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Immortalising the ordinary–Elinor Portnoy's signature design and technique with glass and more

Immortalising the ordinary–Elinor Portnoy's signature design and technique with glass and more

Juicers, graters, bowls, and canisters–These are products that belong in the dark corners of our shelves, right?

Think again.

London-based designer Elinor Portnoy has dramatically altered the imagery we associate with ordinary items such as these.

Among her beautiful and intuitive creations, are a few such household items, which can easily be on prominent display, and belong equally in our homes or museums.
With glass as her most dominant material, Elinor immortalizes several familiar forms and techniques that are all around us. Take the example of her Glasshakes. These could have been ordinary canisters of colored glass. But Portnoy's version of canisters have lids of clear, hand-blown glass that resemble overflowing, fluid, liquidy milkshakes. The result is simple and exquisite, all at once.

  Glasshakes  by Elinor Portnoy

Glasshakes by Elinor Portnoy

Similarly, Portnoy's Juicers (seen up top), were made by 'cold-peeling' layers of colored glass–creating a breathtaking chiseled result. The Juicers exhibit two of the most significant themes in her work. The first is the elevation of everyday products, we believe, while the second is the in-depth exploration of glass as a medium–developing signature and personalized processes of working with this challenging but rewarding material.

Elinor's work doesn't stop just here, though. It isn't only about shaping and molding a time-tested material in unusual ways. It is also about reconstituting glass back into almost natural end-products. Elinor's work with marbling and glass powders has led to exciting products like crystals, sand, and rock-forms–which, amazingly, look like they have emerged from the quarries of the future.

  Shifting Grounds  by Elinor Portnoy

Shifting Grounds by Elinor Portnoy

This year, Elinor joins ranks with the incredible team of designers at Form&Seek to showcase her work at the upcoming London Design Festival of 2016. She joins a growing aggregation of talented designers and makers who are coming together under the Form&Seek banner for prominent exhibitions all over the world.

Here is our recent conversation and Interview with her.


MD: Elinor, tell us about your journey–from a student of design in Israel to your time at the Royal College of Art (RCA), in London and to the beautiful, unique products you have created so far, with glass as one of your signature materials.

Elinor: When I was studying product design at the Holon Institute of Technology, in Israel, my studies were more technical in nature. In that context, I felt like an outcast,  and out of the ordinary, because my approach was a more artistic one. 
I questioned both norms and standards as I designed products and objects every day.

Shortly after graduating, I moved to New York and interned at a design firm there. On my return to Israel, upon resuming work as a designer there, I found that I was making drawings on my computer and shipping designs to other parts of the world, such as China, to be fabricated. 
This made me feel incredibly disconnected from the 'making' of my work. It was at this time that I turned to glass as my main medium. 

Designers tend to experiment less with glass. This is because you need specialized facilities, advanced technique and skills, and patience to work with glass. So I decided that if I wanted to elevate my work, and make it truly unique from that of other designers, then the glass would be the material I would work with.

This led me to the RCA, where I invested my time during the MA. in Ceramics and Glass Programme, building on the unique skills and knowledge I would need to work with glass

MD: Your designs are created with a variety of materials–glass, metals, fabric, wood and plastic. But glass stands out as the material you have worked with most. Tell us about your relationship to these materials, especially glass.

Elinor: I have always been sensitive to materials. Through my work, I want to emphasize the original qualities of these materials. The intent is that the form and shape of products are derivative of the materiality.

  Glasshakes  by Elinor Portnoy, shows us a deep understanding of the material–its transparency, colors, moldability and the forms that want to inherently emerge from it.

Glasshakes by Elinor Portnoy, shows us a deep understanding of the material–its transparency, colors, moldability and the forms that want to inherently emerge from it.

I am drawn to glass in particular, for its characteristics of transparency and color, which are like no other material. But in some of my work, I am also trying to use glass in a different way altogether. For example, for the 'Juicers' that I created, I treated glass as a solid, block-like material. I carved away at the glass, exposing its multiple layers, which is quite unlike how glass is traditionally used.

