Step By Step Design Of New Glass Work

Dichroic being sized and cut to be put into 980 degree pick up box kiln

Dichroic being sized and cut to be put into 980 degree pick up box kiln

I thought it might be a good idea to document a few of the steps involved in the design and making of a new glass piece in the studio to give you glass enthusiasts a rare look into the process.

All design begins with an idea.  That idea is then implemented using already existing knowledge about how the piece designed might be accomplished.  Often this works well, but sometimes new tools, materials, and skills have to be made or mastered in order to make new work possible.  In the case of the work I am showing you, a special kiln is needed to preheat the looked glass strips called dichroic (shown in the picture above) to be preheated.  2100 degree glass will not stick to room temperature glass, so it has to be brought halfway up to molten temperature.

In the case of the piece being made today, I am designing a new piece for a retailers association in our area for their grand prize winner.  This piece will wind up being a little over a foot tall and will be composed of solid glass with air traps, which are controlled air bubbles trapped in the glass as part of what will be an ethereal design.

Dichroic in the pick up box, ready to be preheated prior to pick up onto hot glass

Dichroic in the pick up box, ready to be preheated prior to pick up onto hot glass

People often wonder what dichroic glass is.  You can see some colored strips sitting in the pickup box kiln above.  Dichroic was originally developed for the Lunar Rover cameras to cut down on sunlight which was cooking the film when under full sunlight.  It is a very thin, translucent, even, metallized coating on glass.  High tech, dichroic is expensive at about 150 dollars per eighteen inch sheet.

I then go to the furnace where the clear molten glass is kept and get a “gather” of molten glass on the end of a metal rod.  This is turned constantly to keep it from dripping onto the floor.  The glass is about 2100 degrees when it exits the furnace, so it moves like honey.

The glass is shaped into a small cylinder and allowed to cool after which I get another gather of glass.  Depending on the size of the piece, I will add dichroic to the outside of a gather.  In this case, I will be getting a third gather of glass.  The volume of the glass in total will be the volume of between two to three softballs in size.  You can see the successful first pickup of color below on the outside of the glass.

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You can see some trails of bubbles in the glass which are part of the design.

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The glass is then twisted to get a spiral.
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The glass is then dimpled which will trap a veil of small bubbles once the next gather is put over the glass.

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This is piece shows the clear gather now over the glass.  This piece is being shaped into an egg shape, which is done with a wet carbon felt pad.  This is all by hand.image

This is a smaller piece.  You can see how ethereal the dichroic can be!

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Once the piece is heated and shaped a number of times, it is cooled and the base stressed with cold water which allows it to break off evenly from the rod.  It is placed in a kiln at annealing temperature, about 950 degrees, and will slowly cool over a period of days.  The picture above shows some of the effects that a glass piece like this has.

 

imageA piece of glass like this will last the ages.  Thick, glass is very durable.  The picture above is a closese-up of the dichroic with the bubbles.  Cool, huh?

That is how pieces like this are done.  One great advantage of being able to work with an artisan is that you get up-close involvement in the design and making of glass which you have commissioned and helped to design.  This process can be as involved or as “arm chair” as you, the customer, desires.  For creating one of a kind looks for everything for display pieces, drawer pulls, sun catchers, drinking glasses, and more, you can’t beat what your local artisan can make for you!

For more on commissioning your own work, read my post a few posts down the line on the steps most often involved in commissioning work by a local studio!

Until then, be happy, do good, and BE good!

~Parker

 

 

 

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Thanksgiving Tiding…

Sun catcher by Ian, a grade school student from our area who blew this piece last weekend.

Sun catcher by Ian, a grade school student from our area who blew this piece last weekend.

THANK YOU!!!!!my followers, fans, friends, enthusiasts, dreamers and makers of glass!  Without your humor, engagement, enthusiasm, dreams and innate creativity, I could not do what has been achieved these last few months.  Without your desire to discover your own creative fire at the studio, I would not have had the support that made everything that came out of this season possible!  It was you who wished to come blow glass in great numbers with one person’s story inspiring still others who kept coming, inquiring, if it wasn’t too late to sneak into the studio to make your very own glass creation.  This, one of the most ancient of arts springs to new life with every eye that be holds it, with every hand that gives it breath and form.  The support your enthusiasm has given has made new wonderful creations possible.  I merely provided you the means, encouragement and what I myself have learned directly from this ancient material that transforms sand into light. Your own inspiration is breathed into my own as what you do brings life to what I CAN do or make possible within the timbers of this house of glass, this studio, this workshop, this haven for inspiration, hard work,discipline,discovery, and awe.  Only because of what is most native within yourselves has any of this happened.

