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1 April 2017

Glass design inspiration: Traditional Chinese art

When discussing artistic influences with a group of glass artists, certain names such as Dale Chihuly, Louis Comfort Tiffany, and Rene Lalique are commonplace and their work is familiar to all. If a client provided a design brief requesting a Louis Tiffany style window, it is immediately clear what is expected.

For this design brief, Davia Walmsley (the Founder and Creative Director of Daedalian Glass Studios) was tasked with something less familiar. The client held an interest in East Asian art (chinoiserie) and wished Davia to create a glass panel artwork drawing on influences such as antique Chinese chairs and red or black lacquered furniture.

Davia began this project be researching Chinese furniture and focused on pieces created in Shanxi province during the Qing Dynasty, often considered the most finely crafted of all Chinese furniture. Whilst some of the lacquered furniture (traditionally part of a wedding dowry) was left plain, they were often decorated on the front faces with traditional style paintings of flora or fauna, landscapes, or scenes from legend.

The next step for Davia was to research the masters of Chinese painting who inspired these ornate front faces and one artist whose work stood out was Ni Zan. Rather than heavily structured and cluttered landscapes, Ni Zan developed a style of landscapes with a sparse use of elements and vast areas of untouched canvas (suggestive of open expanses of water), which was similar to the design she was developing in her mind.

traditional chinese art
Frayed edges of the fabric inter-layers laid out as part of the design.

Of course, Davia did not wish to imitate or appropriate; she took this style and made it unmistakably her own. Rather than a lacquered or canvas background, Davia used multiple layers of fabric and copper wire laminated between glass to create her subtly textured landscape background. An innovation of Davia’s was to fray the ends of the fabric inter-layers and arrange them in the foreground.  In this way, rather than being hidden or blended into the design,  the ends of the fabric elicit the subtle contours of the landscape and the familiar agricultural partitioning of the countryside.

Davia then used glass etching techniques to create a flora design similar in the style of Chinese paintings. This design was created using a multi-sided technique – etching on both sides to create a 3D effect with design elements on both the front and back faces of the laminated panel.

Finally, Davia added extra detailing to the sandblasted design with gold paint. This paint covered areas previously sandblasted, so that the paint sat within the void created by the sandblasting process, rather than protruding out from the surface of the glass.

traditional chinese art
The floral design created by etching glass with gold painted detailing.
davia daedalian glass
Davia Walmsley gold painting her Chinese inspired glass design.