Month: October 2014

Art and Design, glassblowing

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).




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?


Art and Design

Believe In Your Greatness

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I am told by some that to suggest that greatness lies in every person no matter their level of education or life experience is not only naive, it is perhaps…dangerous….because facts bear out that this just aint so.  The problem is that absent the data, we can make lots of assumptions because some facts are missing (which is assuming that they don’t exist).  That is, as humans we tend to insert meaning when we are missing the facts.

I come from an  awareness of what human potential is based on my own personal experience concerning the subject.  I have found that a slew of our assumptions about creativity and the intellect are not only wrong, they are dangerously outmoded.  This is not, though, a place for me to explain why this is so.  That will have to be a post for another day.  I think, though, that I have a few more facts in my quiver than the average archer of ideas.  Let’s hope I can drive this one home with a bulls-eye.

There is this idea that we only use a small portion of our brain.  We all know about this idea, right? It turns out that this is true, actually, and it has to do with HOW we optimize our intellectual capacity.  And not all of it actually has to do with rational “intellectual” kinds of thinking, but how we optimize our entire being as part of a hitherto poorly-known way to make the most of what we EACH have.  I am writing about this in my book Waking The Infinite, which chronicles the first four to five years of something that happened to me beginning in 2006 that I learned was an Awakening.  It was in many ways the end of one life and the beginning of another for me.  It also showed me how it is that we each can optimize our potentials as human beings and that we are literally without limit.  the limits that we do have are those that WE have created.  The problem is that we are not aware that we have each done this.  Imagine driving around in your life with the parking brake on and not even knowing it.  Let’s just say that in our world people don’t even know they HAVE a parking brake.  This is to say that most everyone is literally putting the brakes on their experience.  This is itself a deep subject, and it is not my purpose to go into this here now to defend the idea or explain it. I am here for a simpler reason today…it is about what we each have.

We ALL have it.  Write it on your bones.  Just because YOU have not tapped it does not mean it does not exist.  It is like someone who drills for water folding their arms and saying there is no water underground because upon drilling once or twice (or ten times), they find none.  What limits us is our gathered collective of awareness and understanding of the matters at hand.  Sometimes what we each lack is that one or two central facts or elements that help to create a kind of hinge-pin effect whereby everything we are looking at as seemingly separate facts all fall together into a related, dynamic, whole. Hence, those without the larger vision will say “it can’t be done.”  And you know, the thing is, with that attitude, it can’t.

I will give you an example.  The other day I was working with my art students with a new project.  Many of them were stumped over the project I was presenting to them.  The project itself was quite simple in what it was I needed them to do, which had to do with building volume in 3-D works using line as the way to suggest volume. it is considered a way to bridge between the 2-D and 3-D worlds, and it brings line and volume together so that the student can ponder and deal with what volume is.

The rest of the project was really wide open, which means the potential for creative expression was vast.  In fact, after I listed a series of assignments for the project (ideas mostly intended to get them working with ideas that challenge them to create complex visual relationships in the work), I also said that if they had an idea that they were excited about, then we should talk!  I told them what I was interested in seeing them do in this project.  They understood the underpinnings.  But many of them were just stuck.

The ideas that they came up with were…well….they were not particularly inspired. And yet, what is so interesting, is that when some of them began to dream and play with their ideas enough to feel inspired, the ideas began to flow.  The ones who were the most successful were not afraid to play….to just jump in and try some things without a full expectation of where they were going (some also had some very definite expectations, too!) And as these ideas began to flow, the quality of the ideas also increased hugely.  And why?  Most of these were because the student was able to find their place of connection to the assignment.  The most successful ones were able to “make” the project their own.  And making life your own, it turns out, is a big part of success.  We all need a way to access our greatness and this has more to do with how inspired we let ourselves get because when we are inspired, something happens in our grey matter and in our being that is just…..different.  We care more.  Ideas just keep popping.  We fall under the golden grace of the moment.  You know what I am talking about; everything just falls into place.  You feel….LUCKY.  It is like some juice has flowed into your veins.  And what is it?  It is JUST inspiration.  It lifts you an inch off the ground.  Your body feels great.  You feel pitched into what it is you are doing.  And what is it that inspired people have that many others don’t?  They have an ability to believe in what it is that they are doing even when others don’t. They are persistent in this effort.  To understand how huge persistence is, I want to tell you a story about a man who could have easily lived an unremarkable life.  I want to say upfront that I am not suggesting that a remarkable life is about being recognized for what it is that you do in your life.  I know that greatness is often not seen for what it is in a person’s lifetime. The “great” minds of the world have this habit of lagging behind the visionaries.  So no, my criteria for greatness is not what many might think.

I am here actually to tell you about a man who lived who could have easily become less than a footnote in history.  He could have easily have simply disappeared from the world stage and we would never have known about his awesome greatness.  That we even know his name is because he persisted.  August Rodin was a child who admitted that he hated school.  He described how he always felt like he was a prisoner.  He attended what was considered a “petite ecole” which is a small arts school growing up.  Rodin showed promise as an artist, and at age 19 he applied to THE art school, the Ecole D’Beaux Arts.  He was rejected not once, but three times by this August institution for his manner of sculpting. Now realize that the Ecole system was not considered to be THAT difficult to get into in its day. Many applied and got in and a certain percentage managed to float to the top and gain national or international recognition in their work.  So this was a blow to Rodin, no doubt.

Rodin spent the next twenty years working as a decorative plasterer making plaster for the interiors and exterior of nice homes.  He didn’t make a lot of money doing this and he didn’t like working for others.  Finally, at about age forty, Rodin completed a full figure rendering of a male figure in plaster that was made into bronzes.  It is known now as the Age of Bronze.  When Rodin submitted the work for a competition, it was believed that Rodin has made the work by way of making plaster molds directly from life.  Rodin brought in the man who served as the model for the work and the questions were dealt with once and for all.

Rodin was without peer during his time.  Here, the man who would be called the “father of modern sculpture” was not seen for the genius that he was.  And it all makes sense.  This is because we so often are unable to see what it is we are even looking at.  It would seem that seeing greatness requires a little vision in itself.  But you see, the fact is, it was possible that Rodin could have become a foot note had it been he had not persisted.  Persistence, along with inspiration, is the winning combination it would seem in many things from art to science.  In it lies the possibility of discovery.  “And what happens if I do not find this?” Someone asks.  I answer, “Then you have a choice to keep at it until you do or allow one-act of seeking to determine your life story.”

It is up to you.  No one is going to sit there and tell you that they believe in you.  People say “What if I fail?”  Oh my goodness!  You are afraid that one failure in your life is going to suddenly cast your purpose in life as not worth pursuing.  WHo is it you are doing this for?  Are you doing it for yourself or are you doing this to gain favor from others?  If you are waiting on the latter, you should expect a long wait because humans are very poor at seeing greatness as any glimpse at commercial television will abundantly illustrate with all the “twerking” happening, a world where so many have their fifteen minutes in the spotlight, but without truly being able to show their bone-deep greatness. our world often devolves into a glitter world…which is to say a place where little substance is found. If it going to be found, it will be because we have found it and then shown it.  Even if we don’t get the limelight to do it with.

No one will be able to express or articulate or even FIND the greatness that you feel living just under that skin of yours.  And yet, you KNOW it exists.  Do you know HOW you are going to find it?  If you had that part, would find it be even worth the effort?  Really?  So go find it.  Let it be an adventure and let yourself believe.  It seems that everyone who believes has better odds than those who do not.