A recent participant in our BYOB event in December making a suncatcher (hers is the red and pink piece directly above this image)

A recent participant in our BYOB event in December making a suncatcher

Yesterday, facing the last work to be done in the studio in who knows how long, I chatted with a friend about glass.  He asked if he could come sometime t blow glass with his wife.  I explained if he did, it would need to be in the next few days because I didn’t know what the weeks to come might bring.  Classes at the university that have been regular as the sunrise went unfolded and a key financial resource was, for the time, lost.  What was I going to do Without this buffer for keeping the studio running  when there were no orders to fill, but glass that still needs to be made for still newer opportunities for support, sales, and continued creative output? This man and his family loved what they did.  It was quite simply unlike anything they had ever experienced.  And here it was, just ten minutes drive from their home In the New River Valley.  Today as I delivered the pieces to him at his work, he excitedly asked me what my plans were for the next month.  He explained that he had been talking to people he met about his glass experience just last night and he had MANY people all wondering what they could do to make their own glass?  This man comes into contact with hundreds of people each and every morning shift as a Barista at one of our local coffee shops.  Chatting idly, he had created a mini flame if interest simply because he had come and had such fun.  It is people like this, just like you, who have held up their creations of glass and smiled while showing your friends what a great time you had…..and THIS has been the thing which does it.  This is the planting of seeds, of spreading the word and watching as the fresh rain of spirit nurtures all of this so naturally.

New pendant designs at the studio this Fall.

New pendant designs at the studio this Fall.

I get to live in a world flush with enthusiasm, passion, wonder, and awe.  THIS is what my clients bring to my studio, to my end of the world.  For this and more, I Am so very thankful.  Now I stand at a place where it feels as though the universe is opening the doors wide, perhaps uncomfortably at first, but it seems to be doing what it always does—asking what great things await ahead of me?  So with this I reflect on what even greater things might await that will continue to press the studio forward into a place of greater sufficiency? I am considering a crowd funding campaign in order to put the studio into the right resource territory it needs in order to run effectively.  While I have had a lot of people take workshops, these are all constrained by what people are able to pay, which is always much less than what can be produced by me as a production glassblower.  Consider that to make your own sun catcher ornament it costs $30.00 a piece.  Each takes half an hour to make with one on one instruction.  Now consider that in that same time I can make those same pieces at a rate of one per seven minutes.  This is the unrealized potential of the studio which is currently limited by not having the right resources to lift it into this next level of operation.  Whether blowing or not, it costs $60.00 a day to keep the glass hot in the furnace, ready to blow.  Turning a 2100 degree furnace off for the night is not an option in the glass world.  So what is needed? I will be describing what has been done this and last year to move Stafford Artglass into this new arena and I will explain what remains, which will form the basis of a possible crowd funding project.  For ten years the studio was self sufficient and I sold work to galleries, through art fairs and craft fairs as well as open studio events.  This activity needs support and prior to a move to a new studio and a subsequent injury, nothing has ever been the same because the level of support necessary was never where it needed to be in order to do it right.

"Journey Beads" designed and created for a client at the studio.

“Journey Beads” designed and created for a client at the studio.

I was telling a friend who owns a business how it took nearly $30,000.00 a year before I made my first dollar of profit in glass.  He turned to me and smiled, saying, he had to generate a million dollars, thereabouts, before he could Buy his first hamburger.  Now that sure put things into perspective!  And yet, the underlying reality is the cost of bringing all of our products to market.  It’s not cheap, and yet, this is the reality of business. What I will be doing is looking at a number of funding options, including local foundation grants for specific aspects of developing the studio operation while also developing a crowd funding strategy.  What you can do,quite easily, is to tell people, just that, to your friends, family, acquaintances, and perhaps even your clients.  In networking, you never know where a resource will emerge.  Like Doug, who unexpectedly spread the word to dozens of people all in one morning, you never know where a spark of interest might reside.  Show them the efforts and work on this blog.  Do you like what you see?  Do you think this type of creativity is worth supporting?  A thousand people giving less than ten dollars is enough to move mountains, and these people all come from spreading the word. So stay tuned, stay in tune and consider the possibilities, because so much has already been achieved and there is a little way yet to go.  And thank you for reading this, for wearing your interest and passion on your sleeve….evidence inspires us all!  It is through these simple acts that great things come into being!  Today, I give Thanksgiving for all that my supporters have mustered and look forward to what tomorrow will bring!

