It’s the bright clear colour of glass, the way that it transforms in the light, that first got Hilary Shields hooked nearly twenty years ago.
Before this she had been doing pottery classes after work, but often found what came out of the kiln wasn’t quite what she expected. “Pottery glazes can be a bit frustrating,” she says, “but with glass I know pretty much what will come out, although you can still get some interesting things happening in the kiln, which is also part of the fun.”
Many of her pieces hold the imprint of a plant, such as a flower or fern, so this is often how each piece starts. “I love walking and observing in nature,” she says, “so I select something that I would like to somehow capture in glass”.
“The process starts with making a clay mould. I find a plant, say a peony flowerhead, which I press into soft clay to make an impression – and from this I make a plaster mould. I then put the plaster mould into the kiln with the glass on top. The glass starts out cold and as it heats up it softens, spreads slightly and takes up the impression of the flower.”
“You can make moulds of anything you like. I choose nature but you can do it with all sorts of things – toys, tools, anything you like!”
As well as loving the translucent quality of glass, Hilary is also fascinated by the technical side of glass-making and often gets ideas from generous other artists. “During lock-down I followed some videos posted by an American glass-maker who was making kiln pressed glass, where you fire the glass under weight and pressure. So instead of having a shiny surface to the glass you have a matt surface, and the glass is slightly thinner.”
She used this method to create the vase that you can see here which is currently on show in the gallery. The plate of glass was draped over an object in the kiln (in this case a cocktail shaker!) and as it heated it drooped and the drapes and folds came quite naturally.
“I like the achievement of creating something from nothing and in turning what is a hard, sharp, flat raw material into something organic and tactile. Being part of ArtSpring has given me the opportunity and confidence to continue to experiment more and more”.