Imitate: Milk Glass a medium for material imitation

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


Glass has a unique ability to imitate other materials; cross-pollinating with other disciplines to refresh and recreate itself. The creative possibilities of creating glass which imitates other materials such as ceramic, paper, metal, wood, stone, plastic and semi precious stones is vast. To create a clear overview of the field, I explored and mapped the work of contemporary glass artists that use glass to imitate a range of materials; this enabled me to understand the context of this research project.

As a starting point for my research, I explored the historical precedence of milk glass and selected key glass and ceramic examples. These objects were used as key inspiration for the project. The aim of the project was to create objects that resemble ceramic, which were re-presented through form and surface in the medium of glass. The inspiration for this began with an historical investigation into milk glass. Opaque or ‘opaline’glasses can be traced back to Egyptian times and have been used throughout history in various forms. The Venetians produced a ‘lattimo’ glass in the mid 15th century which featured fine threads of white glass developed by adding tin and lead lime to the glass batch. In the 17th century, European glassmakers expanded the production of ‘milk glass’ or ‘porcelain glass’ to imitate Chinese porcelain, as glass was a far cheaper material to produce: the Germans produced a ‘porzellanglas’ or ‘milchglas’ (Bray, 1995, p.177) and in 1663, Crafft introduced ‘beinglas’ to northern Europe, produced with bone ash (Loibl, 2008 pp.67-68). In the 1690s, Perrot also made opaline glass based on porcelain designs in Orleans, France (Kingery, 1986 p.171).

These examples draw a close technical and aesthetic link between glass and ceramics. The creation of glass objects that directly imitate porcelain is an interesting historical precedence; which inspires my practice and influenced the use of white glass in the creation of a new body of unique artworks.

Glass is renowned for its ability to imitate many materials such as the opaque, lustrous qualities of semi precious stones; which dates from ancient Mesopotamia. In the 17th century crystal and ruby glasses were made to look as if they were made from naturally occurring rock crystal and precious ruby stones; a high value material which was ranked alongside porcelain (Von Kerssenbrock-Krosigk, 2008, p.123). This demonstrates the revered luxury status of glass throughout history. This historical precedence inspired a series of material testing which led to the creation of a palette of materials that glass can imitate.

From this, a new body of glass artworks were created; which imitate agate, amber, ruby, emerald, lapis lazuli and porcelain. As a viewer we may question the exact nature and composition of the material presented; as designers and artists we subvert the semiotics of objects. By changing the materials appearance the aim was to subvert the objects meaning to create a new visual language for my practice.


In summary, this conference paper introduces the creative possibilities of glass and its ability to imitate other materials. It will also discuss the material testing and research that has been carried out. It will also demonstrate how material testing advances studio practice, thus improving creativity and promoting knowledge transfer within and beyond the field of glass
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 10 Sep 2014
EventGLASSAC 14 - University of Durham, Durham, United Kingdom
Duration: 10 Sep 201412 Sep 2014


ConferenceGLASSAC 14
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • art glass
  • glass science
  • milk glass


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  • GLASSAC 14

    Jessamy Kelly (Speaker)

    10 Sep 201413 Sep 2014

    Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesParticipation in conference

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