The New

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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.

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My Indiegogo Campaign Link (Draft Mode!)

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Proposed Design For Coffee Mug Design Perk on Indiegogo. ©Parker Stafford

The campaign for the Gaia Lamp is swiftly getting underway with a link to the campaign on indiegogo.  Right now it is in draft mode, which means that I am making adjustments and changes can be made.  If you have suggestions from perks to ways to tighten up the copy, I am all ears (and eyes)! This new design is really great, bringing  to your homes or someone whom you love, a warmth and creative flair!  Its art glass AND lighting all in one!  Everyone who has gotten to see them have all remarked how it transforms a room. Wonderful anywhere mood lighting is needed.  Bedrooms, foyers, living rooms, the possibilities are endless.  While there is one sample that shows the work, I have a number of different sizes from approximately 7″ tall (mini night-light version) to the full-sized version on the campaign site (approximately 12″ tall) as well as a globe in the works.  ALL of these design have been made before, just not as a light feature, so there is no question about HOW to make them.  This campaign is full steam ahead!  So….share this with your friends because the more coverage I can get, the greater the possibility that I can reach my goal!

http://www.indiegogo.com/project/preview/22b29132

Want to contact me to find out how you can become involved in this exciting effort?  It can be as simple as sharing this post and the links with your friends and fellow bloggers. It can also be more involved, such as reviewing copy, and giving design advice about the campaign.  There are perks available for this type of involvement!

Proposed Mug Design For Indiegogo perk. ©Parker Stafford

Proposed Mug Design For Indiegogo perk. ©Parker Stafford

Getting Lit

All drinking jokes aside, this week was one that was kind of big in one of those perfectly understated sort of ways.  It made a big splash, though, as people began contacting me about this new idea I was working on.  It has been….gosh…. maybe two years in the making?  It seems that this happens a lot with me.  It isn’t always because of laziness, but just how  things seem to happen. But the funny thing is that they almost always wind up as amazing for some reason, these back-burner ideas.  The really popular ones…In 1999 I came up with an idea for a galaxy inside of a rock, which I made the first prototypes for that year.  The pieces I made were interesting, but they were not worth writing home about.  Not for me.  Not for a business that set up shop in fairs all across the country whose success was necessary in order to support a business as well as a family at home.  For an artist, this is an order that is tall and is something you are always having to make strategic decisions about in order to keep the business solvent.  One or two flops can result in wasted time, lost revenue, and a sputtering business.

So this piece was  put on the back burner and after a couple of years were pulled off the back burner during a slow summer.  This piece has evolved, though,  from a time-consuming glass piece that took 40 minutes to make each,  to an awesome design made in six minutes with an assistant.  This goes to show how things can change in ways you could never believe could happen.  When you are blowing glass at 40 minutes per piece , it is hard to believe you would be making them one every six minutes. So that is the backdrop behind this next piece I am going to show you that got made this past week.

The story on how this piece came to be is an interesting one and shows that good things come to those who wait.

It was about two years ago during the holiday rush when I was hosting a long line of people who were coming into the studio to blow ornaments and suncatchers for the season.  This is a huge amount of fun for people. I have figured out a way to help people to make beautiful glass ornaments with just a few steps done by me with the bulk being done by the customer. When you consider that it literally takes years to master this art/craft, this is kind of big thing for people to have access to glass. It was during this that an old family friend, Ann Roberts, who teaches at Radford University and who I worked with the Glass Garden (see the archives) came to the studio with a group of people she put me in touch with who blew glass at my studio.  While she was at the studio one day during the holidays,  she was looking at this one vase I had.  It was priced as a second.  I explained that it had not turned out right.  Everything about it was technically right, the colors were off.  The colors had been laid on too dark and this made the piece….well….kind of muddied and dark.  I held it up to the light and saw that it looked fabulous with light shining down into it. Pity it was not a lamp, I said.  Ann then said something about maybe turning it into one. I had actually had this idea for years about making my vases into….LAMPS.  Beautiful stained glass windows of lamps…custom creations unlike anything you have ever seen.  And the idea for this project was born!

