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Glass Artist and Designer Juli Bolaños-Durman Makes Space For Play

Glass Artist and Designer Juli Bolaños-Durman Makes Space For Play

You could say that Edinburgh-based glass artist and designer Juli Bolaños-Durman has been creating wonderfully imagined worlds all her life. Whether through the likes of childhood games, fanciful hand-drawn sketches, or her go-to medium these days — pre-used glass — Juli has consistently trained her creative skills. Moreover, they have expanded beyond materials into the creative community she has found in Scotland. But for the Costa Rica native, her playfulness, resourcefulness, and community involvement are all rooted in her cultural heritage. 

Juli sat down with us to talk about her experimental, playground-inspired approach and the persistence and trust needed to be a maker. There are a few aspects of her creative practice that must always ring true: the work must be sustainable, play needs to take center stage, and tenacity is key.

Kinship + Craft spoke with Juli Bolaños-Durman over video call to complete this interview. The final version below is the transcript of that conversation and has been edited for length and clarity in collaboration with her.

Portrait of Juli Bolaños-Durman. | Photographed by Hydar Dewachi.

Following her curiosity and creating headspace for her work

K+C — Hello, Juli! Thank you so much for taking the time to talk about your work. First, I would like to ask how you would describe yourself and the kind of work that you do?

My name is Juli, and I’m a Costa Rican artist and designer based in Scotland. I would describe myself as a curious person. I’m always keen to understand where people are coming from, and I’m mesmerized by how people perceive the world and how everybody has a different value system — especially since I am constantly translating from Spanish to English and trying to comprehend the Scottish accent. So, it’s really interesting, and that has been the case for my curiosity — to guide me into learning as much as I can. Then, I channel that information through my work.

And, I would describe my work as intuitive representations of where my curiosity leads me; that’s usually the guide. The main emphasis for me is to be responsible and cohesive with my value system. That is why I use discarded waste and other materials. I’m drawn to these in order to give them a second chance and make them beautiful again, even though they’re broken.

So, I bring them into my studio, and I play with them as if they were legos. It’s like when we were kids — imagining worlds that did not exist and building a little, safe space for them to be renewed and reimagined.

Autumn Feathers by Juli Bolaños-Durman, 2021. | Photographed by Shannon Tofts.
Tadpole, 2021. | Photographed by Shannon Tofts.
K+C — That’s lovely! I’d like to get more into the material side of things a bit later. However, would you mind talking first about what your day to day looks like? Is there anything else that you have to balance in addition to your creative practice?

Yes, I do, usually. First, I have my studio here at Custom Lane and this is a two by two [meter] space. It’s in a center for design and collaboration, so there are lots of other creatives. This includes architects, interior designers, some jewelers, and photographers, so it’s a space where people gather.

I love this space and I have managed to develop my practice so much further because of the support of the community here and the synergy and sounding board. It makes a difference to have people that can support you, or challenge your practice and encourage you to step out of your comfort zone. People ask questions and they see the development from day to day.

But I also have a part-time job. After Covid, the rainy day fund dried up. Of course, I thank god that I had that to support me through the really uncertain times. But now, it’s a matter of just saving up money again, so I can have a bit of headspace to come to the studio and continue to push ideas further, and reinvest as much as possible. 

The company I work for is one that I admire and their ethos aligns [with mine]. It’s an international company [and sells products that are] vegan and cruelty-free. The products are amazing, so it’s great to just go to work and be inspired in different ways.

K+C — In what ways does it inspire you?

For instance, there’s an emphasis on training and how to host in the best way possible — like how to be warm, the importance of a gesture, or an interaction with a customer that leaves them feeling cared for. Or even how to be a more caring person and how to practice active listening when people are telling you what they need. 

I think that’s really important in the general sense of the word, so I channel that back into my practice. Not just in the sense of how I can sell better as an artist — let’s say, my work. Instead, I see the scale of a big, successful, international company and how they do everything with really strong values of creativity, innovation, and the quality of the products. They respect the supply chain and all of these things that are super important to me. It’s not just about earning money; it has to be joined to the purpose. 

