Cathryn Shilling Glass Artist

How did your move from the UK to the USA in 2001 lead you to your career in glass?

In 2001 my family moved to a small town on the east coast of the US, Darien Connecticut, chosen for its, close proximity to Manhattan. Until this move, I had a successful career as a freelance graphic designer. I was keen to find a creative outlet. I had always loved stained glass and owned a catalogue of contemporary pieces that was very well thumbed. So, when a studio nearby advertised their evening classes I signed up and began to study the art and craft of stained glass.

My years in graphic design allowed me to develop skills in a wide range of creative processes and products and the move to glass seemed natural and spontaneous. During this time, I began to develop my deep love of glass as a material, spending hours in the warehouse studying the exquisite sheets of hand blown glass. I found glass a fascinating and seductive material and in my practice I love to explore the fluidity of glass as a liquid, its sculptural quality as a solid as well as its transparency.

Dissonance, Photo; Ester Segarra

On my return to the UK I signed up for classes at Kensington & Chelsea Adult Education College, fully meaning to develop my stained glass practice. But I soon realised that I didn’t want to continue to design what other people wanted me to.

Instead I wanted to make my own ideas and I quickly realised that fused glass offered me that possibility. My research into contemporary art glass then lead me to glassblowing and I began to take classes in order to expand my knowledge of glass making techniques.

Standing Proud, Photo; Ester Segarra

Kiln formed glass is the perfect medium for my work. It gives me the creative and technical freedom to produce tactile, tangible and enduring pieces that explore the sculptural quality of glass. Hot Glass however allows me to investigate and work in a more immediate and direct way with my chosen material, drawing inspiration from its molten state in order to produce unique and tactile vessels.

Cathryn Shilling, in her studio, Photo; Ester Segarra

You have worked in two countries and several Glass Studios can you expand on both the differences and similarities?

My experience of a stained glass studio in Connecticut was really only as a student. I soon realised though that there were quite a few differences between the way things are done in the US and the UK where the tradition of stained glass goes back centuries. I don’t think that this is the same for glassblowing, as the tools seem to be the same wherever you are, except that each studio is set up to suit the master glassblower. Artists working in London are faced with some of the highest rents anywhere in the world so our studios tend to be small and often shared. Through Instagram I have glimpsed studios of artists all over the world and am often envious of the space available to them.

Tell us about the 30 Most Amazing Glass Artists of which you are one?

The first I knew of this list was when a colleague sent me the link. I have no idea how I was included in such esteemed company but it was a lovely surprise. The work highlighted was my woven glass pieces, Synergy Series I. I remember a bit of chatter about the artists not included in the list on social media but that’s about it. However, I think it brought my work to the attention of artists and collectors internationally.

Synergy Series I, Photo; Ester Segarra

With all artists, the photographing of their work is imperative, but particularly with glass – discuss.

The captivating optical qualities of glass is what makes it notoriously difficult to photograph. When you submit work for exhibitions and competitions you are being judged on a photograph. I was lucky to have been introduced to Ester Segarra quite early on in my career, she is a very talented photographer and I feel that I owe her lot as she takes beautiful images of my work. These images have given me the confidence to enter all sorts of exhibitions and competitions.

Synergy Series I, Photo; Ester Segarra

Glass is an undervalued medium but the rise of social media – Pinterest, Face Book and Instagram in particular means that it is now reaching a far larger and often very appreciative audience. One South American collector told me that he found my work by ‘driving through the internet.

How long have you been working with woven glass canes?


Early woven glass

While studying at Kensington & Chelsea College we went on a class trip to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. This was in 2005 and I saw work by the then Artist in Residence, textile artist Sue Lawty and this completely changed the way I approached glass. Firstly, there was little of what I thought of, as textiles on display. She didn’t allow the title of ‘textile artist’ to limit her exploration of ideas, for example there were large wall pieces made from hundreds of pebbles that Sue had collected from different beaches. And some of the few weaving she had done were made of lead. They were in a showcase with other small woven test pieces. Seeing these little experiments that she had made from all different materials set me on a path that I am still exploring today. I went away and began making my first experiments fusing glass cane into sheets of woven glass.

Hidden Gestures II, Photo; Ester Segarra

Using images can you take us history and process of your woven body of your work. 