Journey Glass

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All of life is a journey.  We come, we grow, And we go.  In between is what we consider our life.  Many feel like when you are done, you are done.  This is it, there is no more.  Certainly our five sense, if we rely on them alone, would seem to suggest there is nothing more.  I am of a different sort because I have been fortunate in some ways to see with more than just my physical eyes.  For some of you, this will seem silly, but it is only silly until you have those brushes with something larger, something inexplicable, that your understanding can change.  The world was once flat, too!

Several years ago I had a family come to my studio who blew ornaments before Christmas.  Husband, wife, and two darling daughters, about ten and five years old.  They each blew glass.  It was fun.  The Dad looked like he wasn’t doing so well, like he had been sick.  But the glass, he really loved.  He in fact did the one thing many people do who fall in love with glass; they ask if they could come and sweep floors or help in exchange for more instruction and fun with the hot stuff.  He explained he wasn’t sure when he would get a ‘good day’ again but if he did, he would like to come again.  His daughters had just exclaimed in unison upon his completion of his piece, “that’s beautiful, Daddy!”

Rob never came back, though, and I wondered what happened.  His wife contacted me in the early Spring to explain that Rob had succumbed to cancer.  She was calling to see if I would be willing to make some pendants for her and her daughters as a way to keep him close during this hard time.  She explained that her husband Rob had enjoyed the glass so much and had talked at length about the experience to people afterward that she thought it would be a fitting way for all of them to remember him; doing something he always wanted to do and got to do!

I had never worked with crematory ash and explained I would have to run some tests to make sure I could do it in a way I felt good about.  In the end I made an Inscape Geode for each of them that had a river-like form running through the piece which was his ash.  I thought this was a fitting way to use the ash since our journey takes many dips and bends while we are here.  The pieces really looked great!  I made pendants, too, which were a first for me, but being able to provide a way for this family a way through their grieving process was itself an honor.

When the day came for the pieces to be picked up, I handed the pieces to her and her daughters to look at in the gallery and we talked about Rob and his life.  Being able to celebrate his life in this way felt so right.  The family has pieces of glass art that helped to keep the memory of a loved one close.

More recently, I was approached by two different people I know who  me asked if I could make glass beads and if I could create them, using ash.  The beads were to be a way to scatter ashes all around the world for their father who had passed.  I thought this was so novel that I instantly agreed.  Then not long after this, I was approached by an old college friend.  The order began with a pretty middle of the road series of colors and ended with a batch of some really cool works that are in the first photo on this post and are sprinkled throughout.  They turned out to be some of the coolest pieces of jewelry I have made thus far….cosmic, subtle, nuanced…and beautiful!  I was glad that his widow agreed to try a creative route and granted permission for me to use images of her pieces to show here.

I am now practiced at adding ash to glass.  Normally glass and ash do not play well together, but there are some instances where it works very well.  Using good old observation, testing, and common sense, I have developed a way to make this a good pairing.  This makes scattering ashes easy since you can carry the ashes in your neck until you reach that special spot (or spots).  It makes creating closure for family easier, a way to pay final respects, in a sense.  The beads I have decided to call Journey Beads.  It is a fitting name I think, and if you consider how the pendants turned out, perhaps also a cosmic journey for our loved ones.  So perhaps Cosmic Journey for the pendants?  I am mulling that one still.

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I will be straight with you.  I felt a little odd having Rob’s ash in the studio, at least initially.  This feeling, I realized, was part of our collective fear, even loathing, of death.  We feel this way because we are conditioned to think death is the end.  It is, I believe, a transition that most do not get to witness…..except when they themselves make their own exit  from this earthly stage. I have, however, found that each opportunity to help people in this transition had been in some way also an opportunity for me to help people through a challenging time in their lives.

When ash does come into the studio, it is carefully tracked throughout the entire process to ensure absolutely accuracy When using remains.  The amount of ash needed for a piece is very small, less than a teaspoon for a pendant.

So the work continues.  I am available for making glass to help memorialize your loved one.  I have found this to be an unexpectedly healing process!

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For those interested in having pendants made, most pendants are available starting at $85.00 piece And depends on color options and any necklaces that you may want shipped with the pendant.  Please contact me for details on these options.  Any ash remaining, no matter how small, is always returned to the customer.

This product is backed by a guarantee of your complete pleasure for up to thirty days from purchase.  Pendants are made from high quality American made borosilicate, a glass known for its toughness and resilience to scratching, changes in temperature, and chemicals.  This glass is so tough it is what lab ware is made from for chemistry laboratories!

Hotglass Weekend Wrap-Up

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Closeup of a suncatcher by Carolee J. Bondurant

The event has wound down and the studio was host to dozens of families and friends who came from near and far (one family from North Carolina up for the holidays) who took part in our multi-weekend glass blowing experience that included our BYOB (Blow Your Ornament Ball), and our Hotglass Weekend that was pulled together after many people began inquiring about times after the holidays when they could venture out and get their hands into the hot stuff and play with fire.

