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Thinking beyond the process

Photograph of Mark Bickers
Mark Bickers
Mark Bickers (MA Ceramics & Glass, 2003) set up glass design studio Rothschild & Bickers with fellow alumni Victoria Rothschild in 2007. They produce bespoke and customisable handblown glass lighting and are renowned for their sophisticated and unique designs that combine traditional techniques with contemporary finishes. 

Every design produced at the studio is hand blown using the same system of furnaces and wooden tools that were first designed and employed as far back as 50BC. The results can be found in luxury hotels, restaurants and private homes around the world. We found out how Mark’s time at the RCA helped him to perfect his craft and apply it to create a successful business.

Why did you decide to study MA Ceramics & Glass at the RCA?

I studied ceramics and glass at undergraduate level and after graduating worked as a glass making assistant improving my practical making skills and awareness of the industry. This time was important to gain ‘hands on’ making experience but I didn't really push my personal practice in a meaningful way. I decided to apply to the RCA to use the time to assess what I wanted to do in the future. I saw it as an opportunity to experiment with potential future career options and to explore what made me ‘tick’ as a maker. 

Glass lighting made by Rothschild & Bickers
Liquid Light – Private residence, Rothschild & Bickers
How did your work develop on the programme?

I tried things during the Master's that you wouldn’t financially be able to do outside of an education course. A lot of the processes I was experimenting with had an extremely high failure rate, which would have been untenable if you were paying for studio time. This allowed me to refine these processes in time for the graduate show. However, I think the most enduring development now nearly 17 years on is the ability to think around issues; the RCA definitely made me a better problem solver!

Glass lighting made by Rothschild & Bickers
Empire Lights, Rothschild & Bickers
Were there any projects that had a significant impact on your practice?

My personal tutor in the second year was extremely important to challenging my preconceptions about my practice. His background and focus was multifaceted, spanning industrial design to craft making, mainly within the ceramics industry. Our first meeting went along the lines of him asking: ‘I don't care how you make glass, what are you going to make with it and what are you going to be doing in a year?!’ 

Therefore the focus was completely pulled away from the process and instead my energies were directed to bigger questions. This culminated in a number of different final year projects, most importantly one of them being lighting. That was my initial investigation into that area and it has been the main focus of my work ever since.

What was most rewarding about your time at the RCA?

I really appreciated the unique experience of being surrounded by talented, passionate people. The fact that the RCA is wholly postgraduate really elevates the commitment of its students. The impromptu discussions I had with other students having a beer at the end of the day were often the most thought provoking, annoying and inspiring all at once! It was the freedom to allow time for these thoughts and ideas to develop that really was so unique about the time at RCA.

What have you done since graduating?

Along with my business partner, Victoria Rothschild (who was also in my year at the RCA) we established Rothschild & Bickers Ltd in 2007. We are a hand blown glass studio that specialises in interior lighting projects. We now have a team of ten people, a London based showroom and a purpose built studio in Hertford where all our work is completely handmade to order. We have clients worldwide and our work is used in high-end hotels, restaurants, retail spaces and private homes.

Lighting by Rothschild & Bickers installed in a restauarant
Great Northern Hotel, Rothschild & Bickers
In what ways did your time at the RCA prepare you for what you do now?

I think my time at the RCA allowed me to think bigger and beyond the process. I believe that it has made me subsequently think creatively not only about the products, but also about how we operate as a business. 

Have you stayed in touch with people from that time?

I have stayed in touch with many people from my time at the RCA. I met my wife Elly Wall there as we studied at the same time! We still have reunion meet ups with our year group every once in a while, we were lucky to have such a good bunch of people to study with.


Find out more about MA Ceramics & Glass and how to apply.