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The Magic of Fusing the Traditional and Digital with Jahday Ford

The Magic of Fusing the Traditional and Digital with Jahday Ford

If you’re looking for a maker working in glass with flair, then look no further. Manchester, England-based glass designer Jahday Ford has a penchant for creative cross-pollination that has us mesmerized. Whether incorporating sound, 3D computer renderings, or virtual reality, Jahday brings an extra amount of inventiveness to a traditional craft. 

Using his digital design and glassblowing skills, Jahday creates work that fuses two strikingly different fields with fantastic results. But, for him, the best experiences come from creative collaborations. 

This summer, Kinship + Craft spoke and corresponded with Jahday about his developing creative practice and what projects he’s enjoyed most.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity in collaboration with Jahday Ford. Although Kinship + Craft typically employs American English, Jahday’s answers remain in British English out of respect for his style. Therefore, readers may find differences in spelling, such as mold and mould, which we left in intentionally.

A portrait of Jahday Ford. | Photograph courtesy of Jahday Ford.

The early years

K+C — Hello, Jahday! Thank you so much for speaking with us about your work! Firstly, what would you like to tell us about yourself and what you do?

I embarked upon my creative journey during my early primary school years back home in Bermuda, mainly through scattered teachings from my mother. Her first lessons involved a pencil, paper, and abstract drawing for a few hours here and there. Ever since then, I have gained an obsession with crafting things by hand. Whether painting, ceramics, woodworking, metal forming, or even sonic design in music, it all seemed to have a relatable balance that felt so familiar in a place like Bermuda. 

As I relocated with my art teacher, ‘Moms,’ to the UK in 2012, I began to professionalise my art forms. This occurred within sculpture, craft design, and eventually glass-making at Manchester College and Manchester School of Art.

The years throughout my college courses and university degree involved multiple collaborations and exposures by travelling to nearby countries, such as Finland, Germany, and the Netherlands. It was something that provided so much insight to the arts industry, which was more substantial in contrast to Bermuda. It allowed me to increase my skill-sets and confidence in understanding my market and what I want to make. 

Vessels from Jahday’s Deconstruct series, 2017. He made them “using advanced water jet cutting with metal moulds and blown glass,” at Manchester School of Art. | Photograph courtesy of Jahday Ford.
Two pieces from the Corticis series (2019), titled Gold Amethyst (left) and Gold Topaz (right). Corticis is the Latin word for cortex, as it relates to parts of the human brain. Jahday describes: “These sculptural representations focus on neuronal and spherical forms growing or manipulating the larger body of the vessel.” | Photograph courtesy of Jahday Ford.

Finding the right materials and collaborators

K+C — That must have been incredibly helpful. Was glass the first material you wanted to experiment with or have there been others?

The first initial materials and processes which led me to glass-making came in the form of mixed ‘compatible’ materials. These included wood, metal, ceramics, and digital programming. Looking back, the steps I took before working with glass were probably my most significant development before I found my primary medium. They taught me how to build an understanding of grains, textures, and forging in each material, but they also confused the life out of my tutors. It must have shown quite an amount of randomness, but really, it was just my brain working itself out creatively. Thankfully, I still managed to pass! 

My passion for glass-making falls between the ‘adventurous danger’ it involves and the versatility of its materiality. Glass-making gives me a primal and natural feeling in my mind with a pinch of extreme elements. These reactions may scare you at first, but they quickly grow into a love for the danger. It forms a deep understanding and respect for the process, which keeps you constantly on your toes. 

K+C — I bet! One aspect about glass-making that I’ve been intrigued about is how it alternates between being a solo activity and an opportunity to interact with other people due to the nature of many studios. You’ve intentionally leaned towards creative partnerships with a couple of projects, such as your Breathe series and work with Future20 collective. What draws you to collaborations?

