Pop connection is perfect proof that Torquay craftsman David's in a glass of his own
He's Britain's sole surviving master of a dying art and loves his work – and now David Smith is on first-name terms with rock royalty too.
The master glass embosser is the last exponent of a dying trade, creating beautiful bespoke designs that take many hours of exquisite work for businesses like pubs and also for private commissions.
But, incredibly, the down-to-earth craftsman from Torquay is also mates with American rocker John Mayer.
The unlikely friendship developed after David, 44, was approached to design the cover of Mayer's album Born and Raised. The intricate design included coins, watches, flowers, and ribbons and was one of the most enjoyable in David's career. It received praise from fans around the world.
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Now the collaboration has spawned a friendship and the pair regularly discuss future projects.
"It's very strange, I know," says David. "The other day I saw John at the inauguration of President Obama – something seen around the world. It felt very weird – mindblowing really that I was working with someone who was there.
"Since I did the album cover for him he keeps in touch – sometimes by Skype.
"It seems very surreal at times."
David learned glass embossing after his father suggested he become a signwriter when he left school.
He went to America to learn some of the craft and now he is the leading exponent of the traditional skill in Britain, meaning his services are much in demand.
"I have enough work on for the next two years," David explains. "I have done work for the National Trust and also businesses like pubs and also private commissions – ornate opulent mirrors.
"I get people coming to me saying they don't want plastic or computer-generated mass produced things. They want something more eye-catching and bespoke."
He hand draws each design himself before beginning the job of cutting it in to the glass and adding colours, including gold and silver leaf.
"The things I make can take from ten hours to 200 hours," he says. "You have to have patience to do the work.
"Especially when you're cutting the design into the glass – you only get one chance at it.
"You get used to the noise the different cutting wheels make – the stone wheels and the diamond wheels – you can tell if it's going well or not just from the noise.
"Hours go by working on some of the larger panels of glass – and you need a good deal of physical energy to overcome the push of the glass against the wheels."
He says people sometimes comment when he's working on location.
"I can be working on a window and people can be walking by and they'll be interested in seeing what I'm doing.
"Sometimes you get the odd person say, 'you don't see that any more'.
"It's a dying craft – you don't see signwriters working up ladders and behind glass – it's a thing of the past. But I want to carry on working like this.
"I like to teach this craft. People come from all over the world to learn. I'd like to teach as many people as I can before this craft dies out.
"I'm trying to keep them interested just to keep it alive, before it becomes a lost art."