Art is the only lie I have ever enjoyed getting away with.
SAG is on Instagram for your viewing pleasure. Here’s a few pics that you can find @staffordartglass Follow for follow.
Large companies can pour millions into new products each year, hiring experts called consultants to help direct them in their dream of new products and new directions for their businesses. In the world of the artist, this too also happens, but on a mini-micro scale. You wake up one morning and you say to yourself that an old idea that has been rolling around in your head and heart needs to be embarked on. For an artist, this means hundreds of hours of learning this new kind of work and who knows how much money poured into the effort. When it comes to something like this, there is absolutely no guarantee of any sort of return. You go by your instinct, your gut, and your wits. And you want to know something? My experience has been that many of my most compelling and interesting designs that I personally love often find only a luke-warm reception at least in the beginning. I have actually shelved what would later become one of my most popular pieces for over a year before returning to it. When it hit the shelves people looked at it like it was something from another world. That is to say, they didn’t see it as the unique thing that it was; they saw it as unrecognizable. This is sometimes the problem with the new.
Before a line of new work is even hot off the presses, it comes under no scrutiny, no flag waving crowds or lines of adoring fans. Unless you can do something that often strikes most artists as utterly distasteful: you hype the living shit out of it. You hype it so that normal people who have never bought art before sit up and take notice. They take notice because, well, they are so tuned into the hype. I am not talking about what an artist normally does to promote themselves. I am talking about what some people will do in order to bring in the crowds, people who might not have come in the first place. These people are more drawn by the interest of others, the crowd, the feeding frenzy. To do this on a large scale means celebrity or the feeling of possible celebrity. And who doesn’t love a celebrity? A quiet unknown who is rising through the ranks? Still, its hype most often, anew form of hype that doesn’t look like hype but still…it is.
The truth is, there is a very small number of people who don’t see the hype, don’t care about the hype and buy with their heart. And these people are actually the visionaries, the people there when the work was not hyped, was actually affordable, and are often of modest means. the people who come rushing for the hype are the folks who will put down $40,000.00 for the “next big thing” because, well, it looks good on them or in their house. What we are talking about is status. It is also worlds away from authentic art making (unless you create artifice in order to pander to the rich).
Artists are often caught in this odd cross-fire of authenticity meeting popularity when things take off for them. The desire to hype can get the better of some art dealers and gallery owners, and artists too. Look, we all want to prosper, but at what price does this happen? For those who “make it” there are now funds that allow a person to do so much more than wonder if they will make the bills this month or the next, whether the six thousand poured into the new line of work will yield anything of substance. The number of artists who were obscure in their time is right up there with the fervency of hype. Renoir would say how he bought his villa with a painting of an empty vase sold ten years previously. Picasso would sign checks knowing they would never be cashed because, well, his signature. It is indeed a strange world.
But look, the lifeblood of an artist isn’t the money. It is the excitement over the next new thing, the new idea, the new process, the new way of saying perennial messages that have been born into each generation and recur in slightly different ways from one century to the next. Our dreams are those of the Romans, the Greeks, the Pelleponesians, the Shakespeares, the kings and queens of Ur, all told now in a recognizable dialect. Before it is a “thing” we are there in the innocence of the moment in the studio, scribbling on napkins, sending notes to friends, or making the discovery that could change a lifetime. We were the true believers before anyone dared to even dream it. It is this piece of our lives that the beloved collector wants a piece of…the early work, albeit a little rough around the edges, but is work that suggests that there are more pieces that will follow, and if the artist is lucky enough to sell enough to fund the next round of work, they do, and the work evolves. And hopefully, the work evolves fast enough that it stays ahead of the curve so that the artist can turn enough of a profit so that s/he can make more….and survive to make for another day. This is not an easy proposition because artists have to be both lovers and shrew business people. I can tell you that it is hard to do both equally well, and as history shows us, artists tend to be lovers over the shrewd type. This is so because it takes a huge amount of passion just to get your through the 80 hour days, weeks, months, that are required to become good at something. And for an artist, this can mean remaking yourself with new techniques and ways of working every once in a while. You don’t get there with shrewdness. You don’t calculate passion or love. You simply have to have it in you as a lover. And like all great lovers, you can’t be thinking about dollar signs when you are throwing yourself into the next big thing. To do this requires a singular sense of authenticity, passion, and love. Anything else simply robs the work of the life that animates the work, that gives it that presence that is often unnoticed by the great unwashed but that the lovers of art pick up on and see. It takes a lover to know a lover, even if one does not make art and the other does.