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A smiling Bob Grogan gets ready for his turn making glass

The previous day's haul warm from the kiln

The previous day’s haul warm from the kiln

This season was so incredibly encouraging on so many fronts.  It seemed that at every turn I kept meeting the most interesting and inspiring people all bent on helping support the studio in fascinating ways.  One customer showed her work to her co-workers after I met her during a break from her work.  In this case, she was a newscaster at a local television station, which garnered a short story about the studio on Christmas Eve telling about how we offer making your own ornament as a special during the holidays.  I was able to meet many other people who have in their own ways helped to spread the word and make a difference for  the studio.  And just so you know, this isn’t about me, but about all of the interesting and excited people who came to lend their smiles, their stories, and their time in helping make this event one of the single best events ever (and we have had many, so that is saying something!)

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Threading on cobalt glass to make a feather pattern

If you look back through the last few blog posts, you can begin to see some of the pieces that folks just like you, who have never blown glass before were able to make with a little help from a seasoned glass teacher and blower.  The results have all been fantastic!  Pictures from the weekend are sprinkled liberally throughout this latest edition of SAG on WordPress.  I have met inquisitive kids who talked about the chemistry of glass, who wondered about its long history, and who had interesting ideas about life, glass, and the pursuit of life’s simplest pleasures.  It has been a real interesting and rewarding time being able to share time with so many people who were all connected by their love or sheer curiosity about glass as an expressive medium.  When I think about the quality of experience, the caliber of people pulled in by the sheer gravity of glass and its beauty, I find myself hopeful about adding instruction at the studio as a key ingredient in just what it is that we do there.

The complete feathered piece up-close

The complete feathered piece up-close

We had a half price off sale where works went for a song and a second sale where pieces went for unheard of prices.  If you know what my seconds look like, you know that our seconds are first-rate pieces that maybe were a little too small or slightly off-center.  I talked to people about how they could design their own work for their homes, an opportunity that is unheard of in this age of the cheap mass-produced object.  Helping to bring the real back to life can also help to enliven the soul and stir the heart.  And THAT is not just a cheap throw-away but the honest truth.

John makes a paperweight at the reheating furnace

John makes a paperweight at the reheating furnace

For now, the pictures for this post are being worked on to ready them for the web.  In the days that follow you will begin to see images from this weekend that help to paint a picture of just what happened and what went on!  But to learn more check out this blogger who describes her experience in her recent post about her visit to the studio this weekend!

http://joansnaturejournal.blogspot.com/2014/01/stafford-art-glass-class.html?spref=fb

Closeup of sun catcher by Caroline Gaskins

Closeup of sun catcher by Caroline Gaskins

HoT GLass WeEkend! January 11-12

Come help us make Stafford Art Glass sustainable into the new year!  With the popularity of our BYOB event this past Christmas, it’s decided that we will continue to offer another event so those who were too busy or did not notice in time, can take part.

The studio in Newport Virginia

Join us for a weekend of hot glass at the studio in Newport.  Located just ten minutes from Blacksburg on Route 460W, the studio is a gallery and hotshop all in one. It is also a place to learn how to make beautiful objects in glass.  At this event you have the opportunity to sign up for thirty-minute slots to make either a suncatcher or paperweight; a suncatcher takes half an hour, a paperweight takes about an hour.  Double up your thirty minute slots, back to back, so you can make a paperweight during this event!

Event runs January 11-12 10:00 a.m. – 8 p.m. each day.  Sign up for blowing slots by “liking” us on Facebook and messaging us what times work for you and what you plan on making.

We are also having a sale at the gallery that is 50% off wholesale pricing as well as a second sale of selected works from the production floor.  These are at unheard of prices.  One example is our Andromeda Geodes, a paperweight with a galaxy inside, which normally sell for up to $120.00 in galleries are as low as $18.00 at this event only.  People sometimes ask us why our Perfumer2seconds are priced as they are and its simple.  Our seconds never have ANY structural flaws.  No chips or cracks, only slight cosmetic flaws that keeps us from selling them as firsts.  Most people do not even recognize these “flaws” as flaws at all!  For example, pieces may be a slightly different size, or the design in the center might be slightly off-center, or the galaxy might not be perfectly symmetrical.  I know it’s a small thing, but our work has to be perfect, gallery ready, and our galleries want consistency as one smaller piece in a grouping might not sell as readily.  So we keep them and sell them at our studio!  This is an excellent opportunity to buy great work at unbelievable prices.  Perfume bottles for a song, all original made in our studio quality work!  Bowls, vases, paperweights, ornaments, suncatchers, and yard ornaments, pendant jewelry; it all goes for half off!

