I have been preparing for the Degree Show (11th – 18th June) at Plymouth College of Art, and New Designers in London (26th – 28th June).

My final body of work is inspired by the Brutalist architecture of my home town of Croydon.

Photography by James Mann
Photography by James Mann

Photography by James Mann

Photography by James Mann

Photography by James Mann

Photography by James Mann


Previously my aim was to investigate the effects of light and glass. I investigated the optical effect particularly with float glass and the various applications of surface details, some of which were successful. The cast glass pieces had a lot of potential. 
As far as concepts, ideas and subject matter, I am still drawn towards architectural and geometric subjects. During my previous research I noticed that most of the pieces were modular, a combination of separate components. I have combined different types of glass together and a lot of the same, but with subtle differences, and this was the direction that I was aiming towards.
I noticed that the pieces that I had produced beginning to look like sound waves, so I investigated sound as a possible subject to investigate. I became disheartened as I did not want to just replicate established visual representations of sound, so I looked back to the modular nature of my previous experiments. 

I looked at stacks of circular glass and thought that the reverberations that I had produced previously could be replicated in some form. I was not happy with this so I looked at cubes, which was another format that I had used previously. I set about casting and cold-working these and I was during this engagement with the material, that I produced house-shaped forms.

I was struggled with finding a subtext for my previous experiments, but through engaging with the material I gradually moved towards using a recognisable motif, the “Monopoly” house. By using it in a modular fashion I wanted to explore the notion of public and private spaces, as well as a comment on property as investment, not as domestic home spaces.

As far as the technical aspects are concerned, it has been a struggle, but I feel that this has a lot of possibilities, maybe too many. I plan to create a statement piece and several “kits” to emphasis the modular and flexible nature of composition.


I am now approaching the end of my degree and the modules this year are leading to my final degree show and New Designers. The first module was focussed on experimental work and I wanted to examine the nature of glass and how it reacts with light. I used float glass and applied textures and images to sheets of glass and combined them to create 3D images. I also looked at cast glass and used  spheres as a format to compare the different techniques.

Technical and visual appraisal 
1/ Float glass. Deep cut sandblasted, fire polished
This was a very disappointing result as the fire polishing resulted in a cloudy finish, although the sandblasted recesses were polished. The edges were dull so the image could not be seen.
2/ Float glass. Sandblasted rings
 Quite a good result but a bit subtle. The edges show the rings quite well.
3/ Float glass. Enamelled “coronas”
The opacity of the enamels resulted in the top pane obscuring all the panes below. Even when they have been presented back to front, the enamels have come out a bit weak and insipid. The edges are quite interesting though, but very subtle.
4/ Float glass. Sandblasted circles, dusted with enamel powder, enamel detail stippled
This is the most successful piece. The addition of colour has highlighted the effect especially from the edges. Ideally the enamels could be more transparent to show the stipple detail better.
5/ Float glass. Sandblasted circles
This is a pretty good result, more apparent than the rings, and the edges are very strong. 
6/ Float glass. Circular cut negative semi circles 
This is quite interesting particularly from the edges. combining it with a semi sphere of polished glasma seems to draw the light to it.
7/ Glasma, reed glass. Sand cast and hand polished
On its own it has little going for it, but combined with contrasting reed glass, it magnifies and distorts it. Seems to work well with stacked float glass.  
8/ Glasma, red/clear flashed glass. Sand cast with texture
The unworked texture from the sand casting is good and the flashed glass underneath highlights this quality.
9/ Float glass. Circular cut with grozed edges
The light catches the grozed edged well, and from the top a mirroring effect works quite well.
10/ Float glass. Circular cut with polished edges
This highlights the mirroring effect otherwise it’s unremarkable. As with the other piece the calculation of the curve of the semi circle is pleasing.
11/ Glasma frit, Float glass. Open cast, UV glue with float glass inclusion

This has a lot of potential despite the UV glue being visible, and the shape will need more cold working. The combination with float glass works quite well, and could potentially becombined with other types of glass and coloured epoxy resin.


