Over the last few years I have been taking photographs of my glass and finding that the more I zoom into the work, the more interesting the landscapes are that I get. This is a process that believe it or not does not involve any post-production manipulation like filters or special effects. Everything that you see is as the camera saw it. The difference for me with many of my pictures is HOW I choose to shoot the work. Again, this is using direct sunlight, no special effects of any kind. The key has been how I shoot the work, the lenses I use, the light I have and the object that I am photographing. In my case, I have determined that some work photographs better than others in this way.
As we near a new year, I am reflecting a little on some of the pieces that came about this past year and I thought I would share some with you. These are just a few of them.
Some of my pictures look like surreal landscapes, maybe even from another world. This is due to the fact that I am giving people a view into glass that most people do not see. I am shooting glass objects at a high degree of magnification and under very high resolution. As a result, I might turn a half-inch square into a 72 inch square. Under these conditions, levels of detail emerge that the naked eye simply may never see. In other cases, I am not photographing quit this tightly. In this case, the glass will most often LOOK more like….glass.
I like both ends of this spectrum and I have shot thousands of photographs now using my own blown glass as a subject. You might wonder what I am trying to achieve. Its a good question. In the beginning, I had no idea where the work was going. I was photographing my work because a friend had sent me some photographs she took of some of my orbs up close. They were high resolution. I blew one up and kept blowing it up until I realized that the lens she used continued to give good resolution of the glass surface. This got me thinking and exploring. I still am not sure where this type of work is going, except that I like it and I am going to continue doing it. Something interesting happens when you allow yourself to not know where something is headed; it is suddenly free to go anywhere….even places you had never considered before.
As I get older, technique does not dazzle me as much as it used to. Its important, don’t get me wrong, its just that there is more to artistry than just technique. Sometimes our biggest problems lie in what we are unable to imagine….because we have limited ourselves creatively too much. I see this all the time in school where people want to play it safe and get a good grade. The real fun is out on a limb, never sure when you might plop down on the ground. Its there, on that limb, that the good fruit is nearly always plucked.
So often I find I am limited by my own biases of what I think I should be doing or that I am capable of doing that I literally squeeze out vast tracks of possibilities in my creative life. As artists, we have to do this in order to create work that is coherent and focused, but this is a sword with two sides. I use this work to keep me with something new and different running in the background. And really, does it need to be anything? After all, what are most of the “beautiful” materials in the world but a deep visceral reaction to things that are shiny, brilliant and brightly colored? When we say “eye candy” this is what we mean.
Often “eye candy” gets smeared with a sense of vacuity though, as though this feeds the eye but not the soul. I am not entirely sure that this is so. In fact, I think that our need for great color and brilliance is so total that we could probably look at these kinds of things and be fed at a deep level. In fact, this is just what we do when we look at a cut diamond, or a shiny metal surface. What I am saying is that we ought not feel bad for loving the simple pleasure of a brilliant color. After all, art emulates nature, and what we see in my glass is what we also see in nature, and it is that very nature that has informed our likes and dislikes.
I find that when I am creating this work, I am an explorer. I am seeking to see how far into the glass I can go to see what there is to see, to even go beyond the eye and its capacity to see the ordinary in order to pluck something from it that is extraordinary. These are interesting pieces in their own right, and as they continue to emerge in an ever-interesting array of new forms and landscapes, I remain engaged in seeing where it will take me. Oh, and Happy New Year, everyone! Here’s hoping that 2016 is a great year!Thanks for all your support!
Many years ago I had a series of dreams where Picasso would show up and teach me something related to art. I don’t fully understand why I would have Picasso of all people showing up in my dream landscape except to act in a symbolic role as a creative catalyst. Picasso casts such a long shadow on so much, and from a historical perspective, I get it. I just never connected with his work that much. These dreams though ran the gamut from technique to content concerns in art. One of them helped to cement a notion that I probably had rolling around in the back of my head which I managed to bring more to the forefront of awareness, which is how as artists, we take nothing for granted. It is this sense that birthed the modern movement in art, breaking away from sheer representation of objects as had been the way for centuries, to a complete departure from what all of that entailed. It has given birth to Pop, Op, Surrealism, and a slew of movements within modernism.
