Why Art

Note: In late October I began to dig out my studio after having sold my home and moved onto the studio property. While renovating a mobile home on the property originally intended for an employee to live in, I decided the best way to do it was if I lived in it during this period of transition. The studio was packed with belongings and I began to move out the things I wanted to keep and toss what I don’t need anymore.

The glass furnace was in the process of being rebuilt when I had a furnace block fall on my hand, nearly pinning me under the block. Watching it all as it happened, I was able to move quickly out of the way. Still, it snapped one finger and fractured another. My hand had bruising and after a visit to the E.R., the finger was reset and put in a splint. X-rays revealed the damage, though, and surgery was required to fix my smallest finger. In many ways, the surgery created even more damage in order to reconstruct the finger so I might still be able to use it. It’s amazing how losing use of one finger can affect your grip and dexterity!

As a result, progress has been slowed at the studio and the pace has suddenly changed. I have had to rely on the help of others when my cast has kept my hand largely immobilized for a month and a half. That said, I’m very close to having the studio operational again. A large order of glass was made a month ago and I now have colors in that I haven’t used before. I look forward to using colors for iridizing as well as colors for making pumpkins when we are ready. It has also given me pause recently to bring in a technician to assess my furnace doors and suggests ways to automate opening and closing them (he comes tomorrow).  This will come in very handy in the years to come. While things have been busy, I am now having downtime imposed by the injury. It seems a good time to do some writing on a blog I have neglected now for months.

For more information about the studio, classes, as well as the designs that I make, go to my Facebook page HERE and look through the feed to see work by students in the past. Until then, some writing on creativity, glass, and other things…

If the link doesn’t work for your device, copy and paste this link into your browser:

https://www.facebook.com/Stafford-Art-Glass-273860936858/

 


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We create to express and communicate ideas, feelings, and experiences. The arc of art is so broad and takes in such broad swaths of considerations and mindsets. It’s been used to express religious fervor and religious ideas, political propaganda, social justice (speaking truth to power) as well as recreating the beauty of nature. Art accepts all comers. The only rule is that there are no rules. You get to make your own. How that winds up turning out is really up to the artist, and if you are a professional artist, your ideas need to hit a nerve in order to gain acceptance most often. If, however, you create art as a hobby, you are the freest of the free; you can create just as you wish to create. I have, as I have gotten older, sought a path through both of these polarities because I have found that my greatest discoveries came when I wasn’t worried about the bottom line. It has also served to inform my teaching at the university level as well as in my own studio.

This has led me to treat my studio as something akin to a temple of sorts. I wouldn’t call it a dogmatic temple, but one that seeks to serve the one great pole that everything in the studio turns around, which is the North Star I call creativity. It turns out, that while you can be very creative while under pressure and under fire, there is another mode where creativity works even better, which is in an environment completely free from fear or any outside concerns. This is part of my “temple” idea and is why I treat it as a place where I do my best to lay aside all outside concerns of life in order to be truly free to create.

I have spent decades studying the mind/body connection to creativity in the hope of building my own creative potential as a maker and creator. Along the way I found much more than I bargained for, and I found it not by taking up a discipline like psychology or some other science, but by going to a place few go. It has led me to a new understanding of how creativity works and how our own brain and mind are involved. It’s revolutionary. But because I don’t have peer reviewed articles or a degree in the field, I speak from the authority of my own heart and my own experience….backed up through my years of careful observation and creative practice. Now it’s not my intention to go into what all of this entails. That seems too weighty a thing for this time of year as we are stepping out of the darkness of winter while anticipating the light of Spring. I note that for the next few months, we have probably some of the coldest weather ahead of us.

I’m a glass blower whose background is in sculpture. I came late to glass and spent a decade working full time in the field. I did a lot of catching up in that time in order to build a stable of designs that would sustain me in my chosen profession. I learned a lot on my own that I was not taught directly. The truth is, I had one graduate level introductory glass course. The rest, I did on my own, even while studying for my MFA at the University Of Southern Illinois at Carbondale in the early 90’s. I worked alone once my own studio was built in 1997, and my studio was never open to the public for the first seven years of operation. My studio space was small and unsafe for people to be in except for experienced glass blowers. When I had an assistant for the first time, we had to find a way to move in that cramped space so we didn’t slap each other with molten glass. It also got unbelievably hot, which is itself quite dangerous for anyone who might be sensitive to heat. Slowly, I began to have open studio events where the public could come see glassblowing from the safety of a small area in the studio. When I had the opportunity to move to Southwest Virginia, which is where I grew up, the only building for sale during my move turned out to be perfect for glass. I have found that there is this curious thing that happens when you are doing things right for yourself. It’s a form of serendipity that we call synchronicity. Serendipity is like a happy accident that works out, but synchronicity involves your having already thought about something that then happens I a rather interesting, but personally significant way. When these happen, it’s as though some larger force is involved in making the perfect events fall into place. These have happened to me personally for years, but were largely limited to those singular big moves in life. Read in and you will see how this synchronicity played out in my move…