I decided to use lead as it was a material that I have used in the past for making stained  glass windows. This results in lots of offcuts and scrap bits that would be un sustainable and environmentally reckless to just throw away to landfill. Usually the lead can be recycled into “came”, but I thought about possibly using it for a statement about the material.

Lead has had many uses in the past including lead pipes for plumbing which was still in use up to the 1970s! I was also used as fishing weights, toy soldiers and letterpress type. It was also added to paint, petrol and pesticides, but its uses are limited due to the toxic nature of lead and its detrimental effect on the environment.

Ii seemed that lead was used for its versatility and malleability but these inappropriate uses suggests that it was considered a wonder metal, a panacea.

I decided to list inappropriate uses for lead, bearing in mind its toxic when ingested. Cutlery, dentures and baby toys were considered for casting, but it occurred to me that actually swallowing lead would be very harmful. The phrase “This would put lead in your pencil” sprung to mind. Given that alchemists used lead I decided to cast medicinal products. One of the side-effects of lead poisoning is erectile dysfunction, so it seemed obvious to cast Viagra tablets.

The presentation and label

They have a unique diamond shape, but to emphasis what they are I adapted the label of the pill bottle in Photoshop.

Reflection on my dialogue

On reflection I felt as though I didn’t have an ongoing dialogue with the material. Partly because of the toxic nature of lead, but mainly because I tend to consider what will be the finished piece. Experimenting with the potential of the material has its limitations for me as I felt that to change the shape of lead it will need to be melted and cast. 

My concern was with the message. This is the dialogue I tend to have with the material. For me lead and its toxic nature and its past inappropriate uses, were it’s main talking points. To blatantly create inappropriate uses for this material allowed me to offer a satirical presentation of lead and its unsuitability for medicinal use. Given that lead poisoning leads to erectile dysfunction, lead Viagra tablets seemed to present a paradox as the last thing needed is “lead in your pencil”. 
There was of course an ongoing dialogue during the making of the pieces, as I needed advice from experienced artists, and also finding the best method of making to suit my lack of experience with Delph casting.

The Stick Project

My response to this brief was to use sticks as a method of creating a composition; to use sticks as a way of making random marks that would be replicated in ‘lead came’. Stained glass artist Johannes Schreiter describes how he; 

“…started to use lead as a way of drawing, with lead lines floating over the glass. Lead is not just a way of joining two pieces of glass together; it can take on a life of its own. Thereby lead becomes a more graphological and expressive part of a window.” 

The sticks were collected after I had trimmed the bay tree in my garden. I had collected the  the trimmings and put them in a garden waste bag for recycling. One of the sticks had bowed in the bag and this inspired me to create panels that resembled arched windows. I selected four more sticks that were different from each other and I stripped off the leaves. These different shaped sticks would then be placed on the ground and this would inform me of where the lead would be positioned. Unlike the previous composition where the primary consideration was the glass, the lead came would merely support the pieces. In this instance the roles have been reversed with the glass in a secondary role, supporting the lead.

With all the components of the panel I was now able to assemble the panel. I combined the cartoon and cutting guide and stuck them onto a base-board. On the cartoon I colour-coded the different thicknesses of the lead came. By using horseshoe nails I was able to progressively attach each piece of glass and lead until the panel was complete. 