If you want to sign up to make something during the weekend, slots are reserved on a first come first served basis.  At this price, slots go very quickly and availability to limited!

Whether you plan on blowing glass or simply watching the fun ensue over the weekend and looking over our sale offerings, this is a great family friendly weekend!  For those who wish to blow glass we ask that you wear all cotton shirts, preferably with long sleeves when possible (we do have arm protectors) and sunglasses (we do have safety glasses that fit over regular glasses if needed).  No

A recent participant in our BYOB event in December making a suncatcher (hers is the red and pink piece directly above this image)

A recent participant in our BYOB event in December making a suncatcher

open toed shoes, and jeans are best.  Everyone has a different comfort and skill level and we adapt to your needs as a student.  We work as a team one-on-one to realize your glassy creations!  Work made must anneal in our kilns overnight for ornaments and 24 hours for paperweights. To keep things simple for us, we ask that you either respond to this post or respond on facebook and message us there so we can keep our scheduling quick and easy for all involved!  Thanks for your understanding!

For questions you can message us here or go onto our facebook page to find out more!https://www.facebook.com/pages/Stafford-Art-Glass/273860936858

The Mighty Tumbler – A Question of Design

I teach sculpture and design at a local university in addition to my work as a glass artist in the studio.  If you know me, you will know that while I work daily with design in making good functional pieces as well as more higher end artglass, I am not a snob when it comes to design.  I have my opinions, yes, and they show up in the choices I make when designing new work, but I know that the day that we say there is only one way to go about design is the day I hang up my blow pipes and call it a life.  You see, while I know that many people in the design arena are very opinionated about what is and is not good design, I am aware that there is no right or wrong way to go about it.  The moment that someone says “You can’t do it that way” is just the same moment when someone comes along, bursts your rigid paradigmatic bubble, and shows that it can and does work “that” way.  There are lots of stories about people looking on in disgust at the likes of Degas and Van Gogh and Monet.  Brush strokes!  How dare they!  And then a hundred years later, the same thing is repeated during the Op and Pop eras on into the Post Modern age of art.  And the same goes for design movements as well.  If you are in the business of good design there are a lot of things to consider and nothing is absolute.  I’ll use the tumbler as a case in point.

When I was coming up in the glass field I noted that there were lots and lots of wedge-shaped tumblers where the foot was narrower than the top and the walls were a perfect straight edge line from tip to bottom.  Visually, this clues you in that the maker has control of his or her medium.  And yes, we may be used to seeing these basic shapes AS tumblers should be.  Or should they?  Visually, they might have a look that up-and-coming artisans then seek to emulate or copy.  And yet, the truth is, there is more than just how something looks that goes into the design equation.  A tumbler can look great but be miserable to hold in your hand.  I actually have some examples of these.  I made them. They sold pretty well, but why is that when they feel so unnatural in the hand?  I will be bold and tell you that they are that way and popular because people just don’t know any better.  They are pattern recognition machines and base so much of their choices on habit and following others, just like our emulating glassblowers with their straight-lined tumblers.  Truth be told, good design is a matrix or fusion of many considerations, not JUST visual.  A meal dressed up to look nice to the eye is nothing if it tastes bland; that’s because it really does need to LOOK good AND taste good, too.  It should delight as many of the senses as possible, and this goes for design as well. When it doesn’t, you get a poverty of SOMETHING somewhere along the line.  Someone buys the tumbler and then never really realizes how nice a different shape would feel, so they just never get to experience that eventuality.  They missed the boat.  And yet, it is we, the designers, who are involved in that boat leaving, or better; never even arriving in the first place.

I hate straight-walled tumblers for the very reason that I know the single best feeling tumbler to my hand and to many of my guests in my home and clients that I seek to impress with this one simple truth is that a tumbler needs a shape that is in harmony with the hand that is going to hold it.  As a result, this most often means that a tumbler needs to fit the hand in its girth.  A smaller hand wont feel as comfortable wrapping around a tumbler made for a Viking Goddess as it does a smaller version based on the physiology of the person grasping it.  The other side to this equation is that no one hand is going to be the same, so the question in design is how to find the happy medium where big and small hands will rejoice in the feel of your tumbler no matter who is grasping it that day.  And then there is the overall shape of the tumbler.  It is true that the top should be wider than the bottom in order for the hand to properly “catch” the vessel in a sound grip.  A simple tube is simply hard to hold onto.  Get a little salad dressing on your finger and sloop!  There it goes sliding out of your hand and onto the floor!