A year before I made my move, I sat down and sketched out my dream studio. I was careful to calculate the square footage of the space in my studio notebook. I quickly forgot about that sketch from 2005, a year before I even knew I would be making the move, and didn’t find it again until 2011 when I was looking for something, maybe a glass recipe. When I found my sketch from 2005, it seemed that my drawing was eerily similar in size to the new studio (which I had no control,over finding….it was the only commercial building on the market so I took what I could get at the time) I realized upon doing the calculations of the new building that my new studio was 150 square feet larger than the square footage of my drawing. It seemed like a wish had come through loud and clear. This was significant as it related to offering glass classes because one of the calculations in my drawing from 2005 was to have the kind of space where I could offer classes, which wasn’t possible in the space I was in at the time.

What this new studio offered, with its greatly expanded space and vaulted ceilings, was the opportunity to offer glassblowing to the public. I wasn’t so sure that I wanted to do this at first, but then something happened that began to change all of that. This has to do with the nature of creativity and the discovery I made about the workings of the mind and the brain (which isn’t important for my purposes here, except that something was the trigger that got this effort moving). What I found was that by thinking about how best to make glass accessible to the public, I was able to develop a method of teaching glass that can take someone who has never done glass before and allowed them to begin realizing designs straight out of the gate.

Glassblowing has for centuries been known as a team effort. While I worked alone and bucked the trend, I had worked on teams in graduate school and understood how they worked pretty well. I folded this aspect into my thoughts on how to teach glass to beginners. We would work as a team. By doing this, I could perform the steps that take years to master while giving the student over 80% of the actual work in making their pieces. Some people just want some level of involvement but don’t want to spend weeks or months learning a few important glass techniques. Others are interested in glass in a more involved way. For them, they are willing to plough through the piles of lost pieces in order to develop technique or skill.

The thing is that creativity is not dependent on skill. Creativity is what we are deeper down. No matter the area of human endeavor, creativity is everywhere. It doesn’t need to be art. How we build houses, the ideas that go to make for a new invention….all of this and more are the traces left by creativity. But for me, the question was how to teach glass so that I can excite, then inspire my students, which is where creativity emerges most readily. This is not a teachable thing, and things that you cannot teach are part of who we are. This is experiential. So the way began to unfold for me.

By not getting caught up In technique, I came at teaching art or craft from a unlikely direction. Students were encouraged to think wildly, without the constraints that technique tends to impose and I became the technician and my students became the designer. Yes, in some cases, I did the technical work myself, but the student was there gathering the glass, shaping or “marvering” as I guided them along on what step to do next. By doing the heats, the stretches, blowing into the optic mold to get ribs in the glass, I was able to let students realize as much of their creative energy without frustrating them with the technical issues. The result?

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A suncatcher made by a first-time student

People, by and large, have a great time and do amazing work. They love it. I suspect that letting people feel wildly free in a supportive “anything-goes” environment has something to do with it. This also has everything to do with how creativity operates. Think about it. When you are in the inspired moment, how do you feel? One element of the creative moment is the feeling as though anything is possible. It’s a feeling of expansiveness, Of excitement, and we most often are moved to make something. The reality, though, is that once the inspired moment passes, the new idea often has many hours of work involved in order to develop the inspired concept or idea. And this takes time.  This is where the technical or the craft comes into the picture. How best to not get students tangled up in technique lest their creativity gets frustrated in the details? Hmmmm…

 

When I was an undergraduate art student, I realized a years worth of work over the course of a four hour intensive moment of sheer inspiration. I was alone, thinking of what I needed to do, wanted to do, for my thesis exhibition while studying at Berea College in Berea Kentucky. I’m a sculptor, so I couldn’t very well just make my ideas on the spot. I had no idea how my pieces were going to be constructed. I didn’t have the technical details worked out. But I had ideas. So I just let them out by drawing very quickly and then grabbing pieces of foam-cor, wax, paint, and a few small tools like a sharp butter knife and a razor blade, and began making models. All of this was amazingly fast and I realized ideas that kept up with the blazing speed of my creativity. When I was done, I had my whole year laid out in front of me. I would have gotten mired in the technical details if I had tried to think about how I was actually going to build these things. I have since used the same type of method for visualizing new work ever since.

