Meet the Maker: Creative Vibe Glassblowing

2022 is the United Nations International Year of Glass. Following on from the success of the UN International Year of Light in 2015, it is clear that light and glass are inexorably intertwined, and that glass plays a major role in many areas such as communications, biomaterials, energy generation and conservation as well as being inherently sustainable. So, for those of us who look on glass as simply a reusable vessel or a piece of decorative artwork, its application is infinitely more diverse.

Image credit: Ricky Keech, Creative Vibe Glassblowing
Glass has a long and fascinating history with obsidian (volcanic glass) in use to make knives, arrowheads, jewellery, and money long before people learned how to manufacture glass. Archaeological evidence suggests that the first man-made glass was in Eastern Mesopotamia and Egypt around 3500BC with the first glass vessels made in about 1500BC. Egypt, Syria and other countries along the Eastern Mediterranean coast have long been recognised as the original centres for glass manufacturing.
Image credit: Tanya Grypachevskaya
In the beginning, glass was very difficult to make but in the 1st Century BC, Syrian craftsmen invented the blowpipe making glass production, easier, quicker and cheaper and saw it flourish throughout the Roman Empire until, in 1000AD, the Egyptian city of Alexandria was the recognised centre for glass manufacture. By the 13th and 14th Centuries, the miraculous art of stained glass adorned churches and cathedrals across the European continent with the eventual establishment of Venice as the glassmaking centre of the Western world. Venetian glass was the precursor to the continued development of glass into the many and varied glass applications that we see today.
Image credit: Clément Philippe - an example of Murano glassmaking

The majority of modern glass is, of course, produced by machinery in factory settings but there are craftspeople still using the traditional skills of glassblowing to create incredibly stunning pieces of art as well as useful artefacts. Now, with the success of TV shows such as Blown Away on Netflix ("...and best in Blow is..."), glass art is reaching new heights in the popularity stakes, led by a passionate band of glassblowing artisans. One such person is Ricky Keech of Creative Vibe Glassblowing. With CraftCourses for over 7 years, Ricky is the consummate artist helping to preserve and promote this compelling craft for new generations of aspirational glassblowers. Ricky very kindly gave us the benefit of his experiences with glass:
Image credit: Ricky Keech, Creative Vibe Glassblowing

Can you tell us about your background in glass?

I originally started my journey into art and design at Barnfield College, Luton on an access course in art and design as a mature student. I had done various labouring jobs on building sites plus cleaning cars for quite a while but I always enjoyed art and design when I was at school. I felt that I had to, at some point, find a way of getting into a creative environment so I could be immersed in that creative energy. I touched on a number of different media, and found I really enjoyed ceramics so ended up doing quite a bit of raku firing. I enjoyed the edge it had and the slight unpredictability of the process. Once finished with my course at Barnfield, I applied for Bucks University, Highwycombe. I can always remember walking into reception, looking at the glass work on display and being totally blown away by the skill level and glass pieces themselves. It was really way above anything I had seen before. That was the beginning of the fascination.
Image credit: Ricky Keech, Creative Vibe Glassblowing

Tell us a little about your workshop and creative space.

My work space is set in the grounds of an old rectory surrounded by a walled garden, countryside and woods. I couldn’t ask for a better setting. The workshop itself is in an old outbuilding that was a stable block. It's not a big space but it's perfect for my classes as I have only small groups. The space is a peaceful environment that allows me, at certain points, to immerse myself in producing my own pieces, and slowly forget about time, just concentrating on the present moment.
Image credit: Ricky Keech, Creative Vibe Glassblowing

What is it about glass blowing and creating glass art that captivates you?

Glass captivates me because its potential is unlimited. The most important aspect for me is to experiment with the medium in the way you use it, pushing the boundaries with it. I also find the reflective and ethereal qualities very appealing and I do like to combine it with other media. Glass blowing itself commands a high skill level that can be developed over time and with practice.
Image credit: Ricky Keech, Creative Vibe Glassblowing

What are your biggest motivators?

The biggest motivation for me is teaching others the process. It is great to see people come in with no experience of using the medium whatsoever and then slowly building up the skill level on each individual piece. Every student is always surprised to see the piece they  produce by the end of the day and it is always nice for me to witness their sense of achievement. That also comes from students when they are experiencing something separate to their 'day' jobs that can be a little mundane. They get to see and explore another side of themselves, and also they have a day for some 'me time'.
Image credit: Ricky Keech, Creative Vibe Glassblowing

Who are your glass heroes - the glass artists who inspire you?

People that inspire me are not people or artists that are necessarily connected with the glass art world. I like Rothko and his works of art; the spiritual energy that vibrates from them. Paul Klee has arrived at a deeper understanding of colour and vibration. I take inspiration from nature itself. It always fascinates me and prompts my imagination before resurfacing at some point in a subconscious manner. I try not to think too much when creating, and look more for a sense of ease and flow which doesn't always come straight away. It's not just about the end result but the journey in between.
Talking Points: Paul Klee -

Do you think glassblowing is enjoying a renaissance or do we need to do more to keep the craft alive?

There has always been a fascination for glassblowing as an art form. It has a slight difference over other media in that it is a captivating thing to watch, in much the same way as someone throwing on the potter's wheel. It definitely has had a bit of a renaissance and I think people are amazed by the skill level it requires as a craft. It is an ancient practice with a fair amount of history connected to it.
Image credit: Ricky Keech, Creative Vibe Glassblowing

What are your aspirations - where do you see yourself in the coming years?

I will be producing more of my own creations, evolving as an artist and as a human being! It is important to have the human experience, to allow myself to feel the excitement and energy of creating and experimenting with new ideas and, by doing so, pushing and using all the abilities that we as humans tend to only partly explore. I would also like to exhibit my work in some galleries, possibly back in London.
Image credit: Ricky Keech, Creative Vibe Glassblowing

Could you give us a few final words about your love of glass?

Glass, at times, seems like liquid in solid form. It has the ability to hold within it suspended colour and captured movement. It has a mind of its own; it's like a living thing. You have to learn to work with it rather than having complete control over it. It will always surprise you; there is never absolute surety in the outcome you planned and it is unlike anything you could ever have imagined.
Image credit: Ricky Keech, Creative Vibe Glassblowing
When you enter a glassblower's workshop, the sensations it evokes can be overwhelming! There is the heat from the furnace and the sounds associated with that. There is also the sense of danger that comes from working with a molten material. Working with glass is challenging and requires a great deal of care and attention. The beauty, however, in the end product is endlessly fascinating. As Ricky explained above, "It has the ability to hold within it suspended colour and captured movement."
Image credit: Ricky Keech, Creative Vibe Glassblowing
From a fascination with marbles as a child, to a glass paperweight on your parent's writing bureau, to a glass bowl handed down to you through the generations of your family, glass has a quality quite unlike anything else in the creative world. Artisans like Ricky are showing us that we too can experience the joy of creating something totally unique, learning new skills and, as Ricky explained, finding potential for a new future.

You can learn the art of glassblowing with Ricky in his Bedfordshire workshop or have a look for some more glassblowing courses nearer to you as well as a whole host of other crafts that will lead you on a journey into glass such as glass fusion, enamelling, stained glass, glass painting, and jewellery making.

In celebration of the International Year of Glass, you might enjoy some further reading:

WoB: History of Glass by Dan Klein
WoB: Twentieth Century Glass by Mark Cousins
WoB: Glass by David Whitehouse
WoB: Five Thousand Years of Glass by Hugh Tait
WoB: Book of Glass by Gustav Weiss

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