We talked enough about it that day when she was in the studio that it was decided.  I would hold onto her vase and would drill into it and try to light it from within.  Ann was game and so was I.

Things have been up and down and up and down since then in keeping the studio open.  The economy has not been helpful, but it is true that hotglass is one of the most expensive fields to go into next to jewelry.  It takes a lot to get a studio operational and keep it operational.  It is a challenge.  But I like challenges, and it is one reason why I was able to run the studio full-time for over 12 years until my shoulder injury shut the studio down for a full year, with efforts after that resulting in sputtering.  Penny-wise and pound foolish.  Yeah.

So even though the studio has been in hibernation, I was able to afford a special diamond bit that would allow me to drill out this vase for Ann.  Then, a couple of days ago,  I headed to my hardware store with vase in hand and got the materials I needed to light this piece up.

The result?  I took pictures.  Its an amazing piece, a wonderful idea, a great concept.  But one thing that the pictures don’t show is how the lamp affects the space around it.  THIS is the really cool part! The same warm feeling that you get when you start a fire was the effect that this vase had on the space.  It created a warmth and a feeling of peace. Cool, too, that the bulb was a fluorescent.  Normally, I would not use these for glass.  I have this love-hate relationship with fluorescent.  It is cheap, but it’s also not a full type of light.  It is a gas that gets excited.  There is something wan about this light, I have always felt.  However, moving through THIS glass, the rules seem to have changed.  And this is good because it makes this design efficient.

The vase shot a brilliant white orb from its interior up on the ceiling and the walls were bathed in its golden glow. This was something I was expecting, hoping for actually.  There was a great satisfaction standing there looking at how the ceiling was washed with this nice white orb on the ceiling.  It created the kind of diffuse light that I have ALWAYS liked.  Maybe it comes from my days working in a painting studio with northern light.  This kind of light always strikes me as festival lighting.  You know what I mean when I say that?  In the waning light of the winter, we have these festival and feast days.  Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years.  And having candles out and the fire burning bright just feels….cozy, right?  This was the effect this piece had.  Perfect!  I have some final shots of the completed piece at the end of the post.

Highlights of red, orange, yellows, and browns helped to seal the deal as I surveyed the effects this piece had on its surroundings.  The pictures are dramatic, but they sometimes can look more like a piece that is being lit really well from the outside rather than something that is lit from its interior.  This is being lit, obviously, from the inside, but if I had not told you this, you might not have noticed. The effect on the space was magic.  It was even better then I had expected.

So lets take a look at the results and I will try to get some pictures from my phone over here to look at so you can see a little more about the project.  I will warn you, my phone pics are not the greatest, but they work for field work…

The first part was drilling out (near) the bottom of the vase.  This is done with a wet feed drill bit embedded with diamond so the glass does not crack from the heat of the bit cutting the glass.

vase drilled

Then after this, I had to work out a solution for running a wire through this hole in a way that was secure and visually pleasing.  This is the bare wire I had stripped, ready to be wired into the light kit…

vase lamp wire

I had to come up with a custom solution for fixing the wiring in the glass. The solution that I came up with worked the first time, which was nice.  Sometimes these things wind up becoming a hunt for just the right thing.

 

The wiring was pulled out enough so that once I installed the light kit the light bulb could be pulled out of the vase to be changed (not everyone could get their hand down inside the vase).

vase lamp wire 2So the wire length is set in the pic above and the light kit will be attached to these bare wires.  Vase drilled, and the wiring fixed in the bottom of the piece.

Now its on to wiring the light kit.  But before I do that, let me show you a shot taken in the afternoon light on my living room floor as I worked on all of this that shows how the wire is secured in the piece.

vase lamp wire installedSo the fixing of the wiring will keep the wire from being pulled out from the interior of the vase. This is an interior view, below.

vase lampwire in the vase

Okay.  So now for the lighting kit!

vase lamp light kitI chose a heavy duty ceramic fixture that would give the light kit weight in the vase.  Being a prototype, there are more improvements that I will make, but all of this is entirely workable.