In graduate school eight years later,  with five months to go before my thesis show, I realized I didn’t want to make the pieces I was doing at the time, and decided to make an abrupt change. With only five months remaining, this might have sounded like insanity, but I felt like I needed to do something more.  And then came the synchronicity that helped solidify my feeling into resolve. The same day as I was thinking about this and wondering if I could pull it off, I saw an old wet eagle perched in a dead tree along the road to town. For me, this was a sign. My creativity was like that eagle, and it was cold, wet, and stuck to that dead tree, which was the old work. My own eagle (my creativity) really wanted to soar. So I got to work immediately and re-visioned a whole new body of work in a weeks time. It all worked out, actually, even if I was working right up until the day before the show was installed.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but this would help me later when trying to teach people how to tap their own creative juices in the glass hot shop.

Wait. What? Hang on, let me explain.

I think that the biggest thing that I hope people can take-away who come to the studio is realizing the power of their own creativity. What most often stymies people is their fear. Fear of failure, fear of not being able to “do it right” or some other fear-based thinking. It might not be the same kind of fear as when facing a bear in the woods, say, but it’s something that is nonetheless real to most people. And glass comes to the rescue because you can dribble glass on the floor and it will look beautiful. It seems for as intensive as Glass is as a material in the technical realm, it starts off from a very beautiful place. By letting the glass be what it is, designs can be realized very quickly and if students are willing to let their work be a kind of adventure, a lot of really amazing stuff gets made. Glass is a material that seems to me to naturally want to flow when it’s hot. To do that, you have to push glass to the edge of your ability to control it. To do this means you just have to trust the glass sometimes to become fluid or to begin to be at that place where it could all just spin out of control. This is a bit like the self as it tries to relate to creativity, is it not? Your reasoned self has to let go of trying to control your wild creativity if anything amazing is ever going to come through. Most people wind up being so controlled, unknowingly, and glass helps them to let their hair down a little, to loosen up, to relax, and to be a little more free-thinking at the creative level.

Not long ago, I had a local artist who wanted to make some pieces in the shop for some sculpture she was making. She had very definite ideas about one of the pieces and we went about making that piece. It didn’t quite reach the level that either of us had envisioned. Then I turned to her and asked her what her thoughts were on the next piece. She had ideas, but then stopped herself and said that she was interested in my just going with the flow. That’s speak for collaboration. Years ago I tried to make some work for another sculptor based on her ideas but I was really keeping my own ideas out of the mix because I wanted this to be her work not mine. I actually had an idea that I held back on bringing out for her project because I felt like she might feel like it wouldn’t wind up being “hers.” In the end, after working through several iterations that weren’t working out, I said that I had this idea I had been wanting to try in my own work for years. She said that this was what she wanted me to do, to do my end of it bringing whatever it was I was interested in. She wanted to collaborate! I was late to the party! The result was “perfect” in a certain sense, and everything began falling into place in this odd serendipitous way. Once I began, I found that I had piping that I considered using in the glass that just so happened to sleeve perfectly over metal rods that she had already built into her sculpture months before. We didn’t have to source any materials from outside the studio. It was, in a word, easy.

