The Hard Edge glass art style explained
What is Hard Edge Glass Art?
The Hard Edge glass art style is easy to recognise by its distinct hard edges, giving it a vivid mosaic or jigsaw look.
This is different to most fused glass art which has less distinct edges and tends to be “more blurry by design”.
In the words of leading Hard Edge glass artist, Margaret Heenan, “It’s more linear than painterly”.
The Hard Edge style is generally flat or flattish, intended for display on a stand or wall mount, or as a shallow bowl.
The sharp-looking style relies on cutting lots of coloured glass pieces to an exact pattern, so they all fit exactly together to make the final image - like a jigsaw.
All the pieces are fused together in a kiln. And while there are many glass art styles, the Hard Edge style remains distinctive because of its crisp clearly defined edges.
No other style looks like it or can be mistaken for it.
Hard edge glass examples
Changing Channels #3 - Margaret Heenan
Swirls bowl - Linda Rossiter
You can see the clean hard edges and strong colours that make up the work.
Both these examples are made from many pre-cut individual glass pieces, then fused to form a single whole work, which gives the distinctive hard edges that define this colourful style.
Hard Edge glass doesn’t require paint or powder to create effects or features. The detail comes from the precise arrangement of the individual pieces.
Non-hard edge glass examples
Lisa J Vogt - Bird-Tile
In both cases you can see how different coloured glass powders have been applied to create the artistic effect.
The feature effects can be made from
- sprinkling coloured glass powder (frit) onto the base glass to create areas of colour, like a watercolour painting.
- adding thin rods of glass (stringers) to define shapes like “pencil lines”, eg, the flower stalks here.
- layering on pre-cut pieces of glass, eg, to make birds or petals.
The jellyfish effect above is made using hand-etched copper. Other chemicals are used to create the bubbled effect.
There are many creative possibilities working with fused glass, and that’s before you even start to consider glass sculpture, blown glass or leaded glass art styles.
The Hard Edge style - how it’s made
The vivid, sharp look of Hard Edge glass art starts with clear design & colour ideas
- with precise drawings to back them up
- rather than inspired impulses for how shape and colour might look as the work progresses.
Hard Edge work begins with pencil sketches which are developed into firm designs - before ever a piece of glass is cut.
Here you can see the whole Hard Edge glass design process.
Hard Edge glass design process
Non-HardFused glass examples
Diane Quarles - Red Forest - Bullseye Glass Frit Painting and Vitrigraph
Angelas Art Glass - Fused Glass Landscape, Frit Glass Painting
Much fused glass work relies on inspiration and progressive experimentation occurring during the production process, leading to beautiful works like these two examples.
By contrast, the Hard Edge glass artist will want to control exactly what goes in the kiln, from the get-go.
This is how the original design vision is retained.
Hard edge examples
Linda Rossiter - Biarritz large round fused glass wall art
Linda Rossiter - Waveform Spotify music code glass wall art.
Wave a phone by it and it plays All You Need is Love.
It’s the planning & precision that make the Hard Edge style instantly recognisable and unlike other forms of glass art.
3 key features of Hard Edge glass art
Hard Edge glass is vivid and crisp with strong flat colours, producing a dramatic effect quite unlike any other style in glass art.
Vividness is a key feature of Hard Edge glass art.
This vividness comes from balancing the shape, size and colour of the component glass pieces to create areas of strong drama within the work.
Each Hard Edge glass finished piece is made from an original design that’s a work of art in itself.
Nothing else looks like it. It can’t be mistaken for anything else.
A Hard Edge glass artwork is more likely to increase in value as it’s in a distinct style that is rarely found in the glass art world.
Hard Edge glass requires a higher level of skill and design than many fused glass styles, which further increases its scarcity value.
It’s probably not a style that beginners would choose to take up, as it takes a masterful hand, cutting precisely, to realise the initial design instructions.
Many glass art styles don’t require these exacting levels of skill & design, and so are less likely to increase in market value.
Why choose Hard Edge glass art instead of a painting?
Many art lovers, investors and collectors look for new non-traditional styles of art, and glass art is one of them.
For example, glass sculpture is fast becoming very popular. People are buying sculpture instead of a painting.
Hard Edge glass offers something different again.
Brighter colour & luminosity
Light is special and glass captures light like no other medium.
Glass has the most intense colour - and because it also catches the light, the colours are far stronger than paint. This intensity of colour adds to the overall look.
The intense colours of glass makes it inherently more vivid and dramatic compared to, say, oil paint or acrylic paint.
Does this dramatic brightness matter?
Vincent van Gogh thought so.
Vincent was passionate about bright light.
His diaries say he moved from Paris in the north, to Arles in the deep south of France, solely to work in brighter, more brilliant daylight.
This diamond bright southern light made real world colours more closely match the passion and intensity of the colours he saw in his mind’s eye.
In his diaries, Vincent talked about this a lot, even persuading his friend, Paul Gaugin to move south with him.
