Introduction: Embracing the Unexpected

If you had spoken to me in 2016 and told me that in 2024, I would be getting ready to take part in a Glass Art Exhibition and exhibit some of my very own glass art, I would have thought that you had either mistaken me for somebody else entirely or that you were completely delusional. Yet, here I am, 8 years later, on the brink of showcasing my creations in my very first glass art exhibition.

It’s a journey from the structured world of science to the spontaneous and sometime chaotic free-spirited arena of glass art.  It’s a transformation that I never saw coming but one that has brought unexpected joy, fulfilment, and freedom. Sometimes, I still have to pinch myself to believe that I’m really doing this.

The formative years

Growing up with a profound love for animals and an insatiable curiosity about the workings of the world, my path seemed clear. I was going to be a Veterinary Surgeon where I could combine the two passions of my life in the ideal career.  Those early days were marked by determination and resilience when I would think nothing of furiously pedalling those 5 or 6 miles to get to the local Vet’s surgery to watch the latest operation taking place.  This was all necessary to be able to meet the requirements for gaining a coveted place at University to do Veterinary Science.

Needless to say, life had other plans in place for me and after opening the envelope with my A’ level results in, I was headed in a rather different direction. I decided to do a degree in Biology and during my placement year in Edinburgh at the Centre for Tropical Veterinary Medicine, I discovered that I actually enjoyed the intricacies of scientific research over the hands-on work with the animals.  Fate certainly works in mysterious ways.

Professional shift

Fast forward through the years and I found myself immersed in the world of Medical Physics and Immunology, earning a PhD and eventually leading my own research group. Never one to take the easier path, I was solving puzzles that straddled the realms of both biology and physics, surrounded by like-minded colleagues driven by a sense of curiosity and a quest for knowledge and discovery.  I thoroughly enjoyed mentoring budding scientists and watching them develop their own skills and embark on their careers was an unexpected privilege.  By this stage I had secured a permanent position in a field of work where there was little long-term job security.  It seemed that I had achieved everything that I had aspired to in those early years.

Mid-life Reflection

As I reached what felt like the pinnacle of my career, I found that I was starting to struggle to find joy in what I was doing.  Whilst I loved working with the team, I found myself embroiled more and more in management and admin with less and less opportunity for the hands-on research that I had so enjoyed.  The continuous chase for funding was relentless and, whenever my group was successful, the financial administrators seemed to have very different ideas from us as to how that money could best be utilised.

It was during this increasingly stressful period of my career that fate stepped in once again.  Seeking distractions from the pressure at work, I came across a leaflet advertising “glass fusing” courses at Creative Glass Guild in Bristol.  This was something I’d not come across before but it sounded like fun and I was curious to explore what it might be, so I signed up to a course on fused glass jewellery for beginners.  Little did I know what changes in my life this chance encounter would lead to.  I can still vividly recall the exact moment that I stepped into the combined shop and studio for the first time, with the sunlight casting a kaleidoscope of colour across the walls from all the different sheets of glass on the racks around the room. That moment ignited a creative flame in me that I never knew existed until then.  After that first course, I walked out of the studio completely and utterly addicted to glass art. The Flames of Freedom had been lit!

Artistic Awakening

The transformation was gradual but profound.  Each course, each piece of glass fused was a step closer to a different path.  I was fortunate enough to be able to set up a workbench and kiln at home so I could continue to experiment and create new pieces.  Each new creation was a testament to the joy and sense of liberation that I found whilst working in this fascinating new medium.  Our home began to fill up with more and more glass as I started to really explore the range of possibilities.  I was having fun – the fun that I had missed in my work now that I was no longer practically involved in laboratory research.  As my experience with glass fusing increased alongside the joy I found in experimenting with each new technique, I realised that I could no longer keep this as just a hobby.  Apart from anything else, we were running out of room in our house – I needed to take a deep breath, embrace my vulnerability and start showing my glass to the outside world.

Opportunities, Evolution, and Change

The transition from a seasoned research scientist to a fledgling glass artist was not without its challenges.  I was operating in a completely unfamiliar world.  There was a steep learning curve as I got to grips with changing my hobby into a business and learning what I needed to do as an entrepreneur.  Having spent all of my working life to this point as an employee, it was completely new territory.  It was very daunting to push myself right out of my comfort zone and start actually marketing my art and getting the balance right between business and creativity was an ongoing challenge.  However, amidst all this, I found myself enjoying the unexpected connections I was making through my art.  The video shared with me of a mother, moved to tears by the bespoke glass gift commissioned for her, by her daughter, with the gifting delayed due to lockdown, still sends goosebumps down my spine.  It’s a memory that I will cherish for as long as I live.  My scientific research never had quite that same emotional impact! Art has an incredible transformative power, not only for the artist but for the beholder as well.  I still find it hard to believe that something I have created can bring about such an emotional connection and impact.

Hopes and Aspirations

As I continue to explore this new chapter, the importance of experimentation and play remains at the forefront of my mind. The thrill of exploring new techniques, the anticipation of my first exhibition, and the continuous journey of personal and artistic growth fill my days with unexpected joy.

As I mull over which pieces of my glass art I am going to submit to the art exhibition, I think about the direction my life has taken.  From the precise world of science to the fluid expressions of glass art, each step has been a leap towards freedom and fulfilment.  This exhibition is not just a display of artwork; it’s a celebration of transformation, of the unexpected paths that lead us to discover our true passions and the freedom to pursue them. 

I am looking forward to sharing this opportunity with the other artists who are taking part and who have each had their own individual path to follow to this point.  We are looking forward with both excitement and trepidation to being able to share our work with the wider community.  I invite you to join us in celebrating the joy that comes from embracing creativity and allows the Flames of Freedom to burn brightly within all of us.

Check back here for further posts as I reach a decision on my designs for the exhibition and embark on the creative process. The exhibition will be taking place at Prior Gallery in Bristol from the end of April 2024 and I’ll share a link as soon as it’s available.