Once all of this was done and  I tested the light for proper operation, I installed an inline switch that will allow the user to turn the light off within a foot or two of the fixture itself.  This is a heavy duty light switch that is the best on the market.  It will last for years and is a nice safe switch to use.

Okay, so the rest of the pics are of some quick pictures I took with my other camera!

 

Lamp 1

What is cool about how I do this design is the dimensional quality that I can achieve, which is to say that when I combine colored glass powders with the other glass colors the effect has depth.  The effect is different from most anything else I have ever seen in glass (that is blown thin like this piece).  It comes from my relentless drive towards creating effects in glass that no one has yet done.  No one taught me this, I had to develop it through trial and error, through what large corporations call R&D.  I have been lucky in that most of what I have attempted has tended to yield really good results (even when tinkering).

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Lamp 3

There are, currently, about three different applications of this glass design that I am thinking about using for lighting.  One is a torchiere-based lamp with a large sumptuous glass feature expanding out from the center. All of it, though, including the hardware, will have to be built from the ground up.  the stuff coming to us from China is simply too light weight for something of the kind I will be making.  So yes, expensive, but yet, one of a kind.  Unique.  There are people out there who value this kind of thing still.  Something so visually arresting and unlike anything else that it makes a statement in the room.  This is what winning design is about; winning designs help make a room.  Take a lamp like this out of its space and you are left with a visual vacuum.  Being custom, it has a look that is just….different.  The knobs to turn it on are heavier, made of better materials.  the knobs do not wobble in their normaly cheap housings. They are sturdy.  Being the Rolls Royce of lighting, everything is built to last.  This you know you will hand down to your children, to your grand-kids. People will talk about it, noticing it upon entering the room.  “Where did you GET that?” are the words so often said.

The other design is a more traditional table-sized lamp that includes a base that is lit just like this vase, but that also includes a lamp shade made using the same color design, but with a bowl/shade that it inverted over the upper portion of the light to create its sumptuous glow.  This one will have at least three high intensity lamps up inside the shade with a dimmable feature. The base will be broad, made of a sculpted bronze fitting that will give the entire design a nice stability.  It will have a masculine warmth with a cast bronze central shaft but with a verdigris patina (which is blue-green) to contrast and compliment the warmth of the glass.  The result will be striking and fabulous.  Interested in Art Nouveaux, I would design the base to have an organic effect, but not a rehash of the wonderful but now-overplayed Tiffany era bases which we have all grown to know.  Maybe I will call this Retronouveaux.  It will have a heavier build, which gives it a greater balance between the feminine undulating forms and a supportive solidity which will give these works something that the originals did not.  They didn’t need to.

This, though, is how these things go.  They often are the result of a number of interesting events that all combine to create something that is not always anticipated.  Now that this is out there, the question is where will I be able to take this…

What’s next?  Well….I need to get the studio running again so I can make some of these pieces.  That means ordering the glass, getting propane to run the reheating furnaces and paying for electricity.  Then after that, I have to work up waxes to use for the forms that will be cast in bronze.  Then after that, there is the investment casting that has to be made (this is making the heat-resistant mold that will hold the 2,000 degree bronze once it’s poured).    That, though, is enough fodder for another blog post!

Perhaps what is in order is a crowd funding effort to raise the funds to bring this design to market.  Now the question is, do I keep this on the back burner or strike while the iron is hot?

 

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!

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

How We Are Different…

For those who are curious about blowing glass themselves at the studio, this will help you to understand a little more what to expect if you do blow glass for the first time.  I also suggest reading the BYOB post a few entries down the line as well.