Arles now promotes itself as Van Gogh’s City of Light
Perhaps if Vincent had been aware of the vivid, light-enhancing qualities of Hard Edge glass, he might have become the first major artist to work in this style. Just a possibility!
Everyone owns a painting or a framed print. Very few own glass art.
Hard Edge glass artwork is similar to a painting, achieving many of the same artistic goals, but using a fundamentally different medium & approach.
No one could ever confuse glass art with acrylic paint on canvas.
Glass is both beautiful and distinct, which increases its appeal to an art buyer looking for something different.
Hard Edge glass lives somewhere between paint-on-canvas and modern glass sculpture, in an area that’s yet to be formally defined.
When Hard Edge glass art is displayed on a stand or wall it shares many qualities with sculpture, eg, it stands out in relief, it has real 3D depth, and it’s bold.
It occupies space quite unlike a painting.
Glass art also looks different depending where you’re looking from, and how it’s lit.
From one angle, it feels more like painting, while from another angle it may feel more like sculpture.
Hard Edge glass art is getting talked about far more than you might realise.
For example, Hard Edge glass art videos regularly get 50k viewers on Instagram, and that’s just in an afternoon!
One recent Hard Edge glass video topped a massive 14.6 million Instagram views.
People watch because it’s beautiful and fascinating.
Hard Edge video examples on Instagram
Recent comments from Instagram viewers
The real challenge for many art buyers is to fill an unused or dull space in a home or public area with something exciting, original and beautiful.
Correctly displayed, a Hard Edge glass work will elevate an area, transforming it with luminosity and brilliance.
You only have to experience the shifting play of light as you walk past a Hard Edge glass piece, where a painting might otherwise have done nothing!
Hard Edge glass - history and pedigree
Fused glass art has traditionally been seen as decorative, rather than serious art to be displayed in a prominent place.
Prominent display demands that the work dominates the space in which it’s seen, because that’s what great art does.
Great art dominates space.
Hard Edge glass art
Like this piece, "Into Orbit B" by Margaret Heenan, Hard Edge glass art has all the essential elements to dominate space.
It’s vivid, original, large and meticulously planned.
It’s designed to dominate space by catching and retaining the passing eye.
Frit & paint glass art
Much frit & paint fused glass art fails to dominate space, as the majority of work is designed to be decorative or functional, eg, a small attractive glass bowl.
Nevertheless, all glass can work brilliantly in the hands of a gifted glass artist with the vision to undertake larger works.
Glass art sculpture
Sculpture is a growth area in glass art, as this is where the most striking original work is being produced. It requires special know-how, dedicated equipment, and a safe hotwork environment.
Sculptures are often complex and fragile, and more challenging to display well.
Potential breakage may discourage some art investors.
Blown glass art
Blown glass has been a part of traditional art from Roman times and before. It actually emerged in Syria.
Increasingly, blown glass is merging with sculpture.
Leaded glass - as in stained glass windows found in churches - is still the most commonly known glass style.
It’s been around in Britain since the 7th century, and is still popular in larger homes and public buildings.
For example, it’s not unusual to see leaded glass art in long tall windows, such as up a long staircase window in a large house.
Hard Edge glass art contains all the beauty of stained glass, without the heavy lines.
Why Hard Edge glass is a new style
In many ways, Hard Edge glass is similar to traditional leaded glass windows, as it’s based on a jigsaw of individual glass pieces.
What has held back Hard Edge glass is the relatively high cost of production compared to other forms of art.
Fused Hard Edge glass needs a large costly $6,000 kiln, often beyond the means of many start-up artists.
Kilns suitable for larger glass work are typically purchased by commercial artisans with factory-like output for producing multiple small ornaments, which is the core of how they make their living.
For example, a large kiln may fire 30 fast-selling trinkets in one go, with each selling for up to £20. This is the maths of owning a large kiln.
This initial capital cost is why very few artists with glass skills own a dedicated large kiln for the purposes of large scale glass art.
It’s all too new a market, it’s a relatively high risk venture, and it requires high skill levels.
Money, skill, time and vision are what holds artists back from producing larger works.
It’s typically much quicker and cheaper to paint or illustrate, than work in fused glass in any style.
Nonetheless, at least eight UK universities, and over 80 worldwide, now offer degrees which include glass art making, a sign of its growing popularity.
Graduates are being educated to meet the demand.
While lacking an ancient pedigree, the vivid beauty of the Hard Edge glass still shines through, as it did for the monks and nuns with their stained glass windows over 1,000 years ago.
Who produces Hard Edge glass art?
Isn’t glass art so fragile it’s a risky investment?
Your glass art may smash if unintentionally dropped, rendering the investment worthless.
But not so in practice.
The glass in a finished Hard Edge glass piece is 6mm thick, which is over twice the thickness of standard window glass.
It uses specialist coloured art glass, normally Spectrum Oceanside or Bullseye.