There’s a saying that I like that goes something like, when you have a particular thing that you need to learn, the teacher appears. And, in this case, I think this is a great opportunity because I can learn from a bigger company that has been going for 30 years. I can integrate elements of that into my small practice and make it more sustainable. It’s not just about selling. It’s about connecting emotionally to your audience, and they are a great example of that.

K+C — It sounds like it’s not only an extra source of inspiration, but also very much a learning environment. 

Yeah, one hundred percent! I see it like that because I know that, if not, I would get bored in five minutes. So, I have to be realistic about that; it has to be something that grabs my attention.

I have been drawn to this brand for a long time — ever since my sister took me to the store and I loved it. We don’t have it in Costa Rica, so I got to see it here first in the UK. And, since then, I’ve been doing more research on how they design each and every store around the world, the distribution of the products throughout the store, and the emphasis on generosity, kindness, and warmth. I’m learning a lot.

Plus, it’s a time to save money and see what project comes next. I have so many ideas but I need to figure out ways to fund them.

Juli playing with arrangements in her studio. | Photographed by Jaro Mikos.
K+C — Of course! So, may I ask what the day-to-day breakdown is? Are you in the studio a couple of days and a couple of days at work?

Yeah, before my part-time job, I was here from Monday to Friday in the studio, but now, of course, it’s the holiday season. So, sometimes the shop needs me four days a week and one day during the weekend, which means that I’m in the studio for two or three days. It’s a bit more patchy at the moment, but that’s okay. It’s a season to rest. We have to take care of ourselves during the winter and, as a creature from the tropics, the lack of sunshine is real.

It’s just a matter of trying to listen to the rhythms of life and, at the moment, it’s more about resting. Once the holiday season is over then I can hopefully work two days a week in the store and get back into the studio.

But, also, the benefit is that costs are covered with the part-time job. With that, I have the headspace to be more experimental in the studio, instead of being stressed about how to cover costs or the practical logistics of day-to-day life. So it’s a really good opportunity.

A look into Juli’s sketchbook, and the interaction between a hand-drawn sketch and a piece of hand-cut yellow glass. | Photograph courtesy of Juli Bolaños-Durman.

Getting started

K+C — I’m glad you made those points, especially about the advantages of having another way of supporting yourself and your creative practice. It applies to so many in the industry, so thank you for that. I’d like to now go back a little bit in terms of your history. You’re based in Edinburgh, Scotland, and you’ve been there since 2011 when you started a glassmaking program. But, what I was surprised to find is that you originally studied Graphic Design before you came to Scotland. So, I wanted to ask how that change came about, and whether it was gradual or more of an “Aha!” moment?

Since I was a little kid, I remember knowing that I wanted to be an artist. My dad was a dentist and my granddad was a dentist. So, my dad wanted us to all be surgeons, as well, but none of my siblings did. We didn’t quite want to. My sister is a jeweler and I am a glassmaker, so we did inherit that dexterity, that precision in the hands. It’s how we get connected to our dad and grandad through our work. But, when my dad realized that none of us was going to pursue dentistry, he was the most supportive, pushing us to do it our way, and so proud. 

Nonetheless, when trying to find a university we were recommended to study something practical — something logical for the undergrad degree. Then, if you still wanted to pursue art for a Master’s degree, you could. So, I did my undergrad in Graphic Design. To be honest, I wasn’t that interested in doing it. I did finish university, but I just did it because I had to. Now, looking back, that was the learning curve of life and immaturity of that time.

K+C — I see.

Then it came time to get a job and I wasn’t motivated enough with the day-to-day of it. I wanted to have my own direction and make my own decisions. But then, again, in Graphic Design, you’re dealing with clients and they tell you what they need according to their brand guidelines. So, of course, there’s always a client that decides if it works or if it doesn’t. I knew it was a really incredible learning curve that only a job gives you. It’s also just the practicalities of the day-to-day and dealing with clients and strategy and everything. But, I knew that it wasn’t for me because I just felt my own instincts. 

