The Guild provides an insight into contemporary Glass Engraving. It aims to promote the highest standards of glass engraving.The website contains techniques, a gallery of members engraved glass, where to see it and where to learn to engrave.
Stipple Engraver – James Denison-Pender, Fellow of the Guild of Glass Engravers
|Why Glass as a medium?
When I first discovered Laurence Whistler’s work in the early
sixties I saw it as a natural progression from the detailed pen & ink drawing which I enjoyed. I think stippling lead me to glass rather than the other way around.
What made you take up glass engraving and stipple in particular?
Stippling appealed to me because I liked the idea of working entirely in tone. Another advantage I discovered when engraving on glass was working from dark to light. It seemed much more natural to draw with light rather than with darkness. And I learnt to appreciate the transparency of glass. That is why I experimented with working on different surfaces within one engraving. It seemed a waste not to use the ability to see engraving on more than one surface at the same time.
|After discovering Whistler’s work I found a crude scriber with an uncut diamond tip, and started scratching away on poor quality glass. It wasn’t really possible to stipple properly with this equipment on hard glass, so my first attempts were more line engravings. Eventually I got hold of a decent full lead crystal goblet. I remember engraving a piece of sea holly on it. The leaves are covered in little raised bumps, and I tried to represent these with tiny dots. The result looked more like shading than leaf texture, and I realised I had stumbled on stipple engraving by mistake. I never looked back.|
|Where did you learn the techniques you practice?
I was entirely self-taught and didn’t meet other stipple engravers until the Guild was formed in the early seventies. I had a year off work recovering from hepatitis shortly after I started engraving. I had to sit still, and engraving turned out to be the perfect occupation. After returning to my job in the computer industry I tried to combine it with engraving, but it was impossible and eventually I took the plunge and ‘gave up the day job’. The formation of the Guild gave me the chance to meet other engravers and to exhibit alongside them. At a very early Guild exhibition I had a goblet exhibited between goblets by Laurence and Simon Whistler. Having thought I was making good progress I realised that I had hardly started. It really was back to the drawing board.
|What excites you about the medium?
I’ve covered the technical aspects which enthuse me. I was also excited by how little had been done. Laurence Whistler had discovered a medium which had a ‘classical’ period in Holland between 1740 and 1810 but had no 19th century. Artistically my heart was always in the romantic movement, and here was a medium perfectly suited to little romantic pictures, and it was possible to do new things without being particularly ‘modern’. Most of what the Whistlers and other stipple engravers were doing was based on landscape or architecture, and there did seem to be a gap to fill by doing figurative work.
Who are your heroes in glass?
Laurence Whistler obviously takes first place, but I’d particularly like to talk about Simon Whistler. He and I shared an exhibition at Asprey in 1990. We discovered that, though working in the same medium, we went about almost everything completely differently. He did the most beautiful preparatory drawings and wouldn’t make a mark on the glass until every artistic decision had been made on paper. I worked things out in paint on the glass and liked to leave scope to develop my ideas as the engraving progressed. I never attained his level of skill as a pure stippler, but the technical standards he and his father set are still my benchmark. Simon was also an outstanding musician, one of the leading period instrument viola players of his time.
As a keen music lover with no musical ability myself I was always in awe of a man who was so talented in two different fields.
|Which artists from other media inspire you?
The painters who have had the most direct influence on my work are Jean-Francois Millet and Domenico Tiepolo. Millet’s paintings showed me how to compose pictures which were a balance between figure painting and landscape. Because of him figures in landscape and architecture have become my favourite subjects, particularly in the work I do in India. The poems Rabindranath Tagore have also been a big influence in my Indian subjects. Domenico Tiepolo’s Punchinello drawings have provided me with wonderful ideas for characters in my engravings of Venice, a city which otherwise lacks indigenous life these days.
|What are you working on at the moment?
I am working on a commissioned goblet of a country house, though most of the work I do now is mainly on flat glass. I recently completed a cycle of 14 Stations of the Cross for a Catholic church in Ripon. They are large pieces by my standards, so mostly engraved with a drill, although I did revert to stippling for the faces, hands etc. They are due to be installed in the summer of 2020.
What are your thoughts on the future of glass engraving?
I can only speak for stipple engraving, and I’m not convinced about its future. Both in the 18th and 20th
centuries it really grew out of the availability of very soft full lead crystal goblets and wine glasses, which
have largely disappeared. Goblets appealed to what is now an older generation. A few years ago I
exhibited several goblets and flat glass pieces in the Northern Branch exhibition at the Bowes Museum.
All the flat glass pieces sold and none of the goblets. I enjoy doing my flat glass pieces but the glass is
harder and it is physically hard work. It’s also difficult to get good quality tungsten carbide points now.
Only the lighting for display keeps improving.