A glass canvas

NEW VIEW: One of Basia Smolnicki's windows.
NEW VIEW: One of Basia Smolnicki's windows.

Tui, fantails, flying women, a surfboard, or perhaps a ship sailing among fantastical plant forms - these are the kinds of images that Wellington artists Basia Smolnicki and Maria Kovacs design on windows, bringing privacy and visual interest to homes.

An established artist, printmaker and art teacher, Smolnicki spends a third of her time producing sandblasted designs on all types of glass (mirrors, laminated and coloured glass), stainless steel and other metals. She takes commissions from around New Zealand and overseas for houses as well as commercial and public buildings.

The entranceway to a home provides the first point of contact for visitors. Glass, sandblasted with images, personal to the owner, is a really nice way to welcome people, she says. Smolnicki designed and sandblasted the double-glazed entranceway of a home whose owners loved the surf and natural environment - "icons that were very important to the family".

VISUAL IMPACT: A Basia Smolnicki sandblasted glass panel.
VISUAL IMPACT: A Basia Smolnicki sandblasted glass panel.

They asked for a more abstract style, wanting to intrigue people and exercise their imagination.

A room in another client's house needed more light. Basia worked on the project with her architect husband Paul Kerr- Hislop. "The staircase runs alongside that room, so Paul had allowed for an internal glass wall. That was a wonderful job, where privacy wasn't an issue but they wanted visual interest. There was a motif of a woman flying, hanging on to an organic plant form while being blown by all this energy. The beauty of it is that it looks good during day and night, playing with the [sun or artificial] light."

In bathrooms where there are usually no furnishings, sandblasting on both sides of the window provides privacy; the artwork adds atmosphere. Most of her work for bathrooms is on toughened glass to comply with OSH regulations. In other areas, such as windows on staircase landings, the glass stands out and becomes quite a feature.

"It looks good from inside and outside."

Smolnicki's figurative style reflects her Polish heritage, love of myths and legends, combined with her experience of New Zealand culture, flora and fauna.

She introduces imaginary plant forms alongside New Zealand natives and, depending on the images clients want, weaves these into her designs.

She says glass is simply another canvas.

She cuts a masking tape- type stencil on the glass to create positive and negative silhouette forms, rents the equipment at a Lower Hutt studio and blasts away. Propelled at high pressure, sand roughens the surface of the glass where it is uncovered. The result: an ethereal design that is then glazed into a frame.

Inspired by examples of Smolnicki's work, Newtown resident Leonie Walker asked friend and artist Maria Kovacs if she could do a vinyl design for her arched kitchen window. The window overlooks neighbours and Leonie wanted to give them both some privacy while keeping the visual connection with neighbours and the natural environment.

"I didn't want to block out the view of cabbage trees and sky when I wash up, and I didn't want that unfriendly barrier of mirror film, so we were looking at something attractive and practical that links with the garden," Walker says.

The window features tui, fantails and native plants. It's "a bit of forest bordering the window". With light from the full moon shining through, the artwork looks spectacular; the fantails and cabbage trees turn silver and cast shadows.

Kovacs has been a fulltime mixed-media artist for the past two years and this window design is her first. Her naturalistic style is based on photographs and she drew upon images of birds from her own art, which includes sewing on vinyl canvas.

"I knew they liked birds and native plants and thought it would go really well with the concept of their kitchen. It's a strong kitchen and the image of the strong tui [suits the room]," Kovacs says. "I designed it and did a concept one third of the size. [A local firm] blew it up to the right size, [cut the vinyl] and put it on. It took one and half hours."

While her first window was a challenge, the success of the final result is encouraging and she will design others, also learning to apply the adhesive vinyl. The advantage in using vinyl is that the glass can stay in place. Sandblasting requires removal to a workshop and, Kovacs points out, is irrevocable should future buyers not like it. But the neighbours do.

"The little girl next door said: 'Oh, that's really cool'."

See the artists in action and Basia Smolnicki's print studio, at the Art Studio Open Days at Shelly Bay Artbase. The open days are on Saturday and Sunday, 11am-5pm, until July 1.

The Dominion Post