Back in the glass studio I started to make tests using any glass stringers and noodles that I could get my hands on – so please don’t judge me for the colour selection! I was supposed to be making a light of some description that term so I justified these tests by sewing the squares together with wire and making it into a hanging piece. The idea being that it played with light when the sun shone on it.

Glasswork Quilt Light, Photo; Ester Segarra

I called it Glasswork Quilt and I entered it into the V&A Inspired By competition that year. Peter Layton was the judge for the glass section and he gave it a Highly Commended, commenting that it required more thought! And I can’t really argue with that. In 2011 I was given the opportunity to return to this work and reimagine it as a large lighting installation, working with Angel Monzen of Vessel Gallery. It was great to have the opportunity of working with a product designer and take a previously unresolved idea through to fruition as a collaborative project. I learnt so much from this process.

I then began making my first experiments fusing glass cane into sheets of woven glass using Bullseye glass stringers. While at art school I had toyed with the possibility of studying sculpture but it was a very sexist age and I was told that ‘sculpture was for men, not for girls’! But fused glass rekindled my interest in three dimensional objects. Rather than slumping the woven glass sheets into a bowl or platter, I started to tentatively explore them in a different way and make them more sculptural. As I began experimenting with them, my aim became to create the effect of loose fabric gently blowing against a human form. I played with putting them in groups and called them Synergy Series as together I felt they evoked a stylised sense of human movement, like a sort of dance.

Blown, Photo; Ester Segarra

Mixing form and fragility, I make kiln formed works that imitate fluid fabric in glass. Sometimes incorporated with organic blown forms, I make pieces that emulate the body and its coverings. My Cloaked Collection are large, figurative pieces that are the culmination of the development of ideas and processes made over a long period of time.

Clocked – Odysseus & Calypso, Photo; Ester Segarra

The process of slow, considered exploration of the material cold and rigid in the studio. The technical exploration of hot glass processes requiring quick judgements in order to create a form, drawn from observation. And the process of resolution, so by bringing these elements together, produces something that is greater than the sum of the parts.

Clocked – Collection, Photo; Ester Segarra

The pieces stand tall like characters in a play, conveying the essence of inevitable tragedy to be found in life, love, war and death.


Cloaked – A film about the work of Cathryn Shilling

After your back operation many glass artists would have give up.  How has your injury and operation given you glass art momentum?

Even before my operation in 2011 I had found that working with glass helped me through some very difficult times. My studio was a place of sanctuary. I wasn’t sure how able I would be after the operation, so I prepared my entries for the 2012 Bullseye Emerge competition and the British Glass Biennale and made the applications whilst still in hospital. Looking back I can’t really remember the early days, weeks or months after the surgery. I had to start by learning to walk again and it was jolly hard work. But it is probably being a glass artist and the desire and drive to continue to make my work that helped me in my rehabilitation.

Working as curator at London Glassblowing was also important to me in my recovery. It is a great feeling when all the preparatory work comes together to make a beautiful show. 

How essential an element is, having a talented team to work with?

Since my operation I have had to change certain things about my practice, there is much I can still do but I have had to realistic about what I can no longer do. In a way this has been quite liberating because I no longer am restrained by my own quite poor skills in the hot shop. I have been associated with London Glassblowing since I was a glass student and I have always enjoyed the interplay between warm and hot glass techniques. Working with a very talented team, be it at London Glassblowing or at Devereux & Huskie has become essential for my blown work.

Hidden Gestures VI, Photo; Ester Segarra

My kiln glass is a different matter as I mainly work in a scale that I can manage for myself, although sometimes I need to use an assistant for logistical reasons. I find the most difficult and tiring part of my practice is packing work safely for shipping so I often need help with this.

Can you explain your collaboration with Bruce Marks using Tidal I and Tidal II and the whole series development together.

Cathryn Shilling & Bruce Marks, Tidal I, Photo; Ester Segarra

In 2017 London Glassblowing held an exhibition called Synergy that was all about collaborations. Bruce Marks is a glass blower and the Studio Manager and he asked if I would like to collaborate with him and make a piece for this show. The starting point for the work was a conversation reminiscing the joy of discovering the myriad of ocean creatures and plants in and around rock pools during childhood seaside holiday trips. Despite the fact that my holidays were in the UK and Bruce’s were in South Africa.