Lindsey

Over the course of this past season when we had the bulk of the people coming out to blow glass I was told how I let people do more actual working of the glass than other studios do.  To put this into perspective, most studios when holding an event of this type do not allow their “students” do much more than pick the colors that will go into the piece and then blow into a hose at the end to inflate their ornament.  That in itself can be a real thrill for anyone who has never been involved in glassblowing, sure enough. Having worked with glass, knowing its secrets, knowing how amazing a material it is, I have to be honest and say this is not the best way to expose people to the wonders of glass. I know that some studio’s have concerns about liability, some wont let you onto the blowing floor without  a rope between you and the pad where glass blowers work.  On the one hand it is understandable, but on the other, its not something that a simple explanation about how to keep safe being in the mix wont correct.  At the end of the day we all know that hot glass is an extreme material.  It is one reason why people are drawn to it in the first place.  Children are carefully shown how important it is to stay in certain places while we are working and once you see what it is that we do on the blowing floor, it is easy to remain safe while being up close with this amazing material.  It is an opportunity most people do not get in their lifetimes.  
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A student piece from our December BYOB at Stafford Artglass.

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Yes, all you have to do is watch it being made to “get” how amazing this stuff is…..and yet, there is a significant leap that happens between observing and doing.  Glass is frustratingly difficult to master.  It literally takes years to learn well. The old masters all look forward to getting better with the next piece.  We are all pretty humble when it comes to glass (even those who don’t seem to be when you visit their studios or meet them in person at a gallery).  Having said this, my big challenge has been how to involve people more in actual glass making while not making it so hard that we can’t get an ornament made.
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When I do ornaments with beginners off the street there are several steps that I have to do to ensure that the glass is made right.  This is only because some steps cannot be re-done if they are done incorrectly. Like putting on the hanger/eye that covers the hole where the ornament is knocked off the pipe.  That step has to be done flawlessly because you have to be able to use the heat in the bit of glass used to cover the hole and get it into perfect hanger shape or everything that you have done prior in making the piece is lost.  This step could easily take a day of drilling over and over before a person would get good enough to do it dependably.  I know some beginners years later who are still polishing their skills on making good hangers on ornaments!  And yet, even at the first go, there is so much a person can learn, and then build upon after that.

When you blow an ornament or suncatcher, you select the colors and I lay them out for you.  We talk about what kinds of effects you would like in the glass.  Would you like the color to cascade like a solid ribbon through the glass or would you like all colors to simply blow out straight?  Would you like anything to swirl together, etc.  Once that is determined, we have a basic game plan.  After that, I talk about the blow pipe and how to keep your hands safe from the heat by knowing how to use the blowpipe.  If the person wants to get the glass out of the furnace, they can. This is the most extreme part of the whole process and its not for everyone. It is akin to standing in front of a roaring bon-fire.  It is hot and sometimes the gloves you wear will smoke!  the glass is shaped quickly by me at the bench before the student heats it and rolls the glass in the bits of color.  depending on the intensity of color desired, the student may do this several times, going back from the reheating furnace to the table where the colored glass is kept.  Once this is done, I quickly shape the glass and we begin to initiate what is called a “starter” bubble.  Once this is done, I attach a flexible line to the end of the pipe and when signaled, the student begins to blow gently first into the hose, further inflating the ornament.

Once this has been done, and its most often done very quickly, the suncatcher or ornament is ready to be cooled and broken off the pipe by me.  I run quickly to get a bit of glass for the hanger and it is made and put away into a kiln where it must cool for about 12 hours.

Weekend and day-long classes are different.  While I may do the same steps as mentioned above in the first ornament for a day or weekend class, the point of these classes is to actually give you the skills to balance molten glass on the pipe while blowing/inflating the bubble.  Gradually as the steps are shown by doing pieces, the student is given more and more opportunity to repeat the same steps that were shown as we made an ornament for example. In the beginning I do more of the steps so students can observe and learn and then as we move along, the student does more and more of these steps as they are able.

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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 (hers is the red and pink piece directly above this image)

If you want to do more in glass, being able to repeat the same form several times in order to build skill is what is necessary.  This past season I had two instances where the ornament that was made did not turn out.  The third time for two separate cases was the charm.  However, I and the student both noted just how much faster they were in the second go-round than they were on the first.  It took almost half the time, which speaks to how your own skill increases once you have repeated these forms a few times.  This is progress!  Once you can cut that same time in half again is where I work when doing production in the studio.  And speed is a very good indicator of skill because with hot glass it means that you are anticipating what the glass will do and you can then work with it to utilize the heat to build the form.  You don’t do this as much when you are simply learning what the glass does for the first time.  As a result of this, taking a class that builds on skill is what will actually show you how much you can improve and learn with glass….which is a lot!

