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etched glass design sculpture with Clive Sparkes leading glass designer

When did you first become interested in etched glass, and what sparked your curiosity about this particular art form?

I became interested in etched and sandblasted glass at the age of 18. Working for my father’s glass company, I was keen to explore and understand the techniques that the craftsmen used to decorate the glass in the 18th and 19th centuries. The way the designs played with light and shadow captivated me, sparking a deep curiosity to explore this unique art form further.

How did you go about discovering more about etched & sandblasted glass?

My fascination with etched glass led me to spend countless hours researching and experimenting with different etching techniques. Initially, glass artists would mask areas of glass with animal fats and then pour hydrofluoric acid over the surface so that the acid would effectively eat away the glass leaving a milky finish. I still use the principles of this technique, using a low tack vinyl to mask the design onto the glass, and then rather than acid, which creates health and safety problems, I sandblast the glass. This involves firing an abrasive at the surface of the glass at pressure to remove the surface in the way that acid would have done in Victorian times. I also used other materials such as glue to decorate the glass. The company didn’t have resources to invest in expensive sandblasting equipment to begin with and so I experimented with various guns and even set up a bath in which to etch glass.

How would you describe the process of creating etched glass artwork, and what challenges did you face?

Working with etched glass demands a great deal of care and close attention to detail. With a very intricate glass panel, you can spend hours and hours weeding away the design mask to leave intricate and fine detail on the glass. If you miss a tiny piece of the design, the end result can be flawed and meaningless when viewed from a distance. It is a discipline that can only be learnt and taught by practical excercise and dedication to the trade. Many years later I have honed this trade and now enjoy teaching others the skills but, more importantly the patience required.

How do you think the history and cultural significance of etched glass have influenced its modern-day applications as an art form?

I am very respectful of the glass artists and decorators of previous centuries who had little access to technology, minimal concern for health and safety but still had the discipline to spend hours and hours creating single pieces of glass art. It is for this reason that we still have etched glass to see today, it would have been an expensive luxury building material and hotels such as The Ritz and Claridges have some great examples of etched glass in their restaurants. Glass artists like William Morris, famous for some of the amazing stained glass work which can be seen today, developed the process of glass decoration and etching into a mass manufactured product. His ethos and socialist views, not common in the 19th century as a factory owner have set me in good stead and I hope my own values reflect his.

What inspires you to share your knowledge and passion for etched glass with others?

My career of over 35 years has been enriching for me to continue to develop glass decoration and take it to a new level. I have been fortunate to have been shortlisted and have won several awards for my innovation with glass and lighting and I have exhibited around the world. I am currently working on a new design catalogue with many of my hand-drawn designs which I want to make available to other small companies so that they might also be able to offer beautiful decorative glass.

Whilst technology and lately, AI will offer companies the opportunities to systemise and to create new innovative processes, I like to think that etched glass will continue to grow in popularity and that future products will only get better in their innovative nature and functionality.

etched glass design using shade to create lady on glass

In your experience, how does the process of creating etched glass impact your own emotions and thoughts, and what do you hope to convey through your artwork?

Glass has an ethereal beauty, its transparent nature can bring light, a feeling of space and can improve our wellbeing. It can enhance our everyday emotions from the time we open the curtains to let in light right through to the end of the day.

Art has the ability to transform us to a new place, I create ranges that inspire me. The process of creating etched glass is both meditative and inspiring. Each piece becomes an expression of my emotions and thoughts, reflecting my love for the art and the beauty of nature that often influences my designs.

Glass worker making sandblasted glass
edge lit etched glass

What techniques or tools do you find most fascinating or effective in etching glass and how did you discover these?

I constantly push the limits in what can be achieved with glass etching and sandblasting. I suppose for me, the shading effects which are created by changing the pressure at which the abrasive hits the glass are the most fascinating as you can create a 3d look with a flat piece of glass. I continue to learn what can be achieved. Simply, leaving the gun on the glass for a long period of time, taught me how to carve through glass, and this led to the glass motorcycle. This was carved from a single piece of glass and hand etched to give a shaded effect. It appeared at various glass exhibitions and was eventually auctioned for charity.

Etched glass sculpture of a motorcyle

I envision a bright future for etched glass as more artists explore its possibilities and incorporate it into various applications. Personally, I hope to continue pushing the boundaries of design and techniques, contributing to the growth and recognition of etched glass as a versatile and timeless art form.

Go Glass shop front.

Clive Sparkes is the Design Director at Go Glass. Established in 1978, the family-owned and run business work on projects of any size in the UK and Europe.

You can call Clive directly on 01223 211041 or visit the website https://goglass.co.uk Clive’s design catalogue will be available from August 2023.