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From the Newsdesk

ACID Member Focus – Steve Robinson Glass

Steve Robinson Glass is an award winning glass artist who creates Kiln formed glass art. His specialism is in the way he experiments with enamel pigments, creating bright and textured infused glass pieces which have become his signature style.

Steve’s glasswork art is influenced by ocean scenery such as seaweed, waves, and shells. He uses these natural elements to create textures and colours that bring a sense of nature into the space in abstract form. His contemporary glass artwork has been sold as tiles, kitchen splashbacks, sculptural artwork, commissioned by hotels and hospitals, as well as other commercial spaces. Steve has a wide ranging client base, from private commercial companies, NHS Trusts, High Street retailer John Lewis, and also takes on bespoke commissions.

Steve knows first-hand how important intellectual property (IP) can be for a designer, having had infringement issues, and gained the support from ACID legal affiliates on the matters. As Steve also teaches his art form, he is very careful to understand there is a fine line between imparting knowledge, teaching skills, and elements where he needs to hold back certain specialist knowledge, taking advantage of Trade Secrets.

Steve Robinson

Can you tell us a little about how you started experimenting with glass work and how that developed into the successful business it is?

As a mature student I first took a Foundation course at Shrewsbury College of Art, and then a BA Hons in Glass at Wolverhampton University, finishing in 1998. 

I then rented a tiny studio – in fact a shed at the back of a hairdressers! – where I developed my ideas in the evenings after work, until I was able and ready to start my own business with a proper studio in 2002.

Initially, I needed a product that I could sell to bring in the ‘bread and butter’ that would allow me to develop my artwork – and so I launched a range of handmade glass tiles, building on experimental work I had started on my degree course. I chose to specialise in using glass enamels to create my own unique patterns, textures and effects as I loved the versatility and endless possibilities that enamels provide. I launched these first tiles at Expotile at the NEC in January 2002 and received orders there and then from tile showrooms wanting to retail my products. Soon after, I won The Tile Association award for Best New Innovation. My wife then joined me full time in the business enabling us to grow our client base.

I realised however that there is a limit to what a customer will pay for a tile, even when they know that it is special and individually handmade, and we could see the potential for much larger panels – i.e. splashbacks, to be used in kitchens and bathrooms – which are still handmade and unique but are more efficient to make and create more of a wow factor statement piece. We therefore made a big step of investing in a large flatbed glass kiln – and this was when we really started to take off. 

Whilst continuing to build my splashbacks collection (and becoming a supplier to John Lewis who I still work with now) I was also then able to create glass artworks – from wall hangings, to sculptural pieces including my signature ‘shell form’ bowls. Exhibiting at shows such as 100% Design and Grand Designs introduced me to some corporate clients and I started receiving commissions for artworks for company boardrooms, healthcare trusts and hotels. A highlight was winning the Gold Prize for Glass in the 2010 Craft and Design Magazine Awards.

Nature and environment clearly feature heavily throughout your artistic themes. How important is your environment to your artistic inspiration, and how do you develop your influence into your work?

I prefer to work in an abstract or semi-abstract way but the initial concept may start from natural forms – notably fish, sea waves and many oceanic themes then lend themselves to various modes of interpretation.

Good design is often copied. When you have come across infringements, how have you dealt with them?

If we can we would approach the ‘copier’ and ask them to kindly refrain from copying my work but ultimately if necessary we would ask for ACID’s help with their knowledge and experience in design theft. We have had two occasions on which to have input from ACID’s lawyers, who agreed that my designs were being copied, and helped us to warn them off. One of them was another glass artist making glass splashbacks who had also lifted chunks of text too from my website to use on hers.

Copying culture is an unfortunate but undeniable aspect of design in the UK, what is your message about this culture, to those who perpetuate it?

It’s a form of laziness, and a form of corruption. There shouldn’t be any need for it as anyone with an ounce of creative ability just needs to look within themselves for a form of inspiration. Bringing something that is unique out of yourself is so much more exciting. Exploring what lies within us all is more adventurous and a lot more fun.

Your art consists of some interesting and unique techniques which allow you to be a stand-out designer. Do you need to take any steps to protect the IP of your specialist techniques?

Although I teach certain techniques to people who come on my classes and workshops, I am particularly careful to avoid revealing some of my personal techniques and applications. It’s a fine line as I do want to share as much of my knowledge as possible, but I don’t want people to then go away and replicate my unique effects. I try and encourage students to do their own experiments and see what they can come up with themselves once I have given them enough knowledge to work with.

Koi inspired garden art work

It’s clear you take your intellectual property seriously, ensuring that there is evidence from concept to marketplace. How does intellectual property factor in the way you create your business model and talk to clients?

Intellectual Property is something I am aware of as soon as I put pencil to paper. If I am commissioned to design a piece of work, then all drawings and models I may produce in the design process are my property.

Do you think that IP ethics, compliance, and respect for intellectual property should be the cornerstone of the industry, in terms of declared Corporate Social Responsibility? And if so, how could this sector achieve this?

Yes, admittedly there is a grey area.  All artists, makers (so they say!) have ‘borrowed’ (not blatantly copied though!) ideas, accents of other makers work, or have been influenced by another’s work.  But yes there should be a ‘social responsibility’, education and a clearer sign-posting of the basic rules and regulations of intellectual property.

The IP Act of 2014 introduced not only criminal provisions for intentional Registered Design infringement but also for individual directors. Do you believe that if this is extended to Unregistered Design infringement, it will become more of a deterrent? The government thinks it would be chilling for innovation and lead to business uncertainty. We don’t agree, do you?

I agree with ACID.  It does what it says on the can. ‘Intentional Registered Design Infringement’. Individual Directors who intentionally steal or copy another person’s intellectual property is doing so specifically to make money off the back of an artist or designer’s hard work, sweat and stress. At what point is this innovation? It’s laziness, corporate greed, call it what you want. Cheating.

Can you give us a steer on what you feel ACID’s achievements have been and what we could do in the future to raise further awareness about IP theft?

Standing up for what is right. Protecting the rights of the people who are creators, innovators, and grassroots designers, whose ideas are often exploited. More knowledge and information could be available to students and postgraduates on creative courses in the UK.

As you know, ACID is the main Policy and Government campaigning body for Design & IP reform. What are your 2 recommendations to the Government to stem the tide of blatant design theft to support this sector?

  1. Calculate the profits of the offenders. This is then given to the individual(s) responsible for the initial concept or design.
  2. Prevent the company found guilty of IP theft from being able to produce similar work again.

Steve Robinson Glass

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