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An interview with Alison Kinnaird

Written by May Haddon | Posted on: September 20, 2015

Hi, I’m May, I’m blogging regularly for Bluecoat Display Centre featuring exhibiting artists as well as up and coming artists whom I am interested in.  My focus for this blog is the glass engraver Alison Kinnaird.

By combining the ancient and delicate technique of copper wheel engraving with modern, and still evolving technology, Alison Kinnaird creates an almost celestial feel within her work. From large scale installation pieces to more petite glassworks, Kinnaird over rides the weak and frangible reputation of glass, and presents something strong and timeless, yet contemporary.  By drawing inspiration from human senses, emotions and primarily the female body, Kinnaird evokes powerful feeling through her work, heightened by her use of LED lighting and optical fibre; the floating images of women are lit up in vulnerable and honest light.

It is the fragility of Kinnaird work that inspires me the most- it’s interesting to see how such an old and humble technique can produce something so refined.  By including modern technologies, the work appears even more striking and fascinating.  Her work is not just skin deep. The thought and meaning behind each piece makes it irresistible, and compels you to want to know more, or give the figure a story of your own.

Below, Alison talks about her work, the process’ involved and future projects:

I’ve been working with glass for over 40 years now, primarily as an engraver, but I use other techniques sometimes as well, such as sandblasting or enameling. Wheel engraving is a very old technique – it hasn’t changed much since it was used on Babylonian seals. And if a technique has lasted that long, it must have something special! What it has, is a wonderful effect of making the images stand out of the glass, with subtle modelling and a beautiful frosted surface. People don’t understand how you “get the images inside the glass”. Of course they are actually on the surface, but it looks as if they are inside.

It’s a slow technique, though, so not many students take it up these days – it doesn’t have the drama of a hot-shop! But I love the meditative nature of the work. Give me 12 hours uninterrupted at my workbench (with Radio 4 – essential).

We live in a converted church in the village of Temple, near Edinburgh. It used to be the headquarters in Scotland of the Knights Templar. It is a really beautiful place. My husband, Robin Morton, is a musician and runs a recording studio and record company from the house as well, so there is always a lot going on. You don’t need much space for the actual engraving, so I work on the landing at the top of the stairs, though I can take over other spaces if I’m working on a big project. The Donor Window for the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, which was 3 – 4 metres high, was laid out on our floor for several weeks at a time!

Wheel engraving is usually seen as a small scale, rather intimate technique, but in 2002 I got a Creative Scotland Award which allowed me to experiment over a year, on combining light with the glass. Glass doesn’t come alive until it has light coming through it. So now a number of my works combine LEDs with the engraving. It’s a really magical effect, and lets me bring brilliant colour into it, as well as the possibility of increasing the scale. I now work on installations on an architectural scale as well as my smaller pieces. At the moment, I have an installation which is an army of glass soldiers, each of them nearly half a metre tall, touring round various museums and National Trust properties. I made it in response to the political situation in the world today.

I work about half the time on commissions – at the moment I’m discussing 2 big architectural ones, one in a church in England, and one in a new house in California. The rest of the time I work on exhibition pieces. It’s been really busy this year with a Guild of Glass-Engravers show and the British Glass Biennale . I’m looking forward to showing with the Bluecoat – it’s the first time I’ve had an exhibition in Liverpool, and it is such a well-established gallery.

Check out Alison’s website to find out a little more about her work:


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