Glasswork by Desiree Hope

Desiree Hope

by Angie Boyer

Sand, soda and lime... are what it takes to make glass, as the information boards at the National Glass Centre in Sunderland explain. But see the work of this year’s bctf Newcomer Award Winner and you’ll realise that there’s rather more to it than simple chemistry. Desiree Hope’s swirling, curling glass is bold in shape and rich in colour with intricate, organic patterns. However, Desiree’s current work has come a long way from the styles and techniques that first introduced her to glass. “Actually, I initially trained in ceramics, gaining a BTEC National Diploma in the subject at Harrogate College,” she explains. “But I first became interested in glass many years ago when I came across some vibrantly painted bottles at the equally colourful Glastonbury Festival. I was intrigued by the transparent and reflective qualities that I couldn’t achieve with ceramics and began painting anything I could lay my hands on, from jam jars to large glass vessels.”

Having found an appreciative market for her glass painted work at craft fairs, Desiree decided to open a small shop in her home town of Masham, a popular historic market town in lower Wensleydale. “That was so successful that I moved on to open a larger craft shop in the town,” she continues, “but after six years I felt that I wanted to do more than simply paint glass, I wanted to learn how to make it as well.

“So I went back to University, this time in Sunderland, eventually choosing to specialise in blown glass. When I finished at university, I really wanted to set up in business with my own glass studio, but no-one told us as students how expensive that would be. There was a glass studio in Masham that I went to see as they wanted someone to take it over, but when I looked closely at what was involved, I decided against it; the fuel costs would have been massive and too much for me to manage.”

The studio where Desiree now works is in the heart of the National Glass Centre, where she is surrounded by all manner of glass working equipment. “When I graduated, I applied for a studio here and was very lucky to get one. The staff here go out of their way to help and support me with my endeavours. I share with Stephen Beardsell, who has been here for about ten years and is a really great person to share space with, he’s very encouraging and willing to offer advice. I’ve been here about six years now,” she tells me. “The Centre is situated alongside the University of Sunderland, where I obtained my BA (Hons) in Glass and Ceramics in 2005. Like all students at the University, I had access to the fantastic facilities here - and I still do have, there’s a lot of equipment and technical assistance that would be hard to find anywhere else.”

Following her BA, Desiree continued her studies at Sunderland for her MA in Glass, which she took over two years, “to give me the opportunity to set up my business at the same time,” she explains. To help with that, she took the NESTA Insight Out intensive business training course early last year. “Insight Out is a national enterprise training programme specifically designed to help creative people set up their own business. It was a full time course for two months,” Desiree recalls, “and was really brilliant, I learned a lot through it and at the end was awarded �2,000 to develop my business. I think that type of course is really good, it pushes you to aim higher with your work. Now I try to keep my blown glass contemporary and aim for the top end of the market. I still do my painted work, but keep it separate.”

This seems to create a pleasing and workable balance for Desiree, her glass painting is “leisurely, with no pressure”, whilst the blown glass requires technical skill and concentration. “The spiral designs evolved from sculptures I designed during my degree course,” she tells me. “It took me three or four years to learn the technical skills that I needed for that work.” The digital glass designs developed on her MA course, from a series entitled ‘Ordered Chaos’. “In contrast to my glass painting, this is very labour intensive work,” she says. “Hot glass blowing, grinding, polishing... it all takes a great deal of time and energy.”

Desiree gives her designs titles that reflect the things which influence her... ‘Fossil’, ‘Echo’, ‘Elements’, and ‘Ordered Chaos’. “I really love walking along the coastline searching for fossils. With ‘Fossil’, my spiral design, I’m working with the ideas that come to me when I’m hunting for ammonites along the coastline near here, the notion that initially, something is hidden inside a piece and cannot be seen. I use a technique known as Graal, where the glass is hot worked and then engraved, before adding more layers over the top. With extensive grinding and polishing the pattern, like the fossil, is eventually revealed. This is very much a personal process for me, something that I enjoy, but the customer doesn’t ever see.

For her ‘Ordered Chaos’ and ‘Echo’ ranges, Desiree finds inspiration in the repetitive and intricate patterns found through the lens of a microscope. “When I was kindly given a microscope, my work took on yet another direction,” she explains. Each piece of handblown glass is sandblasted and engraved before being polished to perfection. As a result, fascinating reflections and optical illusions are created in some of the pieces.

“I never stop learning and I have so many ideas it’s ridiculous,” says Desiree. “When I’m making a new design, I think ‘what would happen if I were to do this’. Then, when I find something that works well, I develop it. Sometimes, when I try out different things, interesting designs evolve from something that I didn’t know would happen, the unexpected. Then I exploit those effects, work with them and develop them. Things can go wrong sometimes, there are tiny, little things in the making process that, if done wrongly, can totally ruin the whole piece. But I’m learning all the time and any mistakes that may occasionally occur just help that learning process.”

In addition to winning our Newcomer Award at bctf in April this year, Desiree has a number of other accolades to be proud of. Two years ago she was awarded the prestigious David Peace Prize for Engraving. “That has inspired an interest in making larger, more sculptural pieces in the future,” she says. In 2007 she was nominated for the Corning Prize and later in the same year was awarded a distinction licentiate membership with the Society of Designer Craftsmen. “I was also lucky enough to spend time at the Pilchuck Glass School in Seattle,” she tells me; the largest, most comprehensive educational centre in the world for artists working in glass, that was founded in 1971 by Dale Chihuly. “I applied for a place and was accepted, it was totally self funded and a brilliant experience. I did a two week intensive course in engraving and especially loved learning about the overlay technique. The equipment at the Pilchuck School is fantastic but it’s not readily available here, so I want to apply for a grant to buy the equipment myself, to put into practice the techniques I learned - and maybe then go on to teach the skill to others.

Desiree has exciting news about her plans for the future, “I’ll soon be opening the Prism Gallery and Sculpture Garden in Masham,” she says. “The Gallery, which I plan to open in November, will stock mainly glass made by local artists and also some ceramics. The Sculpture Garden, which is adjacent to the Gallery, will be opening next year. I want to do more than just sell my work at fairs and in galleries now and will be splitting my time between working in my studio here and looking after the gallery. “But before all of that, I’d like to say a special thank you to my mum and dad and Rupert Ashcroft for helping me to get where I am today. They’ve really supported me with my work, given me confidence and encouraged me. Rupert is involved in outdoor pursuits and introduced me to the fossil hunting that has been such an inspiration to me in my work. Without him I don’t know how I would have got through, it’s very difficult trying to run your own business as a glass artist these days.”

Desiree Hope
National Glass Centre
Liberty Way, Sunderland SR6 0GL

T: 0191 515 5519


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