So it is that yesterday I had this “congealing moment.” I know how that sounds, but I cannot think of a better term that feels so equal to what actually happens….The moment involved an idea I have had in my head literally for decades that involved a type of work that I have considered doing in glass. I just wasn’t completely sure how I would do it. My mind had been putting these pieces together off and on for a long time, but I just didn’t know exactly what the end result would be. It was a bit like staring at Monet’s paintings of haystacks early in the morning…..they were images that had some shapes, yes, a suggestion of form, but were largely vivid blurs in my mind. That really is how these kinds of pieces can be in our minds. I know that other artists do the same thing because I see it in my art students. They draw a quick sketch and then say, “I will “art it up” Mr. Stafford….you know, I will make it awesome!”
So really what is happening is there is something that is not completely fleshed out for the artist in their mental conception of the work that they just know they will get worked out in the final work. They just know, right? So sometimes that golden moment happens, that bit of genius that flows out into the work, and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes we kind of waive our hands in the air, explaining a new idea without really knowing what it will be like.
(“Insert some kind of colorful awesomeness here _____”)
It isn’t that we are fooling ourselves as artists. In fact, this sense we often have, that it will be awesome, is quite simply derring-do. It is born out of confidence in ourselves, and it is ballsy. As a result, I am loathe to be too critical of it. I was in fact in just such a place, parked with my idea for over a decade (at least) while this idea, apparently, gestated very slowly in my mind or creative spirit. And then it happened. It happened very quickly, almost too rapidly for me to even notice. If I had been too distracted, it would have been gone and I might not have even noticed it. Look, I have hundreds, thousands, of ideas a lot like this fleeting through me. It is just how it is. And most often, this happens in a state that is different form ordinary consciousness. As a result, unless you sit with the idea and hold it there, it can literally just evaporate in exactly the same way that a dream you had last night is nearly impossible to recall. Steve Jobs once described all the things he “knew” when he was on LSD that he completely forgot when he came back down to ordinary consciousness….but he knew that it was something and he wanted to add a little piece of that in his work, which he did. So, yeah.
I didn’t need LSD to get to that moment. It was all there, fleshed out in the moment clear as day. It was so complicated that I knew that in order to work it out, I would have to possibly spend months developing enough elements just in order to develop the work. These pieces depart completely from everything I have done and dip into art. How they are done is through a series of layers of imagery that are literally carved out of layers of glass at room temperature and then layered into the glass. On the one hand, I could wind up with a cheap Venetian looking “fish bowl” (you know those….they look like fish in a bowl and are made by layering all these elements in them) or I could on the other, push the idea so far that I come up with the level of complexity I am looking for, which is not unlike a multidimensional “trip” through a dream world that actually is beginning to look a lot like how complex our lives have gotten today. The trick, I know, as I waive my hands in the air, is to invest the “landscape” of these glass pieces with the level of complexity that keeps them from being cute or quaint and pushes them into new territory altogether. And that, dear reader, is the hard part of art. It separates the girls from the women and the boys from the men. Hopefully in the end it serves to unite us all in a new kind of vision. 😉
So that is what is on the plate for now. Naturally, I can’t say too much about it right now, not until I develop the work because until I do that it is much too easy for people to take an idea and run with it. And that is the other side of the coin, but I will spare you that dimension of our work as artists.
The new work will mean that I will do something unusual, which is I will need to create photographs, images, and drawings, all of which will be put down on paper to form the basis of the imagery that will be cast into place with these pieces. And to do them well will mean that the imagery remain crisp. That will mean selecting certain colors over others. There will be choices that will have to be made that will be exacting, like building a three-layered canvas made of glass that you will be able to see through. Some will seem like dreams, some like memories. Perhaps some will fill the space with a sense of life. Will they? That will be up to all of the efforts made in the studio and out of it. For now, there is a lot that needs to be done in the moment that will lead up to determining whether this work will be worth the time and trouble. These are the untold hours, the invisible hours, that go to make a new line of work what it is. And this is the life of the artist. More than money, more than anything else, this is what gets my blood pumping.
This just in…..this article is from Architectural Glass Arts. I am including the article in its entirety for all who might be concerned about over reach of regulation from up on high. Spread the word. -Parker
The market for insurance that caters to the arts community has been shaken up by the economic shocks that have taken place over the last seven years or so. Many old companies that were old stand-by’s are gone.
As an artist, you can always talk to a conventional insurance provider to get you the kind of insurance you might need for an open studio event, a show, or for ongoing insurance to provide you with the niche coverage you need to protect you from loss. Right?
