much time you have

If you want to commission a piece of fused glass art, you need to err on the safe side and request it well in advance. An artist, Black Cat Glass Designs included, usually has lots of work already lined up and simply won’t be in a position to drop everything to take on a short-notice commission. Not only that, but also consider that materials may need to be ordered, which all adds to the time taken. Realistically, the absolute minimum time we would need is 4-6 weeks. 

What is your Budget?

This is a big one. Have a think about what you are prepared to pay and you need to be realistic. Firstly, have a look at the artists current items and how much they retail at – that should give you a rough idea. However, you can’t fully use that as a 100% reliable guide. Firstly, the artist will need to factor in costs of design: even if you have good idea of what you want (see above), then the artist will still need some input. Also, in glass art, the colours you want matter. A piece of A4-sized turquoise transparent glass costs approximately £8. The same size in fuchsia pink? £32.58. That is 4 times the cost (pink and purple glasses are gold-bearing glasses, hence the huge price difference). There’s kiln time and process, too. A standard flat fused and mould-slumped piece could be just 2 firings. Other items can be 4 firings or more. Kiln firings are long: a full fuse from start until fully cool enough to open the kiln can be anything from 20 hours to 3 days! We would explain all of this to you, as any artist would but this is just an illustration of how much is involved in calculating costs. 

Another thing to bear in mind in relation to budget: it’s not just the materials you need to think about. When you are commissioning a personal piece of art, you are also paying for the artist’s experience: how much they have spent over the years getting to do the standard of work which you are now admiring? It’s a bit like when you go to a hairdresser, you expect a reduction if a trainee is cutting your hair, but you would expect to pay much more for a very experienced stylist.

Terms and Conditions, including Deposits

Take a look at terms and conditions before requesting a fused glass commission . Good T&Cs will tell you exactly how much deposit is required, and whether it is non-refundable. Note that for commissioned, person-specific work, the Consumer Contracts Regulations, 2013 does not allow for cancellation, though some artists may allow for cancellation. Deposits are often non-refundable because an artist could have committed a lot of time to your piece, even before starting work with materials i.e design time, selecting the right materials, research etc. If you then decide to cancel your commission, although to you the work may not have started, the behind-the-scenes stuff may be in full flow. It’s only fair the artist is paid for the work undertaken thus far. All this is in our terms and conditions but please ask for clarity and/or confirmation if you are unsure. 

Finally….don’t be upset by refusal

If an artist refuses your commission, don’t take it personally, it’s in your best interests. You want an artist to love the work they are doing for you – you want to see it every time you look at your commissioned art work. At Black Cat Glass Designs, we have been asked on several occasions if we can do a commission using ashes from a cremation. We always turn these down. This is not because we don’t care about you and your loved one but simply an acknowledgement that we are not the best fit for that job. We have never done cremation pieces and it’s not a route we want to go down – you need somebody who has.

I really hope you have found all of that useful. As I say, it will largely apply to any types of commissioned art you want, not just with Black Cat Glass Designs. Just one crucial take away point: make sure the artist you are asking to work for you makes your heart sing and makes you smile every time you look at what they create. That is the artist you want. Hopefully, that will be us!

To commission a piece from us, click here.

How Do You Assess Value?

When we do a craft fair, we get asked all sorts of things. Things like: this is very pretty but what’s it for? Have you made all this yourself? Have you got another one like this in a different colour? And more. However, the most commonly asked question is: how long did this take you to make?

When someone asks how long something took to make, it seems to me, based on their responses, that they think it should take a long time to make, because it’s expensive. Often it is the case; it has taken a long time but I wonder why that’s the only criterion people use when deciding whether a piece is worth the price tag. 

Let’s break it down. The most obvious things to consider when pricing a piece is the cost of materials and the time it’s taken to make. In relation to glass fusing, you can rest assured that the materials themselves are expensive. But let’s add to this: in addition to those two things, there is the cost of the training and experience that has led to the artist making the piece that you want to buy. 

Training doesn’t come cheap. There’s the cost of the training courses themselves and the time spent in those training courses. There’s the hours and hours of practice in the studio when you return home. There’s the mountains of research done behind the scenes to make things better, to understand why things have gone wrong, to improve on each and every thing you make. 

Then there’s the other things: the electricity for the kilns and the other studio equipment. There’s the kiln wash we use to stop the glass sticking to the shelf, or shelf paper which does the same thing. There’s the cost of the drills we use when making jewellery. There’s the cost of sandblast and polishing materials. The cost of glass cleaner and lint-free cloths, cutting oil, glass cutters, running pliers, diamond hand pads, grinder heads, saw blades – I could go on.