Outside of my practice, I tend to always think of creative alternatives, collaborations, and foreign techniques. This happens weekly and could involve anything from photography to film or even fashion design. Many of these ideas never happen. Nonetheless, they have become quite important to me as I move towards unifying my interests with other artists. They’re essential for becoming comfortable and focused whilst working in different and perhaps unfamiliar ways. These engagements help refine important aspects so that you feel more confident, which enables you to then trim away steps that don’t work in the long run. My team-up with designer Joseph Hillary for our digital glass collaboration, ‘Breathe,’ was monumental for my growth in these areas.

Jahday in the glass studio. | Photograph by DGS Media.

My passion for glassmaking falls between the ‘adventurous danger’ it involves and the versatility of its materiality.

Photograph courtesy of Jahday Ford.
One of the molded glass vessels from Jahday Ford and Joseph Hillary’s series, Breathe. | Photographed by Ester Segarra.
K+C — In the Breathe series with digital programmer Joseph Hillary, you both employed “the sounds of blowing into the [glass-blowing] iron [pole].” Then, you “provided a platform for the wave pattern [from the recording] to be transferred into a visual” form. In this case, a mold for the glass vessels. How did that project come about, and what were the parameters?

Our ‘Breathe’ project ideas began during the final year of my degree and manifested in my critical refinement of digital programming fused with glass. After my experiments with lasercutting acrylic and heating its surface to mould as sculptures, my focus turned towards applying similar steps in glass. Using my previous wood-making experience, I successfully tested prototypes creating multiple patterned vessels and bespoke objects. The final development sparked when I approached Joe. The idea was to combine his wood-making and furniture design techniques to create an innovative and specialised product. 

As Joe applied his programming steps in Solidworks, CNC wood milling, and fabricating, we could edit and adjust various patterns and sound waves recorded during the making of my glass techniques. This vital ‘blowing’ sound wave became the outline of the mould, which we then cut with the drilling routers. Once the glass was inserted into the mould, turned, and blown into, we had an incredible amount of unexpected details. These spoke through the material itself, not the initial computer design. 

The detail was produced at the base. This formed inner distortions and optical illusions in the colour sitting within the thickness of the glass. We tested and experimented with numerous colours and tones in the span of five months before our Degree Show. Over time, these results revealed an extraordinary life in the characteristics of its materiality. They’re the basis on which I’ve built further investigations since our collaborative venture. 

K+C — It sounds like you both needed a lot of patience along the way, going through the trial and error processes. Did that collaboration change your approach to making in any way?

Yes, for sure. Another important development that arose was finding patience. This was primarily related to the way glass behaves but could also apply to any area of craft. Having multiple technical issues like annealing, glass breaking and smoking fires created my first essential step-by-step process in my current practice. I now begin to source wood and make facilities before I start the actual design process. That way, I know what I’m working with and where, as it all plays a vital role towards a successful outcome.

For breakages, I’ve designed better steam holes in the wood mould, so hot air escapes. Although I’m careful not to have too many, as everything will cool too quickly and creates stress for the glass. Thankfully, there are fewer fires, though! As you see the molten glass filling the mould, there are about 10 processes that must all happen within the 15 seconds of making it, which forces me into Formula 1 mode! 

Color variations in the Breathe series by Jahday Ford and Joseph Hillary. | Photographed by Ester Segarra.

Collective creativity

K+C — You also worked on a virtual reality artwork project with Future20 collective to explore sound composition, effects, and atmospheres to alter peoples’ experience of virtual spaces. And, you’ve got a collaboration on with Studio Morison. First, wow! It sounds like an exciting time! But could you tell us a bit about these projects? 

Over the first major lockdown, I was lucky enough to have an incredible residency at HOME Manchester, which gathered 13 artists and makers. Our collaborators, Studio Morison, facilitated the creation of an entire virtual world now called ‘Last Place On Earth.’ My project area focused on lighting, sculptural installations, and musical production. I began recording sounds of the materials lying around the house, which I commonly used in my practice. Each of the sound effects and layers focused on a ‘futuristic foley experience.’