The Seven Hills of “The ‘Don”

Statement of Intent
This piece is an abstract representation of a cityscape suspended in space. This is a continuation of a previous project which was based around a series of photographs of Croydon. The title of this photo album is “Croydon – England’s Alphaville”. The town is renowned for its brutalist architecture, and was the subject of a Late Show documentary in 1993, which made reference to Croydon’s ambitions as England’s Alphaville. Jean Luc Goddard directed the film “Alphaville: A Strange Adventure of Lemmy Caution” which is a story set in a dystopian city, which inspired the title of the documentary.
The piece is seven elements that float within the frozen atmosphere represented by the glass that surrounds them. Each element will have some indication that they are buildings, and each of the seven buildings is a brutalist representation of a hill. There are many great cities that are built on seven hills, Rome, Athens, Lisbon, Barcelona and Budapest as well as many others. Croydon’s geological feature is that it is built in a valley, not on seven hills. These hills are architectural landmarks, namely car parks. In fact there are tours of the seven car parks that are conducted for enthusiasts of car park architecture, but are usually attended by people with a sense of irony.

The piece is also a study of glass and its quality to respond to light, and my interest in the sculptural nature of architecture and optical phenomena. Glass reflects and refracts light, but can also absorb and glow when the density is adjusted and manipulated. The work of Czechoslovakian glass artists understood this and it is their work that is inspiring me to investigate this quality. 
By inserting voids and spaces within the glass, the spaces appear to radiate light, and this is what I hope to achieve, although on a smaller scale. When I originally worked on the project, my solution was to use photography and printing onto glass, and creating seven separate pieces. My first piece used these techniques successfully, but on reflection the other six pieces I have designed have not stood the test of time. So I have decided to make one piece that retains the original concept of seven elements combined as a single sculpture. I also wanted to move away from a photographic solution and use the pure quality of glass, and the features of each building are stylised representations of tower blocks. 
The overall form is a cylinder with a sloped top surface, which will be highly polished. There will be cuboid spaces sunk into the top, perpendicular to the flat base, and these are the “hills”. The detail on each should suggest that the are buildings, when viewed from above, yet a group of spaces that reacts within the glass when viewed from the side. The sides will be sandblasted to emphasis the relationships of the voids as the light radiates from them. It is this glowing effect that is of interest to me, but I feel that this may only be achieved on a larger piece, but the detail on the spaces would work well when viewed overhead.  

The Rhubarb Triangle

This is a proposal for a public realm brief for the Unity Hall in Wakefield. Unity Hall is a Victorian concert hall which has fallen into disrepair. The planned regeneration includes commissions for public art within the reception areas. Here is my proposal:

Unity Hall Art Commission Proposal

Design Concept

This response to the brief is to draw on the uniqueness of Wakefield and the hall itself.  The area is known as being a part of the Rhubarb Triangle and this should be celebrated.  Another inspiration is the hall’s historical context within the area, particularly its musical heritage. There appears to be a lot of local pride regarding its role as an important venue for rock gigs, particularly in the 1970s and 80s. Again this is a fact that should be celebrated, especially as the future plans are to regenerate the hall as a major rock music venue.
To celebrate the Rhubarb Triangle the artistic response is to draw on the details of the plant, the colours and textures, as a feature within the space. The main lobby door, between the front reception/cafe area and the stairway/reception area, would feature a hand painted representation of the colours and textures of rhubarb. The stem of the plant has striations on the surface that appears to blend and separate the colours.

The hall’s past as a rock venue would be immortalised by a representation of cassette tapes. Bootleg tapes from gigs were very common during the 1980s and they had an unmistakeable appearance. They usually had handmade labels and covers that attested their authenticity, although the recording’s quality was usually mediocre at best. The response to this would be to use the graphic imagery of cassette tapes in a suspended triangular column of glass in the front reception area. This area has an existing structural column which is not central in relation to the space, and as a result there seems to be a space where a column is missing. This missing column space would be filled with a floating glass structure, which would be fixed to cables that would be secured from the floor to the ceiling. The contrast of the round, white, circular structural column with the angular, colourful, floating structure would provide an interesting counterpoint within the space. The colours would again use the existing palette of the large painted lobby doorway.

Community Engagement

The intention for involving the community would be to ask the public to send in any bootleg or mix tapes. These could be from the first gig or favourite band, or maybe a mix tape that may have some memorable significance. A press release to local newspapers and radio stations could be issued asking for people to contribute their tapes, or a photocopies of their tapes. These musical memories will be sandblasted or printed on the surface of the suspended structure.

