With the upcoming School of Jiří Harcuba taking place in Sázava, we thought it would be interesting to hear from it’s leader, Pavlína Čambalová.
Glass Engraving Network: What draws you to engraving as your preferred creative medium?
Pavlína Čambalová: For me it’s the easiest way to put ideas and thoughts to a piece of glass. There are so many ways I can choose from. In my work I find it very important to capture the atmosphere, the spirit of the theme I’m working on. I feel the object is a part of space, it should be designed for a special place and it needs the right installation, light, and surroundings. Also, the object and its surface – are not 2 separate parts! They must be one, to communicate, to create harmony. I often glue engraving between two pieces of glass to make it feel like it had grown with the whole thing. I combine techniques, but I want the engraving to feel like the most important information in the object.
GEN: Can you describe the tools you use to make your work? Do you collaborate with others?
PC: I use whatever helps me to capture the thoughts I’m going to express. When I start preparing an exhibition, I draw a lot first to find the way to make the right installation for my concept in the certain space. I’m looking for the right materials that communicate well with the ideas and with my work. I plan everything before I start ordering glass. I think about the proportions, how to use the space completely, not to leave it too empty or too full. When I start engraving, there’s already much work done. The engraving must be in harmony with the rest of the piece, not disturbing and not being disturbed. I always try various tools first to check which textures fit the composition best.
I love collaborations. Working alone is a meditation, it’s great to search some inner experience and think, but meeting people and working with them brings all the thought to practice. It also teaches me a lot about myself – I have to react, solve problems, and accept the fact that I can’t do everything by myself. I must look for the right words to explain ideas, be flexible, respect the others – it’s difficult and wonderful at the same time. Working with me is not easy at all, I’m a perfectionist, but I’ve been lucky meeting quite patient people so far…
GEN: How did you learn glass engraving?
PC: I started to study gem stone cutting and engraving at school in Turnov, CZ, and after three years I had a chance to try glass engraving during a school symposium. The first fact that surprised me on glass engraving compared with stones was how easy working with glass was. First, I didn’t have to take a solid block and cut and carve it until I made it look like my design – it was already blown! What magic! It was also much softer and it had a thin overlaid blue layer on it! I was in love immediately. I finished my school and started to study at the glass school in Nový Bor. I had a great teacher Jiří Tesař, who didn’t teach the perfect craft only – he taught us to love engraving, to be humble, to respect the wheel. After the amazing three years of studies I moved to Vienna, where I’ve worked for Lobmeyr company already for 6 years. I can never express enough how much I’ve learned there!
GEN: Who have been your most important mentors?
PC: Jiří Tesař who taught me to think as a glass engraver and to love the craft.
Jiří Harcuba taught me even before we met, I learned so much only watching his beautiful engravings – how just a simple cut can express more than overworked details. How, by using various wheels to create textures and by choosing the right composition, he created the right atmosphere, to express the character and life story of the person he engraved. While I had the wonderful chance to be in his class and later even co-teach with him, I learned a lot about working with people (which is something I will probably continue learning forever).
Lobmeyr company has been my great teacher since 2008, when I started to work there. It’s been very important for my engraving practice, because we’re expected to produce high quality engraving and the designs are very harmonic and beautiful, both old and the new ones. I’ve learned a lot about composition, quality, the small details that change so much. And I also very much enjoy collaborations with the designers, whose designs I’m sometimes asked to translate into the surface of glass. Looking for the right solutions for their projects is sometimes very difficult. During this work I often realise how important is the use of the right expressions, well drawn designs and also our willingness to try new ways of work.
And also, all my students have taught me a LOT!
GEN: What have been some of the largest influences or sources of inspiration for your work?
PC: People! I like recording small moments of our life. I like talking to people, watching them, thinking about them – us. I try to capture who we are, without judging if we do right or wrong. Something I find very important is the notice – the moment of being present, realising the details of the very ordinary everyday life.
Dance – as one of the most amazing moments of inner communication with the own body and soul and a very natural communication with the others only through gestures and movements.
Japan – I like the quiet, harmonic aesthetics of this beautiful country, wooden floors of the temples, polished by thousands socks, purity of zen gardens, Ichi-go ichi-e – the unrepeatable moment of the tea ceremony, the short distilled moments captured in haiku poems,…
Nature – as I grew up in the mountains in the north of the Czech Republic, so I just use the shapes and atmosphere I’ve known since I was a child. Nature is a very important source of energy for me.
GEN: What have been your largest challenges, and how have you faced them?
PC: The important moment comes when a dream is going to come true – I usually start being afraid of it and I tend to run away. And that’s the time that can change a lot.
One of them was my moving to Vienna. Beginning my work for Lobmeyr was so difficult after having my school practice only – as a student I was used to work creatively on my own projects, therefore the reality surprised me so much – suddenly someone wanted me to imitate patterns, that had been made for so many years and I was expected to do my best to engrave them the same way. No creativity, just humility and perfect craft… and I was supposed to engrave so beautiful glass, that I was nearly afraid of touching it – so thin and perfect. And how have I faced it? Hold on and keep working. There’s no other way how to learn perfect craft.
Among the other challenges were co-teaching with Jiří Harcuba, giving classes in Corning, exhibitions, lectures, symposia, residencies. The last one will be the School of Jiří Harcuba, following the engraving symposium in Kamenický Šenov in September…
And the most important challenge? While being so active, not to forget about family, friends and the other people around.
GEN: What are some lessons you have learned from engraving?
PC: There is still a big fight in my mind between the perfect traditional engraving and new technologies, that partly “destroy” the large amount of work that was done previously, but also move it to the new directions. It’s so hard to find a perfect harmony between humility and non-humility. That’s an important lesson for me. Humility is necessary to do the perfect craft work, but a certain amount of the opposite approach breathes life into it.
I also realised how essential are experiments. Thinking is really important, but than we have to do it… I usually spend a lot of time experimenting new techniques on many small pieces, gradually making the experimented process more and more controlled. I keep working until I am satisfied with the result. Which also includes to stop the process at the right moment.
GEN: What are you working on now, and where would you like to see yourself in the future?
PC: Few weeks ago I arrived from the Studio in Corning, NY, where I taught for a week; after many months working as Artist in Residence at the Eisch Glassworks, I finished quite a large exhibition in Frauenau (Germany), which will continue until November the 7th. I was teaching in Bild-Werk Frauenau fro 3 weeks, in September I will co-organize the first School of Jiří Harcuba at the newly established glass centre in Sázava, CZ, and in October and November I will be Artist in Residence in the Institute of Glass in Toyama, JP, and at the same time, I will work part-time for Lobmeyr in Vienna. I’m very happy now, because I have enough time to work on my projects and I have a great job in Vienna. I just would like to see myself a little close to nature in the future. Otherwise I’m very grateful for all the experiences I live now.