So you see it’s not really just the time it takes to make a piece which gives it its value. It’s all the above. It’s impossible to factor in all of the other related costs so the artist inevitably absorbs a lot of the other costs. 

Believe me, it’s a wonderful feeling when a customer wants to buy a piece of work which you have created. When you buy a piece of art, whether it’s glass, a painting, a piece of jewellery or a handmade bag make sure you really enjoy it. Enjoy the fact that it’s the result of years of work and time which has gone into creating the piece you love so much. It’s more than time and material costs. It’s passion. That’s hard to put a value on. 

Attending a weaving and textures class, at Warm Glass, Wrington, UK

It’s only a tiny dish, yet it’s £15!

When you visit a craft show, what is your criteria for what is an acceptable price? Do you look at what is a small item and think ‘that’s a pretty dish but not at £…., it isn’t’. Or do you appreciate work that has gone in to such an item? Perhaps you don’t even think about it. So here I am going to put across the point of view of the crafter/artist themselves. If you knew the work involved, would this affect the amount you were prepared to spend?

Take this little dish. It is a small piece at 8cm in diameter. You may think it’s pretty or you may hate it – but that’s fine – we all have different tastes. Nonetheless, even as a crafter, I accept that ultimately it is a tiny dish, it’s not made of valuable gem stones, or gold therefore there is a limit on what people will pay for it. Let me show you how this dish is made.

Firstly, I have to cut the circle out of the glass sheet. This isn’t always easy as there’s a definite technique to cutting circles. In addition, the very nature of circles means that there’s more waste when you make something round, than there is when you make something square. To make this dish, I need to cut two circles of glass per dish.

To make a kiln full, I have to cut many circles. After firing and cooling fully, a process which takes around 18 hours in this case, the fully-fused blanks are removed from the kiln.

The next stage is to make the glass decorations, which on these dishes are a mixture of holly, sea shells, daisies and roses. These items are handmade, too. I use silicon moulds and a mixture of powdered glass and water. These photos give you some idea of the process. As to the time involved, to fill a mould with three daisies takes about 25-30 minutes. The powders are placed a small bit at a time into the mould, drops of water added and then the moulds are tapped after each application of water, to get rid of any tiny bubbles. This process carries on until the moulds are full.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I have filled all the decorations I want, the next stage is to put them into the freezer. When fully frozen, they are then popped out of their moulds and put on to the kiln shelf for firing.

 

 

 

 

I have done this technique for several years now, but it still amazes me how a fragile decoration made of powder and frozen water doesn’t turn into a puddle of mush when fired in the kiln. Still, better people than me created this technique and I bow to their superiority!

Now we have the fused blanks and the fused glass decorations. The next stage is yet another firing: a tack fuse to secure the decorations to the dish, without losing its definition. For those counting, this is now kiln firing number 3.

This firing goes to a lower temperature than the full fuse, but it is still nonetheless about the same amount of time taken, including cooling. We now have fully fused flat blanks, with their decoration. They just need their shape to finish.  They are slumped in to their moulds in the kiln, (firing number 4) – this is the final firing.

To recap, the blanks have been cut and fired. The decorations have been made, frozen, then fired. The blanks and decorations have been tack fused together and finally, they are slumped to take their shape.  The finished product looks like this:

 

 

You now have some idea of the amount of work involved in these little dishes.  And you get all that, for just £14.

 

 

Things….

Hello again

Well here we are at the end of another year, well, almost.  I thought I’d use this blog post to tell you of one of our more unusual commissions which we undertook at the start of this year.

We were contacted by a lady who lives in a lovely flat which is virtually on the sea front.  She lives in the Garden Flat and wanted a house sign.  Our remit was that although it was called the Garden Flat, as it was right on the sea front, she wanted the design to be one of a ‘sea garden’. So with this in mind, we set to work.

As with all commissions, there is a certain amount of experimentation which needs to be done to decide what works best.  We fired several examples of the wording for example: we tried black paint to do the words, which looked alright but it wasn’t very dynamic to look at.  We then decided to make the letters out of glass and fire those onto the piece instead.  We also had to decide whether to do a full fuse, which would make the sign very flat, or a tack fuse, which would give it a more 3-D effect.  We tried both and without a doubt, the tack fuse worked best of all.

I made glass shells and a starfish to tack on to the sign.  We also created a lovely effect of sea foam by using clear glass frit.  We were very pleased with the finished result, which is shown below.  Our customer was absolutely delighted with it, which is obviously the most important thing!

