Monday, 3 June 2013

I know Kung-Fu - Jennifer Umphress class

There is a bit in 'The Matrix' where Keanu Reeves is plugged in, and they start uploading martial arts information into his brain. When asked how he feels, he just says, 'Woa! I know Kung-Fu!' Well, I sorta know how he feels now.

Jennifer Umphress working on an Octopus
This weekend I went for a short 3 day course at Diana East's lovely studio at the Old Dairy in Narborough. I felt very lucky to be able to get lessons from Jennifer Umphress who produces some really stunning sea life glass sculptures. It's so rare to get a chance to take borosilicate lessons in the UK from someone of her calibre, so the first pleasant surprise was Jessica Landau  had come along too to act as Teaching Assistant! So, combined with it being a really small class, we got really well looked after and the opportunity for some really intense teaching, almost one-to-one on many occasions. We actually discovered that Jennifer normally teaches this course over two weeks, so we really were getting the intense full-on version. Typical that I had a cold that weekend, and a cough that occasionally interrupted my lampworking!

I won't go into full details now, I'm pretty tired, but they were such excellent teachers, and refreshingly open about sharing techniques and skills with us. I'm also not going to post loads of photo's of what I managed to make, as they aren't as good as I know I can do with some more practise. I was really intent on trying to learn as much as possible, I know the real work comes now as I practise, practise, practise all that we covered - and we covered an awful lot!

The first day we made some little cute whale sculptures, which had a really tricky fold technique in their tail (literally!) A bit of practise on those and xmas tree decorations, and it was straight in to making turtles and pendants. The next day was jellyfish, which gave me a chance to brush up on my techniques for these and see how I could improve, and then into some 'woooooaaaa' moments as Jennifer demo'ed a huge seahorse sculpture, which was incredibly elegant and stunning - and then it was our turn!
Sea Horse

Quite nerve racking and tricky to do, I'm certainly going to have to practise that one! Luckly Jessica was on hand to help save one from becoming just a melted blob of scrap glass! Jessica then showed us how to make a small pendant size version (it was incredibly tricky and delicate) before one last demo of the day from Jennifer, of a manta ray, which was just open-jaw-stunning!

Manta Ray, the picture doesn't do justice to it!
After a lovely meal with everyone on the course at the local Indian restaurant, (which bizarrely doubles as a hotel where a few of us stayed), I woke on the last day with ideas already buzzing around my head of ways I could use some of the new techniques. We were straight into making huge Angelfish though - I loved making these, they are both chunky and elegant, and have room for some experimenting too.

Jennifer then took some time to talk us through and show how to do some incredibly clever stuff to mount our work, I think I could actually feel my brain filling up at this point! They were both so open at sharing skills and techniques that I've seen used on sculptures that I'd not imagined I'd be able to easily learn, or anyone would be so happy to share. This was some serious glass 'Kung-Fu!' Along with my brain filling up, so was my note book, every page has techniques and snippets of information that was gladly imparted to us. We were desperately running out of time (and oxygen) but there was just enough of both for us to learn how to make little octopus pendants, before the final demo where Jennifer made one of her signature 3D octopuses. Although she said we'd probably not need to see each leg put on as it might be boring for us, none of us moved! It was quite awe-inspiring to see, I did get a few photos but my phone camera was just too slow and shaky.

Taking a hot octopus in hand!

After buying a few colour rods (errr, ok, many rods) we all regrettably said goodbye and headed off. It both flew past, but was so full and inspiring, and it was such a treat to spend so much time with so many fellow UK lampworkers too, and chat about the world of glass. In fact there was so much more that happened and we covered in such a short time that I can't cover in such a short post!

I certainly have a lot to do this week after the expo,  I don't know where some of these new techniques and ideas will take me, but I certainly feel that I've got the confidence to go and now take on so much more - now that I know glass Kung-Fu!

My notebook, this is how many pages I filled during the weekend!


  1. Nice pieces Glen! I wish I could have been there, but I spent out 2 weeks before going to Murano instead???????

  2. Glen I knew I wouldn't be up to doing the course but when Di bought the pieces to show me on Friday I was kicking myself. Why didn't I go, have an amazing time just watching and learn something to be adapted to soft glass? Until I am onto the dark side that is (I need more 02 for that :)). I was lucky enough to get the little whale though. It looks like it was truly inspiring and I can't wait to see what you do.

  3. It was very inspiring, and they were both so generous with information and ideas - when Jennifer made the big octopus at the end everyone was hoping around like excited nine year olds! (myself included!) :-)