In this dream, I am looking out across a grass-filled yard and I see a figure down on his knees looking at the ground. There he was, and he was beckoning me to come closer. I walked up to him, wondering what this was all about and he looked at me with these wide eyes and said, “If you look at the surface of things, you wont see it. Don’t take what you see for granted; there are worlds right in front of you!” He then nestled his nose down into the grass and urged me to stick my face down in the grass, which I did. He pushed me to nose down deeper into the grass. As I looked, I saw how the grass became a canopy, and that canopy opened up into a dense realm of life beneath seeing. He urged me, “Look deeper!” and as I did so, I saw ants, which had been nothing but specks, explode into view. Small mushrooms that were growing beneath the grass loomed into view. He kept pushing me, telling me how everything was animated inwardly by a life of its own. It was this life that artists seek to bring to life, to show the inside of what life is about. As I did this, I noticed how the mushrooms began to glow with something, a kind of light or life within them. It was in some ways indistinct, and yet, what it told me was that what I normally would pass over, had its own reality, its own importance if we could stop long enough to just see it. We miss these things because we simply do not take the time and focus in a very particular way to soak this life up. This might seem “woo-woo” to you, but it is widely known amongst the mystics and inner seekers that a part of all seeing is only possible by looking within. There is a reason for this, but that is a story for another day. This is where the realm of the ordinary doesn’t just transform but is revealed, perhaps for the first time.
For the last two years I have been slowly but surely studying glass in a way that is not too differently from that day in the grass with my Picasso. I have begun to take my camera and use its power of magnification to get closer and deeper into the material in a way that most people do not see into. Glass is itself not animate in the way ants or grass or mushrooms might be, but it is nonetheless a material that responds to the environment around it in fascinating ways, in ways that we might not always see simply because of the vast amount of information that our eye takes in and that our brains filter out. I have begun this “close look” with no notion of just what I will find, and like an adventurer, have gone looking to see what is there.
Artists often pride themselves in how much control they have in their craft. It is most often what makes artists what they are. What they do is called art because they are able to transform the mundane until it becomes profound. Whatever that means, it most often entails a technical capability to lay paint onto the canvas, or to push and shape raw clay into a myriad of amazing forms. In my case, it is glass.
What I have been doing is filling folders with visual information, snippets, pieces, parts, and more. I am like a woodsman gathering wood, thinking he might light a fire only to find that he is actually building a house. Where this leads is already taking shape, and begins to form the corpus or body of a whole new direction creatively. And it wasn’t really intentional, but the possibilities are so exciting that while it moves me away from my familiar 3-D orientation as an artist, it also moves me into realms that I find are marvelous. In this way, the material I am gathering suggests certain directions. I am making decisions all the way, but it feels far more collaborative a process than has been the case in the past. I like this. I like tricking myself into thinking I have no earthly idea what will come next, because in truth, my intuition has built a realm of possibilities all floating in front of me, or just behind my eyes and sometimes behind my awareness. I LIKE working this way for the simple reason that when I work so rationally and intentionally as I used to, the results are rarely as good or as exciting as when I let go and allow something a little broader and perhaps beyond the scope of my rational to take the reins. Again, that might sound woo-woo to some, but it is in truth what all the great thinkers and mystics down through the ages have been pointing to as a hitherto lesser known part of ourselves. Its less intending as it is letting go of the vast filtering and biasing effect that take place within our minds every single second of every day in order to touch on another aspect of who and what we are. Mind you, I am not saying that I am relying on accident. Accidents can sometimes suggest new directions simply because you never had thought of it and some random movement or event in the studio results in such an outcome. Certainly Jackson Pollock looked down at the paint dribble that had landed on his canvas and decided to try a little more, then more, and then wound up filling canvases with it. This is less accident and more suggestion. But the suggestion exists simply because I am so open to it.
The images that you see are copies of images that exist in high resolution taken in certain kinds of lighting and at just the right angle. I am seeking to get the glass to show me how it can look different as I move it around in the light. From one single three-inch swath, I can get five completely different results based on the angle the glass has to the light and what lies behind the glass itself. I am investigating just how interactive glass is in its environment. It offers up some amazing possibilities. Many of the images that I am showing here came from just a couple of pieces of blown glass from the studio.
I call these “Orbitals” partly because the forms that the glass pieces take. They are round, and they suggest environments, worlds, planets of some sort, perhaps. Some beg to be scanned, and some have no focal point. This is where I come in by using these images as the basis for assembling a new form with these images as part of the material from which I will draw. This work is in its early stages, even after two years of doing this close up work. It has grown and developed from a series of photos taken from some of my pieces by a client and friend who found them fascinating up close. I do too, and I have taken this and run with it, although in the beginning I had no idea where it was leading.
To be clear, though, the images aren’t manipulated in post production hardly at all. The most I ever do is to adjust lighting and adjust sharpness. Everything else, though, is as I saw it originally, which are amazingly rich and fascinating landscapes, environments, and even worlds within the one we normally see.
Certainly these will lead to painting on large shaped canvases of some sort, but exactly how this all comes together is a work in progress. And really, this is what I am doing, giving you a peek into this early stage process and hoping that perhaps in some small way, it can serve as inspiration for you in your day to day to see things differently. Sometimes, looking beyond the obvious is all that it takes!
