First impressions of Rachel Elliott are of a bouncy, optimistic, humour filled young lady. It’s not what you’re expecting from a glass artist â€“ although that’s not to say that the glass artists (Richard Green and Alison Kinnaird) we’ve interviewed before are without humour.
Rachel’s humour is partly aimed at herself but it also acknowledges the struggle to get going in the art business. Just because you’re a talented artist doesn’t mean you actually want to make a career of it or that you have the business acumen to make it work commercially â€“ few artists are prepared to starve in garetts or basements out of dedication to their work these days and, like many self employed artists, Rachel acknowledges the help of her family, particularly her mother.
Although brought up in Surrey, she considers herself Scottish and came to Edinburgh College of Art to complete a degree in Applied Arts: Architectural Glass in 2007. Whilst at college, she created an outdoor installation with 13 engraved or sandblasted glass tornados, made by free blowing lead crystal and some colour in the college’s hot shop. They won first place in the David Peace Prize awarded by the Guild of Glass Engravers and were displayed at the London Glassblowing gallery.
With this success to encourage her,Â her contacts and a new found love of the capital, she planned to stay in Edinburgh and put her name on the waiting list for a place at a WASP’s studio. Nothing was forthcoming so she searched around for something else. When a vacant room at Castlebrae Business Centre, Peffermill Industrial Estate became available, it was as close to perfect as she was going to find at a reasonable price. It had 3 phase electricity, a sink and enough empty space.
Rachel believes that the room may have been a staff room as it is smaller than the other class rooms in this recycled school building. But it’s big enough for now. Packed into her white space, are: a 2m x 1m x 27cm flat bed glass kiln, nicknamed ‘Big Blue’, one of only 3 this size in Scotland, a small 30cm diameter kiln for test firing, a large cutting table surface for working with full sheets of glass, as well as a half size surface for daily use. There is also a 1m wide wash tank with pressure washer for cleaning silk screens used for screenprinting glass enamels and all other equipment.
Rachel practically lives here, designing and making her quirky sculptures and beads. To pay the bills â€“ and also because it’s fun â€“ she teaches glass bead making both at the glassworks and at the Four Winds Inspiration Centre.
As a new artist, her dilemma centres on finding her niche market. Every year, she sets herself the challenge of one, purely creative project to keep the designer juices flowing, but she admits commissions for this type of work are few and far between at this stage. Her current project is an allotment which involves hollow sheds and glasshouses, plants and a barbeque. She has to be careful that the innovative techniques she has developed for these hollow buildings are kept secret!
For her bread and butter work, she goes to Trade Fairs and Craft Fairs, where she has the opportunity to talk to customers and explain the fascination of working with this enigmatic material.
“People often think it’s expensive as they don’t understand what goes into designing, making, cutting and shaping pieces of glass.”
One of her best sellers is the tartan hankie bowl. A tartan pattern is printed onto glass, then it is folded up like a little bag. This tartan pattern is also popular for jewellery.
So far Rachel has avoided the mass markets but her experiences with gift shops have been mixed. Offering goods on a sale or return basis gives you exposure but some shops don’t play fair. One of them recently broke a bowl and wouldn’t pay for it so Rachel is now looking at wholesalers who plan ahead enough for her to meet large orders.
Ever resourceful, she recently held an Open Day, partly for fellow glass artists and partly for her neighbours at the Castlebrae site, where the H shaped layout of workshops and offices with firmly closed doors doesn’t lend itself to chance meetings. Those who turned up were full of enthusiasm for the work Rachel is doing.
Keep an eye on Rachel’s web site for details of the next one or to sign up for classes.