Pictured above: One of Jo Munford’s yacht glass pieces
Rhona Duffy talks to Hampshire-based Jo Munford, who worked in yacht interior design for years before becoming a professional stained glass artist.
Narrated by Rhona Duffy & Jo Munford. Listen now:
How did you find stained glass?
My journey into stained glass or, technically, lead light came about by accident during a dinner party at my parents’ house. One of their friends, who has been making stained glass for over 30 years, was there and we got talking. I was enjoying the conversation so much that I leapt at her offer to visit her studio. I remember walking in and seeing the stacks of beautiful glass against the walls, interesting-looking equipment, the huge, well-used workbench, long rulers and interesting smells all cramped up in the eaves. It was a mix of artist’s space and workshop. I was intrigued, the questions poured out of me and Shelagh advised that I look for a course and learn. Before that point I had never considered working with stained glass let alone learning the art but, as I began to, I realised that many of the roads I had taken in my life had brought me to this point. I actually studied textile design at Derby University, graduating with a first-class honour’s degree in woven textiles. My work was inspired by William Morris, Tiffany and the Arts and Craft movement. I was fascinated by repeat patterns and stylised graphic forms. I even made my own interpretation of Tiffany’s Peacock window panel on fabric, which is still not finished and rolled up somewhere in my attic! As a result of these influences, my style became graphic in discipline too. It was a style I used for ease with a weaving software I was using at the time. When I look back now, this has parallels with the simple outline ‘cartoons’ or cut lines you draw for stained glass. Back then, I enjoyed the challenge of creating a repeat pattern and now I enjoy the challenge of designing within the bounds of lead and glass.
When did you decide to turn your hobby into a business?
Once I had started stained glass, I knew I wanted to transition into it full time. Throughout my life, I had always been in creative roles, in yacht interior design to be specific, specifying fabrics and furnishings for anything from small production sailing and motor yachts to 100m-plus mega yachts. For the final four years, I got stuck in a rut in a role that had no creative output. Problem-solving yes, but no creativity, and it was slowly killing my soul. Something I’m sure all creatives can resonate with. So, when Covid came around I found myself on furlough for most of 2020, busying myself with a huge list of DIY jobs before turning my attention to stained glass. My hand was forced when I lost my job that October … not quite the transition I had planned, but it was at that point I knew I wanted to take charge of my life and I threw everything at making a business of my stained glass. I have always wanted to work for myself but never knew what I wanted to do so this was it – a chance. Like so many resourceful souls during Covid, perhaps survival, perhaps a dream come true, or both.
Were there skills and experience from your previous career that proved useful to your move into professional art?
Yes, I would say so. I am quite an exacting person, which probably comes from years in the super-yacht industry, so I’m fastidious about the details and quality of my work. Also, having worked in design offices and a shipyard, understanding design and build comes naturally to me, so I can think about the construction of things. My 3D work, such as the bird dioramas on wood, is always presenting new conundrums about how to fix things securely in place and I like to push the boundaries of what is possible. I have been fortunate to work with a good friend who is a metal fabricator and, between us, we’re always coming up with solutions for how to build pieces and connect lead work to steel in efficient and sophisticated ways. With my yacht model pieces, I actually use sail plans, I like to work to scale and, when I can, set the sails as accurately as possible. Most certainly a hang-up from my career in the marine industry!
What business lessons have you learned along the way that might be useful for other artists?
Probably the biggest lesson I have learned is that you have to love the journey. If you don’t enjoy trying to get from A to B, and you expect to achieve your dream overnight, you won’t succeed. As people who have set up on their own know, it’s hard work and takes up a lot of your personal time. You never switch off so you have to absolutely love what you do. You also have to be determined and positive, and absolutely believe in what you’re doing. Sometimes it’s actually best not to have very fixed ideas as new directions can present themselves to you along the way. So be flexible and keep looking for opportunities. Network and look for your target audience. Who are your people and what makes your work appeal to them? I’m certainly not at B yet and actually, I’m not sure what B looks like, but I’m very much enjoying the journey so far. My last bit of advice is to create your own network of artists whom you can bounce ideas off or learn from. Along the way, I’ve made some fabulous friends in completely different creative disciplines … in fact, I don’t really follow other glass artists as I don’t want to be influenced by them.
What areas of glass do you specialise in and enjoy most?
Well, when people think of stained glass the obvious is windows. I do make windows and when I get commissions, I love them – they’re less complicated than the 3D model work I do. The other areas are: garden sculptures (an area I would like to do more of), yacht models and bird dioramas. The yacht models come about from my love of the marine industry. I enjoy the challenge of replicating a yacht with just glass, wire, solder and wood. The bird dioramas I fell into by accident. I wanted to make my mum a 70th birthday gift and had this amazing bit of wood that looked like a small tree – I had a vision of blue tits and ivy on it. When I tried explaining it, no one could understand what I saw in my mind’s eye. Once I had made it, they saw my vision. That bit of work was posted on a social media group and got a huge number of likes, compliments and enquiries, and I realised I had an audience for this sort of work. So it’s now an area I specialise in.
Where can people find your work? And what marketing tools work best for you?
People can find me on the web at www.seaview-studio.co.uk and on Facebook and Instagram. Most of my work is commission work. I do a few Christmas markets to sell my heirloom Christmas decorations and as I enjoy meeting people. The Christmas decorations are great little marketing tools themselves, as they get given as gifts, which pushes them out further than my network reach. Each one contains a business card so people look me up and sometimes enquire about other work. I can’t say I’ve mastered Instagram yet, and I don’t get commissions through it, but Facebook is a useful marketing tool. I look for groups that I think my audience is in. I’m not pushy about how I present my work there and certainly don’t try hard sales. The most rewarding things are returning customers and recommendations.
What are your plans for the future – both short and long term?
The million-dollar question! For a year and a half, I’ve been going through a house renovation that went wrong so my short-term plan is to get to the other side of that and be able to concentrate on putting all my energy back into Seaview Studio. I plan to teach courses on lead lights and copper foil. I also have a kiln that I need to get up and running, so I’ll be experimenting with incorporating fused glass to see where that takes me. I like the idea of mixing creative disciplines, so the future of Seaview Studio might not just be glass work…