Heather Gillespie: Profile

Artist’s Statement.

Before creating a piece of glass, I produce a series of sketches and designs. Once the glass has been blown, I begin the process of cutting and polishing the glass to a high standard, ready for engraving.

I am interested in the 16th century art of copper wheel engraving.

Being self taught, I lived for a year in the remote village of Kamenicky Senov in the Czech Republic. Time spent studying techniques, refining my skills and perfecting my craft.

Copper wheel engraving is a satisfying and rewarding process but there are only a handful of engravers in the U.K. who are practicing this craft, producing exquisite work.

The craft of copper wheel engraving is, unfortunately, no longer taught in any U.K. institute.

Having been selected by the Crafts Council to complete their ’Next Move’ scheme, my studio is based in the glass department at the University of Wolverhampton. It is here that I have taught a PhD student the art of engraving onto glass using diamond wheels.

The refractive and reflective properties of glass and the limitless possibilities for the creation of optical illusion by the means of skilful cutting and the interaction of the above properties with light, appeals to me and suits the nature of my work.


The way in which the diamond, stone and copper wheels slowly grind away the glass fascinates me, as does the process of glass blowing. Seeing molten glass glowing with shades of red, yellow and orange during the heating process as it swirls in a large pot in the glass furnace, intrigues me.

Molten glass, at high temperatures, has the viscosity of and behaves in a similar way to liquid honey.

Imagine taking a spoonful of honey and keeping it on the edge of the spoon  without it dribbling off. Gentle rotating of the spoon is needed to achieve this.

The same principle applies to glass blowing. Constant rotating is required to keep the glass on the end of the blowpipe.

As the work is blown, it changes shape and structure and once it starts to cool, it becomes fixed as if it were trapped in time. The piece is then transferred to a kiln called a ’lehr’. After twelve hours of cooling, the piece is ready to handle.

After studying the piece, I then assess the best way to cut and polish it. I normally start on a machine called a ’linisher’.

A vertical belt is put on the machine and, beginning with a coarse belt and progressing through various grades to a fine belt in the same way that sandpaper is used, you begin to cut the glass quite quickly and vigorously.

Once the cutting is complete, a felt wheel is lubricated with a pumice substance in order to polish. I take the glass to the wheel with gentle pressure and thus, with patience, you begin to see the gleam and sparkle coming to life in the glass.

Once the cutting stage is complete, I mark out my design onto the glass ready for intaglio engraving.

I use a selection of diamond, stone and copper wheels to create texture and form by the process of taking away the flat surface, thus changing the structure and texture of the piece.

This process requires both good eyesight and a steady pair of hands. 
The glass is cut with a rotating wheel fixed to a spindle which is then tapped into a lathe.

Only the edge of the copper wheel is charged with an abrasive powder suspended in oil, then the glass is taken to the wheel to make the cut.

By varying the rotation speed, size and edge profile of the wheel and using different types of abrasive, it is possible to achieve a wide variety of linear and textural effects.

For example, ’V’ shaped wheels produce lines while gentle rocking of the glass and rounded profile wheels produce circular and oval shapes.

As previously stated, I fell in love with the art of copper wheel engraving during the year that I spent at the Glass College in Kamenicky Senov in the Czech Republic and find the creation of a piece using this technique a very satisfying and rewarding process.