Cathryn Shilling & Bruce Marks, Tidal II, Photo; Ester Segarra

Rock pools are found in the intertidal zones around the world and are filled with seawater at high tide but become separate pools at low tide, revealing a whole new world, teeming with life. The flora and fauna that live in them need to be hardy enough to withstand the constant changes in their environment and are uniquely adapted to their conditions. These include sea anemones, crabs, sea stars, sponges, whelks, sea urchins , abalone and shrimps as well as seaweed and sea grass.

Tidal I and II are made up of many different complex canes, fused together, so that they give the sense of miniature marine eco systems. It is intended that through these pieces, the viewer is drawn into the detail and perhaps discovers an element that rekindles childhood memories and emotions from a past now dormant in the mind.

Discuss the Series ‘Hidden Gestures’


Hidden Gestures II, Photo; Ester Segarra

Kinesics is the study of Body Language by which humans subconsciously give and receive non-verbal communications. These physical expressions may reveal our true feelings by signalling the difference between what we say and what we mean. Body posture, and the position of a body in relation to others is an important indicator of feelings, attitudes and moods.

Through Hidden Gestures I strive to capture the quality of a particular human movement or behaviour through glass. This body of work is produced by fusing and slumping but it is not quite what it seems at first glance. By using texture, light and colour in an unexpected way my intention is to evoke a stylised sense of human movement, without literally recreating the form of a human within fabric.

Hidden Gestures IV, Photo; Ester Segarra

The meaning stems from a dialogue the pieces share. The forms although separate, are interconnected through a continuous flow of movement from one to the other. This is underpinned by the use of the colour turquoise that is included in all of the pieces. Although these are individual pieces, my aim is to create a collaboration between a group free-standing entity, evoking a symphony of movement greater than that of the individual components.

Recently you had a residency at Northern Lands Creative, Scotland.  Where has this residency taken you work?

The residency at North Lands Creative was an amazing opportunity and gave me time and space to concentrate entirely on my own work. At the beginning of the residency I was offered an exhibition in the North Lands Gallery. It is quite a large space but I was determined to give them a good show.

I followed three different threads of work during the residency, one of which involved using thicker clear glass cane than I’ve worked with before to make exhibition pieces on a bigger scale, experimenting with pushing the material beyond its usual technical parameters. I will be showing some of these pieces in a solo show at Vessel Gallery in London in June this year. Secondly, I was able to finally pursue an idea that had been in my thoughts for a long time, based on photographic imagery from the local area that I printed on silk as well as glass. The third thread was not planned for and evolved during the residency. My observations of the natural environment during my time at North Lands Creative has led to a completely new direction in my work. Through this work my aim is to capture, in a compelling and evocative way, the ‘Genius loci – spirit of place’, particularly where sky, land and sea collide. I am excited by the possibilities.

 Nestled, Photo; Ester Segarra 

How has your involvement with Peter Layton influenced your glass and your career?

I first went to London Glassblowing in 2004 as a student of blown glass. In 2009 when the studio found a new home in the then up and coming Bermondsey Street, I began working in the new gallery space to help out. Then in 2010 Peter Layton asked me to curate an edit of the British Glass Biennale. I think my background in design has helped me immensely in my role as Curator, a position I am very proud to hold.

Although I still continue making fused glass in my own studio, the creative atmosphere at London Glassbowing has had an enormous influence on my work. The gallery has a rich exhibition programme each year that showcases Peter Layton and his team of artists as well as the very best contemporary glass artists currently working in the UK and beyond. Over the past ten years I can really see how much my work has developed with each exhibition opportunity that being part of London Glassblowing brings. More than once an exhibition theme has set me on a fresh and exiting path, especially when that involves collaborating with another artist in the team. I have learnt so much from my colleagues and watching both the glassblowers and the cold workers has broadened my creative horizons. Being amongst such talented people really keeps me on my toes.

Explain about The Gallery of London Glassblowing, where you are the Curator.  Why should a visit to this gallery be a London must do?

Established in 1976, London Glassblowing is one of the longest running hot glass studios in Europe. It is unique in that visitors to the gallery are welcome to come and watch some of the finest makers in the world at work. To find such a hub of creativity and craft in the middle of London is so unexpected and exciting but it also helps people to understand the value of the work on display in the gallery. The gallery itself has a dynamic exhibition programme, featuring the finest contemporary glass artists from the UK and across the world, as well as work by Peter Layton and the team of resident artists. Consequently we attract visitors from all over the world.

Cathryn Shilling & Anthony Scala, The Fleeting Nature, Photo; Ester Segarra

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