The shared ownership of public art with the community may lead to the public visiting to see their contribution on the finished artwork. It may also install a sense that the halls belong to the community and that it is for the benefit of the locality. The artwork is a statement of this shared ownership. 

Future events could include peoples contributions to exhibitions to align with the proposed heritage project of the history of the building during 2013. These contributory exhibitions could be themed around past musical events, with donations of flyers, posters and any memorabilia. There could be themes of other types of events that took place at the hall, with contributions donated from the community.

Plans and Diagrams


All the glass will be 6mm toughened, screenprinted and sandblasted glass to ensure public safety and will fulfill the health and safety requirements. The suspended column will be attached to the ceiling and floor for added stability, however there may be an additional fixing plate required if there is to be a beam in place. The diameter of the column will be slightly less than that of the beam (2.5 cms at each edge), so it will be necessary to fix a plate for the cables to attach to instead of the beam.

The glass for this is 2m x 38cms, which will be easy to gain access through the front door. The same can be said for the glass for the lobby doorway which is in 1.75m x 1m sections.
Scaffolding would be required for the fixing of the cables to the ceiling and the glass panels to the cables. The installation of the doorway will be provided by the suppliers of the finished printed glass, as they will be supplying the finished glass for both the column and doorway. 
The weight of glass for the suspended column:

Weight of Glass per square metre = Thickness x 2.5
so 6mm glass panel 0.5m x 2m (approx 1 square metre) x 2.5 = 15 kilograms per panel
3 panels x 15 = 
45 kilograms total weight


Cables and fittings
Supplier – C R Lawrence
 3  x 4m cable with floor to ceiling fixtures, supports 200kg per cable @ £25 each = £75
25 (at least 18) x panel supports, weight 16kg per clamp @ £8 each = £200
Cost of glass
Supplier and manufacturer –  Protos Studio
The approximate cost per square metre of printed toughened glass is £1000 per square metre. I have calculated that there is approximately 12 square metres of glass that will be printed, which adds up to £12,000. The suspended panels are £3,000 without the cable installation, and the lobby doorway is £9,000, but this may be inclusive of delivery and installation costs.
Total = £12,275


Adele Retter (design of concept, creative engagements, project management and deliverables under contract)

Third party contractors

Protos Studios (production of printed/sandblasted toughened glass, delivery and installation)
C R Lawrence (Cables and fixtures for suspended column)

Shoal of Light

Hello everybody sorry about the lack of updates but I have been busy moving into my new house. However, I finally have something to report as I am back at uni and here is one of the projects that I have worked on recently. We had an external design brief and I chose to respond to a brief provided by the Plymouth Museum.

We were required to respond to a gallery space with a wall and ceiling, next the the main atrium. The was an exhibition celebrating the life of a local artist, Charles Eastlake, who went on to become the first director of the National Gallery. He met JMW Turner while studying at the Royal Academy, and Turner would visit Plymouth to paint. He was inspired by the “Italianite” light of the South West, and this would be the main focus of my piece. I started by taking photographs of the area.

My initial idea was to have garlands of coloured leaves hanging from the ceiling.

I became concerned with how the leaves would attach to the main cables, that would be suspended from the ceiling, so I also considered panels with leaves as motifs on panels.
After presenting this idea I felt that the idea represented Autumn and nature instead of light. So I looked at the reflection and refractions of light on water.

Again I was not happy with this approach, there seems to be a lot of glass panels that take inspiration from the movement of water. My ideas seemed to be hackneyed and trite. I even looked at children’s construction toys for some kind of inspiration.

I resumed my research, desperately in need of inspiration. I came across some work that used many small individual elements like “Swarm”(2006) by Zaha Hadid, and Thomas Heatherwick’s “Bleigiessen”.

