Graal: According to Wikipedia, “Graal may refer to:

Taking the glassblowing style, the term Graal broadly relates to glass blown or decorated in layers. It is usually associated with Or refers in Sweden but their innovations should be seen as a continuance of layering techniques developed over the preceding centuries.

This year, Bild-Werk in Frauenau, Germany (, which could be described as a creative space for glass artists and workers, rolled the dice and organised a week-long session of masterclasses preceded by a day’s colloquium on the subject of Graal. The idea was to investigate ways of applying the concept of multilayer blown glass to different glasswork ingredients methods, from pate de verre to engraving, lamp work to glass painting. With six masterclasses to choose from, participants in each class were able to take at least two of their designs to master glass blowers in Bild-Werk hot shop for completion.

It’s been a while (too long) since I last visited Bild-Werk, so I too rolled the dice, took a week away at a busy time of year and joined the lampworking masterclass with Shane Fero.

My previous experiences of Bild-Werk have been of the Summer Academy sessions. Just over 2 ½ weeks long, these could fairly be described as legendary by those who have attended them, with artists returning year after year to greet old friends, make new ones, recharge creative batteries and – well, learn, party and appreciate Bavarian beer.

This symposium of masterclasses felt different. Still creative, still the glass family, old friends and good beer. But with focus. We relaxed, but we also worked. The shorter time and common theme gave a sense of purpose, sometimes a little daunting, more often inspiring. Some courses worked with techniques already applied to grail- as far as lamp work was concerned, it felt very much like uncharted territory. Happily, the methods Shane and the hot shop team came up with between them worked like a dream. Not only did they work, they also allowed for a wide variety of styles and ideas.

We used glass rods and tubes pulled from furnace glass blanks to ensure compatibility. Having avoided blowing soft glass for a good couple of years (too temperamental and explosive), I was happy to find that the memory remained, leaving me able to concentrate on designs and ideas. My first piece used glass powders and stringers (thin, thin rods) to make a simple flower pattern with a red and yellow background. This, I liked. Directing the glass blowers, deciding on the shape and size of the piece, making decisions as it was blown, was scary and a completely new experience, but fun.

My second piece was more experimental. I went for a snow-on-trees idea with background mountains and flowers. This allowed me to try out painting with acrylic, painting with stained glass paints (white and black), adding shards of glass on to the blank and more drawing with stringers. I wasn’t impressed with the result. Clearly spring had come to my vase in the blowing, with no trace of white acrylic or glass paint remaining. The black stained glass paint mountains had also all but vanished, while the trees, blown up as they were, just looked- politely- naive.

I made a third blank and went back know to what I like. Less fuss, less tricks, just flowers. This one I also liked, though I would have preferred it more blown and longer.

Bild-Werk has always been a very inclusive, sharing experience and watching the other classes at work and seeing their finished work, was as inspiring as the work we did in our own studio. Seeing the blanks watiting to be blown then watching them transformed into the final piece in the hot shop was a significant distraction.

The week was preceded by a Sunday ‘colloquium’, a series of talks and discussion on Graal, the layering of hot glass for decoration and on the possibility of regeneration and moving forward in areas like Bavaria that are hit by the times and find their traditional industries and skills under threat.It finished with a dinner that showed off all the results from the classes, pulling together a conclusion and providing inspiration for further developments. Each night in between saw communal meals, talks and more discussion.

Hopefully, this week will prove to have been beneficial to many people in many ways. It was interesting, informative, fun and exciting. Here’s to many more like it in the future.

Images from the week can be seen here –  and pictures of my first and third vases are below