It is nice to have someone who understands you. This is why I am happy to provide you with a great company that understands the needs of artists from different media. Many artists are already using this great company and the fees are affordable for event coverage. The name of the company is ACT Insurance, which stands for Artists Crafters & Tradesmen.
The company has two main choices the artists can choose from: event coverage and ongoing policy coverage. And as you might expect from a company like this, they understand that insurance for us often needs to be non-site specific, which is nice.
I suggest that your read through their list of exclusions before deciding on moving forward. If you do sculpture that is part of an installation process, for example, ACT wont cover you. The nice thing is that their web site is very easy to navigate and you can go through their information quickly. You can call them at 888.568.0548 and you can click to them here: Insurance For Artists
Here’s to a great new year!
Over the last few years I have been taking photographs of my glass and finding that the more I zoom into the work, the more interesting the landscapes are that I get. This is a process that believe it or not does not involve any post-production manipulation like filters or special effects. Everything that you see is as the camera saw it. The difference for me with many of my pictures is HOW I choose to shoot the work. Again, this is using direct sunlight, no special effects of any kind. The key has been how I shoot the work, the lenses I use, the light I have and the object that I am photographing. In my case, I have determined that some work photographs better than others in this way.
As we near a new year, I am reflecting a little on some of the pieces that came about this past year and I thought I would share some with you. These are just a few of them.
Some of my pictures look like surreal landscapes, maybe even from another world. This is due to the fact that I am giving people a view into glass that most people do not see. I am shooting glass objects at a high degree of magnification and under very high resolution. As a result, I might turn a half-inch square into a 72 inch square. Under these conditions, levels of detail emerge that the naked eye simply may never see. In other cases, I am not photographing quit this tightly. In this case, the glass will most often LOOK more like….glass.
I like both ends of this spectrum and I have shot thousands of photographs now using my own blown glass as a subject. You might wonder what I am trying to achieve. Its a good question. In the beginning, I had no idea where the work was going. I was photographing my work because a friend had sent me some photographs she took of some of my orbs up close. They were high resolution. I blew one up and kept blowing it up until I realized that the lens she used continued to give good resolution of the glass surface. This got me thinking and exploring. I still am not sure where this type of work is going, except that I like it and I am going to continue doing it. Something interesting happens when you allow yourself to not know where something is headed; it is suddenly free to go anywhere….even places you had never considered before.
As I get older, technique does not dazzle me as much as it used to. Its important, don’t get me wrong, its just that there is more to artistry than just technique. Sometimes our biggest problems lie in what we are unable to imagine….because we have limited ourselves creatively too much. I see this all the time in school where people want to play it safe and get a good grade. The real fun is out on a limb, never sure when you might plop down on the ground. Its there, on that limb, that the good fruit is nearly always plucked.
So often I find I am limited by my own biases of what I think I should be doing or that I am capable of doing that I literally squeeze out vast tracks of possibilities in my creative life. As artists, we have to do this in order to create work that is coherent and focused, but this is a sword with two sides. I use this work to keep me with something new and different running in the background. And really, does it need to be anything? After all, what are most of the “beautiful” materials in the world but a deep visceral reaction to things that are shiny, brilliant and brightly colored? When we say “eye candy” this is what we mean.
Often “eye candy” gets smeared with a sense of vacuity though, as though this feeds the eye but not the soul. I am not entirely sure that this is so. In fact, I think that our need for great color and brilliance is so total that we could probably look at these kinds of things and be fed at a deep level. In fact, this is just what we do when we look at a cut diamond, or a shiny metal surface. What I am saying is that we ought not feel bad for loving the simple pleasure of a brilliant color. After all, art emulates nature, and what we see in my glass is what we also see in nature, and it is that very nature that has informed our likes and dislikes.
I find that when I am creating this work, I am an explorer. I am seeking to see how far into the glass I can go to see what there is to see, to even go beyond the eye and its capacity to see the ordinary in order to pluck something from it that is extraordinary. These are interesting pieces in their own right, and as they continue to emerge in an ever-interesting array of new forms and landscapes, I remain engaged in seeing where it will take me. Oh, and Happy New Year, everyone! Here’s hoping that 2016 is a great year!Thanks for all your support!