What I have found is most often the single best feeling tumbler to the hand is an hour-glass shape.  It allows the hand to grasp it closely whole also giving the hand a way to keep it from sliding up or down out of its grip for some-any-reason.  It is a result of this realization that I most often make tumblers with some form of curve in them while taking the overall size into consideration.  Overtop all of this, the surface decoration or color must play as well.  So what do you get?  You get a shape that you simply do not find very often in most stores. And I ask you; why?  I know the reason and it has to do with a lot of old regurgitated ideas about what makes a GOOD tumbler.  This is where we stagnate on many levels.  We stagnate-unknowingly- as users, and we most certainly stagnate as makers or designers.  And how do we change this?  We are brave.  We are willing to do just as I have done and sought to do what one of my last workers used to say when he saw something he thought was ridiculous.  He would say “I call bullshit!”  I had never heard that term before, but it really hit it on its head.  We have to be willing to question the status quo and ask the obvious question about that elephant in the room.  Of course there will be people who will look down their noses just as many have done in the past with anything new, but this is as it has always been with such dry and crusty pattern-recognition machines!  Eventually, though, a new idea takes hold and then suddenly everyone was the big supporter of it back when it really counted (winks).

So I know this is a lot to wrap around our humble tumbler, but its also important.  Its important for the chairs we must sit in, the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, the homes we live in and the ads that we have to view each day.  Most often, we THINK what we are seeing is something we like until something new comes along that shatters the old thinking.  But I say that all of this matters because it has to do with quality of life issues. Design should make life better, not uncomfortable.  It should function well while also looking….interesting. Clothes should wrap you and caress while also making you look great.  Cars should look sporty and stylish while also getting you there safely and comfortably.  We don’t need to compromise; we simply need to innovate!

I tell my students that they have to be willing to stand up and question everything, even me, if it comes to it.  I tell them that if they can explain why I am wrong and why another way is better or why how they did something was so great and should be considered, I am all over listening  in an honest and considered way.  After all, in a profession where the new ideas come from being bold and being willing to stick your neck out some, we all need to reward our new designers for being willing to try new things and to question what has come before, even if it does result in a tumbler my hand simply hates.  You gotta try.  You do.

Have You Ever Commissioned An Artist To Do Work? Here Is How It Works!

Commissioned artwork.  It sounds so…..serious.  But in truth, commissioning is a means for people to get exactly what they want from an artist, designer, or artisan.  In the case of fine art, a person may have always wanted to have a landscape of a field behind their house painted and they really like the technique of a given artist. They feel certain the artist would NEVER consider such a thing…..but they screw up their courage and send a late-night request….and bingo!  The artist replies the next day and asks what they had in mind!  Or a potter is seen at a craft fair and someone really likes their work but were wondering if instead of vases, could they do the same designs in platters that they could have as wedding gifts?  “Well certainly” comes the reply from the artisan sitting behind his glasses reading the paper.  You should never be off-put asking about the possibility of having an artist do work for you.

Imagine it.  You could sit down and come up with ideas for fanciful drawer pulls for your kitchen, or a cool way to transform your chandelier in the living room into a hip piece of art with just the right adjustments made by a glassblower.  Or maybe it is a rug from a weaver, or a set of rings from a local jeweler.  And before you think that custom work is going to be expensive, that isn’t always the case.  It really does depend on what you have in mind, however, and it has been my experience that if you can stay fluid with your inspiration and consider a range of possibilities, an artist or artisan can more easily bring you something truly one of a kind while staying within budget.