 

In the same way, then, my artist friend recently was able to get a piece that was over-the-top amazing. What made it so great was a mishap with the piece that resulted in its dropping off the pipe and onto the floor. This meant picking the piece up “off-axis” and applying a colored wrap of glass off the original axis as the bubble of glass is oriented to the pipe. What I have found is that my greatest discoveries come when things like this happen. They happen because they force me out of my comfort zone and my old way of thinking. This is just what creativity asks of us if we are to make truly ground-breaking work. When you are faced with losing a piece, something interesting happens, at least with me….which is, with nothing more to lose, the magic comes racing out of the bag because you have nothing left to lose. Here, I’m working at the “edge” of what might be possible or likely…..and the unlikely emerges most often. I tend to feel as though creativity has conspired to break me out of my familiar in order to create the new. It’s not merely an accident, it’s what accidents can do to you mentally and emotionally in that split second when you realize if you don’t act quick, you could lose the piece you have been working so hard on. Her, the accident has become my unlikely conspirator in breaking out of old modes of working, being, thinking, and making. I know that this might sound like insanity to some of you, and honestly, had it not happened a slew of times, I might have not caught on to its raw potential.  Bear in mind though, I’m not talking about going into the studio with the thought of having work crashing to the floor in mid-make. Nope. Read on….

I know that in my field this is something that most artisans group into accidents and sloppy work. As a result, events like these often tend to go unproved for their potential. I’m not suggesting that I go into the studio hoping for accidents, but to learn how to be more and more free in what it is I think I can make. And this is very much what a newbie faces when they come into the studio. Maybe they have seen beautiful glass vases or other forms in their life and they have no idea how to make them, but their ideas can be limited by what they have seen from that past.  Sometimes it’s fun to copy in order to learn, but when it comes to feeling creative and letting it off the leash, a different approach is often the best one. You need a way to match the wild and fast energy that is the natural velocity that creativity needs to travel at. You never know about this “velocity” unless you get into an experience where you are forced to make decisions very quickly. Luckily, glass is made very quickly, all things considered. It is the perfect material for being able to move with the restless energy of creativity to create a series of work within hours or days instead of months or years. Instantaneous gratification? Maybe so, in a way.

What I’m saying here is that I take all comers. I can work in a very controlled technical way and I can support the creativity that is lurking half-realized. I can’t begin to tell you what might come through our collective hands at the studio, but by giving a tap of the hat to the very nature of our creativity while working within the confines of the glass world, some pretty amazing things can be made.

In the months to come, I will be finally getting back to the studio to work full time again. It’s been years since I have been able to do this. With an injury when I moved that sidelined me for a year, a divorce the following year, and a studio but no funds to fuel its start-up, I took to teaching at the university. But in a synchronistic way, events have fallen into place at a favorable time to go back to blowing glass. And I can’t be happier, hopefully I can keep from breaking any more bones and can settle into an exciting and challenging schedule of glass glass glass!

 

If you are interested in classes, or just to come watch glass being blown, announcements will be made publicly on my Facebook page. Classes will include offhand glassblowing, and torch worked glass (bead making). Glassblowing will be available first while the bead making studio has to be built around the torches I already have in-house and will take some time to build the tables, venting, and small kilns, tools, etc., in place before classes can be offered. My hope is that I will be offering both by next Fall. Please “like” my Facebook page as well as to remain more up to date on events and classes there.

https://www.facebook.com/Stafford-Art-Glass-273860936858/

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The Mystery Of Libya’s Desert Glass

I was on my last few hours of my open studio event recently, when in walks a woman who begins to tell me a story about how her father had gotten funding to study the presence of a naturally occurring form of glass in the desert of Libya in the ’50’s.

I was hooked because….well….chemistry, that’s why. And….glass of course!

You see, naturally occurring glass is rare because most often the glass is close to being pure silica simply because sand beds where the glass is formed is made up of almost exclusively silica. When you make a glass so pure as 90%+ a silica, it takes extraordinary temperatures to get the silica to go into a glass phase. It is why we humans have added things to silica to coax it down from the high temperatures required to melt it. Simply put, we use fluxes to achieve a lower melt temperature  

