Why Art

The Preamble

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

The glass furnace was in the process of being rebuilt when I had a furnace block fall on my hand, nearly pinning me under the block. This catalyzed an effort to do what I had not done in years past, which was to add automation in the form of pneumatic cylinders controlled by foot pedals to open and close furnace doors.  Sounds like a simple thing, and it is, but the implementation wound up being more complicated and drawn out than expected.  But then, this can often be the case when engineering “one-off’s”.

The result has been a subtle but important transformation taking place at the studio.  The vent hood,which controls the ventilation was also updated in a significant way, essentially enclosing the vent hood completely in order to help make evacuating hot air from the studio more effective.  It will result in a more comfortable experience for me, my assistants, and for those taking classes there in the future.

The injury to my hand slowed me way down from where I planned on being, but it also opened up a new avenue that I am glad is now largely completed.  Despite delays from the engineering firm, I have managed to get all of the automation done that I have wanted to do for years but never did.  As a result, I am looking to the Fall of 2018 as a time when I will begin holding workshops again while also beginning production work again after a long hiatus teaching at the university.

I will be baking into my design of my website the ability to see the schedule and register for any and all classes from the convenience of your computer or mobile phone.  I am working with a web designer who will be including commerce solutions for purchasing work and for making the process of connecting with the studio more streamlined.  Those changes will be rolled out in the Fall, but for updates and important announcements, follow the studio on Facebook HERE.

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

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

 


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The “Why” (and How)

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

Glass takes years to learn. It is gymnastic in the sense that there is a lot of muscle memory involved, and all of this takes time and patience.  The best glass workers have been at this for their whole lives and they make what they do look easy when it is anything but that.  When I began introducing people to glass I realized that there is this considerable gap that exists with people and their skill level in glass that disrupted their ability to enjoy the material as an expressive medium. As a result of this, I developed a way of working with students in the studio to help fill the technical gap for the time being and working on what they can do on a technical level straight out of the gate in producing glass objects.  This method has resulted in being able to give people from all walks the fullest experience in glass possible without having to spend years developing the requisite skills necessary.  Since glass is a very expensive medium, it makes learning very expensive also.  Not everyone wants to be a maestro, some are content with running around the block to see what glass blowing is all about.

This process is effectively 75% student work with 25% hand-holding by the teacher.  This 25% consists of techniques critical to the successful creation of glass objects and represent a technical level that can take weeks or months to master just one of them.  Instead of taking weeks worth of repetition, I pick up that part and we work together to ferry objects like ornaments, suncatchers, vases, bowls, and paperweights to their completion on a first-go. This is also why the workshops have been so popular.  Most studios do not provide this level of access to the glass for beginners. I have found that by teaching in this way, I can help provide a closeup introduction to glass without years of preparation and work. For those who are serious about learning glass, they will grab the bull by the horns and do what needs to be done to accomplish that level of mastery.  For everyone else, it seems my method as developed works very well for the beginner.

 

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A suncatcher made by a first-time student

 

My process is to encourage the student to follow the glass and what it wants to do.  This may not sound like the kind of control that is necessary for a medium like glass, but over years of experience, glass has a quality that when you allow it to be itself, can and does do some really amazing things.  Instead of working in a precisely controlled way, I suggest more room for surprises to occur for students so they can witness the expressive potential of glass.  As a result there are creations that are far more complex and interesting than if they had been carefully controlled. Don’t get me wrong, control is necessary in being able to reproduce results in a production environment, but this is not what we are doing in a class.  In a class we are trying to get the biggest bang for our buck here: we seek to explore as broadly as possible in a very limited time frame.  The student, then, gets a snapshot of the potential that glass has. The results are nothing short of amazing, though, and is one reason why even when I am not offering classes, I tend on average to field three to four inquiries a month about classes even though I have not offered them now for a number of years.

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Closeup of a student suncatcher

Some folks are content sitting and watching glass being made in the studio. The ability to sit and watch glass being blown is free here at the studio.  We encourage everyone who wants to to sit in and learn a thing or two. For those who are not content to sit on their hands and watch, there are the classes.

If you are interested in classes, or just to come watch glass being blown, announcements will be made publicly on my Facebook page. Classes will include offhand glassblowing, and torch worked glass (bead making). Glassblowing will be available first while the bead making studio has to be built around the torches I already have in-house and will take some time to build the tables, venting, and small kilns, tools, etc., in place before classes can be offered. My hope is that I will be offering both by next Fall. Please “like” my Facebook page  to remain up to date on events and classes there. For those who want to know when a class is being offered, I recommend also that you email me at info@staffordartglass.com and include “classes” in the subject heading.  This will enable me to bring up all of the inquiries over a period of time and respond to them very quickly and easily.  And no, we wont spam you.  If you want off the list, you will be removed promptly.  For the rest, there is the Facebook page below:

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

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):

http://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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