Katie-Ann Houghton is a nationally recognised glass artist. She’s worked alongside some of the industry’s most renowned both locally and internationally, and three of her pieces are part of Australia’s National Glass Art Collection.
As a teenager, Katie-Ann worked as a ceramicist, but when she saw someone making glass for the first time, she was hooked.
“I was so awestruck by the process and I just knew I had to get my hands on it. I had already decided to apply for art school so I switched my focus from ceramics to glass, and studied at Sydney College of the Arts and then at JamFactory Contemporary Craft and Design in Adelaide. Although there are formal schools for glassblowing, there is no substitute for practice. The associate program at JamFactory gave me the opportunity to explore, experiment and work 24/7. I really found my own aesthetic during that time and I moved to more of a production-based practice rather than making exhibition work. I haven’t looked back since.”
Finding her passion so young was half luck and half dedication for Katie-Ann; glassblowing isn’t a mainstream profession and it’s certainly not an easy art to master. To develop her skills outside of her studies, she also worked as an assistant for Sydney-based glass artists Ben Edols and Kathy Elliott. Glassblowing requires a team of at least two people, so when Katie-Ann isn’t working for herself, she also works as a contract glassblower. A week in her shoes is just as unique as her work.
“I am currently running production for a handmade glass company. Monday to Friday I run studio operations, from melting glass to distribution and everything in between. I’m really lucky to have a full-time position in a glassmaking company, as they are few and far between. On top of that, I work on designing, making and marketing my own work. Essentially, I am working two full-time jobs, but that’s usually the way it goes when you’re building your own business.”
And while she’s right about juggling a heavy workload in the launching phase of a new business, for glassmaking, that workload is magnified. It’s one of the few industries where all of the work is still done by hand. With the exception of the introduction of the electricity, all of the tools and processes used in glassmaking haven’t changed since the 14th Century.
“I draw my raw material (molten glass) out of a large furnace which sits at around 1250 Celsius, and blowing glass is often a race against the clock. The air temperature rapidly cools the molten glass so I work quite fast to produce a piece. I use a reheating chamber to heat the glass once the atmosphere has cooled it and a variety of tools to cool and manipulate the glass into the form, whatever that may be. My inspiration comes from a number of sources, but usually things in my direct environment – anything from architecture to fashion to nature. I am a bit of a bowerbird, and I have always been very attracted to anything that shines. The natural lustre of glass is definitely one of the things that attract me to it. I really try to allow the material to speak for itself, keeping the forms simple. Being so actively involved with making, I also draw a lot of my inspiration from my own practice, and ideas and aesthetics build upon one another.”
It’s a curious craft that constantly evolves for Katie-Ann, and while her shapes, colours and forms may slightly change from piece to piece, her minimalist style is clear across the body of her work. If she works with colours, Katie-Ann balances the final piece by softening the silhouette, and if the shape is a little more charismatic, the colour palette is soft. Katie-Ann’s work shows a sense of resolution, and it’s because she’s been crafting most of her life.
“Making glass is the most challenging and the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. There is never a dull moment. You really do learn something new every time that you step into the studio.”
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