Welcome To The Swamp

When I first began my business I discovered that my production created or required a pace that was unlike anything I had experienced up until that time.  I had come from a graduate program where I blew glass four hours a week.  I was able to stretch that time because I had the last blow slot of the day which went from eight until midnight.  I had access to ovens that were what are called long cycle which did not get used very much.  The scheduling of these ovens always made it possible for me to continue working on until two or three into the morning….which I often did.   Every object I made was special.  Each one marked a transiting from one level of ability to another.  When I began working 10 to twelve hours a day in my own studio, I would blow as many pieces in a couple of days as I would have blown in an entire semester when I was at school.  The arc of development is very rapid in the beginning and often has a tendency to slow as skills are accumulated.  After that, the leaps or strides made are often from moments of pure inspiration.  It sends things in a new direction and the skill set may be enlarged, stretched, grown, even unexpectedly.  Hopefully as an artist, we all get that new growth added to our old growth.

When you make things like I do, I find that the way I look at objects, especially the ones I make, is very different from anything I knew before.  In a week I might have a hundred of one thing move through various stages of grinding packaging, shipping, or blowing or conceiving. It can be very easy for these objects to be just that; objects.  I can’t live in such a place where everything is debased in this way.  For me what I make wont EVER be just another object.  I might as well be selling T-shirts or tires.  To do what I do I realized I had to love what I do, love the designs I make (a good design might mean making that work thousands of times), and love the lifestyle the work affords me.  By that I mean that it gives me flexibility to not have to work a nine to five cubicle job.  In fact, the time people have off from their nine to five is most often when I need to be available.  That is nice because it means that I can be off when others are working which makes going to the store or driving down the highway very easy. It also meant I could attend my children’s performances as children in school, art exhibits, talent shows, and other things with my family that were valuable to me.  In truth, I worked 70 to 90 hour weeks in my work, so the time I had to do these things was very important.

To create, to produce in this way requires a level of love for the job, the life, the work and way of life that it elevates it or vaults it beyond anything that I have experienced before.  Work and worker wind their way into one another.  Everything I make I have to make with love. Glass is funny like that; when I am in the groove, I am also feeling the love.  When I am not, it does not flow and the work most often becomes difficult.  Weird things happen.  I lose pieces.  Taking a break, I can often return to the glass soon to continue working.  This is no ordinary kind of job.  I could not do this work if what I needed or wanted was a nine to five job. I can easily work twelve hours a day seven days a week.  I have worked much more at other times.  The only way I could do that was because I loved what I do.  And this is important.  If you come to the swamp, as I tell my students, you really ought to go  ahead and wrestle  some alligators.  This means to me that if you are going to go to the trouble of doing art -or in my case craft- you might as well do it up.  Make something remarkable.  Cool.  Awesome.  Make it worthwhile.  Don’t just mark time.  You never know when you wont have that time anymore.

Many people look at my way of life with a mixture of envy and admiration.  They see the work all finished and clean in a gallery  environment and can’t help but admire.  The truth is, though, it takes wrestling some gators.  Sure enough.  So in order to do this kind of thing, you really do have to love it otherwise it will grow old fast and wither on the vine. I am lucky since I have managed to keep my interest, a love, all these years and continue developing new work instead of stagnating.  It is easy to burn out, wither, blow away.  I have gone through burn out several times in fifteen years of business.  The last one had me wondering whether I even had love for this anymore. My priorities were askew, I found, that the hardness of art and craft is such that if you do not love it, truly love what you are doing, it can be a hard ride.  Love makes it worthwhile.  Maybe in the corporate world that just sounds like silly fluff, weak pasty talk.  Some of us believe that it matters what you do, what you make, design, create, and even leave behind.  Those who care aren’t the strange ones.  There is a whole lot lost in the world if that isn’t the case.

In a day when industrial giants seek to produce at ever larger scales, it is really nice to see studios producing handmade in the way they are today; high quality and with lots of good design and a whole lotta love.

I esteem objects that are made well.

I love objects that have great design.

I like design that makes using an object more fun. As humans we like to decorate EVERYTHING, so its nice to see well designed chairs and clothes and brushes and rugs and cups and a zillion other things big enough to have something different about them beyond mere utility.  I even don’t mind poor design when I know the artist is trying to make the world a better place.  We all have our own tastes.  When an object is made with love, it emits an energy, a sense of aliveness and presence that you can FEEL.  This turns a simple tumbler into a holy grail experience.  It can. You just might be surprised what a little love can do to your day and the objects that share that day with you.

I came to wrestle alligators.  Its not easy always.  Sometimes you doubt yourself, why you are even here doing this.  No one else is there backing you up; you MAKE all of this happen.  By hook or crook.  But that is just it; it is like giving birth….you have to WANT to make things and to see them from beginning to end.  And get them done.  On time.  I actually like to improve the quality of life by making great objects.  I believe that by imbuing my work with unusual, unique and powerful design concepts that I am actually dispersing mediocrity one object at a time.  i do not pause to think that perhaps we have enough stuff.  It is ALL just stuff.  And since it ALL just stuff and things, we have a duty as artists and artisans, I believe, to make those objects worth the while by being interesting, creative, excellent, usable, amazing, remarkable.  And even if it is just ONE of these things, it passes.  It is good.  It is good because it does not let through the door anything less than something that says clearly that we don’t have to be slaves to the mediocre world of the mass produced and unremarkable cheap object (that likely pollutes a country beyond sustainability just for having the industries that make the things they do that are so cheap—there is always a price even if you are not paying for it at the store).  I don’t think I ever wanted this to be easy.  I wanted it to be satisfying.  And today was satisfying.  Hard work, long day, lots made.  If it were easy maybe everyone would be doing it.  Maybe that leaves me a little more elbow room for wrestling that alligator.

What we make says a lot about us.  As a culture.  As a person.  A business.  As an artisan.  As a world. I esteem this and bring to it quality and uniqueness.  We should all live life like its worth living and that today could be well be the last day we get to spend on the planet. By bringing that level of engagement, we also bring our heart and spirit in a much more tangible way.  Call me old-fashioned, but I actually believe that these things matter.  Welcome to the swamp.

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