Joyce Pruysers-Emmink and Peter Emmink of Ivy Cottage Fusion Arts are two glass artists working in different styles while sharing studio space (and life) – and they make it work! Joyce and Peter experiment with new ways of fusing glass pieces and frit, then take their discoveries in different directions, creating unique bodies of work in their own voices.
How did each of you get started making art?
Joyce: For as long as I can remember I had a love of making things. We had very little growing up on a farm, and being somewhat isolated, we had to entertain ourselves. At a very young age, my mother taught my sister and me how to sew. She taught us to make Barbie doll clothes from little bits of fabric. It was wonderful to know that we could have Barbie clothes any time we wanted to!
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My sister and I were always a great influence on each other. Throughout our childhood and adult years, we tried our hand at a variety of creative projects. We would look for new classes to try, or see something in a magazine that we wanted to figure out. Doll clothes were just the beginning as we started to make our own clothes and sew home décor items. Then we moved on to traditional and art quilting. My first formal class was at 19 when I took a stained-glass course; then over the years I tackled felting, jewelry making, wirework, and building twig furniture.
Peter: Growing up with both parents being artists, I learned to appreciate the creative process at a very early age. Before the age of ten I played around with oil painting and drawing. That led to other avenues where I explored my creative side. Through the years my interests have included fine cabinetry, wood carving, silver jewelry, sandblasted glass art and fused glass. I’m not one to take instructional courses and prefer to experiment on my own. Of course, this leads to many failures but also many successes and, luckily, they are more frequent.
Do you collaborate on projects or work mostly independently?
We have quite different styles and talents so we generally work independently. However, we regularly discuss ideas, materials, processes and final results – important for both of us to note for future projects.
Sometimes Pete is on a mission trying new glass frit painting techniques, using his natural drawing and painting skills. Meanwhile, Joyce is exploring new fused jewelry ideas influenced by past bead and wirework projects. At other times, we work together problem solving new fusing techniques. We share ideas on how to use the newly formed glass and go our own way in using the technique. Pete definitely is the more technical of the two of us. He is often quite adventurous in trying new techniques that may require extreme heat and glass manipulation, kiln modifications, etc. We learn from and teach each other, which makes us a great team.
Are both of you able to devote full-time attention to your studio practice?
Although Pete would very much like to, he is still working full time as a Production Designer for Film and Television which has him away from home and our glass studio 5 days a week. He works under contract so often he has time off between projects which he tries to devote to glasswork. Retired from teaching, Joyce devotes much of her time to fused glass. She also works on other projects of interest – new and practiced over the years.
Is there an overarching theme that connects all of your work?
We live in the heart of the Algonquin Highlands surrounded by natures beauty – generally reflected in our work. Pete is more of a realist; his work usually contains great detail as he ‘paints’ landscapes, birds and other wildlife with glass powders. This process involves many layers of dry glass powders in varied colours, each individually fused to a background glass. The process requires several firings of up to 1475ºF. It’s very time consuming and it doesn’t always work out as he would like; each piece really is an experiment. Some look amazing and others, not so much.
Joyce tends to create more functional pieces such as bowls, platters, cheese plates, and lanterns to name a few. Her latest collection of work includes combining nature themed fused glass with live edge wood.
How do you decide which glass fusing technique will give you the effect you want?
Being self-taught in fused glass, we have spent many hours experimenting various techniques and recycling our failures – until we get it right. We keep a technical journal with firing schedules and descriptions of the work to help guide us through our processes. We are always learning and will always make mistakes, but when we get it right, it’s very exciting.
Many of our projects are about trials and errors. Each of our kilns has its own characteristics, and we do have to factor that in when designing a new piece. If it’s a background piece for a project, it would usually be fired at a full fuse. That results in a fully-integrated, smooth and flat piece, whereas a soft or tack fuse provides a more three-dimensional result.
Glass is a very special medium to work with as you’re taking coloured glass, cutting and crushing it into the elements you need to do what you have in mind. You create the scene with those bits, then expose it to extreme temperatures to make it one piece again. It’s sort of like the finished piece is rising from the ashes. It’s exciting when we try something way outside the normal and get a good result.
Is there a bit of alchemy in what you do?
