Book Review of New Technologies in Glass : Speaker at Calgary GAAC Conference

February 14, 2013

By: Jamie Gray

Cover photo from New Technologies in Glass

Cover photo from New Technologies in Glass

When Vanessa Cutler sent me an email as part of a mail-out to let me know of her newly published book, New Technologies in Glass, I emailed her back straight away, saying, “Fantastic!  If you’d like to send me a copy, I’d love to review it for our magazine, Contemporary Canadian Glass.  It could whet people’s appetite for your upcoming lecture and workshop at the GAAC conference in Calgary.”  She had a brand new, shiny copy of her book at my doorstep within a couple of weeks.  It was a good sign, in my opinion.  Clearly, Dr. Cutler is on-the-ball and thinking forward.

When I cracked the cover of this beautiful book, the first thing I noticed was the great number of photographs, all in colour and excellent quality.  Almost every page has at least two images of artists’ work and the equipment used to make it.  Words are essential, of course, but I find that we visual thinkers tend to particularly appreciate good, descriptive photos.
The text itself is detailed and concise, simple to read and follow.  Technical terms are explained simply but thoroughly.  At only 123 pages, it’s an easy half-day read.  Techniques, once read about, are easy to locate again for more in-depth study.  The book is basically broken down into six chapters on techniques:

1.  The chapter on Digital Tools deals with the variety of ways to transfer ideas from paper into computerised form.
2.  Water-jet Cutting describes the use of high-powered water/abrasive mix to cut or carve complex internal and external shapes efficiently and accurately in singles or multiples.  This technique tends to work best for thick sheet glass.
3.  The Laser Cutting and Engraving chapter details how this tool of the optical industry can provide finely polished edges.  It’s a technique that’s extremely accurate and particularly good for cutting very thin glass.  Also in this chapter is info about sub-surface laser cutting, which is engraving below the surface of the glass.
4.  Multi-Axis Machining is a process that allows large pieces of solid glass to be accurately cut, abraded, polished and milled into intricate forms.  This includes profiling and drilling and can be used not only for glass but also on mold-making materials such as graphite, quartz and wood.
5.  The chapter on Rapid Prototyping deals with processes used to develop designs and prototypes in 3-D print settings.  It’s good for advanced mold making because any shape can be produced, including those with undercuts, overhangs and internal cavities.
6.  The final chapter, Vinyl Plotting, is about creating designs and cutting complex shapes in vinyl for deep resist sandblasting, enamel applications and masking for painting.  This is particularly good for large-scale work and pieces, which require a high degree of accuracy (lettering, for example).

The things I liked most about the book overall were the artist-examples of work (which included personal statements about process), and the large number of high-quality photos.  I also appreciated the extensive list of suppliers at the back of the book and the complete glossary of terms.  When doing a review, I always try to find at least one thing I don’t like so that I can give as complete a picture as possible but, honestly, I couldn’t find fault.  I was intrigued by the innovative techniques, presented in such a clear manner.  Though it is something of a textbook (being a technical manual, after all), it has more of an easy-going, welcome-to-my-studio kind of tone.

In the book, Dr. Cutler says working in these techniques has given her, over time, a greater and greater understanding “of the intimate relationship between art and engineering.”  Those aren’t always two easy disciplines to combine, especially to write about in conjunction with each other, but she does it very well.

Dr. Vanessa Cutler, Photo credit:  Graham Henry, WalesOnline

Dr. Vanessa Cutler, Photo credit: Graham Henry, WalesOnline

Many thanks to Vanessa Cutler for providing this book, hot off the presses, for review; I highly recommend it.  You will next find her doing a talk and a workshop at our conference in Calgary in May.  I’d suggest that you sign up early for her class as I believe it’s going to fill up quickly with people intrigued by the new technologies in glass about which she will be teaching.

 Dr. Vanessa Cutler is a glass artist and educator, specializing in using abrasive water-jet cutting creatively, and exhibits her work around the world.  She has presented at numerous conferences, including the International Water-jet Conference in Graz, Austria, the Society of Glass Technologists Annual Conference in Cambridge and the European Ceramics Context symposium in Denmark.  She is a lecturer at the Swansea School of Glass at Swansea Metropolitan University.  Dr. Cutler will be both lecturing and teaching at the 30th anniversary conference of the Glass Art Association of Canada in Calgary this May.

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