Today I have the pleasure of interviewing the talented Steve Lee, an award-winning glass engraver, cancer survivor and my wonderful big brother where he shares all about glass engraving.
Steve Lee is the owner of Emotive Glass where he offers glass engraved pieces, custom engraved designs and he has now set up courses to teach others this amazing art. I know I am biased but his work speaks for itself and truly is stunning, the detail that goes into every piece is just jaw-dropping.
Tells us a bit about you?
Always a tough question! I suppose I’d be best described as a cat-loving glass artist. Always learning, always with more art in my head than I can ever hope to achieve in just one lifetime.
I love nature. My wife, Donna, and I moved from Kent to Cornwall to be able to do the ‘hippy thing’ and commune with nature at every possible opportunity. This is reflected in my engraving where I tend to concentrate more on animal portraiture than any other subject.
Can you explain what glass engraving is?
In essence, it’s a very simple art form; just scratches and dots on glass. The scratches and dots are built up very faintly and in increasingly bold strokes they form images. The finer the scratches the more detailed the image can become. Light conducting through the glass and interacting with the scratches makes the engraving stand out.
The form of glass engraving I specialise in is called stipple engraving. In this, images are built up using just tiny dots. The dots are made by repeatedly tapping a single solitaire Diamond point against the glass. This method allows for an almost photo realistic end result. With a little practice.
That’s the technical explanation. The more elegant explanation was coined by one of the late, greats of glass engraving Sir Lawrence Whistler. He described glass engraving as “Painting with Light”.
How did you get into glass engraving?
I used to paint on silk. I loved working very fine detail with single hair brushes. The subject matter didn’t matter to me as much as the painting process, the technical challenge.
I’m very lucky in that my mother is a very talented craftsperson. She had seen some glass engraving and thought I might enjoy it as it is as much technical skill as an art form. She suggested I try it and brought me a small hobby drill and some engraving burrs (Diamond dust-coated engraving tools). I can’t say that I was overly enthusiastic but as she had gone to the trouble of buying me some kit I thought it best I at least give it a go. So I engraved a rose on the glass front of my painting lightbox. That was nearly 30 years ago and aside from a few years where I didn’t engrave at all, It’s been a constant companion to me ever since.
What do you love the most about running your business Emotive Glass?
The challenge each new piece represents. I always try to take on pieces that I’m not 100% sure I have the skill to pull off. When not engraving for clients I’m engraving practice pieces. Portraits, eyeballs, anything that represents a technical challenge. This way I’m always learning and always striving to become a better engraver.
My ultimate goal is to achieve photorealism. One of the nicest compliments anyone ever paid me was delivered as a dismissal. I was showing some work at a craft exhibition and an elderly gentleman was looking at some pieces. Shortly his wife bustled up to him, quickly glanced at my work and said: “Come away dear, they’re only photographs”. I didn’t stop smiling for days.
Do you have a favourite piece you have engraved, if so what was it and why is it your favourite?
Every piece I engrave is my favourite whilst I’m engraving it. Each piece is a journey from planning to the finished article and I love those journeys!
But to single out one piece? I suppose it would have to be an engraving of a Kingfisher. For many long winded and trivial reasons, I had not seriously engraved for a good few years. Perhaps I’d managed 3 pieces in as many years. I eventually decided I was being an idiot and should dive back into the art with gusto. I remember setting up my workspace and picking the most complicated piece I could think of to start off with, a kingfisher coming out of the water. Given the water, light, feathers I genuinely thought I couldn’t engrave it, but it came off the first time. From that moment on I didn’t stop and actively sought to ‘make a go of it’ rather than just engrave as a hobby.
You recently went through a tough time health-wise after finding out you had cancer, how is your health now and how does this affect your business?
It’s been a very strange few years. Prior to Christmas 2016, I was very fit and active enjoying fencing, walking silly distances and archery. Then I suffered a serious back injury which meant I could no longer fence or walk very far or use a bow.
Not quite a year on, I was just coming out from under that cloud and I got whacked with kidney cancer. Which, ironically, I coped with far better than I coped with the back injury. I was very lucky in that it was caught quickly, and the NHS were amazing. It was all over before I had an opportunity to start to worry!
Mercifully, glass engraving only requires you to use your hands and brain so none of my health issues had any impact on my engraving. If anything, having engraving there as a constant helped as it acted as a kind of refuge. A place to go to and just be with no thought other than the glass.
You have just started up courses to teach glass engraving. What can people attend a course except to see?
I adapt each lesson to the person so regardless of experience each student will finish their first day with a completed piece to take home: After running through the tools, equipment and safety aspects we’ll dive straight in with some basic techniques. As soon as the student is comfortable, we’ll move those techniques on and produce a piece either from the student’s own artwork or using one of a library of templates I’ll have available.
You don’t need any pre-existing skills to learn how to engrave glass. You don’t need to be able to draw or paint so don’t worry if you don’t have these skills. By the end of the day, I’ll have you engraving like a pro!
What products do you offer through Emotive Glass?
I offer bespoke engraving services specialising in portraiture both animal and human. If you can supply me with a sufficiently detailed photograph, I can produce an engraving. Engravings can be on flat, free-standing glass or vases, wine glasses, basically any glass of decent quality with an engravable area.
Other than bespoke work, at some point in the future, I hope to be selling an engraving tool of my own design. I’ve prototype it and now use it as my primary engraving tool. As soon as development funds become available I’ll move this project on.
Where to reach Steve Lee
If you would like to buy any of Steve Lee’s products or attend one of his courses then take a look at his website http://emotiveglass.com/
You can also follow him on Facebook www.facebook.com/emotiveglass
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