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.
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!
In early December after considerable thought, I decided to begin a crowdfunding effort on the site indiegogo.com. I arrived at this decision based on two main factors, both which converged together into one main stream. First, I had been contacted by a number of people beginning in October inquiring if I was going to have glass blowing classes in the Fall like I had done every year for the last four. My studio has opened its doors to the public for an event/class that I call the BYOB which stands for “Blow Your Ornament Ball.” It is an opportunity for the person right off the street to design and help make their own Christmas ornament or suncatcher. Besides being a lot of fun, it is also very educational. It has been so popular that by October and into November of this year, I had to put off close to 20 people about whether I would be able to do this event. This is just how popular the event has become. These were all people coming to me, inquiring.
I teach part time at Radford University, and for the first time since I began teaching in 2010, the classes which I was assigned did not have enough enrollment for the courses to go forward, which meant that I was without an important part of income. Teaching made it easier to be able to open the studio for key periods during the year.
At about the same time, I had finally gotten the supplies I needed to make good on an old promise to a friend and colleague about turning a vase she had bought into a lamp. As it turned out, her request was something that fit neatly into something I had been wanting to do for YEARS with the particular line she had inquired about which was converting a hand blown vase into a usable lamp. It was one of those perfect kinds of matches. I even had a picture from another client and friend from California who had put a candle in a piece from the same line in order to show me how how her piece looked.
The bottom line was that these vases would make a perfect side-step into lighting, and I already had people already interested. I set about making the alterations necessary to make this vase into a light feature. The glass wall was drilled out and a light kit with an online switch was added. It was a simple yet elegant solution. I finished the fabrication at 3:00 one afternoon in November and couldn’t wait to see what it would look like in subdued light. The effect that it had on my foyer and my study was…..magic.
The Birth of a Campaign
When I went online with the new lamp picture to share with friends, the response was strong. People were asking when they could get one of their own. The only problem was there wasn’t a way that I could see to get the studio operation quickly enough to capitalize on all of the interest that had been stirred as a result of my initial reveal.
After some consideration, I decided to do the one thing that I had not done before, which was to FIND a way to raise the funds to bring this product to market. The added benefit would be that, with an open studio in the winter, people would get to blow their own glass like they had become accustomed to over the years. This was how the campaign was born. With about a week worth of working up a budget, I arrived at a target cost for this project, which would enable me to open the studio and launch this new product, now called The Gaia Lamp across the nation with galleries that sold handmade American craft. I learned very quickly the ins and outs of crowdfunding and once I felt like I had learned enough, I began sketching out the beginnings of a campaign.
I decided to run what is called a “fixed” campaign. In simple terms this is all or nothing. Meet the goal by a given deadline and you are funded. Miss that goal amount by the deadline, and you don’t get funded. People urged me to do a flex campaign, explaining that anything was worth something. As I thought about that, I found that for me, it was beside the point to do that. I wanted to be able to DO the project, not a PART of it. Flex meant doing only a part of it (and really, who knew what part would get done, right?). It also meant that the project might not even get done! Now tell me, who wants that?
Flex funding is good for people who are raising funds for medical expenses where ANY amount is appreciated, and for nonprofits seeking to raise funds for their cause. If people were going to give to MY campaign, I wanted to be able to have something to show them for it. I wasn’t ready to compromise on this point; I wanted my donors to feel a sense of accomplishment in their efforts just as I also wanted to feel accomplishment and the knowledge that I now had the opportunity to move forward with the project. I wanted it to be a win-win. The heat was on, the clock would begin, and the race was soon going to be on….
The campaign began on December 1st and went until January 7th. There was a consideration made for this being the Christmas season, which extended the original date times by an extra week. I am glad I did this, but as it turned out, the campaign goal of $5,600.00 was met nine days before the deadline. My concern was that we would have a dead zone for about a week straddling Christmas. That was the thinking that drove the strategy in terms of time.
The first week was nothing short of a scorcher. The campaign achieved 42% of its goal in five days. This put the campaign in the fourth spot prior to being on the main page for Indiegogo in my design category internationally. That meant that there were only four other projects that were performing better than mine in the world. This boosted my visibility on the Indiegogo platform and resulted in people giving to the campaign who did not know me or were outside my own personal network or community.It is worth to mention that when you can achieve a given amount of donations in a short period, it will boost your visibility on most of the crowdfunding sites. Your ability to hustle and get returns winds up boosting you on the site, which further helps your campaign by getting you attention you might not otherwise have.
