glass

Art and Design, glassblowing

How We Are Different…


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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.blog/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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Art and Design, glassblowing

The New Precious


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©Parker Stafford
©Parker Stafford

Over the last few weeks  I have been busily working developing a new line of work. This work employs a process made popular by Louise Comfort Tiffany in the 1800’s called fuming or irridizing.  This process became a signature of the Tiffany style and has been repeated many times over because of its intense popularity.  I have always said that I would not fume my work, and quite recently I went back on that promise in order to investigate this method to see if I could create new interesting forms that break some new ground.

©Parker Stafford
©Parker Stafford

Doing that is not easy to do.  There is a lot that has been done…millions of processes and combinations….Some would say there is nothing new under the sun.  Perhaps it is true….until we actually come up with something new. To that end, I am giving it my all.

Yesterday I went into the studio with the intention of doing what I have always done in glass, which is to bring a

sculptural sense to my work and giving the forms a different kind of quality that sometimes departs from traditional vessel forms.

©Parker Stafford
©Parker Stafford

The forms I came up with were an effort to create seashell like forms with the abalone shell being one of the chief forms for inspiration.  I grew up on the beach as a child and can remember many small oblong and rippled shells that had beautiful mother of pearl interiors.  I am in truth recreating that moment of discovery on the beach some 45 years later with this body of work.

Shell Form 5 sized

What I am doing are making relatively small-scale pieces that I can control and work into shell inspired forms.  A lot of this has to do with making the pieces off-center and breaking a lot of the rules that make blowing glass feel comfortable and “right.”  So much of what we learn about glass blowing has to do with keeping a piece centered.  So much of what I am doing now is knowing how to let a piece drift of center in just the right way in order to develop a sense of asymmetry amidst the natural order that is symmetry.  The work is in its infancy and yet I have enough ideas and directions to keep me busy for a lifetime.  Lucky for me, I am impatient and like to try new things and make new work so I guess I am making work for someone else to do in another couple of lifetimes!Shell form 5 -b sized

I hope you enjoy looking at the pieces.  They change so much in light, as some versions of the same piece in this post reveal.

All of this is fun and exciting and there is so much more to do, to make and to explore and discover.  This really is the most interesting part of design work because everything is so new and the possibilities are endless.  The key to creative viability I think is remaining fresh and new.  As old lines of work are being retired in my studio work, new lines, like this one with a decidedly oceanic bent to them emerge.  The tide comes in, the tide goes out.  In the interim it leaves new treasures for us to see and explore….seashells and all manner of flotsam and jetsam to pick through….

©Parker Stafford
©Parker Stafford

If you like this work you can see more of the earliest work that was first done a few weeks ago in the post Breaking New Ground.  You can also see and interact on my facebook business page by typing in staffordartglass.

I hope everyone is having a great summer!

©Parker Stafford
©Parker Stafford
Art and Design, glassblowing

Breaking New Ground


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Long neck copyMuch of what I do in glass has been an effort not to do anything that is like anything others have done.  This is hard to do well. There seems to be very little that is new under the sun.  We say a vase is a vase.  Sometimes we can make our work different by the shapes, the colors, the design we develop within the piece.  I developed a way to make my glass look like rock and this made them very different and sought after. It created the art of the double-take that leads one to think that you see something that you do not, and in realizing it is not as it appears, leads one to wonder how on earth the artist or artisan accomplished it.  I probably don’t need to tell you that this is also where art begins, that place where the ordinary gets transmuted into the extraordinary in some way.  Doing this kind of work  also spawned people making copies, people who I saw walk up to my work, observe it carefully, and then begin making a derivative of it in one years’ time.  I am told that this is a form of congratulations, but for me it does not feel like that.

For years I have zigged when others have zagged.  I did not follow conventions of tradition. As a result I developed techniques in glass that I have yet to see anyone work in the same way.  They are round vase sizeddifferent for the reason that no one has been crazy enough to do what it is I have done.  Even my teacher once said that the techniques I would later use were not something that would yield significant enough results to be practical. That was eighteen years ago and many of those pieces later.  They have somehow gone from impracticality to total practicality…..and new ground being unearthed, or blazed. I have long been amazed at the effects that fuming has had on glass.  This was a technique that Louise Comfort Tiffany developed that became a signature mark of his design work in glass.  Needless to say it has been wildly popular ever since with plenty of paths being cut into that territory. It has been enough to keep me from going down that road even though I have used analogs of irridizing for years, such as dichroics.  Dichroic is a term for a development made during the early NASA days that was developed to create a thin metallic but translucent film on glass lenses to make it possible for photo film aboard the Lunar Rover to be exposed in full daylight on the moon without being cooked (which it did when exposed under normal full light conditions on the lunar surface).  In a way, irridizing and dichroics aren’t that different from one another in that they both involve very small particles of metal that build up slowly on the surface of glass.

