blown glass

Art and Design, glassblowing

New Year (Glass) Wishes


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Orbit Slice Copyright

Over the last few years I have been taking photographs of my glass and finding that the more I zoom into the work, the more interesting the landscapes are that I get.  This is a process that believe it or not does not involve any post-production manipulation like filters or special effects. Everything that you see is as the camera saw it.  The difference for me with many of my pictures is HOW I choose to shoot the work.  Again, this is using direct sunlight, no special effects of any kind.  The key has been how I shoot the work, the lenses I use, the light I have and the object that I am photographing.  In my case, I have determined that some work photographs better than others in this way.

As we near a new year, I am reflecting a little on some of the pieces that came about this past year and I thought I would share some with you.  These are just a few of them.


 

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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.

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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.

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As I get older, technique does not dazzle me as much as it used to.  Its important, don’t get me wrong, its just that there is more to artistry than just technique. Sometimes our biggest problems lie in what we are unable to imagine….because we have limited ourselves creatively too much.  I see this all the time in school where people want to play it safe and get a good grade. The real fun is out on a limb, never sure when you might plop down on the ground.  Its there, on that limb, that the good fruit is nearly always plucked.

So often I find I am limited by my own biases of what I think I should be doing or that I am capable of doing that I literally squeeze out vast tracks of possibilities in my creative life.  As artists, we have to do this in order to create work that is coherent and focused, but this is a sword with two sides.  I use this work to keep me with something new and different running in the background.  And really, does it need to be anything?  After all, what are most of the “beautiful” materials in the world but a deep visceral reaction to things that are shiny, brilliant and brightly colored? When we say “eye candy” this is what we mean.

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Often “eye candy” gets smeared with a sense of vacuity though, as though this feeds the eye but not the soul. I am not entirely sure that this is so. In fact, I think that our need for great color and brilliance is so total that we could probably look at these kinds of things and be fed at a deep level.  In fact, this is just what we do when we look at a cut diamond, or a shiny metal surface.  What I am saying is that we ought not feel bad for loving the simple pleasure of a brilliant color.  After all, art emulates nature, and what we see in my glass is what we also see in nature, and it is that very nature that has informed our likes and dislikes.

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I find that when I am creating this work, I am an explorer.  I am seeking to see how far into the glass I can go to see what there is to see, to even go beyond the eye and its capacity to see the ordinary in order to pluck something from it that is extraordinary.  These are interesting pieces in their own right, and as they continue to emerge in an ever-interesting array of new forms and landscapes, I remain engaged in seeing where it will take me. Oh, and Happy New Year, everyone!  Here’s hoping that 2016 is a great year!Thanks for all your support!

 

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The Promise Of The Creative


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©Parker Stafford
©Parker Stafford

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.

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Orbital #4

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.

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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.

Orbital Landscape 2
Orbital Landscape

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!

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For A Snowy Day


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

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

©Parker Stafford
©Parker Stafford

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

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

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