Billy Crellin has been working with glass for a dozen years, but the flexibility of the form is still fascinating to him.

“Glass is such a dynamic material,” he says. “Running a creative practice, you come across nuances of the material that provoke ideas to make into more practical products.”

That’s why the Mornington Peninsula-based artist doesn’t simply bend the medium to adventurous sculptures or utilitarian tableware – instead, he does both. As a conceptual glassmaker and designer, he divides his time between his sculptural art practice as Billy James Crellin and his Studio Dokola brand of personalised, often experimental glassware. Yet the two sides of his career aren’t mutually exclusive.

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“With tableware, there are limits on what you can design – and that restrictive process is rather interesting and challenging,” says Crellin. “It suits a particular style of working that I really like, even more so than sculptural work. But they do inform one another.”

Crellin discovered glassblowing during a bachelor of fine arts that saw him using the medium mostly in conceptual ways. These days he’s more interested in the materiality of the form. Early on, a five-year working stint in Europe saw him drawing inspiration from visits to Willy Wonka-esque glass factories. It was while practicing in the Czech Republic that he co-founded Studio Dokola (“dokola” is the Czech word for “around”) as a source of collaboration and inspiration between artistic peers.

And though he runs the studio alone now – and without a proper bricks-and-mortar space of his own – Crellin continues to pluck new ideas from work he completed abroad. For example, his project 99 Bottles of Beer began as a playful riff on the classic children’s singalong, but recently came in handy for a collaboration with Victorian beverage company CAPI: a handcrafted, sustainable tumbler recycled from the brand’s distinctive 250ml, 500ml and 750ml bottles.

Creating the tumblers wasn’t straightforward, though. For one thing, there can be several different kinds of glass in a bottle, and Crellin is used to employing a special soft glass that’s well suited to the reheating and cooling of the glassblowing process. “I’ve had to adapt to the different viscosity of the glass,” he says, “so there are small investigations that had to be made as the process went along.”

Instead of starting with molten glass as usual, Crellin heated existing bottles until they were soft enough to work into a new form. A few key flashes of inspiration helped him produce the limited run of tumblers, whose release was timed to coincide with the launch of CAPI’s new pink-hued Sunset Tonic, and its Malfy Sunset cocktail, developed with Italy’s Malfy Gin. Since both drinks drew inspiration from coastal sunsets, so too did Crellin.

“I really liked the idea of the Melbourne sunset,” he says. “I read about how the sunsets are really beautiful at the moment because of the volcano that erupted in New Zealand some time ago. The fallout has the effect that it creates these stunning sunsets.”

This led Crellin to think about the parallels between malleable glass and flowing lava – both forged in fire before hardening into a new form. Another parallel arose when he realised that the shape of the recycled CAPI bottles makes liquid appear lighter in colour.

“[The tumbler] dilutes the colour of the liquid around the foot [of the glass],” says Crellin, “because it’s a thinner wall where the raised foot pushes the liquid into that space. So you get a lighter hue. That’s a beautiful result of the design that was unintended.”

Another turning point came when figuring out how to make the lightweight, narrow- rimmed tumblers stackable – a challenge Crellin doesn’t usually encounter in his work at Studio Dokola.

“That was our first foray into more functional design,” he says. “It’s quite a delicate design too. It doesn’t have the weight of a whisky tumbler. It’s an everyday glass. Because it’s looking at that European heritage of glass tableware design, that visual language is typically delicate and reminiscent of fine stemware.”

Of course, a key piece of the puzzle was the sustainability angle. While it took time for Crellin to adjust to reinflating and reshaping an existing bottle rather than starting from scratch, his success sets the table for further experimentation with recycled products.

“There’s a growing interest in it,” he says. “I often get people asking. So it’s opened up the potential there. It’s a well-rounded idea that you drink the product from a vessel that was once holding it.”

This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with CAPI.