Interview with Designer Emma Bourke

emma bourke interview with floralesque

When I first seen Emma’s work I was completely blown away (excuse the pun!), she is an amazing glassblower using the technique of lamp-working and her pieces are actually show stopping. The tiny details in her work are just beautiful and the absolute attention to detail is what drew me in. She is a multi award winning jewellery designer and recently won the prestigious Jewellery Designer of the Year at the Irish Fashion Innovation AwardsGlass blowing is not a skill that I was familiar with so I was delighted when Emma agreed to the interview – I hope that you enjoy it as much as I do.

What is your first memory of fashion/design that drew your attention?

Having spent my formative years surrounded by the natural surroundings of the West of Ireland, I feel a connection to this specific landscape and its people, customs and native plant-life. I believe that an awareness of our heritage is essential for the development of identity and the contextualization of our cultures. My research into botanical mythology assists me in understanding my personal identity, and enables me to construct a sense of place within enlarging global systems and technology networks.

When did you know that you wanted to follow the path of being a designer and then a glassblower? Was there something that drew you to this craft over fashion design for example?

Throughout my child hood I felt drawn towards art, this was encouraged by my mother who brought me on my first trip to Paris when I was 16 to see the wonderful museums and galleries. But it wasn’t until I spent a year backpacking after the leaving cert that I knew I wanted to go to art college. It was after a tester class in glass blowing that I knew I needed to experiment with this intriguing material and develop skills in manipulating glass.

For those who may not be familiar with the craft of being a glassblower – can you please tell us a bit more about it?
The technique I use is called Lampworking through the use of this technique I create work over an oxygenated propane flame. By melting, flattening and pulling the borosilicate glass on the torch I create individual sections which I later hot-assemble to create a whole piece. The transparency of clear glass is intentionally maintained in order to heighten the ambiguity of an organic ecosystem. Adding a little colour to some petals allows each to become characteristically unique like the environment which inspires their conception.

Your jewellery designs are so unique and eye-catching, where did your inspiration come from?

I am inspired by the unique flora which surrounds my home town of Westport. Throughout my childhood there were many traditions and rituals, such as putting a dock leaf on a nettle sting, which fascinated me. I have spent the last three years researching Ethnobotany which is the scientific study of the relationships that exist between peoples and plants. I created this collection using my research into the traditional uses of plants to heal individual organs. The silver element shows a connection between community and traditional values. An object such as a locket would be passed between mother and daughter just as the cure are kept alive within the community.

Are there any other designers that inspire you?

Sabrina Meyns has been a huge influence upon my work. I have admired her wonderful paper and silver flower broaches for years and have been lucky enough to work with her on this project. She created the silver elements and gave me invaluable feedback and enthusiasm over each new design.

I am sure that with glassblowing there are so many amazing things that you can create as well as jewellery, is there anything else that you also like to create?

I love to make tiny flowers of Hemlock or foxgloves the largest would be the size of a finger nail. I like to find new and interesting ways to uses these pieces whether it is in an elegant piece of jewellery or in a hundred tiny potions jars or a little bouquet for mothers day.

emma bourke interview with floralesque

I imagine that day-to-day, your schedule differs hugely. Is there one particular element of your work or schedule that you would have preference over?

I have a five year old boy who has a very busy schedule with after school activities. I love when we can both work in the studio together whether it is at our own separate stations making individual pieces, he loves to paint glass jars, or when we collaborate on a piece to make a little lamp worked object or fused picture.

It is important to keep a fun element in your studio work making such tiny pieces is very time consuming and difficult on your body this play time allows me to relax and enjoy my skills on the torch.

I imagine it’s rather difficult to choose… but is there a moment in your career which you’re most proud of?

I have been very lucky over the years to have won some very prestigious awards: The Golden Fleece Award and The Future Makers have been essential to the development of my studio and skills. I also won international awards: the Futures Fund, University of Sunderland, UK and the John & Elsie Burton Flamework Scholarship, Pilchuck Glass School, USA. The moment I am most proud of is to have a piece of my degree show selected for the National Museum of Ireland collection and is on display in the out of storage area in the Museum of Decorative Arts in Collins Barracks.

Please note that this interview was conducted just before Emma actually won at the Innovation Awards…… I think that awards like the Fashion Innovation Awards are so important for up and coming designers as well as established designers and this year you are also nominated for an award. What would winning this mean to you?

Winning a prestigious award like the Fashion Innovation Awards is essential to the establishment of my collection and the development of my career. To have won such an achievement will open the door to many possibilities and a wider audience.

Also, to have the support of an amazing establishment like the Golden Egg Productions is an incredible honour. I am very excited to see what the future hold just by being nominated I have already achieved so much acknowledgement and support.

What advice would you give to someone looking to follow in your footsteps and become a glassblower – would you have any tips for someone looking to enter the craft?

I have always worked with my hands so it was a natural accendence into the craft path I have followed but it was during college that I experienced the possibilities. While at NCAD I did a student exchange with RIT in New York State. This is where I first learned about Lampworking and what could be achieved on the torch.

Later during my Masters in the University of Sunderland I won the Furtures Fund which allowed me to trade to the States and Canada to develop my skills and knowledge. In turn I am constantly saving and traveling as often as I can to see what other artist and arts centres are creating. Interaction with artists enables you to look at your work for another angle and inspires a new outlook.

What are your aspirations for your designs in the future?

I am currently applying to galleries internationally to exhibit this collection entitled Ethno-botany. I am currently researching a new design idea and I also plan on starting a PHD in the traditional and contemporary uses of plants in the new few years!

A massive thank you to Emma for the interview and also a well deserved congratulations on the Jewellery Designer of the Year Award. You can follow her on her Facebook Page.

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