I wasn’t as sharp in graphics as I am with my artistic drive. So, I worked for four years, I think, and then I decided to start looking for a Master’s. That’s when I found the opportunity to come to study in the UK.

The showy Torch Ginger Lily (Etlingera elatior) is one of the many colorful blooms of Costa Rica. Looking at one, it is easy to see the connection between some of Juli’s glass pieces and the exuberant plants. | Photograph courtesy of Juli Bolaños-Durman.
Miri Posa, 2021. | Photographed by Shannon Tofts.
K+C — And you had a feeling already of what you wanted in a Master’s degree program?

Yeah, exactly. I had started classes in infused glass in Costa Rica. We have stained glass and fusing — very laborious techniques — because every bit of material is important and it’s very costly in Latin America. So, that’s where I started to use as much of the waste material as possible. Everything was expensive and you had to be resourceful with what you had.

Then, when I arrived in the UK and started my Master’s, my world was opened up. The heritage techniques here are incredible — beginning from glass blowing to casting, into fusing and stained glass. That’s where I found the hand-cutting technique that goes with my personality. I love to take my time and don’t like to be rushed, so hand-cutting glass goes very well with my demeanor.

Then, I found the machines to hand cut. These machines came from the now-defunct Edinburgh Crystal factory here in the city — they were incredible! It’s a shame that the factory shut down. But then, these machines were donated to the university, and that’s where I learned how to hand cut. That’s where I realized that you can fix pieces of broken glass and make them beautiful again. 

Playing in the studio

The process of cutting glass allows Juli to work at a slower pace. | Photograph courtesy of Juli Bolaños-Durman.
Juli experiments with multiple assembled variations in the process of creating one of her pieces. | Photographed by Shannon Tofts

It’s like when we were kids — imagining worlds that did not exist and building a little, safe space for them to be renewed and reimagined.

A new piece begins to take shape. | Photographed by Shannon Tofts.
Photographed by Shannon Tofts.
K+C — What specifically drew you to glass making, or hand-cutting second glass?

I was just mesmerized by the politics of it all. Even if someone made a mistake in the hot shop cutting off a little piece of the glass because they didn’t need it, that was going to the recycling. But, even if it’s recyclable, it still requires a lot of energy for something to be recycled. Ultimately, I asked myself how I could repurpose it and give it a second life. So, that’s how the series of sixty pieces [for my Master’s thesis] came to be. It’s called Ode to Intuición and it includes non-functional decorative objects in a collection of sixty non-functional perfume bottles. They’re all done with offcuts — pieces that broke during the process.

Again, it was about giving a second chance to a piece of glass that someone didn’t want to become something. Maybe a bottle of wine had served this first purpose in life, so I became the translator of what it could become in the second life. I created an imaginary world where the pieces of glass could talk and have personalities and hobbies — for example, maybe they enjoy going to the beach or they like to dance. So, it was just like an invitation to the audience to connect to that child-like curiosity as we did before.

K+C — Yeah, absolutely.
A character from Juli’s series, Tales of A Universal Goddess. This series is a light-hearted tribute and “a subtle allegory to that Unique Divine Femininity.” According to Juli: “With this, I want to celebrate that Intuitive Strength that comes from generations of all the women that came before us.” | Photographed by Diego Almazán de Pablo.
K+C — And these little side stories or characters you create — is that from knowing what the history of the objects? 

I think every little piece of information informs me, but, then again, I just go with my gut feeling. So, whatever it reminds me of — for example, a strawberry because it’s red and it has like little dots — it doesn’t matter. I just tried to remember how, as kids, we made up worlds and had a laugh. 