Handmade is Not Made In China

In the last few years, a flood of cheap imports have made their way into stores from China.  This includes glass objects.  Some of them look pretty good, right?  The price on these items reflects a huge factory mentality that is unable to make things of the quality that you will get in a small studio.  The difference in one glass shade made in China and one made in the U.S.A. are not truly comparable if all you look at is price.  If price is the only thing that decides it for you, you are better served not making the journey down the road of custom-made because you will forever be caught in your dollar angst about how what is being offered is so much more than what is at Lowes or Target.  There are a LOT of differences in glass made in my studio and in China and I will enumerate them for you.  One is the quality of the base glass itself.  In order to get costs down for a China export, the glass has to cost pennies per pound.  The glass I use is specially made to be completely “water clear” so that when colors show through that clear base glass, you get an intensity and trueness to those colors that is a cut above other products made elsewhere.  How different is it?  Lets say that in many cases it is the difference between listening to an old vinyl record and a digitally mastered CD.  Over good speakers.  The other issue is that the options for designing the work are much broader with a small studio.  You can achieve results that simply do not exist anywhere else because it is not mass-produced.  You can have a lamp shade that no one will ever see another like, even remotely, even out of China (unless they copy it).  Also the other difference is the quality of life that is being supported.  When you pay for a ten-dollar lamp shade from China, you really aren’t paying for the toll that the factories there have on the environment nor the quality of life of the workers.  All of these costs are real and in the industrial system, they very rarely get addressed.  You will see, as an example, how industrial cultures wind up polluting the environment.  they do this because they are not keeping their waste streams out of the local environment because it would drive the cost of their products UP.  I hate to rain on the parade, but this is just what is and will happen in China except that if the wealthy industrialists have their way, it will be on a scale never before seen in the U.S.A. or Europe (even though we have had plenty of these things happen).  What you are paying for is someone who loves what they do and is being paid a living wage, as opposed to someone who is being paid $15.00 a week.  Americans are beginning to realize that these are real costs and are opting for things that they know were done in a more sustainable fashion.  We truly share this earth not just with each other, but with our children’s children. Truth be told, the small studio is not selling work at outrageous prices, but a market-driven price that is usually very fair.  If something seems high-priced to you, you can always ask why it’s priced that way.  There are most often reasons for it that have to do with uniqueness of the design (it’s a hot item that no one else has) or its a method that takes a lot of time or took a lot of time to develop.  Remember; a factory can produce more work in a day than an artisan may make in decades!  It’s quite simply a completely different model and way of working and being.  And one more thing to consider….I spoke with a weaver some years ago as China imports were gaining steam.  This man-made lovely wraps and scarves out of chenille. His product was first-rate.  He had to have a quality base product in order for his brand to fly.  He received a quote for a finished scarf in chenille that was for less than he could buy his chenille for.  So how long does his scarf last, the one he has made in China, do you think?  If something is THAT cheap, there is always a hidden cost somewhere that someone will wind up paying for.  It might be you who buys the scarf only to have it fall apart a year later, or it might fade, or the hem might fall out.  In the end, this hurts you and it hurts the artisan.

Get Your Ideas

First you need some good ideas, or at least some inspiration. Artists deal in inspiration and over a cup of coffee and some great starting ideas, can most often read you well enough to find some solutions that will be pleasing to you. Sometimes ideas can come by looking at the work of the artist in the studio and sometimes you can look at what other things are out there in the market that come close but need something extra or a slightly different twist.

Communication!

Communication, though, is key.  Being able to express when you need it by is as important as some of your design ideas.  Be willing to ask lots of questions in order to educate yourself about why adding color to a piece of glass one way is so much more expensive than another way (there is a reason, but you may not know that, which is why its so good to ask and learn).  Also, being clear about what you want to spend is important, too.  But just as important is being flexible should you discover in the course of your design consult that there is an option you LOVE but never had thought about it even though it brings your expected price up, say $0.00 or $60.00 dollars.  An artist may not be able to come up with an exact amount for the job right away, but there is no harm in asking and then seeing if the proposal is something that fits your budget.

The Quote

The most important thing to realize in commissioning work is to get a quote for the work before starting or deciding that it’s what you want or are willing to spend.  And get it in writing.  There are laws in most states that say that a quote must remain within a discreet percentage variance from the quoted amount.  This is pretty reasonable because the goal is for you to get work that you like and for the artist to make a profit, not take a loss on the project.

Do You Need A Timeline or Due Date?

Then you will need to decide on a time-line for the work.  Do you need work by a given date?  Say so and be clear when that date needs to be.  You want to make sure that the artist does not feel rushed to get the job done because a job done well is a job that has been loved and enjoyed throughout the process.  Too-tight schedules can sometimes wipe away the joy and you want this to be good for all involved, right?  So keep the joy.  But short of that, get deadlines in writing also.

The Deposit

Then, from there, you can settle on whether a deposit is to be made, or not, for the job.  This enables the artist to begin work quickly on your project. It also keeps the customer committed to the project and not backing out at the last minute, leaving the artist with materials they might not otherwise have bought or will use again.  As a basic rule, a deposit is most often needed on jobs above a certain amount.  For many small jobs I don’t ever require a deposit simply because I am not out a lot if the client backs out for some reason.  However, the question becomes “what is a lot?” and that is certainly relative.  It is also on a case-by-case basis because custom work is, well….custom.  And special!

Let iT Be FUn!