Another step in the creation process involved producing in-house sculptures made with expanding foam fused with up-cycled materials, such as cardboard, plastics, and metal stripping. The idea was to build a collection of structures and vessels that could be transformed virtually and transported using a digital rendering app on my phone. As these forms get scanned, they can be re-designed into gargantuan architecture constructs or even other-worldly land formations. The collaboration aimed to showcase an eye-opening artistic response to climate change and human impact on our planet.

K+C — Oh, wow. That’s cool that you could incorporate so many materials materials around the house. Are you still collaborating with Studio Morison?

Yes. My most recent commission has spurred on new work with them and their recently installed project, ‘Silence – Alone In A World of Wounds,’ showcasing at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP). After receiving the task to create an investigation into Mother Nature’s ‘voiced’ soundscape, I wanted to curate an environmental adaptation. The idea was to make it between handmade instruments, voices and foley recordings surrounding the work. 

K+C — And this was for an installation?

Exactly. I initially questioned how this monumental force, which was here way before us, would sound or speak if it wasn’t translated sonically in a way we understand. I was constantly thinking about how I could clone the elements I heard into various musical embodiments. But, within a few hours, my meditation had captured multiple sounds. It included everything from buzzing sounds, flapping, chirping, wind, water, breathing and even the rumble of the motorway near YSP. The commission is still in the works, so I can’t give too much away, but please have a listen and/or look when it finalises in October 2021!

K+C — That’s really exciting! We’ll definitely keep an eye out for it.

Jahday’s computer rendering process

A computer rendering illustrating how Jahday first shapes the vessel in 2D to later create a 3D version. | Image courtesy of Jahday Ford.
Once he forms the outline, Jahday can extrude it to form the 3D version. | Image courtesy of Jahday Ford.

Mistakes and failures from time to time are seriously amazing and vital in so many ways!

A 3D computer model of the vessel. | Image courtesy of Jahday Ford.
Following the 3D rendering process, Jahday creates layers to provide realistic texture, color, and reflectivity. | Image courtesy of Jahday Ford.
Here is another example of a differently colored layer. Later, Jahday combines them using different levels of transparency to create a realistic representation of the reflective material. | Image courtesy of Jahday Ford.

Pushing your creativity

K+C — So, is it correct to assume we can expect more cross-pollinated projects in the future? What are you looking forward to most at the moment?

I believe having a balance of comfort and allowing yourself to go against the grain is the best approach you can have as a growing artist. It pushes your creative thinking and practical ability whilst trying new methods and working with like-minded artists or industry technicians. It also makes you more critical of your work. The refining process becomes easier with direct feedback or a different perception from someone who also cares about successful results. And, even if the results aren’t successful, it is just as important to adjust and move forward to get there in the future. Mistakes and failures from time to time are seriously amazing and vital in so many ways! These aspects inspire a large magnitude of my work today. It also encourages me to focus on building new relationships in the design world and venture into more cross-pollinated projects.

Most of my excitement and current attention is with my Jerwood Arts commission. Through this, I will debut my first major body of work since my university degree.  After four years of small, individual glass making and pulling myself out of debt (because glass-making is scarily expensive), I’ve been given a window to bring each experimentation within my digital craft to the forefront. The primary method leads to my use of digital modelling, CNC milling wood moulds, and forming other-worldly formations from each specified mould into hot glass. It stands as an accumulation of every creative step I’ve taken in glass over the years. I’m overwhelmingly happy to begin such a challenge, face a few hiccups and get something incredibly cool on the plinths!

K+C — Definitely! Congratulations on being named for the Jerwood Arts commission, Jahday. We look forward to seeing what’s to come. Thank you for speaking with us!
A finished rendering of the vessel against a sky backdrop. | Photograph courtesy of Jahday Ford.

For another article about a maker who works with multiple materials, click here.
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