 Elinor Portnoy treats glass as a solid, block-like material, carving away at it for  Juicer

Elinor Portnoy treats glass as a solid, block-like material, carving away at it for Juicer

During my time at the RCA, in London, I was able to focus almost entirely on working with glass. As a student, I felt liberated and free to pursue this medium continually, without the constraints that come, naturally, with employment. I don't see myself limited to glass as a material, though. But I have developed significant expertise related to working with glass, and I would like to be able to exploit it in the future.

MD: 'Cold Peeling', blowing glass into wicker-basket molds, fusing glass powders–These are all signature techniques you have developed yourself and employ in your work. Tell us how these evolved.

Elinor: Glass is a very technically challenging material to work with. So when I decided that I wanted to pursue it as my primary medium, I began to take night classes for glassblowing. I did this for a year, and even though I learned a tremendous amount, I still needed the assistance of a glass-blower on some of my projects. I felt disconnected from the making process again, almost like I was sending these pieces away to factories, to be made.

I realized then that I had to find ways to make the glass blowing process my own. I began to experiment with different techniques, including blowing the glass into wicker baskets, which leaves subtle impressions onto the glass, creating unique pieces each time. In this way, I was able to execute each of these methods and imbue the results with my own final mark as a designer and maker. The interesting thing was that during this unique process, where a master glassblower was assisting me, he also was experimenting along with me. In this way, perhaps he felt more challenged and intrigued by the work and it became an on-going learning process for both of us.

 Blowing glass into wicker-basket moulds, for  Wickered

Blowing glass into wicker-basket moulds, for Wickered

  Wickered  by Elinor Portnoy: Subtle impressions of the wicker basket moulds are seen, from the glassblowing process

Wickered by Elinor Portnoy: Subtle impressions of the wicker basket moulds are seen, from the glassblowing process

MD: There is, what appears to be, a prominent theme in your work–creating natural materials again, whether it is forming crystal outcrops by marbling glass ('Marblizationa'), or fusing glass powders to mold artificial and futuristic elements of nature ('Shifting Sands'). Tell us about this continuing theme and how you propose to take it forward.

Elinor: As a designer, I feel that I am very conscious of the period we are living in, and I am constantly looking for new materials and technology. On the other hand, I also have a more romantic, and appreciative view of nature. This combination led to me create two works for my graduation from the RCA–Marblization and Shifting Sands. By making these, I wanted to ask a question–Whether craft can help us recreate precious natural elements, and still be valuable.

During these projects, I gathered a lot of scientific knowledge and undertook much experimentation. After lots of testing, I arrived at the results that you see. I am eager to continue to use this knowledge that I have gathered and taken this series of experiments forward.

  Marblization    by Elinor Portnoy–exploring glass and craft as a means to recreate precious natural elements.

Marblization by Elinor Portnoy–exploring glass and craft as a means to recreate precious natural elements.

 Shifting sands, by Elinor Portnoy

Shifting sands, by Elinor Portnoy

 Shifting sands, by Elinor Portnoy

Shifting sands, by Elinor Portnoy

MD: This is your first time exhibiting as part of the Form&Seek collective. Are you excited to be part of this group of designers?

Elinor: Even before Form&Seek reached out to me, I was aware of what they do, and I knew several of the designers who have been a part of the collective.
I really like what is core to this collective- bringing designers and makers under one roof. This is something I identify with,  strongly. I am very excited to show my work with the Form&Seek Collective as part of the London Design Festival next month.

MD: What is next for you Elinor?

Elinor: In the coming months, I would like to go back to a few projects I have already done. Having just graduated from the RCA,  I feel like I have developed advanced knowledge and technical skills to push several of these works even further. In the future, I hope to promote my practice through residencies, collaborations, and events like the London Design Festival.

MD: Elinor, we wish you the very best and look forward to seeing more of your beautiful work. Thank you for taking time for us to speak!


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