29th April 2020
Jo Downs’ handcrafted glasswork of echoes the beauty and hues of Cornwall’s landscapes and reflects her passion for the coastline.
Imagine a lifestyle entrenched in the beauty of Cornwall’s spectacular coast. Well, for designer Jo Downs, that’s what the daily grind is all about – as she captures the light, colour and detail of this county in her beautiful, handcrafted glasswork. We meet Jo at her Launceston studio to discuss her endless creativity, and 25 years of dedication to her craft.
I never doubted I’d be an artist. From childhood I sketched, and drew, and had plans to be a potter. But glass, it seems, had other plans for me. I first tried fusing glass at university, and the glorious lump of colour I created got me totally hooked. I couldn’t get over the brilliance and beauty of it. A whole world of creativity opened up to me right then, and I’ve honestly never looked back.”
I started my career at the deep end, designing large scale installations for hotels and cruise liners. Creatively, it was thrilling, but technically it was very demanding and really taught me the art of perfecting fused glass. Big ideas are no good if you can’t make them a reality for your client. You need to perfect the skill and understand the science that brings the beauty out in fused glass. It’s such a unique material.”
I came to Cornwall in 2001 and it totally changed my life. The visual inspiration here is endless, and it’s something I’ve poured it into my work ever since. I walk and run on the coast, and my home looks out over the sea, so I’m surrounded by the details and textures of Cornwall every day. Anyone who loves my work loves Cornwall – their passion is the same as mine – and it’s a passion I really love sharing.”
I opened the first Jo Downs Gallery in Padstow in 2005, and now have galleries in St Ives, Fowey, Tintagel, and Launceston (and also one in Surrey). They’ve become a real icon of the Cornish high street, with window displays that showcase all the dazzling colours of the coast, and I’m so proud of that. They’ve allowed me to showcase my large-scale work, and a range of smaller ‘take home’ pieces that celebrate the beauty of Cornwall.”
My studio is my sanctuary. It’s state of the art – not like thefirst little kiln I had in my bedroom when I was a student – and that luxury allows me to really push the boundaries of what’s possible in fused glass. My work is about capturing beauty in glass, and my studio is the perfect space to think, to draw, and to test out ideas in the kiln, with the radio on and my Jack Russell, Izzy, by my side.
I’ve designed lots of collections, but of course I have my favourites. ‘Cornish Pilchards’ is the most recognised and perhaps the best-loved of my designs, and celebrates its 10th anniversary this year! And my wall-mounted Shoaling Fish and Leaf collections were a real game changer for me, and have led to so many wonderful spin offs and bespoke designs, including a stunning range of chandeliers.”
Creating bespoke work is my favourite thing to do. It’s a special thing to design a one-off commission for a unique space. People express their individuality through their design choices, and a commissioned piece is the ultimate example of that. If I can spin my client’s aspirations into a spectacular glass installation or artwork, I will, and if somebody says it’s not possible, I’ll have tons of fun proving it is!”
Images from an installation at Dragon House, Mawgan Porth.