I always said I would not fume or irridize glass.  I always considered it a well-worn path.  And it is. The lure, though, of the lustrous surface in glass is powerful.

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A few days ago I ordered some supplies for irridizing glass to give it a try. At first the results were entirely unremarkable.  I began to think that the people telling me how they did it were not actually giving me the whole scoop.  It took a little trial and error to work it out.  The colors were okay, but not great. The information was incomplete, and some things like the type of alcohol used for the spray was wrong.  These small things matter and can make big differences. I changed a few things and switched the order of some things around and found much to my pleasure and surprise that I had some pretty amazing results taking place.

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Today was interesting since the ovens were still empty by noon.  There was no work that had been made. By five o’clock, though, one oven was full and a second one was sent up.  Work was being made at a pretty fast pace and everything was pretty amazing. For a first try.

At some point in my art education I discovered that there was an entry into the sublime that didn’t have to do with the usual concerns of art.  In art content is king, which is to say its supposed to BE about something. I found increasingly that my focus began to settle on simpler things, less complicated things.  While art does create an experience, so too does the glint of light off a brushed metal surface.  Just HOW that impacts us or affects us, or me, is huge.  How the look of polished bronze impacts me is hard for me to explain.  It is just such a basic thing…because it is so direct, so immediate and uncomplicated.  This is the same uncomplicated thing that leads so many on this planet to esteem a rather soft metal not very useful for much of anything except electronic connections and jewelry, a metal we  call gold.  What does it mean? Nothing.  It isn’t about THAT.  Its about the EXPERIENCE.  It is the same thing that Monet did in his paintings to simulate the effect of looking through an early morning foggy haze.  The haze itself means nothing, really, but is itself an effect.  We might say that these things are without coincidence or unimportant, but for the they are not.  I think that the rational mind NEEDS for things to MEAN something. If something does not MEAN something, it simply grows disinterested.  The irrational part of the mind, though, is entirely comfortable with this lack of meaning and instead seeks the EXPERIENCE.  All of this is very much tied up in how our two brain lobes function together as well as separately.  But that is for another blog entry.

If the purpose of art is to help us to see a new way or to impact us deeply, I would argue that just how a color glints off a surface or a texture is rendered can also impact us in a similar way. Nature is the source for all art.  HOW light impacts an environment has become fodder for at down through the ages.  The Vermeer paintings of the wan northern light filtering in through the windows and illuminating the soft light complexions of his subjects creates a simulation or recreation of an original event experience that reaches the sublime.  None of it would have half the impact were it not for something so simple as how light strikes an object, such as the skin of a human in the painting.  Yes, these things matter so much, yet are so often yoked in the service of a larger work that we very often don’t recognize them for what they are, or WHY they are.  I think for me, looking at a simple effect and KNOWING why it affects me fills me with something that just looking at a painting or landscape (whether painted or not) may not do since I might be so caught up in the details that I miss the simpler things, the foundational things that serve to hold the whole circus tend up on its rods and ropes.  The ground  holds the very canopy of heaven up.

detail of a fumed surface
detail of a fumed surface ©Parker Stafford

I can remember sitting with my infant son  who was all of seven months old in my arms in my backyard as the sun set slowly. The entire landscape was washed in a rich gold color. This was the “golden hour” as photographers like to call it, a time when the vibration of light changes to an increasingly warmer tone and is very kind to people being photographed.   The air seemed to heat up but this had nothing at all to do with temperature. The world was bathed in this light that made everything glow.  It was merely the effect of light as it glinted at its fallen angle in the sky. Within minutes the effect passed.  What it conjured, or was conjured in my own mind as a result of its presence, was nothing short of mystical.  It felt transcendent and entirely difficult to even put into words. Perhaps it was because I had had several dreams in my life when I noticed a golden light filtering into my dreamworld and felt as though the light of heaven was infiltrating in.  The experience, though, was entirely simple and uncomplicated, just as with the sunlight.   It went beyond content, it went beyond meaning.  It was an experience of something so simple that it had the power to be a potent force in transporting me to another place…..but a place that was so incredibly present that it had nothing about being swept away, but steadied in the moment as all of the lights seemed to come on and light up life in a moment that felt like an epiphany. My son lay uncommonly quiet and still in my arms as though he was aware that something was taking place.  No squirming; a willingness to take part in this moment, however it was he took part in it for himself.  So in the same way, I find the simple direct nature of making decorative objects to carry, at least potentially, the same experiential “oomph”  as some of these stolen moments that rise like highlights in life.  Curiously, more and more of them are singular, simple, and entirely direct.  Like how the glint of gold is direct, perhaps.

bowl copyThe challenge now is to take this method of working and push the shapes into territory not normally thought of as part of the fumed world.  There are actually very few people who fume glass who make unusual shapes.  For some reason a lot of fumed work tends to be pretty traditional.  Maybe its time to shift things around.