Commissions can be quite testing as you really want to get the best result for the customer as you can.  There is obviously a certain amount of our pride at stake too!  But you can also learn so much from doing a commission.  Since we completed the house sign, we then used a similar theme to create a free-standing piece of art, which has gone down very well at the shows we’ve done this year.  

The photo on the right shows the sign fused, and ready to go.  The photo on the left is of the piece in-situ.  We really love the reflection it creates on the wall as the sun shines through it. 

This picture below shows how we adapted aspects of the commission into another piece of art.

We’d like to take this opportunity to thank Tina for choosing us to make her house sign.  We really enjoyed doing it and in creating it, it has opened up many opportunities to make other pieces of art.

So, if you’re reading this and feel inspired to have something unique made, please contact us!

 

 

 

Difficult times ahead for UK Glass Artists

The heart of the fusing industry seems to lie in America.  All the fusing glass suppliers in this country get their glass from America, the most popular being Bullseye Glass, Spectrum and Uroboros.  There is a reason for this: all glass is fusible however not all glass can be compatibly fused together. This is due to the Coefficient of Expansion (also known as COE).  When glass is heated, it expands and contracts as it heats and cools.  Glasses that aren’t compatible will expand and contract at different levels.  This causes stress in the glass and any items fused using incompatible glasses will always crack.  It may crack in the kiln, or it may crack a few hours coming out of the kiln.  In some cases it can even crack many months later, but it will crack.  To stop this. glass fusers have to use glass which is of the same COE.  Bullseye glasses are always COE 90; System 96 glasses are COE96 – the two cannot be fused together as they are not compatible. The American factories work hard to produce glass with COEs which are always the same and in buying their products, you are guaranteed compatibility.  This is why the glass artist usually only buys from the one factory – it avoids breakages due to incompatibility.

This brings me to the title of this blog.  In the last few months of this year, glass industries in America have had to agree to strict environmental guidelines when they make their glass. Of course environmental issues have to be adhered to in industry and the glass companies in the US have always complied with the environmental guidelines. However, on this occasion, Bullseye Glass has had to instal new filtering systems on their furnaces at a great cost, and this is a cost which has had to be passed on to their customers.  (Sadly, Spectrum have decided the cost of this new filtration system is too great and therefore after 40 years, have closed their factory which is a huge loss to the glass industry). Costs of glass is due to rise by 12% in August this year.

That in itself is a large increase which is to be swallowed by the glass artist however in the UK, it’s much, much worse.  Since this country voted to leave the EU, the pound has crashed against the dollar in a new 31-year low.  There is, at the moment, no sign of this rising. This means that the cost of importing glass from America to Britain has risen massively.  As an indication, let me share this with you: back in January 2016, I made an order from the excellent AAE Glass in Florida.  The cost of that order was $269.64, equating to £185.42.  That same order today would cost £208.18.  This is a rise of just over 12%.  If you add this to the rise in the cost of sheet glass, the UK glass artist is looking at a price increase of over 24%, just to buy basic materials.

Of course, this could be temporary – I am not an economist and wouldn’t pretend to be however there ARE experts in this country and some of them are predicting a parity with the dollar in the coming weeks.  That is not good news and if this continues, the UK glass artist is in serious trouble. As I write this, sterling is currently the worst performing currency in the markets.

I sincerely hope this is just a blip.  Rich and I love our craft and to think of losing it is distressing. I wish all the other UK Glass fusers out there the very best of luck.

In the meantime, we are trying to carry on as normal.  Rich and I have been in the studio and have lots of new things to add to the website in the next few weeks. I have remade some old favourites which have sold well, and created new items using new techniques.

That’s the thing with glass fusing: there is alway something new to try, a new product to test, a new technique and that’s what makes it so addictive.  I am attending a week-long course in September at the fabulous Warm Glass studios in Wrington so I can learn even more.

We are exhibiting in a few places over the next few months as follows:

Forest and Wye Valley Open Studios – from now until July 24th.  We are open every weekend and each Tuesday and Thursday.  Please come and visit our studio in the garden at our home.  There are 39 crafters participating in this year’s Open Studios: visit www.fandvos.org.uk to see the brochure.

3 Choirs Show at Gloucester Cathedral – exhibiting with the Herefordshire Guild of Craftsmen from 23rd – 30th July

h.Art – exhibiting at the Market House, Ledbury as part of h.Art, from 10th – 18th September

Malvern Autumn Show – at the Three Counties Showground with Herefordshire Guild on 24th and 25th September.

We do hope to see you at any (or all!) of these.  Currently we do not know our plans for the Christmas period but I will post them as soon as I know.

