PHOTOS & VIDEO: James Fletcher is a McGraths Hill-based glassblower

HAWKESBURY-based James Fletcher has been blowing glass since 1982.

Final stages. Video: Geoff Jones

“The first glass I made I got the lounge fire roaring hot and then I built a little furnace and melted glass and chemicals - chemicals soften the glass a bit,” he told the Gazette.

“It was bottle glass, which is rubbish glass. It’s made for making bottles, not for blowing. Blowing glass is much higher quality, softer working, and works for longer.”

Mr Fletcher has lived in and worked on glass in a variety of places, including Victoria, Western Australia, Port Moresby in New Guinea, and Christchurch in New Zealand.

These days, he gets creative in the garage of his McGraths Hill home.

“The car never goes in the garage,” he said.

Mr Fletcher describes glassblowing as “very specialised”.

“It’s difficult to get in to because it’s high cost and takes a long time to get your skills. There are only two or three glassblowers that work in the Sydney metropolitan area,” he said.

“Making a piece is very much like a slow dance with the glass, because you’re controlling it all the time and adding to it.”

When Mr Fletcher is blowing glass, he usually has the help of two workers.

“There are some pieces of glass that I can’t make by myself so having two or three people help means you can make more complicated pieces,” he said.

”They also help me with design. I have ideas but they work with my ideas and come out with something different.”

Mr Fletcher sells the majority of his pieces through the Hawkesbury Regional Gallery and the Hawkesbury Artists & Artisans Trail.

“I also sell occasionally to friends. But most of my friends and family have lots of my glass by now. And I have heaps of glass in my house,” he said.

Mr Fletcher describes his workshop as “like having a factory”.

“The main piece of equipment is two gas-fired furnaces. The main furnace melts the glass and takes a week to heat up, a day to load it, and another day to cook the glass to get it right. Then I can work two or three days with the loaded glass, then I need to reload it, which takes another day-and-a-half,” he said.

“I buy my glass as raw chemicals from a place in Victoria. It’s professional-quality glass that’s made to match the colours we use. The colours mostly come from New Zealand, where there’s a factory that makes 130 colours. There’s also one in Germany and one in America where you can get other colours.

“It is a very specialised thing. The glass has to all work together; if you have the wrong glass, it’ll crack. When you mix the colour with the clear it needs to be compatible.

“Glass is very challenging, it’s fun doing it sometimes and sometimes it’s really stressful. It’s always a challenge.

“I’ve learnt as much about building furnaces over the last 30 years as I have about blowing glass.”