John Coughlan completed his apprenticeship as a master cutter in the Waterford Crystal Factory in 1953. Prior to that he studied Art in the Waterford regional technical college. His artistic background was to supplement his Glass skills at a later stage, as he became one of the few practitioners of the art of stipple engraving.
Having left Waterford Glass to start his first business, ‘Universal Crystal’ in Waterford, John soon re-located to work for a Canadian Crystal Company. He later returned to Derry in Northern Ireland, forming Derry Crystal. John spent much of his time in England however, raising his family in Watford and London with his wife Nancy.
It was during this chapter of John’s career that his focus on stipple engraving took centre focus.
Stipple Engraving is a complex process of illustration upon solid Glass or Crystal pieces. Essentially it involves the construction of an image from millions of single dots, meticulously arranged with a diamond tip pen. Literally hundreds of man hours can be involved in even the smallest of commissioned pieces. The complexity of the images is truly mesmerising, being almost photographic in their quality. He quickly garnished a reputation as not only a supreme visual artist, but also a man who had the patience, determination and sheer innovation to transfer his visions to Glassware, dot by dot, forming a photographic replication with millions of pixels chiselled into a piece with just a diamond tipped pen. He found himself commissioned for portrait works from figures as varied as the Prince of Wales, Archbishops and Popes, Harrod’s of London, and Joe Davis, undefeated world Snooker Champion for over 20 years. In addition, John was contracted to do commemorative pieces for the Thai chief of Police, the Royal Airforce 14th squadron, and dignitaries from as far afield as Iran
One famous London Times article describes John at his master craftsmanship in his workshop, working in a dim room littered with finished and incomplete pieces, illuminated only by a single table lamp. It tells of how he spent over 80 hours on a piece, and upon putting a single dot wrong, he simply grabbed a hammer and smashed it into smithereens, only to begin afresh instantly. Such was his dedication to absolute perfection.
Some of John’s pieces which are most amazing are many of those that were not officially commissioned by any party, and this additional beauty’s origin lies perhaps in the fact that these items were more of a labour of love than a commercial contraction. Amongst these is his portrait of Jesus Christ with the crown of thorns, rendered in stunning detail upon a magnifying glass. The depth of shading is perhaps what perplexes the most, considering John’s ability to create light and shade using the monochrome palate of a simple white dot chiselled into the glass surface. This is particularly prominent in John’s illustration of welsh miner, his face covered in coal dust and natural facial shading.