The transformation of bits of glass combined with extreme heat is an amazing process. It’s often full of surprises both wanted and, on occasion, unwanted. There are times when the glass seems to have a mind of its own, and the result can be a wonderful surprise. Fusing glass has a co-efficiency (COE) which must be strictly adhered to. There are several different COE’s available but they can never be mixed. Doing so would result in the piece shattering, due to the different properties of each glass. We use exclusively 96 COE glass in our studio, not for any particular reason; it was just what we started with so we stuck with it.
When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?
Generally with fused glass, we have to plan our process to account for the technical aspect of the pieces. We’ve had our share of mishaps when we rushed into a project!
For example, Peter’s glass ‘paintings’ are carefully planned as the colours of powdered glass are very washed out and all look similar in the pre-fired state. With multiple firings, he keeps detailed records as he creates each piece, keeping track of what colours he has put down, and where. Joyce enjoys working with reactive glass: glass that when heated and in contact with other pieces causes a chemical reaction. The reaction creates shades of a third colour. It all depends on the firing temperature and the thickness of the frit (crushed glass) she uses. Careful placement of pieces, knowledge of the glass and understanding and planning for their reactions to neighboring glass are important.
In some cases, improvisation comes into play. For example, with a technique where we create an abstract glass by laying out a mosaic of small coloured pieces over a sheet of clear glass. Then we boil it in the kiln at extreme temperatures for several hours. The result of the newly formed glass is always a bit of a surprise, but stunning. From there we look at the new glass and decide what projects to create based on how different sections of the boiled glass would suit a project. We then cut it with a diamond wet saw to the shapes required.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
We have two areas, one on the main floor of our home and another in the basement. The sunny spot on the main floor is filled with examples of different mediums of work we have created, including fused and stained glass pieces, jewelry, and art quilts on the walls, as well as reference books and materials for teaching. The basement is the more technical studio area. There we have several kilns, a glass saw, glass storage, molds and space to cut larger pieces. Joyce typically works in her instructional studio on the main floor and Peter works in the downstairs area.
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
Pete’s favorite tool is a small bamboo shish-ka-bob stick. He uses this to move the glass powder around when creating a glass painting. Another favorite is a small battery powered ear wax vacuum which is a life saver for removing powder in small quantities while not disturbing the powder on the rest of the piece. Without this, he would have to carefully scrape up the unwanted powder which is very difficult to do. Joyce often works with larger frit pieces and couldn’t do without her slurpy straws to sprinkle the frit as needed. A friend gave her a box of the slurpy straws so she has a lifetime supply!
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
Yes, we keep a logbook to keep track of how we created a piece, the colours, firing schedules and results. Noting the firing schedule and the results are most important, helping us the next time we want to do a similar project.
Are there particular safety precautions you take with the kind of work you do?
Glass is dangerous enough on its own but when you add the powdered glass dust aspect, it escalates the danger. Respirators and safety goggles are mandatory when working with powders or when crushing glass as the fine particles do become airborne. Both of us have suffered many a cut over the years but it just ends up being an occupational hazard and wearing gloves is not an option for us.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people? Or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
We feel creativity resides in everyone. For those who think they aren’t creative, it may just depend on how they define it. We have friends who say they aren’t creative because they don’t do a craft or have a hobby, and yet they decorate their home beautifully, dress immaculately, are amazing gardeners, etc. You don’t know what you don’t know, and often we have not had the time, energy or opportunity to try something new. As an educator, Joyce has seen many students feel they are not creative, often narrowly relating it to how well they can draw a picture, or due to a general lack of self-esteem. Yet with the opportunity to explore a variety of mediums, they have produced some very interesting and exciting work. With the right opportunities, we all can enhance our skills for growth in any area of creativity.
Do you lecture or teach workshops? How can students/organizers get in touch with you to schedule an event?
Joyce teaches workshops regularly in her home studio. Her studio can accommodate up to 5 students with a minimum of 3. Class groups are usually created by those participating…bring 2-4 friends! The participants choose the projects, however Joyce asks all to do the same project during a class. Each class is approximately 3 hours long, no experience required, and all materials are included in the cost. Due to the lengthy firing times, projects will be ready for pick up approximately one week later. For more detailed information on class projects, pricing, dates, etc., students can reach Joyce at [email protected]
Our work and workshop pictures are available on our website at www.ivycottagefusionarts.com. We are also participants of The Studio Tour Haliburton Highlands, open during the first two weekends in October. When visiting, Joyce and Peter are always happy to discuss the fused glass process, share class project samples, answer questions and arrange classes. Please visit The Studio Tour website at www.thestudiotour.ca .
Interview posted April 2021
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