Cracking the secrets of stained glass with Keny Drew of East Neuk Glass
If you are looking for a quiet weekend and enjoy finding out about a new skill, then a weekend at East Neuk Glass might be just what you’ve been looking for!
You may have met Keny Drew at the East Neuk Open Studios, or perhaps at the Crail Food Festival where he’s popped up to sell beautiful works of fused and stained glass. A photographer by training, Keny has developed methods of combining his love of photography with screen printing, stained glass making and fused glass to produce his own unique style. His move to the East Coast means that so much of his inspiration now comes from the sea and coast which he visits daily on his walks with his wee dog, Dub.
Arriving at the Comielaw Studio where our East Neuk Glass weekend course was to take place, we were greeted with a roaring fire, a warm welcome, and strains of the music of King Creosote playing gently in the background. This completed the feeling that you don’t have to go too far in the East Neuk of Fife to uncover a wealth of creative talent. After an introduction to the intricacies of the coffee machine (help yourself to fresh brewed coffee throughout the day), we were presented with a couple of essential tools for our new hobby, and instructed to start cutting.
Group sizes are kept small, with a maximum class size of 8 people, so you’ll have plenty of help if you need it as you take your first tentative steps to slicing some pieces of plain glass. At this stage, we started to cut straight lines, scoring the glass with our glass cutters and then gently tapping from the underside until fissures appeared and the glass sheared off, hopefully along the lines which we’d drawn. We moved on swiftly to squiggles which were of course much more difficult to cut.
Before long, we were being introduced to the first of our projects, which was to be a fused glass bowl. We’d only been at this a few minutes, and already we were going to be creating something impressive. That’s why this is such a rewarding pastime, you can start off with something really simple and feel a real sense of accomplishment very quickly.
We were introduced to a very restricted palette of only three colours for our first project. With only straight lines to work with, we were immediately faced with the design challenge of making an interesting square design without too much cutting. We did take a peek at some fused glass bowls for inspiration, following a quick search for images on the computer. But we didn’t really need the inspiration from there, just a bit of an idea of what we would be attempting.
At this stage you can experiment with stripes of different thickness, or as I did, break up the lines with some shapes, the main objective to end up with your stripes and shapes fitting neatly into the square template. The next step is to make sure they all fit well together and then place them on a sheet of clear glass to be popped into the kiln to cook. This part of the process takes h-o-u-r-s and some of it will happen overnight, so we will need some patience! The glass will be fused together in the first part of the process as the kiln heats to its peak temperature, then once it’s cooled down again after many hours it will be placed over a mould and allowed to drop very slowly to form a dip in the middle, thus forming a bowl.
With one cutting project under our belts, it was time to think about creating a new object using a different technique. Up in the corner of the studio is a little window decorated with Keny’s East Neuk Glass design in “Irn Bru” colours (vibrant orange and blue if you don’t know the logo of our “other national drink”). Our challenge this time would be to cut some curvy pieces, and indeed a circle! Not with an easy-to use circle-cutting tool, but a hand-drawn circle which was too small for the cutting tool, so we’d have to learn how to trim glass with a nibbling cutter as well as our tried and tested scoring cutter.
We were let loose on 4 boxes of different colours and textures of glass. I decided to keep to a narrow colour range and chose some opaque glass pieces as well as some with different textures and printed designs. When I saw others with more vibrant schemes, I had some moments of doubt, but Keny gently assured me that all would be well when it was combined.
The hours of the afternoon whizzed by. We’d been treated to a delicious lunch upstairs in a loft room above the converted stables, where a selection of fine East Neuk delicacies was spread to whet our appetites. Along with Crail Crab, we had some of Murray Barnett’s Artisan Bread from Barnett’s the East Neuk bakers, as well as a selection of salads from Crail Co-op. It was a delight to sit warming ourselves by the wood-burning stove and share stories of the outside world as we reflected on how far we’d already come with our artistic endeavours.
It took some time to cut the 11 pieces of our stained glass design, and we were gradually introduced to some more tools such as the lead clamp for stretching the lead trims we’d use to join the pieces together, and the lead cutting tool which we used to gently separate the lengths of lead we needed. Blocking our pieces and using the electric-powered angle-grinder were also on the list of achievements for the afternoon’s work.
We’d made good progress for our first day, and I for one felt sure that we’d used muscles I didn’t know about as we twisted and moved around the bench to create the shapes we needed for our designs.