In early December after considerable thought, I decided to begin a crowdfunding effort on the site indiegogo.com. I arrived at this decision based on two main factors, both which converged together into one main stream. First, I had been contacted by a number of people beginning in October inquiring if I was going to have glass blowing classes in the Fall like I had done every year for the last four. My studio has opened its doors to the public for an event/class that I call the BYOB which stands for “Blow Your Ornament Ball.” It is an opportunity for the person right off the street to design and help make their own Christmas ornament or suncatcher. Besides being a lot of fun, it is also very educational. It has been so popular that by October and into November of this year, I had to put off close to 20 people about whether I would be able to do this event. This is just how popular the event has become. These were all people coming to me, inquiring.
I teach part time at Radford University, and for the first time since I began teaching in 2010, the classes which I was assigned did not have enough enrollment for the courses to go forward, which meant that I was without an important part of income. Teaching made it easier to be able to open the studio for key periods during the year.
At about the same time, I had finally gotten the supplies I needed to make good on an old promise to a friend and colleague about turning a vase she had bought into a lamp. As it turned out, her request was something that fit neatly into something I had been wanting to do for YEARS with the particular line she had inquired about which was converting a hand blown vase into a usable lamp. It was one of those perfect kinds of matches. I even had a picture from another client and friend from California who had put a candle in a piece from the same line in order to show me how how her piece looked.
The bottom line was that these vases would make a perfect side-step into lighting, and I already had people already interested. I set about making the alterations necessary to make this vase into a light feature. The glass wall was drilled out and a light kit with an online switch was added. It was a simple yet elegant solution. I finished the fabrication at 3:00 one afternoon in November and couldn’t wait to see what it would look like in subdued light. The effect that it had on my foyer and my study was…..magic.
The Birth of a Campaign
When I went online with the new lamp picture to share with friends, the response was strong. People were asking when they could get one of their own. The only problem was there wasn’t a way that I could see to get the studio operation quickly enough to capitalize on all of the interest that had been stirred as a result of my initial reveal.
After some consideration, I decided to do the one thing that I had not done before, which was to FIND a way to raise the funds to bring this product to market. The added benefit would be that, with an open studio in the winter, people would get to blow their own glass like they had become accustomed to over the years. This was how the campaign was born. With about a week worth of working up a budget, I arrived at a target cost for this project, which would enable me to open the studio and launch this new product, now called The Gaia Lamp across the nation with galleries that sold handmade American craft. I learned very quickly the ins and outs of crowdfunding and once I felt like I had learned enough, I began sketching out the beginnings of a campaign.
I decided to run what is called a “fixed” campaign. In simple terms this is all or nothing. Meet the goal by a given deadline and you are funded. Miss that goal amount by the deadline, and you don’t get funded. People urged me to do a flex campaign, explaining that anything was worth something. As I thought about that, I found that for me, it was beside the point to do that. I wanted to be able to DO the project, not a PART of it. Flex meant doing only a part of it (and really, who knew what part would get done, right?). It also meant that the project might not even get done! Now tell me, who wants that?
Flex funding is good for people who are raising funds for medical expenses where ANY amount is appreciated, and for nonprofits seeking to raise funds for their cause. If people were going to give to MY campaign, I wanted to be able to have something to show them for it. I wasn’t ready to compromise on this point; I wanted my donors to feel a sense of accomplishment in their efforts just as I also wanted to feel accomplishment and the knowledge that I now had the opportunity to move forward with the project. I wanted it to be a win-win. The heat was on, the clock would begin, and the race was soon going to be on….
The campaign began on December 1st and went until January 7th. There was a consideration made for this being the Christmas season, which extended the original date times by an extra week. I am glad I did this, but as it turned out, the campaign goal of $5,600.00 was met nine days before the deadline. My concern was that we would have a dead zone for about a week straddling Christmas. That was the thinking that drove the strategy in terms of time.
The first week was nothing short of a scorcher. The campaign achieved 42% of its goal in five days. This put the campaign in the fourth spot prior to being on the main page for Indiegogo in my design category internationally. That meant that there were only four other projects that were performing better than mine in the world. This boosted my visibility on the Indiegogo platform and resulted in people giving to the campaign who did not know me or were outside my own personal network or community.It is worth to mention that when you can achieve a given amount of donations in a short period, it will boost your visibility on most of the crowdfunding sites. Your ability to hustle and get returns winds up boosting you on the site, which further helps your campaign by getting you attention you might not otherwise have.