There were two newspaper articles written after the goal was met. I also had a news channel interview on WSLS with Brie Jackson about the effort which was very helpful. I learned that all of the coverage I was getting was showing me just how important it is to be doing this kind of promotion as a matter of course in a business. The effort pushed me to do more than I had done before, and I think that this helped me to dust off some of my skills at self promotion that had gotten a little dry and maybe even stale with complacency and time. I figured that even if the campaign was not successful, I would have put a spot light on what it is that I do and the products and services I offer, including the design dreams I have. I know that this might sound beside the point, but this effort taught me some important lessons that I needed to revisit, which was to learn how not to be resistant to tooting my own horn.
In the graphic below I have a screen shot of the campaign once it reached 104% and was very close to the deadline. I have since gotten just over 109% of the goal with the campaign today, which is its deadline. You can see the first week as the big surge forward followed by a lull that then went on to slowly grow over time. The trend line was always upward, even if the angle of that line made me nervous at the time. Would I make it with this kind of line? Well, as I can tell you, ANYTHING can happen, and did. The campaign went on with this up and down for a few weeks before the “big bang” took place, which had the effect of rocketing the campaign within shooting distance of the $5,600.00 goal.
In my case, I used Facebook at the main means of getting the word out, with newspapers and television news helping out a lot. Since I was unable to properly track traffic from my newspaper and television exposure, its hard for me to say whether it had a material effect. For those of you out there curious about running a campaign, indiegogo does have some good tools that help to track traffic and donations coming from a site that has a link to your campaign. While I did not have any donations coming from the link on indeigogo for the tv news story, for example, that does not mean that someone didn’t bookmark my campaign for consideration later. These tools do help, though, to show where donors and activity is coming from, and its important that you provide your campaign link because it will help you track where your contributions are coming from.
Another metric that indiegogo uses is logging the domains where traffic is coming from, not per isp, but by country. As a result of this, I was able to see what visitors indexed by country were visiting my campaign page. In the screen shot below you can see the first page of the most numerous page views for the campaign and where they were coming from.
The Power Of The Tweet…Blog?
While I was told that Twitter was king (or Queen) for campaigns, I only had about 30 followers (really) when this all began and had not had much luck finding out a suitable way to get people to sign up to get tweets from me. Instead, again, Facebook was my most used social media outlet.
I blogged and found that there was very little sharing of my blog posts, which was largely due I think to both my level of followers as well as the type of followers I had. This is not a criticism of them at all, and is likely more about how I have chosen to write on the blog. I was not “plugged in” to the entrepreneurial universe with my blog, that was not its main focus. Perhaps my blog posts are too long and might not encourage people who are action-based to read and participate. They might be too cerebral, too thought-based, I considered. I did have a platform with my blog, but when it came time to begin making some noise, I am not so sure that it was that helpful for getting the word out. To break out of my own limited circle of readers, I needed to have outlets picking up my posts and sharing them or leading traffic to them. In the end, my blogging was not a significant factor in garnering donations. It did, however, serve to inform people who came from Facebook, for example, who wanted to read more about the campaign and saw the link on my page.
Perhaps if I had galleries following me, perhaps if I had crowdfund enthusiasts following me, then perhaps I would have been able to use this tool better. Note to self; this is something to work on. And really, to be truthful, my blog is a way to provide content about my business to people who are interested in hot glass and the studio in a more expansive way (instead of the short quips of twitter and Facebook). It is an opportunity for me to discuss issues that may even be tangential but connected to making art, design, and hot glass. I also use it occasionally as a tool for informing my art students where I work part time, and it may be that this represents a sudden shift in my content and might even put readers off who follow my blog, I don’t know. Its been something of an experiment, and is one I will keep working on. It may be that in order to gain more interest my post will become more trimmed down to meet the growing shortening “quips” we see on the internet. Sadly, our world is becoming more like this as we are presented with content nonstop that all seeks to grab out attention. I must admit that my interests with the blog are more along the lines of reading a chapter in a book, something to think about, delve into, to consider. Perhaps I need to think about expanding my content to include more about my field, people in my field, and about how global influences are at work. And really, anyone with ideas, I am all over it. I have long thought that a trade of posts would be great….interviews with other artists….a round table….or posts that include gallery owners about who what when where and why.
The past week has been a busy one for me with ordering the supplies needed for the project as well as getting ready for a donor party at the studio, which I am hoping we can swing by the 24th come heck or high water. Finishing first and early has its benefits. And if you are reading this and you shared the news or gave, you did good! You really did do a great thing that goes beyond just one simple campaign. It gave me hope back, it gave me a place to create again and to launch a new product. It has also made it possible for many people to come out and see what their own creativity has to offer them. And that is a really wonderful thing. <3
Please contact me directly for studio hours: our work is seasonal and sometimes the studio can be down for repairs, for example. Some days we are blowing glass while other days we are running errands or away at a show. Let us know when you are free to come see us and we can work something out that works for you.