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Spotlight on Academic Technicians: Joanne Mitchell

Technical Services / News / General Updates / Spotlight on Academic Technicians: Joanne Mitchell

Joanne Mitchell is Technical Services’ Water Jet Technician.

Joanne is a glass artist, she uses technology to inform her work, as another tool in her creative process. This has made her an expert in this area of glass, as she is the first person in the world to control air bubbles in a complex way in the kiln to create form and imagery, and then transfer that into different sculptural artworks. Completing her PhD at University of Sunderland helped Jo push her knowledge of technology, rethink what was achievable with glass, and gave her the skills and opportunity to use the water jet.


The water jet cutter is a large piece of industrial machinery that you can use to cut through a variety of different materials. It relies on CAD software, where you input your designs and the machine then cuts out what you have created on the software. Joanne Mitchell mainly uses it to cut glass and ceramics, but it can also be used on other materials such as copper, slate, Kevlar, plastic, and wood. The machine has a high pressured pump that blasts a concentrated jet of water at the material, the one that Jo operates uses garnet mixed with water to make it abrasive, enabling it to cut almost any 2D shape at speed and in large quantities.


It’s Joanne Mitchell’s expertise in technology and glass that has helped her become a known artist within the glass sector, and enabled her work to be put on display all over the world. Jo has been invited to do an exhibition at Pittsburgh Glass Center, which in Pennsylvania, USA. This exhibition will be taking place in Spring 2020, and will focus on glass art and technology. This is Jo’s area of expertise.


Jo said, “They’ve invited me to be part of the exhibition because my work involves the use of the water jet and digital software to develop my sculptural artworks, which is really exciting. I’m going to Pittsburgh next year and have been asked to do a masterclass and talk about what I do, so I can’t wait.”


She will be going over around March time in 2020, and doing a presentation about her work, and use of the water jet. It will be looking at the control of intricate bubbles in glass artworks that are made in the kiln, as air imagery inside the glass. This is what Joanne investigated for her PhD which she completed in 2015.


As well as her own work, Jo is also heavily involved with University of Sunderland students, as she works in Technical Services two days a week and is based in National Glass Centre. With the students she feels that part of her role is to help them realise their ideas, and the sort of artworks and designs they want to create. Part of her job also involves working with both commercial businesses and visiting artists of international calibre, to enable them to have use of the unique waterjet facility, and so the students get to see how it can be used in professional practice.


Jo said, “I really enjoy working students and seeing their ideas take shape. I can assist in the development of their pieces, and fabrication of their artwork. Seeing all the beautiful, innovative, interesting artworks at the degree show is very fulfilling, especially knowing you assisted in part of that journey, from an idea to a resolved piece.”


The reason that Jo is involved in the fabrication of students’ artworks is because the water jet is a complex machine to operate, so the undergraduate and MA students are not shown how to use it. Currently only three PhD students are trained on the water jet, but as the machine is so complicated to use, researchers are only trained on it if it is integral to their research. However, to introduce the undergraduate students to the technology there is a ‘digital’ module that enables them to design their own tools for making glass and ceramics, which introduces them to the idea of integrating digital technologies into their work. After the students design the tool using CAD software, Jo then cuts the tools on the water jet, and then the students can use them in their practice.


Photograph: Host by Joanne Mitchell, taken by David Lawson.


Joanne Mitchell is one of five technicians based at National Glass Centre, all five of them specialise in an area of glass and ceramics.


Jo said, “It’s a real plus being here in a creative environment, and seeing all the activity in the department. It’s really energising, because previously when I was a fully self-employed artist it could be quite solitary. So being in a department when there’s a real creative buzz around, not only does it inspire me to keep exploring and pushing creative boundaries, it is also more sociable and you get to know and interact with really interesting people.”


Having different artists, within different specialisms all in the same department and under one roof together, helps to boost the creative environment. There is a skill overlap, however all you have to do is take a look at the artwork each member of Technical Services who is based in National Glass Centre produces just to see that they each use their skills and techniques to create vastly different products and artworks. The creative buzz Joanne mentioned is something that academic staff and students are also part of, and can tap into. Promoting idea sharing, and supporting one another on their individual projects, offering help and advice.


Joanne Mitchell does not plan on slowing down anytime soon, with only working for Technical Services two days a week, she has some time to work on her own projects. While Jo does not jump on every new technology, she views it as a tool to help her create her art. Therefore, if she discovers a new piece of tech that could be used to aid her work, the possibilities for what she may be able to create in the future are endless. And we look forward to seeing what she will do in the future.


Photograph: Deconstructed Being by Joanne Mitchell, taken by David Lawson.