That freedom is liberating and we regenerate from that place of joy. I think knowing how to recharge is super important in the day to day life as an adult. That is one of the main aims of my work — to invite people to wonder. This is just non-judgmental and playful. Because with art, it’s a feeling, isn’t it? Either people hate it, and that’s fine, or it brings you joy or makes you chuckle, or smile. Then, I think my work has been successful.

K+C — Wonderful!
As part of the Tales of A Universal Goddess series, Juli worked together with photographer and video content producer Diego Almazán de Pablo to create an animation. The video follows the glass character Carol as she dances and tries on different outfits. | Photographed by Diego Almazán de Pablo.

An improvised approach and a commitment to collaboration

K+C — Speaking of the playful language that you use — I also get that feeling from your mini-sculptures. You call them your “temporary mini-sculptures,” and it seems they’re these improvised things that come together from little objects around your studio. One in particular that stands out in my mind is with a pencil, empty hand cream, and a couple of rings, amongst other things. (Image below.) It was one of my favorite discoveries because it seems that you just were sitting at your desk and grabbed what was nearby or took it off your hand.

Yeah, I think that one was interesting because that’s from when I was in Costa Rica. I was there because of the Covid-19 pandemic and I got stuck there for six months.

One of Juli’s temporary mini-sculptures made from various pieces of jewelry (made by her sister Jimena Bolaños-Durman), a piece of wood, a pencil, and an empty tube of hand cream. | Photograph courtesy of Juli Bolaños-Durman.
K+C — Ah, I see. So you were away from your studio then?

Yeah, I was working remotely and trying to figure out how to keep my practice going without actually being in the studio. So, I had to pivot and be resourceful with the things that I had around me. But, again, it was an opportunity to perceive how we can keep that creative muscle going. It became an anthropological compilation collection of objects that surrounded me.

At that particular moment in time, I was in Costa Rica at my family home and I would go out to the garden to walk the dog during lunch. I would collect some magenta veranera flowers (Bougainvillea) with this incredible color. They had fallen off of the plant, so I grabbed them and started to draw them. It was like a study of my surroundings at that moment. 

Then, with my sister’s jewelry, I feel like there’s a big connection there because we have a really similar methodology — where one idea gives way to a thousand different ideas. We’re both really hands-on in the process, but we also share a last name, so you could see that we’re sisters from that. However, from the glass to the jewelry, there is that connection, as well. 

I’m always wearing her rings — she sculpts them in wax, so they’re literally little sculptures — and I’m drawn like a little magpie to things that call my attention. That could include an old pencil that I found in my grandad’s workshop to a little rock that I found while we were walking on the beach, or when we collected plastic debris for a five-minute clean-up. 

K+C — Yeah, that’s lovely. 

So it’s about how can we appreciate and shift this perspective of what “old” means, or what we no longer deem valuable. How can we make this object or this temporary sculpture precious? It’s interesting because we cannot go just thinking, oh, we did the recycling; we’re good citizens. No, I think the next step is going to be: how can I reuse as much as possible? That is something that I think about and I get really stressed about, so it’s interesting how we as designers and as everyday consumers can change that.

For example, with the things that you can recycle — maybe cardboard or something — how can you reuse it? Perhaps you could make a little sculpture for the home, or create a cut-out to give to your nephews or nieces as a Christmas gift and they can build their own boat. It’s down to how we use the resources. That’s why that exercise was just fun. 

Then, the vibrancy of the colors was really interesting to me. I was drawn to that, and it was important to share how I perceive the world and where I’m coming from, so people understand how that influences the aesthetic of my work and is part of my identity. 

K+C — Right, I understand.

Yeah, I’m not choosing these colors simply because it’s trendy for it to be pink at the moment. This is just a creative exercise, and I think those are really valuable, regardless of where you are. No matter if it’s a piece of paper and pencil, or if you’re just walking down the street and you collect leaves. A type of leaf can give you a lot of information about the types of trees that are around you. For example, why is it yellow? Oh, it’s Poró (a beautiful lush tree with bright yellow, pink, or orange flowers) season in Costa Rica.