The final work comprises two thinner layers fused-bonded on top of each other to form a single stronger 6mm piece with smooth safe edges.
Because it’s stronger, hard edge glass art is quite weighty compared to most fused glass alternatives. It’s not flimsy.
3: Secure installation
Hard Edge glass art needs secure mounting (and lighting) for display.
Typically you can use stand-off wall mounts, or specialist display stands.
Sometimes a professional installation is required to ensure the display is secure and robust.
Once correctly installed or wall-mounted, Hard Edge glass art should be no more fragile than a framed painting.
Stands & lighting for glass
If not wall-mounted, glass art may need a purpose-built stand to show it at its best.
It also needs a sensible location where it won’t get knocked by passing footfall.
Stands can be made of wrought iron or wood, crafted to suit the size, weight & display needs of the piece.
A custom-built stand will complement the glass piece, in the same way the right frame complements a canvas painting.
You also need to consider lighting if a piece is required to bring a dark corner of large house or public space to life.
Installing glass art needs consideration to bring out the best in the work.
What of uniqueness & originality?
The world is full of people with a paint brush.
As a result, there’s a high volume of well intentioned but uninteresting paintings to look at.
From a value standpoint, paintwork is often pleasing but unoriginal in style.
It’s easy to attend a very average exhibition where only one or two paintings stand out as original & unique. Many exhibited paintings nod towards some “pastel rainbow colour formula”. Harsh but true!
Hard Edge glass art is fundamentally different.
It’s vivid and colourful
It’s designed for generating immediate impact from a passing glance.
According to the UK Crafts Council, the top rated glass artists making waves today are all working in glass sculpture
Nonetheless the Contemporary Glass Society still has only 1,000 members, a low number when compared to the millions of professional paint artists in the world.
For some collectors this scarcity of Hard Edge glass work represents a ground floor opportunity.
Others see Hard Edge as a unique emerging style that’s on the move.
Setting a real world value on Hard Edge glass art
The real value of any art work, glass or otherwise, lies in its ability to:
- dominate the space in which it’s displayed. The space may be large or tiny. What matters is that the artwork dominates this space with its vibrant visual power - subordinating the surroundings to its own vital energy.
The bright colourful nature of Hard Edge glass naturally tends to dominate space, whether;
- displayed to enliven a home area that needs a striking feature to bring it to life
- or equally to make a sophisticated statement in a large corporate reception area or other public space.
- catch passing interest with even a momentary glance. This standard of artwork is hard to ignore because it automatically engages.
- withstand closer inspection, and keep leading the eye around the work. This intuitive journey happens spontaneously. It requires no explanation as everything comes from the work itself.
For example, Rembrandt was a master in grouping areas of colour & shape within a canvas in a way that keeps the eye constantly moving around the picture.
This is a special gift he is rightly famous for.
Hard edge glass art works in a similar way, intuitively leading the eye from area to area within the picture.
- be loved or hated. Great artwork is often either loved or hated by all who see it.
It divides opinion, or can even cause a scandal. This being loved quality comes from the inner being of the artist, and their ability to express their personal feelings and vision.
Artwork that doesn’t create love, hate or other strong emotion usually doesn’t cut it.
If you're interested in commissioning your own Hard Edge glass artwork, take a look here
Who were the original Hard Edge artists?
This is what the Tate Gallery London have to say about the hard edge style
The Tate say: “Hard edge painting is an approach to abstract painting that became widespread in the 1960s and is characterised by areas of flat colour with sharp, clear (or ‘hard’) edges.”
The Tate are obviously talking about paint in a hard edge style, not glass.
Today the Hard Edge Glass Art Movement is small and growing.
The Hard Edge style’s vivid beauty and ability to dominate space attracts hundreds of new followers every week (source: Instagram 2022)
Following the Hard Edge Glass Art Movement
The easiest starting point to follow Hard Edge glass art is to follow Linda Rossiter on Instagram, as her works are currently attracting the most attention in the world in terms of views, plays, likes and followers. Every day there’s something new.
You’ll also easily find links to other similar glass artists once you search on a few keywords like: glass art, fused glass art and similar.
The other way to keep in touch with Hard Edge glass is to share this blog, or talk about Hard Edge glass in your own blog or Facebook/Instagram page.
If you’re a glass artist and feel you’re part of the growing Hard Edge Glass Movement, write to Linda and say what you like, or don’t like, and what you hope to achieve, and she’ll:
- put you on her list of Hard Edge glass artists, displayed on her site
- display your work with links if you send her a couple of suitable images and a brief bio.
Let’s make something great together!
Contributions to this article
Many thanks to the following glass artists who kindly gave me permission to show their work:
Margaret Heenan - Margaret Heenan Glass
Adam Hussain - AH Contemporary Glass
Adrian Brentnall - Inspired Glass
Jo Downs - Jo Downs Handmade Glass