Bye for now,

Becci

Fused glass for Christmas? Of course you do!

Hello to you all on this gloomy, November day. This is the sort of day where the dogs stay in bed until about 4 pm and I largely wish I was with them.  We have a new addition to our household: Piper.  Piper is a rescue puppy from Tunisia, and she has been with us for about 10 weeks.  She has a habit of coming into the studio and raiding the waste bin (not the glass waste bin before I am vilified for cruelty, but the waste paper bin).  She is very, very cute, chewing the life out of everything and currently making the oil delivery man feel very unwelcome.

Anyway, I digress.  Since I last wrote, we have had good news.  The Herefordshire Guild of Craftsmen has accepted us as full members.  We are so chuffed with this because it really is an honour.  The standard of work from the other members is just astounding.  Take a look at the website: herefordcraftguild.org.uk to see what I’m talking about.  We will be exhibiting with them again from 4th – 20th December at the Market House at Ledbury.

November is a very busy month for us (I have taken a tea-break from the studio to write this blog).  We have a lot of craft shows and additionally have had commissions to work on too. I thought you might like to know when and where we are exhibiting up until Christmas, so here is the full list:

November:

  • 7th                  Worcester Guild Hall (10 – 4.30pm)
  • 21st & 22nd  Broadfield Court Vineyard Estate, Bodenham, for their Christmas Fair (10.30 –    4 pm)
  • 27th & 29th  Worcester Guild Hall, as part of the Worcester Victorian Christmas Market

December

  • 4th – 20th     Ledbury Market House, exhibiting with Herefordshire Guild of Craftsmen
  • 11 & 12th       Hereford Cathedral, as part of their Christmas Fair (open Friday 3.30pm – 7 pm, Saturday from 9.30 – 4 pm).

I don’t yet know the start and finish times for the Victorian Market or the Ledbury Market House, but will keep you posted.

We also have some new items coming on the website soon.  We have made a new seahorse panel in the same style as the dragonfly panel and are about to start fusing and slumping glass flowers – proper glass flowers with stems.  Here’s hoping the air is not too blue in the studio when we start those as it’s something completely different.

And just because I can, here is a picture of my babies:

IMG_0119

Bye for now!

Becci

Unique or unusual fused glass?

Greetings one and all.  Unfortunately, I have had a period of illness and have been unable to work on our lovely glass business.  Thankfully, I am now fully recovered and raring to go….almost.  Whilst on my sick bed, I have, however, been able to imagine designs and things I can create which are a little bit different.

Which brings me to the title of this blog.  A friend asked me recently how I liked my glass to be perceived.  I immediately thought of unique and/or unusual.  On looking on the internet, however, I see that the word ‘unique’ is paradoxically ubiquitous! That leaves ‘unusual’.  Here is the tricky bit though: unusual is very much a subjective opinion. What is unusual to some may not be to others.    I am still pondering on this: if I want somebody to find our glass on an internet search, looking for ‘unique’ and/or ‘unusual’ fused glass, actually brings up an awful lot of sites.  Clearly us glass artists all want to be seen as such!  This is something I will have to ponder on for a little while longer but in the meantime, any comments or ideas would be gratefully received!

Currently in the studio, we are trying out pattern bar techniques.  The fusing in the kiln is only a small part of it: there’s the initial firing, which takes about 24 hours in the kiln.  The resulting slab then needs to be cut into pieces on a tile saw, assembled into a ‘pattern’ and refired.  After this refiring, it needs to be cold-worked: cold-working is using machines such as lapwheels to grind into shape and polish before finally being slumped into a mould.  These are the  pieces I’m working on, the stage they are currently at, and the way they began life in the kiln.

IMG_0003IMG_0025

 

Left image: the start of the whole process.  Right image: how the piece currently stands, waiting to be cold-worked.

 

 

 

Below:  left image, waiting for second firing in the kiln. Right image: how it currently stands, waiting to be cold-worked.

IMG_0004

IMG_0024

 

Our next show is for Herefordshire in Art, known as h.Art.  We will be displaying upstairs in the Market House at Ledbury from 12th – 20th September, alongside members of the Herefordshire Guild of Craftsmen (we are not full members, but are Associates of the Guild). Please come along and visit, not just for our stuff but also to see the quality of the work produced by members of the Herefordshire Guild.  They are all, without exception, seriously talented (check out http://www.herefordcraftguild.org.uk).  Rich and I are completely in awe of them all and it’s a privilege to exhibit alongside them.

Well, that’s it for now.  Back to polishing….

Becci x