So I investigated complex systems of animals that engage in swarming, flocking and shoaling behaviour. The movement caught in time, like hot lead in cold water. So I looked back at the Crystal Climbers as a way of constructing this form.

After making a maquette I felt that the form was too angular, and seemed to appear like a leaf!

I had been looking at frit (granulated glass) for another brief and I was getting some excellent results. I thought of the possibility of using panels of fritted glass.

The gaps were meant to be fish-shaped but the irregularity of the gaps emphasised the watery appearance of the melted frit. I still needed to represent the shoal, so I experimented with sand blasting and the glass lathe on float glass. The back of the float had the fishes carved into the back of the float glass and the fritted panel was UV glued on top.

From this sample panel I was able to configure the panels to create the sense of movement of the shoal across each panel.

My finished piece is the sample panel and presentation boards that I used to pitch my proposal. I used the photo below, which I manipulated in Adobe Photoshop for one of my boards.

Shoal of Light, 2012

Despite all the anxiety and creative blocks, this was a success as the presentation will be on display in the museum after the private view on the 1st Feb.

Until next time, chiao for now.

Hill #1 – Lunar House

I have finally got around to mentioning my latest assignment, which is based on the 7 “hills” of Croydon.

Well I decided against solid cast glass as it was difficult to achieve the sharp, precise edges that I wanted.

So I decided to use flat float glass, as it would be easier to cut precisely and print the photographs onto the surface.

I manipulated a photograph in Adobe Photoshop and created a very contrasty image to use for screen printing the image onto the glass.

I made the screen using film copies of the photoshoped images.

Then screen printed onto the glass, ensuring that the registration was as accurate as possible. Here I made a screenprinting board that marked the corners of the screen for consistent registration for each sheet of glass.

The black was printed for the inner section.

 Then I hand-painted the enamel spot colours.

Then screenprinted the sandblast resist onto the outer sheets.

Then assembled the piece using UV glue.

 This is a detail of the finished piece. The sandblasted outer is obscuring the screenprinted and hand painted inner section. I wanted there to be a refractive quality to the piece, that is why I wanted to use solid cast glass sections. However, because of the nature of the subject, austere buildings, cut float glass emphasises the subject of construction.

 Overall I happy with this piece, although the plinth that I fashioned from polyboard and a portable LED light, makes it look like a bedside lamp. This is what it looks like without the light show.

One down, six more to go! Phew!

Art and Text – Got something to say?…Er…no…

For the past few weeks at Uni, I have been working on the “Complimentary Studies” assignment. Complimentary Studies is a compulsory module that all 1st year degree students must do. The reasoning behind this is to experience another area within art and design and transfer those ideas to your own practice. I have chosen “Art and Text” as I have still retained my interest in graphics and typography.

However, this course, which is one afternoon a week and worth 10 credits, has been quite enjoyable despite the possible Fine Art bias. The first week we had to decide what we had to say, but I have nothing to say really. So having established that I am a bit of a blank canvas with nothing to say, I researched quotes and slogans and came across many quotes from jazz artists. Being a fan of jazz and the typographic designs of album covers from Blue Note Records, I decided to use the quotes and the style of Blue Note. So basically I am appropriating an established style, using quotes from cleverer, cooler people. Got something to say Adele? No, I’m afraid not!

Anyway Steve seems to think they’re niiice, so I created my personal “zine”, and used these designs for other pieces we had to do. For example, a badge, a placard, a t-shirt, a page for the class “zine” and a performance-based art and text thing.

 Typically for my performance I did a Powerpoint presentation about what powerpoint presentations should be called. I found a message-board that was discussing a possible generic name for such presentations, not not a name of a brand of software. Anyway I drew from what was said and turned it into a “Deck”.

Anyway, as for the ongoing Artist Designer Maker assignment, I’ll keep you posted once I settle on a solution. A lot has been going on with that and I may have to write a blog about it! 😉 Until next time, see ya later gang!