There were two newspaper articles written after the goal was met. I also had a news channel interview on WSLS with Brie Jackson about the effort which was very helpful. I learned that all of the coverage I was getting was showing me just how important it is to be doing this kind of promotion as a matter of course in a business. The effort pushed me to do more than I had done before, and I think that this helped me to dust off some of my skills at self promotion that had gotten a little dry and maybe even stale with complacency and time. I figured that even if the campaign was not successful, I would have put a spot light on what it is that I do and the products and services I offer, including the design dreams I have. I know that this might sound beside the point, but this effort taught me some important lessons that I needed to revisit, which was to learn how not to be resistant to tooting my own horn.
In the graphic below I have a screen shot of the campaign once it reached 104% and was very close to the deadline. I have since gotten just over 109% of the goal with the campaign today, which is its deadline. You can see the first week as the big surge forward followed by a lull that then went on to slowly grow over time. The trend line was always upward, even if the angle of that line made me nervous at the time. Would I make it with this kind of line? Well, as I can tell you, ANYTHING can happen, and did. The campaign went on with this up and down for a few weeks before the “big bang” took place, which had the effect of rocketing the campaign within shooting distance of the $5,600.00 goal.
In my case, I used Facebook at the main means of getting the word out, with newspapers and television news helping out a lot. Since I was unable to properly track traffic from my newspaper and television exposure, its hard for me to say whether it had a material effect. For those of you out there curious about running a campaign, indiegogo does have some good tools that help to track traffic and donations coming from a site that has a link to your campaign. While I did not have any donations coming from the link on indeigogo for the tv news story, for example, that does not mean that someone didn’t bookmark my campaign for consideration later. These tools do help, though, to show where donors and activity is coming from, and its important that you provide your campaign link because it will help you track where your contributions are coming from.
Another metric that indiegogo uses is logging the domains where traffic is coming from, not per isp, but by country. As a result of this, I was able to see what visitors indexed by country were visiting my campaign page. In the screen shot below you can see the first page of the most numerous page views for the campaign and where they were coming from.
The Power Of The Tweet…Blog?
While I was told that Twitter was king (or Queen) for campaigns, I only had about 30 followers (really) when this all began and had not had much luck finding out a suitable way to get people to sign up to get tweets from me. Instead, again, Facebook was my most used social media outlet.
I blogged and found that there was very little sharing of my blog posts, which was largely due I think to both my level of followers as well as the type of followers I had. This is not a criticism of them at all, and is likely more about how I have chosen to write on the blog. I was not “plugged in” to the entrepreneurial universe with my blog, that was not its main focus. Perhaps my blog posts are too long and might not encourage people who are action-based to read and participate. They might be too cerebral, too thought-based, I considered. I did have a platform with my blog, but when it came time to begin making some noise, I am not so sure that it was that helpful for getting the word out. To break out of my own limited circle of readers, I needed to have outlets picking up my posts and sharing them or leading traffic to them. In the end, my blogging was not a significant factor in garnering donations. It did, however, serve to inform people who came from Facebook, for example, who wanted to read more about the campaign and saw the link on my page.
Perhaps if I had galleries following me, perhaps if I had crowdfund enthusiasts following me, then perhaps I would have been able to use this tool better. Note to self; this is something to work on. And really, to be truthful, my blog is a way to provide content about my business to people who are interested in hot glass and the studio in a more expansive way (instead of the short quips of twitter and Facebook). It is an opportunity for me to discuss issues that may even be tangential but connected to making art, design, and hot glass. I also use it occasionally as a tool for informing my art students where I work part time, and it may be that this represents a sudden shift in my content and might even put readers off who follow my blog, I don’t know. Its been something of an experiment, and is one I will keep working on. It may be that in order to gain more interest my post will become more trimmed down to meet the growing shortening “quips” we see on the internet. Sadly, our world is becoming more like this as we are presented with content nonstop that all seeks to grab out attention. I must admit that my interests with the blog are more along the lines of reading a chapter in a book, something to think about, delve into, to consider. Perhaps I need to think about expanding my content to include more about my field, people in my field, and about how global influences are at work. And really, anyone with ideas, I am all over it. I have long thought that a trade of posts would be great….interviews with other artists….a round table….or posts that include gallery owners about who what when where and why.
The past week has been a busy one for me with ordering the supplies needed for the project as well as getting ready for a donor party at the studio, which I am hoping we can swing by the 24th come heck or high water. Finishing first and early has its benefits. And if you are reading this and you shared the news or gave, you did good! You really did do a great thing that goes beyond just one simple campaign. It gave me hope back, it gave me a place to create again and to launch a new product. It has also made it possible for many people to come out and see what their own creativity has to offer them. And that is a really wonderful thing. ❤
Onward and upward! A village did it!