I pay attention to some moments; going back and forth, absorb, take notes, make sketches — that’s a super important part of my practice. Then, I compare and contrast. It’s like my brain is constantly switching. Sometimes, I don’t even know if I’m speaking English, Spanish, or gibberish.

K+C — Yes! I can relate to that from living here in Germany, too, and being between English and German. Some days it just doesn’t come together.

Yeah, yeah!

K+C — So, did you only start these temporary mini-sculptures in early 2020, or were you doing them before this pandemic experience in Costa Rica?

You know, I actually learned that when I did a course at Pilchuck [Glass School]. I did a course with a Japanese artist Michiko Miyake, and when she taught us that, I realized that I had been doing that before, too. But, she pointed it out and showed us the value of these creative exercises, and how to document them with photography, collage, or a little a 3D mock-up, or whatever. 

These creative exercises have a lot of value because it’s something that isn’t logical. When logic is left outside the studio door, creativity is at its best. Moreover, problem-solving, and being present in that particular moment in time with these exercises, are great for strengthening assertiveness when making decisions. So, after that course, I took it upon myself to just exercise that muscle as much as I could.  

During Covid, as well, the drawing and the painting became a very important part of anchoring myself — so I wouldn’t cave under the stress and the uncertainty of this pandemic. 

K+C — Yeah, that’s completely understandable.

So it was really good, not as an escape, but a place to recharge from and to tackle the rest of daily life — not knowing what the hell was happening, or the uncertainty of our health, and family being far away. Just the day-to-day challenges of being human. 

Juli completed a series of works, including the Powerful Ordinary Bonds series as part of her time with Dutch Invertuals Academy in 2020. | Photographed by Jaro Mikos.
As described by Juli, “The disparate objects in the Powerful Ordinary Bonds series are, quite literally, connected; thrashed together using rubber bands and copper wire in a making process that is intuitive and impulsive and joyful. The connections represent a visceral bond between the maker, material and locality.” | Photographed by Jaro Mikos.
K+C — Absolutely! Going back to what you mentioned before about color. You said that colors often draw you in, and it’s clear that you’ve played with them a lot in your work. But, you’ve also spoken about a time when you planned to make more neutral work because it was trendier, so to say. Nevertheless, during the experience of making, this vibrant side, that you especially connect with Costa Rica, came out naturally.


K+C — So, what role does color play in your work in general?

In that case — well, coming to the UK the tonalities are a bit more muted and maybe the mix of color is not as bountiful as Latin American roots. But, I think I just got to the point where I felt that I cannot try and be someone else. That’s never going to work, so I had to really strip down to the basics of what my identity was. 

I’m a Latin American artist based in the UK, so it’s about learning how to be more thoughtful with the use of color. For example, instead of using the whole rainbow, I would use maybe three colors and the tones of those three colors are important. There is not one ugly color, it’s just how to combine colors in the best and most effective way for me. But, I’m Juli and this is my studio, so it has to be something that is completely authentic to my identity. 

K+C — Right.

So, I collaborated with Camille from Studio Walac, for instance, to create some light sculptures. Doing those was really funny because I’m used to making my own decisions and I’m quite assertive with compositions. I mean, it’s a muscle that I’ve been practicing for so long now that I’m just like — this is it. This is not working. Or, no, I need to take a break and go for a walk and then come back because you cannot push the process.

Camille likes very muted colors. Her aesthetic is graphically, really, super strong, but she doesn’t use that much color. It’s lots of metal and black, and she’s incredible at it. She’s so good. However, when we were prototyping and putting compositions together, I felt like she was excited about how it looked, while I was thinking, that needs a bit more color. It is only blue, clear, and black. So, I asked about adding little, uranium yellow dots as a pop of color. But, she disagreed, and we had to take a step back and negotiate. 

K+C — A real collaborative effort. 

