If you have a strong pair of lungs and are drawn towards a career in arts and crafts, then becoming a glass blower/designer may just be the ticket!
A glass blower is tasked with designing and shaping glass into various shapes and designs, creating handcrafted giftware, stemware, glassware, ornate glass mirrors and windows, sculpture pieces and glass instruments used in laboratories.
This is a labour-intensive and niche occupation. Glass blowing is the traditional method of producing glass objects over the last 250 years, and industrial progress has mechanised the process to a great extent.
The process is divided into several phases and requires the use of equipment such as furnaces, blowpipes, baking kilns, and fine-art tools such as stencils, engraving plates, and needles.
Working as a glass blower involves conceptualising product ideas on commission, gathering the necessary tools and materials and producing a finished product.
Glass blowers are also hired to repair and restore old glassworks. Most blowers, or ‘gaffers’, work independently or are employed by private studios, well-established glass artists and some large-scale factories, such as Langham Glass and Bristol Blue Glass.
Salary & benefits
Entry-level salaries are not very high initially, since the job entails a significant amount of time spent in apprenticeships and learning the fine details of this craft.
Expected salary levels for newcomers are between £20,000 and £24,000, while individuals with an established portfolio and over five years of experience can expect to earn over £35,000.
The majority of glass blowers are usually self-employed and undertake client commissions.
Annual income will depend upon reputation, years of experience, range and quality of work, and marketing/promotional efforts by the individual.
Glass blowers can build their portfolios and reputations by participating in sponsored contests, exhibitions and trade fairs, within and outside of the UK.
Salaried glass blowers in factory settings will have fixed hours and may need to work in shifts, while self-employed and independent glass blowers work around project deadlines or client requirements.
For self-employed craftsmen, expenses include a separate studio space, equipment and tools, utilities, advertising and marketing, and administrative and business expenses.
Degrees, diplomas and other foundational courses in art (involving ceramics, glass or other applied arts, 2D and 3D design, restoration and conservation techniques) are useful, though the field is open to interested individuals from any field or degree discipline.
Subject-specific courses in glass design and blowing are offered by several institutions and organisations across the UK, including NVQ,SVQ and BTEC Professional Development Awards.
Apprenticeship programmes in stained-glass conservation, architectural glass design and glass-making are also available.
Training & progression
Glass blowers/designers need to stay in touch with the latest industry, design and business trends, including changes and improvements in glass-blowing methodologies and tools.
Continuing professional education, coupled with an expanding portfolio of commissions and design samples, is an absolute necessity for career progression.
Explore opportunities outside the UK, especially in mainland Europe, where glass blowing and design has a long and rich traditional history.
Other areas where opportunities abound are architectural projects in the hospitality industry, museums and private galleries.