The first time anyone sees Penel Bigg’s beautiful and sculptural glass works they fall in love with them – they literally look good enough to eat. A lifelong passion and curiosity with everything natural has coalesced into an ever evolving development of using glass to create works that resonate and communicate something sublime and essential, something that reminds or quickens of a childhood when you wanted every lolly, and lots of them – that’s how beautiful Penel’s works are, you want all of them.
“Working with glass is like working with a living thing, you introduce it into the flame and as it softens the consistency becomes rather like honey and you learn to use heat and gravity and air from your lungs to guide and manipulate this amazing material into whatever shape you want. It becomes a dance. But a dance in which sometimes one partner leads, and sometimes the other.
I usually begin working with a clear intention but sometimes the glass leads me in a different direction – this collaborative relationship makes flameworking endlessly fascinating and fun. One of the most important things to learn, besides reading the heat base and remembering that gravity exists (glass will drip onto the bench if you forget!) is to learn to surrender to that flow, to follow and see where it might lead.
A lifetime of enjoying, appreciating, observing and sketching nature helps too. So much beauty exists and it is a gift to be able to spend a good deal of my time trying to convey the wonder and beauty of the natural world, with a bit of my own idiosyncratic quirkiness thrown in for good measure.”
Penel has a teaching studio on the Northern Beaches and holds regular classes and workshops in both soda lime and borosilicate glass, details on www.firebirdbeads.com or contact her on 0422 437 812 for more information.
Some of my highlights
But a few years ago during a dark time battling the self-doubt that we all sometimes suffer from (ie, why do I bother making all these things?!) I read this inscription while browsing in a bookstore:
If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.
And since then whenever creative self-doubt strikes I remember these words, although I’m not sure this was quite what Thomas meant by it (googling this quote just now I find it is in fact from the Gospel of Thomas). It helps me to remember that in the end I make things because I can’t not, and doing so is in fact a process of self-discovery meaningful perhaps only to me, but that is more than enough reason to continue.
Wandering along any of our beaches and headlands at low tide is one of my favourite things and can now also qualify as research and development, so that’s a bonus. It is amazing to be living between the marine environment and the bush and to see the development of my glass work as a natural consequence of my environment. None of which is a really a conscious process, walking along the beach, walking around the headlands or in the bush; all this beauty goes in and then if all goes well it gets transformed and comes back out in glass. It’s just lovely the way that happens all by itself.
In the near future I hope to spend some time travelling overseas to North America and Japan, places where many flameworkers are really pushing the boundaries of what has been achieved to date, and studying with some of the many incredible artists in this field.