Yeah, and sometimes we win some, and sometimes we don’t. It’s good, but the whole collection was interesting. In some I won — I mean you could see the color combination was more guided by me. Then, in others, the color combinations were not as vibrant. But it depends on the audience, so I think it’s like a really interesting breadth of different volumes, textures, and color combinations. You could see the bridge between her practice and mine. It’s quite weird and wonderful — very, very authentic to both — yet, there was a space for collaboration that made the composition really interesting.

It’s like when you see a baby that looks a lot like the mom from here up and from here down and that one it’s like how is that possible? Yet, you can see both of the parents and the kid looks like both in different lights. I don’t know, but it’s nice to be pushed out of the comfort zone and questioned about the decision-making. In that instance, for me, it was important to be open to the dialogue and to understand my methodology. I know that my aesthetic is colorful, and, if I had to choose, I would not be able to live without color.

In 2021, Juli “collaborated with Studio Walac to⁠ create The Isles of Reclaimed Wonderment, a new series of 12 one-of-a-kind lighting sculptures.” ⁠| Photographed by Jaro Mikos.
Photographed by Jaro Mikos.

Costa Rican charms

K+C — I see. So, in some ways, it was an experience that helped you understand just how important color is to you. Do you associate anything else in your practice with Costa Rica besides color?

Yes, the storytelling. I’m often translating and my friends here laugh with me. I mean, they enjoy how the language is a bit more pictorial and that’s very Costa Rican. We use sayings that I don’t even understand. Like when we say that you arrived at a house party, there were three cats. In Costa Rica, that means that there weren’t many people at the party. 

K+C — That makes a lot of sense to me, actually! (laughing)

But then, people here are just like what do cats have to do with the party? They don’t understand. But, it’s just like Costa Ricans are — we are quick on our feet. If you go to Costa Rica, not everybody speaks English, but everybody and anybody will try. They’ll figure it out because they’re savvy and there’s a bit of cheekiness, as well. We just want to make sure that we make you laugh or make you feel welcome.

So, I think that translates into how we communicate ourselves. We like to bend the rules without breaking them and that is part of me. I’m a little bit that way, as well. I’m just like, I’ll give it a try three times and make sure that it’s no — just in case. Because to make sure that I can step back, I tried everything that I can — even though here a very efficient process would be like, hey, we’ve checked once, and it’s a no. 

K+C — Has that ever gotten into you into hot water — where people get frustrated by the persistence?

Yeah, I think so, yes. But, I also say it with a smile, so people see that it’s not a rude thing. It’s just me being cheeky. The charisma — the Latin charisma — goes a long way. There’s that charm factor of just wanting to connect, charm, and have a nice experience or exchange.

Also, I sometimes think that I am not very precise. So, that’s why, in my mind, if I don’t ask the question from several different perspectives, then that means that someone in the first instance just didn’t want to. In my experience, if someone doesn’t know the answer they’ll be like no, no, there’s no way. I’ve gotten used to that, but here, maybe a no is a no, but I want to make sure that I completely gave it my all to make sure. Then, in the end, if I just walk away, then it’s my responsibility. I cannot blame the other person for saying no, and I cannot blame myself for not doing my due diligence.

As an artist, it’s like ten percent talent and the rest is pure drive and a bit of madness. So, for me, it’s that — my persistence. I apply to exhibitions once a month, or for grants, or all these things. I’m constantly writing and I’m applying for proposals. It’s not just about a beautiful sculpture. No, it’s all the work that goes behind it and project management, procurement, and making authentic work. So a lot of work goes behind it and every little detail has to be in tune with it. 

K+C — Of course.
A still from the film, Our Common Humanity: When Glass Comes to Life, made together with Spanish video content producer Diego Almazán de Pablo. | Courtesy of Juli Bolaños-Durman.

I’m really lucky that in Edinburgh there’s a really strong community of designers and a big emphasis on collaboration, so I believe in this serendipity.

Juli explains: “The commission is focused on transforming found glass collected from the community / blown pieces using cutting techniques to embellish the different components. But more so, with this piece I wanted to invite the audience to see the magic that happens throughout the whole creative process from idea conception”. | Courtesy of Juli Bolaños-Durman.
K+C — So, how do your films fit into the equation, as well? Is that an extension of this storytelling factor?

