A glass blower/designer is responsible for designing, producing, decorating and finishing pieces of glass including:

  • architectural glass;
  • exhibition pieces;
  • giftware;
  • mirrors;
  • stained glass windows;
  • tableware.

They may work as scientific glass blowers, designing and repairing laboratory glass.

Most of the work is carried out by small, independent studios, although there are some larger glass manufacturers based in the UK.

The work can be commissioned by individuals, corporate organisations or the public sector. Most blowers/designers will be involved in the entire commission process, from concept to completion.

Glass blowers/designers may also be involved in restoring, renovating and repairing original pieces.

Responsibilities

Responsibilities vary depending on your specialist area, but typically include:

  • designing, producing and finishing decorative pieces, including windows, mirrors, lamp bases, ornaments, tableware and sculptures;
  • working with molten glass (from a furnace) and a blowing iron to form the glass into a rough shape;
  • kiln forming - slumping glass into a mould;
  • recycling scraps (cullet) from larger producers;
  • soldering pieces of coloured, painted or enamelled glass;
  • using decorative techniques, including engraving, acid-etching, stencilling, sand or grit blasting;
  • restoring, renovating and repairing original pieces;
  • selling wares directly to customers or stockists, from a studio, shop or gallery;
  • networking to establish effective contacts in your specialist market;
  • attending training courses to keep up to date with technological, scientific and innovative advances in the industry and to learn new techniques;
  • researching and monitoring the worldwide glass market to ensure products are current, in demand and reasonably priced;
  • attending craft fairs and exhibitions;
  • giving live demonstrations of production of work before selling;
  • producing a catalogue or portfolio of designs for publicity purposes.

For those running their own business, additional tasks may involve:

  • applying for grants and awards;
  • working with professional associations and membership bodies for local and national artists;
  • using photography skills and web design to market products;
  • entering national and international design competitions;
  • developing a range of computing skills, including website development and graphics packages along with desktop publishing for producing publicity materials.

Salary

  • Salaries for glass blowers can start at £14,000, rising to between £18,000 and £22,000 per annum.
  • Experienced designers or those working for larger companies can earn more than £35,000.

There is no average salary for self-employed designers as income will differ for each commission. Many will supplement their income with other work, including teaching or training, freelance writing for trade publications, or other design work.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

There are no set hours for self-employed designers. Evening and weekend work may be necessary to finish a commission on time. Glass blowers who work for larger manufacturers may be required to work shifts. Trainees or 'gatherers' may be expected to start early in the morning, but finish early afternoon.

What to expect

  • Studio designers often work alone, although some form cooperatives with other designers to share studio running costs and equipment. Designers working for larger companies usually work in small teams.
  • Much of the work is carried out in a studio, operating machinery and using tools. Protective goggles and clothing are worn in most studios.
  • Running your own business can be stressful with little job security. On the plus side, you can manage your own time and exercise your creativity freely. Glass blowers or designers working for larger companies may enjoy better job security and more opportunities for progression, but less artistic freedom.
  • Due to the relatively small number of glass studios across the UK, you may need to travel some distance to work. Some designers work in more than one location and some work from home. Ultimately, some designers may set up their own hot-shop.

Qualifications

Although this area of work is open to all graduates, a degree/HND/foundation degree in the following subjects may increase your chances:

  • glass or glass with ceramics;
  • art, fine art or decorative arts;
  • ceramic and applied arts;
  • design and applied arts with glass;
  • contemporary crafts;
  • architectural glass, stained glass, restoration and conservation;
  • 3D design.

You will need to provide a portfolio of work for entry on to relevant degree courses. For full details of courses and entry requirements, search the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS).

Entry without a degree is possible, and those working in glass factories will usually train on the job. The Level 2 NVQ Certificate in Glass Processing (QCF) and the Level 3 NVQ Diploma in Glass Processing (QCF) are relevant qualifications for those wanting to pursue a career in glassblowing, scientific glassblowing or glass decorating.

Opportunities also exist to take Glass Industry Apprenticeships. Apprenticeships vary depending on the sector but include roles as a glass maker, craft-class worker and stain glass worker.

Introductory courses to glass design and glass making are run by education centres across the UK. To find details of courses near you, use the National Careers Service - Course Search.

Some independent studios also offer beginners' workshops in the evenings or run short courses during weekends or holidays. Details of introductory craft, including glass courses and workshop organisers are provided by Craft & Design.

Some universities provide taster and/or short courses in glass making. Adult taster sessions, classes and courses in glass, as well as a BA (Hons) Glass and Ceramics and opportunities for postgraduate study and research, are offered by the National Glass Centre, part of the University of Sunderland.

Although postgraduate study is not essential, several universities offer Masters courses in glass, providing the opportunity to develop skills further. Search for postgraduate courses in glass.

Skills

A mixture of technical ability, creative design, sound craftsmanship and architectural awareness is essential. In addition, you will need to show evidence of the following:

  • attention to detail, accuracy and patience;
  • communication and presentation skills;
  • teamworking ability;
  • planning and problem-solving skills;
  • good hand to eye coordination;
  • an eye for colour and detail;
  • time management skills;
  • fitness and stamina.

