In 2020 we have seen an amazingly talented new group of members join Design-Nation. One of these is Helen Slater Stokes, selected in February by our independent panel. We caught up with Helen and asked her a few questions about her practice, inspiration and much more.
Design-Nation asked: Please tell us about your practice and how your business began.
Helen Slater Stokes answered: After completing my master’s degree in Glass at the Royal College of Art in 1996, I worked for glass mosaic artist Rebecca Newnham, before finally setting up my own workshop in London in 1999. From then, whilst making glass, I also worked as an I.T. consultant within a Payroll and Accounts Department. This allowed me the time to work on what I wanted to make, having had a few years away from glass, and the funds/luxury to be experimental. Since then, I have moved my workshop out to Oxfordshire, where I am now based. At that time, I left I.T. and began to teach mainly at Oxford University on a part-time basis alongside my artistic practice. I really enjoy teaching, and this has been a part of my practice for the last 12 years.
D-N: Who has been your most influential teacher or mentor?
HSS: I’ve had many great teachers. I guess the one who started me off on my glass making career is Galia Amsel; she is an amazing glass caster, now based in New Zealand. She taught me on my degree at Sunderland University and convinced me that I was good enough and should apply to the RCA to do a master’s degree.
D-N: What inspires you?
HSS: Spaces – natural landscapes and virtual spaces, and in particular our perception of these spaces. The reality, the emotional response and virtual perception.
D-N: Please tell us about your design process.
HSS: I can take inspiration from a particular landscape or the notion of a mathematical space. Then I start to draw and make notes about the space, analysing how it should feel and be perceived by the viewer. Then ideas are taken into the digital to create layered imagery and even towards three dimensionally rendered spaces to enable the production of lenticular images.
D-N: What is the best thing to have happened in your business to date?
HSS: The biggest impact has been working on my PhD research. This has allowed me to really push my practice practically and theoretically. It has moved my work on and given me the courage to keep pushing myself forward. For example, I have been selected for inclusion in the British Glass Biennale exhibitions; I have work in a major glass collection in America; my work was featured in the Corning Museum of Glass New Glass Review 41 this year and I have plans currently that include showing further works in the USA, as well as exhibiting in Japan in 2021.
D-N: What is your workspace like?
HSS: I have a workshop, which is currently too small, but which does have two kilns and a range of glass cutting, grinding and polishing equipment in it. I try to keep it tidy and ordered as I can’t work in a mess. I need a clear space to be able to think straight, mess fogs my thinking.
D-N: Do you work hard on your PR or do others help you to market your business?
HSS: I do all my own PR. I try to work hard on this aspect and have signed up to various webinars and Zoom sessions to try to improve this. But, as my work and the polishing of glass is very labour intensive, it’s sometimes difficult to find the time to dedicate to this. But it is getting better.
D-N: What are the main challenges in your practice?
HSS: I guess physically keeping up with demand for work (which can limit creativity) and being financially able to take the next steps needed to expand my business, due to market uncertainties with regards to gallery sales.
D-N: Where would you like your practice to be in 10 years?
HSS: Definitely in a bigger workshop! In addition to my gallery based works I would like to be making larger works for public and private commission. Possibly by collaborating with architectural firms and industry.
D-N: If you could collaborate with someone new who would that be?
HSS: Industrially – a lenticular firm to help with larger imagery and scaling up my PhD research. Artistically – Mariele Neudecker or Olafur Eliasson would be amazing.
D-N: If you weren’t a designer what would you like to do?
HSS: I think I would always have to work in a creative field. I’d love to work as a film set character creator or model maker, for Warner Bros or Weta Workshop, in New Zealand. Making replicate objects on a different scale or modelling characters to bring them to life.
D-N: Why did you join Design-Nation? What is helpful about being a member?
HSS: I joined to add a more business orientated element to my practice in addition to enabling me to meet other makers, share knowledge and exhibit in new markets. I love making, but I needed to improve my PR, professionalism and business acumen.
D-N: Do you have you any exhibitions, commissions or events coming up that we should know about?
HSS: I am exhibiting in the USA in January at The Imagine Museum, Florida. The Op Art/Glass exhibition will open on 12th January and runs until 18th April 2021.
I have also been selected to show in Japan as part of the International KOGEI Award in Toyama 2021. But I will keep you posted, as this was postponed this year due to Covid and is currently planned for Spring 2021.
Workwise, I am just completing two private commissions for doors, which is a departure. One a large external door panel, which is being industrially produced using an architectural glass fabricator, and the other a series of smaller kiln formed glass panels for an interior door. Of course, in addition to the usual Christmas rush.