Day 2 of our East Neuk Glass Workshop Weekend
Arriving back at the Comielaw Studios workshop on Sunday promptly at 10 am, there was excitement in store as Keny opened the kiln and our fused glass pieces from the previous morning were revealed.
Not yet in their finished glory, but after the first stage of heating to 800 °C then gradually cooling so that the pieces of glass fused together without cracking. Keny explained that he had placed plaster of Paris on the base of the kiln in order to create some texture on the flat surface of the glass. Since moving to the East Neuk Keny says it is his mission to incorporate the essence of the sea into his creations (and ours!). The next stage of the process is to return the flat glass sandwich to the kiln, having placed it on a mould. The kiln will once more heat the glass to very high temperatures and the glass will slump into the mould, assuming the shape of the mould as it cools. This stage would take a further 12 hours, so patience is required.
We then returned to our benches to work on our stained glass project once more. The tricky stage of getting the circular glass encased in the lead moulding, and gradually piecing all the other bits together once more began and we were concentrating very hard to follow the process and keep the coloured glass butted together as we added the final pieces. Once we’d finished the jigsaw puzzle element, it was time to trim all the edges with lead and nail some pieces of wood on the surrounds to keep everything tightly fitted and ready for the finishing touches.
At this point the group voted to head out to the nearby St Andrews Farmhouse Cheese Company café for some hearty bowls of soup and sandwiches. There was a copy of the Living Magazine (Tay & Forth) at the entrance to the café so we were able to read the recent article about Keny’s glass making and workshops.
After a delicious lunch, we returned to Comielaw to ‘crack on’ with the remainder of our stained glass project. We prepared the lead by roughening the places where we were going to solder (another new skill!) with a nail, then rubbing them with some tallow to allow the solder to flow, warmed up the soldering irons and connected all the cut lead pieces together. Our panels were beginning to look more real. Keny explained that the only difference between what we were doing and the medieval techniques was that the soldering iron would have been heated in an open fire rather than by plugging it into an electric socket. We donned gloves next to push putty into all the gaps under the lead – probably my least favourite process as it was difficult to see whether the putty was really going in as the space was so small. A small plastic tool was our final piece of equipment, which we used to curve the lead closer to the glass and remove some of the putty. A wooden kebab stick was used for the detailed putty removal.
We were then on to polishing the lead and buffing it with soft brushes until it attained a dull blackened colour and the glass was sparkly. Soldering on little copper hooks to hang our finished pieces completed the work of art.
I am very excited to see the fused glass bowl too, but it will have to wait for a return trip to the East Neuk and another weekend break.
Keny asked the group for feedback about the pace and content of his weekend course, which he’d determined after seeing how quickly his evening class students progressed. I’d say that the content was perfectly timed for beginners to the craft. It was wonderful to be able to complete 2 projects in 2 days. We worked quite steadily between 10 am and 4 pm, finishing a little later on the first day and a little earlier on the second. We were sociable and chatted, but focused hard on the craft which we were learning. Perhaps the timings might not have worked quite as well if the group were chattier or larger, but we had a great balance of being sociable and concentrating. My hands were a little stiff after the second day’s course, but this was down to using tools in an unfamiliar way rather than a major inconvenience. All in all, a great experience, and one which I’m eager to repeat.
Keny has indicated that his hope is that people who have undertaken a certain number of hours of tuition will begin to return to the studio to hire a bench and pay for materials to continue their own projects in future, and that would be a wonderful way to continue to apply what we learned.
If you’d like to visit the East Neuk of Fife to take one of the 2-day weekend or 4-day weekly courses, then check Keny’s website for details.
We would love to welcome you to Sandcastle Cottage. However for now its weekly lets only.
Find out more about art and craft experiences in the East Neuk
Keny Drew’s East Neuk Glass – evening classes, weekend and short break workshops
Workshops and Classes with Cambo Heritage Trust on nearby Cambo Estate – events include such delights as willow weaving, stone carving, wood workshops and much more.
Knitting and Crochet workshops at the Woolly Brew in Pittenweem
East Neuk Open Studios – events at open weekends in spring and autumn each year including workshops with artists and crafters
East Neuk Festival – the annual music and literary festival which offers an opportunity to take part in art workshops too
Crail Food Festival – annual food festival in mid-June including opportunities to meet local artisan food producers
Crail Festival – annual 10-day arts festival for all ages includes children’s and adults workshops
Pittenweem Arts Festival – annual 10 day art fair where you can meet the artists and makers