For those who have not blown glass as the studio or have not been to the studio before, the following post is an informative way to become accustomed to what it is we offer, such as the Blow Your Ornament Ball (BYOB):

https://staffordartglass.wordpress.com/2013/12/02/making-your-own-ornament-the-b-y-o-b-blow-your-ornament-ball/

People have said I take a lot of time with my students.  I do.  What I want to be able to do is to expose them to glass and hope that the glass does the rest for them.  And I do have an ulterior motive in all of this; if people so enjoy their experience that they tell their friends about it, or show off their creations, they are helping me to get the word out about what it is that I offer.  In a world where we get less cereal in the box for the same size box, I want to continue offering something more than all the rest do.  The looks on the faces of the folks who took the last picture below tells the story better than I could ever do!

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How We Do It

IMG_3455Recently while looking through some stats for my site I noticed that there was a search that was made that led a reader to the blog that asked the question how a glass artist in the New River Valley (that must be me….there is only one glass studio currently in the NRV) how it was that colors and patterns in glass are so closely controlled.

When you can see glass being blown, many questions are answered about how what we achieve with molten glass is achieved.  For a material that you cannot touch due to how hot it is, it can be hard to wrap your head around the idea of very controlled patterns in glass.

The truth is, there are many ways that glass is controlled and to be honest, some of it strikes me as a miracle given that you begin with a gob of glass (and yes “gob” is the technical term for glass just exiting the furnace).  Some methods for controlling glass in this way involve taking strands or canes of colored glass, pulling them out into straw-like lengths and then later cutting them into lengths that are all the same, then spacing them apart in regular distances and rolling the molten glass over them.  This is what we call “cane work.”  This includes lots of variations that lead to long regularly shaped ribbons of color running through the glass.  The Italian cane method called latticino is the result of two layers of the same colored cane (typically white) laid on at odd angles to one another so that they effectively create a lattice.  It creates a pattern of diamonds across the surface and looks highly controlled.  How?  Its controlled and looks controlled because it is.  The raw or clear gob of glass is shaped into a cylinder, is measured by a special device called a pi-divider to make sure that the diameter of the glass is sufficient for the number of canes and the distances that the cane are placed so that once the glass is rolled across them, there is no gaps in the pattern.  This takes measurement and precision.  This is done while working the glass on the end of the blow pipe.

Imagine laying down patterns of color on an artists palette so that the paint looks like a painting, just not on a canvas.  Now imagine that instead of paint, you have glass powders making up the picture.  Now imagine bringing a bit of hot glass and laying it down on this palette of colors and fusing those fine powders to the surface of the glass.  In essence it is like what kids used to do with Silly Putty and the Sunday cartoons; they transfer dye or glass colors onto the Silly Putty or in our case, the glass.  That is another way that we do this.  There are a number of other methods harder to explain but are part of how such controlled patterns are made.