For those who are self-employed, good general business and research skills are vital, as is an ability to be self-motivated and to know how to market yourself and your products.

Foreign language skills may improve your chances of branching out into overseas markets.

Work experience

Take the opportunity during your degree to showcase your work at public exhibitions and take part in competitions and degree shows. Also, make the most of visits, exchanges and work placements both in the UK and abroad to build a network of contacts. If possible, take on commissions to further enhance your CV.

Although not all jobs require formal educational qualifications, all new entrants need a portfolio of work to present to potential employers and clients, which should match the in-house style of the studio you are applying to. Subjects or experience in areas such as art and design, technology and the sciences, coupled with a passion for the glass sector will give you an advantage.

To help raise your profile, go to craft fairs and follow the arts trails and make contact with other designers. Get your work known and start to build a professional reputation.

For a list of craft fairs and shows, arts trails, open studios, exhibitions and craft courses and workshops, see Craft & Design.

For those wanting to set up their own business, create your own website and get listed in relevant craft directories.

Employers

Many glass blowers/designers work for themselves as self-employed artists, designers or makers. Those who specialise in giftware, jewellery or one-off pieces of artwork can sell their products through craft fairs, exhibitions, galleries or arts centre gift shops.

Whilst department stores usually work with larger producers, some may sell exclusive ranges of independent designers. Online shopping has also increased potential markets for glass designers, most will have their own website with an online gallery and often an online shop.

Other glass blowers/designers work for studios where they may specialise in areas such as stained glass, glass painting or decorative surface treatments, e.g. kiln forming or engraving.

There is a small number of UK crystal manufacturers who employ skilled glass blowers, designers and decorators. These include:

  • Dartington Crystal - the only remaining major crystal factory in the UK;
  • Caithness Glass - a division of Dartington Crystal;
  • House of Waterford Crystal - located in Ireland.

Other larger employers include department stores and interior design houses, which will have their own design teams.

Stained glass designers may be commissioned by:

  • banks;
  • churches;
  • hotels;
  • mosques;
  • national heritage projects;
  • private clients;
  • pubs;
  • public buildings;
  • shopping centres.

Scientific glassblowers tend to work either in universities or companies that design, manufacture and repair scientific and laboratory glassware.

Look for job vacancies at:

There are a few websites dedicated to jobs in the glass industry, though only a small number are related to decorative glass opportunities.

Vacancies tend to be with larger employers and will be advertised through the trade press, as well as online.

Self-employed designers should also look in trade publications and on trade websites for opportunities and commissions.

New designers may want to consider sending a speculative application to any established studio or workshop.

Get more tips on how to find a job, create a successful CV and cover letter, and prepare for interviews.

Professional development

Continuing professional development (CPD) is important for both self-employed glass blowers/designers and those who work for larger companies.

If you are employed by a company, they may provide in-house training. This usually involves being taught and supervised by a more experienced craftsperson.

Attend trade fairs and exhibitions in order to build up a network of contacts and to find out about new methods and ideas.

To keep up to date with developments in the profession and to find details of forthcoming fairs and exhibitions read the trade press, like Crafts Magazine.

Further study offers the opportunity to experiment, diversify or produce better work within a specialism. Courses are offered at postgraduate level in areas such as:

  • stained glass conservation;
  • hot glass;
  • kiln glass;
  • architectural glass;
  • glass and ceramics.

Research in glass is promoted and facilitated by the Institute for International Research in Glass (IIRG), which is affiliated to the University of Sunderland and the National Glass Centre. It focuses on Doctoral research in creative glass.

Self-employed glass blowers/designers often take courses to develop their business-related skills in areas such as:

  • photography (to assist with production of catalogues and publicity), marketing and networking;
  • information technology, web design and software packages;
  • financial management, marketing, accounting and legal business matters;
  • health and safety.

Career prospects

Glass blowers/designers employed by larger organisations may have the opportunity to move into managerial or supervisory roles. Such progression involves increased responsibility and more emphasis on non-creative skills, including people management, budgetary control and planning.

Career development for those who are self-employed comes from increased ability and an expanding portfolio. A well-established reputation will bring more challenging commissions and clients.

Competitions with financial rewards encourage glass blowers/designers to push themselves to the limits of their creative potential. For details of competitions see:

  • Crafts Council;
  • Craft & Design.

Working abroad may be a consideration. In recent years, the increase in luxury resorts and hotels has brought new opportunities for UK glass designers. There is also a demand for decorated and structural glass in architecture, interior design and furniture.

Glass blowers/designers may need to supplement their income with other work. Opportunities arise in education, conservation and arts management. This might include glass restoration, stained glass making, teaching or lecturing at local schools and colleges, as well as running evening courses and workshops.

As with any creative career, it is useful to keep in touch with industry peers and industry developments by joining relevant networks and associations. A biennial opportunity to network with international participants and to exhibit and sell to international audiences is provided by the International Festival of Glass.