October 1, 2015
Burning Creative Passion
From land use planning to stunning glass jewellery, Robert Fleming is proving that life can take some interesting turns to help you find your true passion. Robert shares with Angela Norval how he continues to wow people with his ability to create beauty with glass.
Looking at Robert Fleming’s glass work, you are immediately taken with the intricacy of the designs particularly the colour and detail and that something so delicate and small could be made with glass.
While glass work is now clearly a passion of Robert’s, nearly 15-years-ago it was a different story.
A land use planner with the local council, Robert was looking for a simpler and less stressful life and virtually stumbled across this art form after his partner at the time took a lampworking course and began bead-making at home.
After watching her a few times, Robert decided to try it himself and found bead making a great way to relax after a demanding day before moving to doing it full time.
Largely self taught, Robert amazingly learnt how to make solid beads from books while also taking classes with Peter Minson in Australia and another with lamp worker Diana East in England.
Confessing to not having been able to dance or sing let alone draw or paint before he began glass working in his 40s, Robert says there is something special about working with glass.
“You need to be aware and in the moment because if you mind starts to wander, the glass may fall off the rod,” he says.
“There’s also the repetition of it, I guess I find bead making to be a form of meditation.
“I love what I do now and still get excited when I turn on my kiln and torch.
I was lucky to have learnt how to blow using a blowpipe by watching a very talented and generous lamp worker in Venice.
“I think that love and passion are reflected in my work because it is a wonderful thing to take glass rods and create beautiful beads.”
Each of Robert’s beads are handmade and shaped, meaning that no two are the same; but it is not just about the glass beads for him, but the whole piece and he often finds himself using gold or silver findings with his work so the quality is there.
Having become a true master of his craft, Robert also blows glass beads using a blowpipe and a very hot blowtorch using the same principles as larger work such as bowls and other vessels; a skill that saw him travel overseas to develop.
“I was lucky to have learnt how to blow using a blowpipe by watching a very talented and generous lamp worker in Venice.
“A couple of my mentors had mentioned that I should go and see Andrea Guibelli when I went to Murano and it turned out that he lived and worked around the corner from the hotel I stayed in and graciously put up with me asking a multitude of questions while he worked – for three mornings straight.
“When I came home I started practicing and after the first couple of hundred misshapen or broken beads, I started getting them right.”
Using some purely striking options in his designs such as dandelion seeds into hollow glass globes as a variation to blowing a dandelion and making a wish, Robert continues to adapt his work around his customer’s individual needs adding feathers, sands, baby’s hair or other personal mementoes.
Asked where he gets his inspiration when creating a new collection, Robert says sometimes it is shapes, sometimes texture or colour but he loves working to a theme, recently making a series of earrings based on ribbed ball-shaped Chinese lanterns.
“Using pastel cores encased in ribbed clear with a little coloured bead on top, now there’s colour, texture and shape all in one.
“I also draw inspiration from other artists; I’ve taken Mondrian’s themes of black or white canvas and squares of largely primary colours and made a necklace that has a black base with circles of pastels.
“Customers also commission me to make jewellery for them and this can lead to some great challenges for me and happy customers.
“Not only after I started selling my work at the Eumundi Markets I met a wonderful elegant older lady, Nita who wears beautiful outfits and hats and the most amazing necklaces which she makes.
“Nita commissions me to make pieces, she comes to me with an idea and describes the bead she’s wanting, the look of the necklace she’s making and the other components and from there I ask questions and take notes, then I’ll make a sample of two and check back with Nita to see if it’s what she’s after.
When a customer buys a piece of jewellery from me they are getting something that will, with a little care, last and be appreciated by generations to come.
“She’s commissioned me to make some great pieces including hollow beads with flannel flowers on the surface and solid focal beads with multiple glass flowers trapped inside.
“It’s really great to be able to make these pieces and see how pleased the client is.”
While Robert jokes that the beautiful Sunshine Coast with its mild climate and a wealth of artists to share ideas and inspiration is a great place to be an impoverished artist, for him it is very much about the connection with the idea and often his client.
When selling a piece of jewellery, Robert loves nothing more than to be able to tell the customers about the piece whether it’s the inspiration behind the colour combination like the Noosa River necklace whose colours are that of the water, reeds, sky and sand of the freshwater parts of the river or the techniques used to make it.
Such is his connection to his clients a lady emailed him after purchasing some of his beads that she has received more compliments in a couple of days wearing his work than she has in 18 months wearing Argyle pink diamond earrings.
“When a customer buys a piece of jewellery from me they are getting something that will, with a little care, last and be appreciated by generations to come.
“As my technical skills have developed, the range of work I make has increased, so there’s more to offer customers and I am proud that I’ve also developed a keener sense of combinations of colours and textures.”
Fuelled by a creative fire, Robert is eager to continue sharing his enthusiasm for this amazing artwork, one breath at a time.