Last weekend I took a train up to Scotland for The Highland Flames 2019. Hosted by West End Smoking Accessories, a Glasgow-based gallery and headshop, this event brought glass artists from across the globe to Scotland for two days of blowing glass, giving demonstrations and working on collaborations.
Now in its second year, The Highland Flames is already an established event in the Scottish functional glass community, with this event attracting hundreds of people who collect functional glass art including rigs, bongs, pipes, pendants and more.
Imagine if you will, this setup: 10+ artists blowing borosilicate glass with a backdrop of an almost mountain-sized hill, on a remote farm just over a small rocky bridge in a Scottish town – some proper Scottish scenery.
Borosilicate is a ‘hard’ glass which is needed to make it stronger for functional pieces. Those who have watched Blown Away on Netflix would have seen artists working with soft glass, which involves the same basic principles but different methods to make their pieces. The artists using boro use hotter torches and punnets to hold glass sections in place while working and while being annealed in the kiln.
I arrived late at night, well after dark, so did not appreciate (or indeed see) the scenery until emerging from my yurt the next morning to find I was situated in the middle of beautiful nature.
Fortunately, I had a place in a Yurt that had been set up before we arrived, a bit of a godsend considering the field was a bit boggy after a rainstorm the previous day.
Getting to the location I put my stuff in the tent and headed up to the main section for some dinner, cooked by the same awesome chef as last year who had flown in specially from Malta for the event.
The Highland Flames 2019 kicked off about 10 am the next morning, and the place slowly filled up with guests arriving from all over the UK and beyond. There were people up from the North of England, the Midlands and the South, as well as from Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland and Wales. Of course, there were also many Scottish attendees from Glasgow (reasonably local to Sterling) and from the North sea coast near John O’Groates (6 hours North of where the Highland Flames took place). There were also some international attendees from Europe, the US and beyond.
A nice touch on the first day of the event was to bring in a bagpipes player, which felt like some traditional Scottish culture in the perfect setting for it. The crowd enjoyed the show!
The artists got to work early in the afternoon. Many had brought pieces of prep work (sections they had already worked on in their studios to save time at the event) to use or give to other artists to use collaboratively. They continued well into the night, with piece after piece going into the kiln to cool down and strengthen.
I filmed footage for our YouTube channel throughout the day and met many great people in the Scottish community who aren’t at many of the events I attend. I also smoked with some breeders and growers whose products I have tried, but that hadn’t smoked with yet. It was a fun weekend with lots of nice flavours, and dabs abound. I was given some Tropic Heat, forthcoming in a review on the channel.
The weather was incredible on Saturday, feeling like a midsummer’s day, which is a rarity for this time of year according to the locals. The temperature did drop as the sun went down, so later that evening I built a fire at the campsite with the help of Burtango Glass.
The next morning was day 2, the final day of The Highland Flames. The artists finished up their various pieces throughout the day. Jolex Glass, over from the US, showed me a space pendant he made with different planets suspended. Dok showed me his collaboration with Mellow which had a haunting android face and incredible detail. Placid Glass tried out the new 3-stage Bethlehem torch and created a dab tool which he gifted to me at the end of the event.
Gibson’s Glass Works held the Glass Olympics, a fun event for glass artists to compete in, in which they had to do several tasks including making a pipe in 10 minutes, a glass animal and something functional in 20 minutes. Another challenge had pairs of glassblowers only able to use one hand each to produce a piece – this was an excellent part of the day and was engaging for the artists and their fans alike. Brought over from the Great Canadian Glass Off, the Glass Olympics could be here to stay.
There were 3 food stalls at the event, sweet and savoury, and I filled myself up on curries, daals and chips and wedges alongside some sweeter options.
Another stall was selling Mills (mills pays the bills) and another was selling protective sunglasses for people working on or viewing the blowtorches. The Highland Flames had plenty of sponsors, including Puffco who provided two Peak units that I used to demonstrate the device to people. One was won in a raffle, and the other was given to Established Glass as a prize for being hardest working glass artist over the weekend.
All in all, I had an epic time at this year’s Highland Flames, a well-organised event in a beautiful location with a lot of great people. What a weekend!