Martin Donlin is an award-winning artist who designs and makes site specific glass artworks on large and small scales. Both sacred and secular, his commissions have included substantial busy public buildings and small spaces for prayer and reflection. He has completed and project managed a large number of commissions in the UK, Europe and the USA. We were thrilled to welcome Martin to Design-Nation in February and recently asked him a few questions about his work, inspiration and workspace.
Design-Nation asked: Please tell us about your practice and how your business began.
After I left the Architectural Stained Glass Course in Swansea I taught part time there while setting up my own studio with the help of a Crafts Council Grant. As my own work began to take off I found that I had increasingly less time for teaching and eventually left after about eighteen months to concentrate on my own work and start my studio.
D-N: Who has been your most influential teacher or mentor?
When I was a student I was fortunate at the time that the staff were all exceptional teachers and artists in their own right. The likes of Tim Lewis, Alexander Beleschenko, Rodney Bender, Colwyn Morris, Jane McDonald, John Edwards and Glynis Cour. All amazingly talented artists and craftsmen.
D-N: What inspires you?
My work is site specific and every project is completely different, so I’m inspired by the richness of new places and the people who will experience the finished artwork. I enjoy engaging with local people in the area I am working in who can give you a personal interpretation and experience.
D-N: Please tell us a bit about your design process?
Apart from being inspired by the local landscape and context, I often use the written word in my work, traditionally stained glass was a story telling medium with images for those who couldn’t read and text for those who could. I have commissioned many writers and poets to compose works that have inspired my art and incorporated much of the text into the work.
D-N: What is the best thing to have happened in your business to date?
Around 2005 I entered an online competition for an enormous project at the new Indianapolis Airport in Indiana USA. I produced designs for one concourse but was fortunate to be awarded the commission for both concourses. The work took 4 years to complete but was extremely well received and has led on to a vast number of projects in the USA.
D-N: What is your workspace like?
I now have a studio at my home in Brighton, I have found it easier to concentrate on research and development of ideas in a quiet space that still has enough room for me to experiment. To begin I had a workshop/studio and managed to create works with the occasional help from students, but increasingly found the facilities I had were insufficient for the projects demands. With projects becoming larger I had decided to seek help and expertise from outside sources, in particular the German Studios, where the artist can still paint or acid-etch the glass themselves but the firing, transportation, installation etc. were all completed by the studio experts.
D-N: Do you work hard on your PR or do others help you to market your business?
When I first began my practice, I spent a large part of my week concentrating on PR and marketing, over the years this has dwindled completely. I have recently launched a new website and I still have a brochure printed every few years, but marketing and PR are things I need to concentrate on more.
D-N: What are the main challenges in your practice?
I work alone so meeting people in my profession has not been easy, I recently became a member of several societies and that has enabled me to share ideas and concerns with my peers. I have recently become a Fellow of the British Society of Master Glass Painters and a Liveryman at the Worshipful Company of Glaziers, all well-established societies for people of my profession.
D-N: Where would you like your practice to be in 10 years?
I love to travel but I would like to work more here in the UK, given the recent confinement I think it would be a good idea.
D-N: If you could collaborate with someone new who would that be?
I have collaborated with many architects in the past and with many writers and poets, I suppose working to commission is always a collaboration of sorts.
D-N: If you were not a designer what would you like to do?
I always wanted to be a portrait painter – you never know, maybe one day?
D-N: Why did you join Design-Nation? What is helpful about being a member?
A couple of years ago I decided to try and create a wider network of professional relationships and connections. D-N seems like a perfect platform to connect to people and events that could be beneficial, hopefully once the confinement has eased, I can participate in such events.
D-N: Do you have you any exhibitions, commissions or events coming up that we should know about?
2020 has begun as a very busy year with an installation in March of a 400 square meter glass facade at The Lowell Justice Centre, Boston, Massachusetts. In March I was very fortunate to win a competition in Oklahoma City that covers almost an entire block with artwork at the new Convention Centre Parking Garage.
The project involves over 96,000 coloured tiles suspended on stainless steel cables to create a “veil” of colour over 2,500 square meters. It is very much an experimental piece and the system has been invented specifically for this project and will be the first time it has ever been used. The piece is titled “What is The City But The People” a quote from Shakespeare, the design is a figurative piece with hundreds of 50 foot high human figure forms.