But the temperatures! My God! 
To melt pure silica you need temperatures in excess of 3100° Fahrenheit. It’s hotter than even the best constructed open air fire could hope to reach on earth. 
Without going into great detail, the types of magmas found coming up out of the earth have temperature ranges that depend on their mineral content. High silica magma, like the glass found in Libya, is recorded with a high mean temperature of 1472° Farenenheit. This is called Felsic magma and it’s lower temperatures are due to how magma, we believe, is formed in the earth, which is that iron is melted first, and then flows up through cracks and fissures in the earth into what we know to be volcanos and volcanic vents. As a result of this, sand, which we think lies at layers higher up, only tends to get a lesser heating effect so that it’s average temperature is lower than iron rich magma, whose temperatures are much higher.
Comparing the melting point of silica and it’s average melt temperature through natural means yields us a very broad temperature disparity. What gives? How on earth could this glass have been formed here so close to the surface of the earth where so much of this material has been found?
First, you should know that glass (or silica) does not have a discreet melting temperature. Instead, it has what we call a melting range. It’s not unlike how honey will change viscosity from thick to thin all depending on the temperature that is affecting it. So while silica forms a perfect union all on its own of a glass we call quartz glass (nearly pure silica) at 3100° F. it begins to go into a glass phase at lower temperatures. At 14-1500° F. silica is glass-like, but it’s also very much sand-like, too.  You would look at it and tell that its a very crude form of glass (very unlike the glass found in Libya).
The question on everyone’s mind has been, how did this Libyan desert glass form to begin with?
The Comet Theory
First, there are a lot of theories. One theory is that the silica was heated in our atmosphere as a result of a comet that fell to earth millions of years ago. This, the theory goes, was what created the extraordinary heat necessary to melt the silica.
But there are problems with this theory. A body falling to earth only takes a few minutes to go from our upper atmosphere to the surface of the earth, which may not be nearly enough time to heat up a comet and fuse the quartz into the glass that has been discovered on the desert floor. To make glass like what my visitorsfather studied in the ’50’s, you need enough time to really get the melt right. A meteor can enter our upper atmosphere and fall to earth within 15 minutes time (or less). Hardly enough time to get the silica cooking deep down in a comet.
The Volcano Theory

Another theory is that the silica was heated by volcanic means. Normally, however, we wind up seeing either basalt glasses, or very crude lower temperature glasses of the kind I described earlier. The Libyan glass is different from both of these kinds of volcanic glasses.
So as a result, researchers who have been studying this for a while now have looked at the region and have offered a new theory.

The Sol-gel Theory
When researchers began to study the geology of this area they found evidence of ancient volcanic activity. in fact in what they considered to be the bullseye of where most of the glass is found they also found a corresponding evidence of ancient volcanic activity in exactly the same area. Normally volcanic activity is not enough to melt silica into the type of glass that we find in the Libyan Desert glass.
There is a process however where silica can be heated over and over many times in order to create glass from silica. Researchers posit that the glass was made through a process called sol-gel which consists of small silica particles that melt and then slowly form glass, a process that could take many years of repeated heating and cooling in order to form a solid glass. One example of a sol-gel that you might be familiar with are opals, which are silica based particles along with other minerals that are repeatedly heated in volcanic vents that form the gems with rainbow colors that we know so well. The reason why the Libyan glass does not look like opals is because the conditions and the substance of the silica beds were very different than the ones in Australia that produce opals (which is a sol-gel process).
This theory offers the most likely possibility for how the Libyan glass was formed. While we can never be completely sure, it seems that in this one place on earth conditions were right many millions of years ago for this unique form of glass to be created.
I’m very thankful to have had such an interesting conversation with Robin who first told me about her father’s work because it put me on the path of a great mystery that lies in the sands of the Libyan desert. And of course, since it’s about glass, it naturally piqued my interest!
Source: http://nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/magma/

American Glass Manufacturers Under Fire

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

SOURCE LINK:

http://us1.campaign-archive1.com/?u=6b0adb646b23845dc5f96fed3&id=3a40357fe1


 

Advocate for Glass Art
View this email in your browser

If you’ve been following the news in the glass world…

You already know that Spectrum Glass is halting production and going out of business in the next few months. Uroboros Glass in Portland will be picking up production of the System 96 product line. However, the situation in Portland is growing out of control with knee jerk reactions to some sensationalist journalism not based on science, but based in fear and speculation. Production at Bullseye Glass is being suspended with the prohibition of use of the heavy metals necessary to produce colored glass.

There are a handful of glass manufacturers in the US who are being forced to introduce expensive equipment into their manufacturing process without a clear and reasonable timeline for implementing these procedures. If you would like to contact your Representatives in Washington to let them know that the glass art industry is a precious part of the US economy that we don’t want to see disappear due to unreasonable regulations, a sample letter is below. Feel free to change it up. If you’d like to learn more about the situation, there is a group on Facebook dedicated to Glass Artists for Air Quality.