I will say, though, that custom work is a journey to discovery.  For you and also the artist.  If you are asking something of the artist that they have never done before, being as flexible as possible will actually make the project go much more smoothly and will enable the artist to make adjustments and fix issues without being under the gun.  The truth is, custom work can either be kept easy or it can be hard. If its hard, artists will tend to charge more for the issue of unknowns in the process. This is where being upfront in the beginning about costs will keep from problems later.  If a solution winds up being too expensive, you can say so before getting underway.  It is true that for some artisans, it is not always possible to know fully the complexity of a project that they have never undertaken.  I know one glass artist that puts a $500.00 minimum on ALL custom work simply for this reason.  He explains that it helps to weed out people who do not want to spend the money necessary to develop a whole new line of work that the artisan may never make again and it also covers the extra time he has to spend on developing entirely new work for the client that he may never use again (including tools and materials too)!  The thing to appreciate is that sometimes in cases like these color tests may need to be done, and samples made in order to see how a piece of glass will respond to a given use.  All of this costs time and money.

Commissioned works have usually been exciting for me to do for customers. In one case I was building a piece from scratch for a niche that was being built in a room of a house for a VIP in a commercial construction company.  The niche was made to look like an old style space as if the house had been built sixty years ago.  It was lit in just the way that I explained the piece needed to be in order to show off the piece and once the piece was done, the presentation was fabulous!  Everyone remarked how the space seemed to be perfectly fit for the piece they were displaying!  However, the designer doing the work had given me a deadline and then began contacting me two week prior to the deadline asking if the piece was ready ahead of schedule.  I explained we had settled on a given date and that the work would be ready by then.  By the time I delivered the work, the designer was so stressed out that I never heard from her again. You see, this is why being clear about deadlines is so important.  If you choose a date that it has to be done by, calling the artist and pestering them about whether the work is read or will be ready by deadline is a sure way to make the process unenjoyable for all involved.

Commissioning need not be a huge job either.  Commissioning can be as simple as having a set of drinking glasses made, a single vase, or even an ornament for your baby’s first Christmas (which a customer helped to blow this past Christmas in the studio).   Commissioning can include your presence in the studio, too, during the manufacturing process.  Its possible.  However, you will need to see if the artist is up for that.  In my practice, I welcome the customer if s/he can be present in the studio because I simply enjoy collaboration so much.  For people who can “do” collaboration and not be too rigid, this process can be a LOT of fun!

This holiday season I had several people asking about custom made tumblers.  I explained to one woman who asked that I could make just about anything she might want or imagine in glass.  I showed her some tumblers I was working on and explained that the options were all over the place.  I began pointing to vases saying “You see that effect in that piece?  We could put that into a tumbler.  See those perfume bottles?  We could put that design into them as well!”  All of a sudden the place just began to flow with creative energy and this lady suddenly had a lilt to her step.  This is the stuff that is really exciting because you realize the great options possible when you consider the possibilities.

So yes, Stafford Artglass does custom work.  Would you like to design a sink?  “In glass?  Are you kidding?  Wont it be fragile??”  Well, actually, not if its blown  so its two inches thick!  At that point, you have a superdurable and beautiful sink!  Afterall, concrete, when it is just an inch thick is fragile too, and yet we build highways out of the stuff, right?  Maybe create a coral reef inside the sink between the layers of glass?  Or a swirl of color that sets off your bathroom beautifully!  Maybe its a set of tumblers.  Maybe you would like to take drawings from your children and put them into some blown bowls.  Or maybe you have always wanted to have a very specific shade of aqua for a set of tumblers.  Maybe you like two colors together but can never find anything that you ever really liked.  In 16 years of work I have designed awards for companies, corporate gifts, work for the U.S. Government (one went to the man who gave Clinton his Daily Brief), and to numerous clients wanting something unique or different for their homes, their families, or friends.

tumbler1

©Parker Stafford

These tumblers were part of a large order for someone who recently got married.  Clear, they rely on changes in thickness from a wrap to create a visual effect.

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©Parker Stafford

These tumblers which recently sold were each different from each other and the people who got them liked that.  A recent inquiry involved making tumblers where each one was made a little bit differently from the other.  We are now talking about doing colored wraps along the body of the pieces where each piece has a different color.  The shape of the pieces will be what is consistent.  Since this job is pretty straight forward and easy enough to do and in volume (they are getting six of them) the customer gets a break in price that keeps it from feeling so…custom!

So if you have ever been holding back asking local artists and craftspeople about what it would cost to do that something special that you feel would make your living space more interesting, now is the time to go for it!  I mean, really, what do you have to lose?

 

In the last year the type of custom order I have done have included making a sculpture out of glass of a tree of life, numerous yard ornaments, drinking glasses, pendants, beads with funerary ashes in them to be scattered all over the world, and suncatchers.  Over the course of my career I have developed new forms in glass, created lamp shades, drinking bottles, candlestick holders for a piece of furniture, paperweights, awards, ornaments, bowls, vases, and platters.  I have always found that having a sense of discovery and adventure has always made the journey worthwhile!