Well, as a graphic designer, I’m always obsessed with how you can tell the story from a different angle, so I’ve been trying to do more film. With easy access to smartphones, and phones getting better, it’s a great way to invite the audience to come in and understand where you’re coming from. 

So my family is far away — how do I share with them what I’m doing where I’m based? That could include what my studio looks like, but then if someone looks at my work and I tell them the price and they think it’s a bit costly I explain the process through video. For example, this is the machine and these are the hand-cutting techniques. 

So video is a great tool for you to slowly educate people on your perspective. And, for me, even if I’m sharing things on Instagram, the quality has to be really good. That’s why I started to do collaborations with different people, including filmmakers. I’m not a professional photographer, so I outsource professional photography and I’m not a good video maker, so let’s leave it to the pros. It’s about how you can find a space a safe space where you can trust the other person with your practice — with your baby, let’s say.

Then, through an exchange of ideas and a synergy, you create something that you never would have imagined. It’s just like telling a story, but you’re adding a video and music, and stop-motion animation of the glass coming to life.

K+C  — How do you typically connect with different collaborators?

I trust in it. I’m really lucky that in Edinburgh there’s a really strong community of designers and a big emphasis on collaboration, so I believe in this serendipity. Sometimes I just say I’m going to do this collaboration. I’m not quite sure how it’s going to pan out, but I would like to do this with wood, okay? Then, I just put it out there. It simmers for a little bit, and then — out of a weird coincidence — a friend or someone says: “Oh, actually, my friend is a really talented woodworker. Check out his work!”

Then, the curious side of me would go on Instagram and take a look at their work. If I’m really impressed with the high quality and the attention to detail, I can trust the vision. Following that, I’d start to engage with the person. It’s not just about telling people you really admire their practice; it’s also about engaging and how can you build someone up and celebrate their practice, as well. So, you start to build a relationship over time. 

K+C —  Wow! So you’re really trusting in the process of connecting with people and sharing what you’d like put together. 

Yeah, my latest collaboration with Studio Walac came from this approach. She just happened to be based a bit further out before, in Glasgow, but she came to my studio and I gave her a tour. Then, one day, I saw that she did a lamp and I told her that I wanted to do some functional design. Like, hey, let’s do something together! She said yes, and that’s our latest collaboration, launched in September at LDF (London Design Festival). 

It was our first project together and it was mental. I mean, we put it together in three months’ time — and you know it takes time, but it was just, I don’t know — I think it’s a gut feeling and an instinct of people that are respectful and kind, as well. You have to make sure that people are giving and that they meet you halfway.

All 12 of the one-of-a-kind lighting sculptures in The Isles of Reclaimed Wonderment series made with Studio Walac. | Photographed by Shannon Tofts.
K+C —  Of course.

So, yeah. A good recommendation goes a long way, but I also like to see the portfolio of people because you know that the skills are there and if the execution is pristine. Then, I can trust in their vision and I’m open to the possibilities. For me, it’s important to know that so you can trust that whatever they do is going to be the best that they can do. Then, I’m just like okay, I trust the process. Whatever it will be, it will be. It’s not very scientific. It relies on a lot of soft skills and it’s a lot of trust in yourself, and in the other person, and your intuition.

Nonetheless, Scotland has been great for that — the openness for people to collaborate and support each other in a creative community. There’s not just one talented person. We belong to a community and a society, in which everybody has benefited from someone’s success. I would be lying if I said that I did the work on my own, especially in glass, because glassmakers work as a team. If I needed something blown, I would design it, but then I would talk to my friend who is a proficient glassblower. 

I tried glass blowing but I do not work in glass blowing. I didn’t particularly enjoy the glass blowing process, so I prefer to invest my time in a process that I truly enjoy and that is hand-cutting. In the end, the pieces will embody that enjoyment of the process.