To find your Senator: http://www.senate.gov/senators/contact/
To find your Representative: http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/

Dear Senator or Representative,
This week Spectrum Glass in Washington announced that after 40 years of producing colored art glass they will be closing their doors in July. They are the main American manufacturer of many types of colored art glass. This affects an estimated 30,000 Stained Glass, Fused Glass and Glass Blowing Artists, Stores, Art Studios and Hobbyists across America. Fortunately, arrangements have been made for Uroboros Glass in Oregon state to take over production of some of their Art Glass Product line. But there is still a huge problem threatening the American Art Glass Community.
The entire U.S. art glass industry is now being evaluated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with respect to potential new regulations. Spectrum is the first to announce it’s closure, but other glass producing companies are also evaluating their options. Uroboros Glass has suspended production of two-thirds of their glass while EPA re-evaluates their standards. Long-standing interpretations of air quality regulations are being reevaluated, and if new regulations are applied to our industry, it would require substantial capital expenses. Spectrum Glass Company has operated well within existing environmental guidelines and has been the only stained glass manufacturer to employ baghouse technology on furnace exhaust. Still, they have already accrued extraordinary, unanticipated expenses since the start of the EPA evaluation and cannot withstand additional investments of an unknown scale. These business collapses will have a ripple effect across the country.
What you need to know:
  • The stained and colored glass industry is a small, but home grown American manufacturing phenomenon. It’s unique in the world, provides steady manufacturing jobs for American workers, and is an exporting industry as well.
  • This industry of just six manufacturers is facing $2.5-3.5 million of capital investment due to regulatory changes with no advance warning. This investment may prove too much for several of them to bear.
  • Government intervention is needed for them to meet the goals of the new regulations in such a short time frame.
  • The industry is willing to meet new regulations, but it needs reasonable time to do so.
  • The manufacturers are all owned by single individuals and their families, who work daily at their plants. They don’t have the resources of publicly traded corporations to simply pay up and move on.
  • These manufacturers supply thousands of other businesses and craftsmen who depend on their unique glass styles to complete their work. They are now at risk of being put out of work themselves.
  • The very suppliers who have created the iconic glass of the American stained glass legacy are at risk due to this situation.
  • There is currently no actual verification that the glass industry is connected to the detected toxins. EPA did moss testing, a new science, which raised public concern. They retested and found the levels to be safe. The current EPA review and imposed freeze of production is all based in fear not fact.
I want to protect the environment, but I do not want to crush an American Art Industry on assumed causation.

Please do whatever you can to prevent the loss of small businesses, jobs and and entire art form. The American Art Glass community needs your help.

Regards,
Your Name

Copyright © 2016 Architectural Glass Arts, All rights reserved.

 

New Year (Glass) Wishes

Orbit Slice Copyright

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.


 

Deep Orbit 2 Copyright

 

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.

Orbital Landscape Copyright

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.

From 0862-2Copyright

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.

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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.

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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!

 

For A Snowy Day

For the last month I have been busily making ornaments (done!) and small Gaia lamps (done!), and am now doing the grinding and drilling of the vases to light them.  I have begun making the large pieces now, and have two of eight made, at a studio in Northern Virginia.  Over the last week I have had two people claim their perks from the campaign.  One was a family who had a series of pieces made; two paperweights, a small drinking glass for a delightful little lady, a  small gold ruby ruffled vase, and a large pink and purple Nautilus bowl. Its been a lot of shuttling back and forth in cold weather, but worth it.

Once the pieces have been drilled and lit, all items will next be packed and shipped.  The weather has been glitchy the last couple of weeks, resulting in the family that came recently to reschedule due to a power outage.

©Parker Stafford

©Parker Stafford

Today, with snow coming down, I hope to get out to the studio to get more large vases assembled before the weather gets so bad that we have another power outage.  Fingers crossed!  Unfortunately, in the area where the studio is located, power outages are far too common.

So before I head out I am including these pieces that were made a number of years ago as examples of pieces that can be made once the studio here is operational.  These pics are all from the same piece, which goes to show just how much variety that can be packed into a piece such as this.  I hope it helps brighten your day, especially if you hail from our neck of the woods, which is facing as much as a foot of snow in the next 24 hours.  Enjoy!  Stay warm!

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Diary Of A Crowfunding Effort

Brie Jackson & Parker

Brie Jackson of WSLS News in Matrix Gallery after the interview

 

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.

Media Coverage

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.

The Metrics

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.

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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.

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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!

HERE IS THE CAMPAIGN LINK