In my work I have developed a way of working over the decades that involves an often-used method of putting glass into a mold that creates a corrugated surface in the glass.  Imagine glass coming out of the mold and looking just like a star fruit.  Do you know this yellow fruit that doesn’t have much flavor but sure looks great in a fruit salad? Well, imagine glass rolling in powdered colored glass.  Now imagine how those powders would tend to congregate into the crevices of the glass.  Then imagine how, using heat, those crevices melt into one another, effectively creating concentrated bands of color where the layers touch.  Now imagine taking that and moving to the next level where these bands are twisted and folded even more until intricate patterns are made.  This is not too much different from latticcino effects except they use powders instead of cane.  This is where all similarities end.  This is also where the technique in my studio gets pushed to the next level.  I don’t talk about this level very much simply because I don’t know anyone who has mastered this method in the way I have and I like very much for my work to be unique.  I once was asked by a beginning glassblower how I achieved the effects that I did in some of my pieces where I was actually able to vary the pattern in the same way that you might be able to take, say, a plaid pattern in cloth and then stretch it in certain areas in order to change the frequency of the pattern.  This was something that I had worked on for years and I realized that in explaining it to this person, I was effectively letting the cat out of the bag.  When it comes to discovery of this sort, huge sums of time and sweat are involved.  I realized the best and simplest way to explain to him what I did was to say it was done with glass powders, to which he said he already KNEW that part.  I then moved to the more obvious thing he was asking with was the patterning.  I explained that it was done by controlling the glass.  His answer was that he already KNEW that also…..he wanted to know EXACTLY how I had achieved this effect that had him scratching his head.  In that moment I realized I was like the magician who was asked by an audience member how they did a certain trick.  Some things are hard to explain and some are easy to explain.  Some things that are easy to explain are also hard-won.  How I do my type of patterning is hard-won and explaining how it is done does not tell the full tale at all since it is in truth fairly intricate and involves a lot of nuanced control that is not always explainable, only illustrated in the moment as it is done.

But it is about control.  It is also about letting the glass be what it is.  When you do this, you get effects in the glass that bring rise to effects that give the material a fluid look.  Much of what I do is just letting the glass BE what it is.  This is not some touchy-feely thing, but a fundamental understanding of the material and its expressive potential.  When you can do this you can move beyond the rigidly controlled looks that some glass has and move into more sensual forms that are organic and more interesting (to me).  Often, too, the glass offers up some amazing and tantalizing opportunities by simply allowing it to be what it is.  This is where control and lack of control meet.  Finding the balance is where the crest of the creative lies (for me).  The truth is, for the methods that I use in my Nautilus Series, anyone can do them as a beginner and get some kind of a result.  That is Artglass101.  What I have done is to take this to Artglass 605 which means years of work and practice and observation.  It was my teacher who said there wasn’t much you could do with powders and large pieces.  I took it upon myself to see if this was true.  I certainly didn’t find this out with any teacher.  I found it out on my own and what I found was that glass powders, when properly understood, offered up incredible potential, even for very large pieces. You just have to understand it and not assume that something is the way it is just because you think it is so.  For something that can create a vague veil of color smeared across the surface of glass on the first try, it is hard for some to understand how it can be taken to the place where it exists in my work.  I like such places because they represent an oasis of creative room where others aren’t trying to copy.  I have seen how my more difficult techniques have been appropriated by a few glass artists and I have been able to see the things that frustrated me initially frustrating them as well.  In one case, the artist stopped making the pieces because he could not get past a certain technical hurdle.  This hurdle, which I had mastered only came by repetition and learning from the glass all that I needed to know.  When you are only interested in trying to pick up a look from another artist to try and fold into your own work, this most often means that you aren’t really very engaged in doing the work necessary to take things to the next level.

There are other methods for getting patterns in the glass which often involve chunks of colored glass fused to the surface of glass.  One is the use of a type of cane called murrine (pronounced marine-ee).  This is where a cane is cut so that it is viewed on end instead of on its side.  You can create pictures with this type of cane.  In fact, some glass artists have pushed this to the extreme by making “portrait” murrine which has imagery as delicate as a painting which is the result of many canes being bundled together, pulled out into a small cane and then chopped up and laid out to be rolled up onto the outside of a cylinder of glass and then blown out in a vase or bowl.

For those interested in understanding how this is all done, either visit your local hot glass studio and ask some questions or watch the glass being made or go to youtube and watch a “cane rollup” technique by simply putting those terms into the search window to check it out for yourself.  In the end, all of this is in learning how to do what is difficult look easy.  It isn’t always as easy as it looks, not by a long shot, which is why it often takes years to begin to master glass as an expressive medium.  It can also lead you to appreciating the craft and skill necessary to make what I think of as sheer miracles in a medium that is unlike any other.  I don’t normally toot my horn about all of this probably because I am just not very good at it, but what I am probably good at is making all of this seem deceptively easy.  Once you understand how its not easy at all, you are on the first part of a journey towards appreciating hot glass as a frustrating difficult but incredibly rewarding material!