Artist in Focus: David J Lilly – Glass

by Oct 31, 2017Artist in Focus0 comments

David J Lilly is a designer and maker based in the ancient English village of Coombes, near Brighton. He has been creating stunning Stained Glass for years, and we interviewed him to find out more.


“Making Beauty Manifest” is your strap line, please tell us a little bit about your journey to do this? 

It was my partner who coined the phrase. One day he was asked what I did for a living, and he replied “David makes beauty manifest”!  I loved the compliment so much that it became my tag line.

It’s been a strange journey as I am colorblind!  As a school kid, I was steered away from a creative career due to this ‘disability’. I only really connected with my creative side and became a commercial practitioner after working with stained-glass for six years as a hobby.  Six years after turning pro, I went to Uni for the first time (at the age of 51), and three years later left with a First-Class degree in 3D Design and Craft. I now use those skills to work with other materials as well as glass.

You work in both wood and glass, where did you start, and do you have a favourite?

Glass was, and still is my first love.  The interplay of light with coloured glass just delights my soul! It was the stained glass in Coventry Cathedral that first inspired me to pursue stained glass making. I had been working with wood on a carpentry level from a young age, but at Uni I really got a feel for it, especially turning wood.  That led to a series of bowls etc, and then the bird nesting boxes.

Tell us about the pieces you are currently working on?

I am in the middle of compiling a grant application to get my Dalle de Verre stained glass awareness project out to a wider community. I am also working on a table plan in wood and glass, and a floor lamp in steel and glass with my friend the artist-blacksmith Alan Williams.

Where do you find your inspiration?

Nature plays a big part, which is why studio is based in the countryside on a farm. Even the 18th century barn in which I am based plays a part in inspiring me.  On the other hand, I love concrete Brutalism. Immovable forms always impress me.  I feel that there is a place for this combined with glass that I have yet to find.

How did you develop your style?

From my mid-twenties, I loved Art Deco and to a lesser amount Art Nouveau.  When I lived in west London I used to save my money and go the Christies South Kensington (the auctioneers) each month to see if I could get anything Art Deco that I could afford.  As time has progressed my style has moved on to the imagery of my childhood – the mid-century modern – interestingly the current aesthetic.

Where do you do your work?

I am very lucky to have an amazing studio in the country just outside Brighton.  It is set in a lovely farmyard of old buildings and looks down east across the river Adur to the South Downs on the other side.  The farm dogs pop in and see me (when they smell food), and I can chat with the horses and cattle when I’m after sensible conversation. I also teach at the Weald and Downland Living Museum and Charleston Farmhouse – both very inspirational places to work in.

You offer Stained Glass Workshops in your Coombes studio; what’s the best thing about teaching others your craft?

Seeing attendees who say they’ve never done anything creative, before going home with their amazing finished panels and a broad grin on their face as they have surprised themselves.

You’ve recently installed your fourth commemorative window at RAF Bentley Priory, what’s the story behind this commission?

Each window depicts a man whose work helped Fighter Command during WWII shorten the war.  It was a very interesting, and long commission beginning in 2012. Many people who had an interest in how the windows should look.  The first three windows were commissioned by the Fighter Pilots Association, and depict Sir Henry Tizard, Sir Robert Watson-Watt and Air Marshall Sir Raymund Hart.  Each of these men created something new and revolutionary that helped Britain win the war.  The fourth window was commissioned by the museum itself from a legacy given to them by a lady who was fascinated in Air Chief Marshall Sir Hugh Dowding.  There was already a window in the museum depicting him and Sir Winston Churchill, but it was actively disliked by all so, (on the back of the other three windows) we were commissioned  to create a new one to replace the original.

What one piece of advice would you give to an artist just starting to establish their business?

Read my blog, – it is there to offer advice and support to new artists.  I update it as and when I believe I have something useful to say!

Where can people see your work? Please tell us where you are exhibiting or showing over the next few months.

I currently have some sculptural work at the VK Gallery in St Ives, Cambridgeshire.  I also have work on Saatchi Art online.  Otherwise as I mostly work to commission, my work can be found all around the globe, from a hotel in Australia, an office in Sweden to four houses in France and many places around the UK.

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