I have been drawn to a rather amazing piece made by Tiffany’s studio that uses a type of fume that is very different from what has become mainstream.  There is a giant punchbowl that he made that is really quite amazing.  The surface on the glass, though, is buttery, soft, and sensual. It lacks the glitz of the tin chlorides and the shifting color palette.  The effect of this punch bowl is far more subtle and this type of surface does not show up often in fumed work.  Currently, I don’t yet know why.  I suspect that it is because it is either very expensive a fume mixture or it is harder to accomplish.  I suspect that it is the latter.  And if this is so, I would like very much to find the particular metals used for the effect and see how I can bring a 21st century sensibility to it in the creation of new work.  This is to say: stay tuned – there will be more!

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I hope you are liking looking at the pieces as much as I have enjoyed making them. It was a real surprise to be honest.

Tumbler. ©Parker Stafford
Tumbler. ©Parker Stafford

I didn’t think I’d like them as much as I do. It has lit a new fire underneath me. Sure, it’s just another line of work, but its more than that.  It gets me down the road a little more with all of this and moves me to the next thing…..and there is a lot of these next things to fill a lifetime it seems.

I swore I’d never irridize…..

fume group copy

Art and Design

Unexpected Gifts


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In my last blog entry I explained how the students I teach at Radford University in sculpture worked to make an installation of sculptural glass forms in an intimate courtyard space nestled in the center of the Department of Education.  I had approached Dr Ann Roberts who teaches there to see if it might be possible to do an installation of sculpture in glass in the courtyard garden.  Ann has taken on the care of this space and has filled the garden planter with an array of flowering plants and it is clear that she loves the peaceful space that hers and others’ offices look out onto.  In fact, she had mentioned something in the not too distant past about putting art in the space.  As I looked around campus for a suitable location for something like glass, I remembered the space she had mentioned and how well protected it was.  I knew my students and I couldn’t put this work just anywhere, so on my list of possible locations, I emailed Ann to see what she thought.  The result was being welcomed with open arms and being given a great degree of freedom to do whatever it was we felt we needed to do to pull it off in the space.  It was wonderful.  To my knowledge, nothing quite like this had ever been done, and many in the department remarked how they had talked about wanting to put art in the space but never got around to it.  So perhaps, in that small way, we served as a gift to the students, faculty, and staff who work in the building.

On the big day when most work was completed and we were hauling glass elements into the building from the parking lot, in walks a woman into the courtyard as I supervised the install who had a knowing look on her face who chats with me for a few moments.  This woman is the Chair of the department and I exclaimed to her how glad I was that my students were given such an opportunity as this.  But her look remained throughout our brief talk and it looked just as though the cat had caught the canary.  I felt like maybe I was in trouble, and as I looked at her and wondered, she said “You don’t remember me, do you?”  I eyed her closely and had to admit, “No, I don’t!”  She told me her name and it was then that I remembered those eyes!  This was one of two people who had made a real difference in my elementary education!  Dr Sandra Moore!  So odd, too, that I had tried to hunt them down over the past year without any luck.  I had wanted to tell them what a difference they had made.  And here she was standing in front of me, part of a process that was enabling my students and myself to realize what had just been a dream a few short weeks earlier.  The gift circle was complete.

Nearly.

The department faculty had taken note of how Dr. Moore had liked a water fountain my students had designed that was in the space and they wanted us to make her one as a gift for her service to the department.  Dr. Moore was stepping down as the Chair effective at the end of that semester.  As a result of this, I was asked to come to a luncheon that they were holding in her honor when they caught wind of how important she had been in my earlier life so I could add a few words.

So tomorrow I stop by and put in a few words about someone whose impact on my life was significant, an event tied up in yet another event (the installation) that was itself a gift not just to me but to my students as well.  Funny, too, since I had tried to track those old teachers down recently in a bid to let them know how much they meant.  Sometimes life throws you some unexpected gifts…