K+C — That makes sense. 

So, not only do the collaborations spill over into the community and every single person’s success can become a community’s success; they also help projects come to fruition because you’re crowdsourcing all of the skill and the knowledge.

Likewise, it’s important to say that every project that I’ve done recently has been a collaboration in some way. But it’s also important for me when I approach people to do a collaboration, I tell them I either have some money to pay them for their time, or I am applying for this particular grant, or I want to go to apply for funding applications to get money to develop this. It’s not just like when some people invite you to do collaborations but then there’s no money to pay you. So, you’re like, okay, so no.

K+C — Right.

It has to be fair — unless the other person is putting a lot of time and execution into the project and you can see a balance. But, I think that’s the tricky bit. I want to be respectful of people’s time investment, or time in training, and it might be that I cannot pay you the London prices. However, if you tell me how long it’s going to be — five hours, for example — and you give me a quote, then I’ll be okay. I’ll figure out a way to get the money. 

This is also where the part-time job helps to fund that. If I sell a piece, I always have a research and development fund, and that’s always reinvested into photography, for instance. I think that’s the important thing — as long as everybody’s respectful and inclusive. I mean, this sounds naive because sometimes it’s difficult to do, but I don’t want to be a part of a community that’s resentful of other people’s achievements. I want to be open, and trust that people are going to be respectful with my ideas.

There’s room for everybody, basically, and just because I have a piece of the pie, doesn’t mean that you have less. There are different opportunities. But so many other people helped me when I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. Even if it might not seem very obvious, we’ve all received help in our lives. It’s impossible to live on an island, metaphorically.

Photographed by Jaro Mikos.

A continued commitment to play

K+C — Very true! So what are you most excited about these days for your creative practice?

Since going back to London for the London Design Festival, where Studio Walac and I launched our lamps, I’ve been really excited. It was so great to see all the friends that I’ve made over the past ten years of going down to exhibitions. Seeing the designers and friends, or the journalists, or the people who are still engaged and are happy to see the work evolving.

I came back from London completely excited about my next project. So, this is me now — submitting an application in the next couple of days to get some funding for my practice because I want to do another collaboration with a joiner with the aim of doing a more sculptural piece using more light.

K+C — That’s wonderful! And, to clarify, do you mean woodworking joinery?

Yes, woodwork, but I’d like to do it with the same ethos. So, it would be with an acquaintance of mine here. We were just talking about a project and he mentioned how he did a little stool with wood that was leftover from his workshop. I love that way of thinking because that material would otherwise go to the landfill, so we’re thinking about how can we use that and support projects like that. 

Then, I’m going to go more full force with perfume bottles. I don’t have the same access to the workshops as I did pre-Covid. However, I do have one machine in my studio, which is a bit smaller for doing hand-cutting and mark-making on the glass. So, it’s about how I can pivot. For instance, how can I leave the mark of me, the maker, in pieces that represent this particular moment in time? Or how can a perfume bottle be reimagined into something new and different?

I think if it’s functional there is more possibility of an audience engaging with it and seeing the potential of having it at home. That’s why the lamps from the last collaboration were really interesting.

Finally, I got to visit a light bulb factory in London, which was amazing. I got a bunch of samples, so I’m so excited just to go a bit crazy and see what comes out of it. And, I want to invite the community — through Instagram or my studio  — and see if people would be open to donating glass they would have otherwise recycled.

K+C — Fantastic! I’m really looking forward to seeing what you decide to pursue next. Well, Juli, I want to thank you again for your time. It was really nice to connect, and I appreciate you speaking with us about your work! 
One of the works from Juli’s Made-Up Museum of Artefacts series, as seen in the left image as a hat on Juli. Inspired by precious heritage objects from historical civilizations, their craftsmanship and cultural legacy, each object depicts the stories of distant worlds of the imagination. | Photographed by Shannon Tofts.

If you’d like to read about another glass artist, click here to read about the work of glass designer Jahday Ford.

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