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How We Do It


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IMG_3455Recently while looking through some stats for my site I noticed that there was a search that was made that led a reader to the blog that asked the question how a glass artist in the New River Valley (that must be me….there is only one glass studio currently in the NRV) how it was that colors and patterns in glass are so closely controlled.

When you can see glass being blown, many questions are answered about how what we achieve with molten glass is achieved.  For a material that you cannot touch due to how hot it is, it can be hard to wrap your head around the idea of very controlled patterns in glass.

The truth is, there are many ways that glass is controlled and to be honest, some of it strikes me as a miracle given that you begin with a gob of glass (and yes “gob” is the technical term for glass just exiting the furnace).  Some methods for controlling glass in this way involve taking strands or canes of colored glass, pulling them out into straw-like lengths and then later cutting them into lengths that are all the same, then spacing them apart in regular distances and rolling the molten glass over them.  This is what we call “cane work.”  This includes lots of variations that lead to long regularly shaped ribbons of color running through the glass.  The Italian cane method called latticino is the result of two layers of the same colored cane (typically white) laid on at odd angles to one another so that they effectively create a lattice.  It creates a pattern of diamonds across the surface and looks highly controlled.  How?  Its controlled and looks controlled because it is.  The raw or clear gob of glass is shaped into a cylinder, is measured by a special device called a pi-divider to make sure that the diameter of the glass is sufficient for the number of canes and the distances that the cane are placed so that once the glass is rolled across them, there is no gaps in the pattern.  This takes measurement and precision.  This is done while working the glass on the end of the blow pipe.

Imagine laying down patterns of color on an artists palette so that the paint looks like a painting, just not on a canvas.  Now imagine that instead of paint, you have glass powders making up the picture.  Now imagine bringing a bit of hot glass and laying it down on this palette of colors and fusing those fine powders to the surface of the glass.  In essence it is like what kids used to do with Silly Putty and the Sunday cartoons; they transfer dye or glass colors onto the Silly Putty or in our case, the glass.  That is another way that we do this.  There are a number of other methods harder to explain but are part of how such controlled patterns are made.

In my work I have developed a way of working over the decades that involves an often-used method of putting glass into a mold that creates a corrugated surface in the glass.  Imagine glass coming out of the mold and looking just like a star fruit.  Do you know this yellow fruit that doesn’t have much flavor but sure looks great in a fruit salad? Well, imagine glass rolling in powdered colored glass.  Now imagine how those powders would tend to congregate into the crevices of the glass.  Then imagine how, using heat, those crevices melt into one another, effectively creating concentrated bands of color where the layers touch.  Now imagine taking that and moving to the next level where these bands are twisted and folded even more until intricate patterns are made.  This is not too much different from latticcino effects except they use powders instead of cane.  This is where all similarities end.  This is also where the technique in my studio gets pushed to the next level.  I don’t talk about this level very much simply because I don’t know anyone who has mastered this method in the way I have and I like very much for my work to be unique.  I once was asked by a beginning glassblower how I achieved the effects that I did in some of my pieces where I was actually able to vary the pattern in the same way that you might be able to take, say, a plaid pattern in cloth and then stretch it in certain areas in order to change the frequency of the pattern.  This was something that I had worked on for years and I realized that in explaining it to this person, I was effectively letting the cat out of the bag.  When it comes to discovery of this sort, huge sums of time and sweat are involved.  I realized the best and simplest way to explain to him what I did was to say it was done with glass powders, to which he said he already KNEW that part.  I then moved to the more obvious thing he was asking with was the patterning.  I explained that it was done by controlling the glass.  His answer was that he already KNEW that also…..he wanted to know EXACTLY how I had achieved this effect that had him scratching his head.  In that moment I realized I was like the magician who was asked by an audience member how they did a certain trick.  Some things are hard to explain and some are easy to explain.  Some things that are easy to explain are also hard-won.  How I do my type of patterning is hard-won and explaining how it is done does not tell the full tale at all since it is in truth fairly intricate and involves a lot of nuanced control that is not always explainable, only illustrated in the moment as it is done.

But it is about control.  It is also about letting the glass be what it is.  When you do this, you get effects in the glass that bring rise to effects that give the material a fluid look.  Much of what I do is just letting the glass BE what it is.  This is not some touchy-feely thing, but a fundamental understanding of the material and its expressive potential.  When you can do this you can move beyond the rigidly controlled looks that some glass has and move into more sensual forms that are organic and more interesting (to me).  Often, too, the glass offers up some amazing and tantalizing opportunities by simply allowing it to be what it is.  This is where control and lack of control meet.  Finding the balance is where the crest of the creative lies (for me).  The truth is, for the methods that I use in my Nautilus Series, anyone can do them as a beginner and get some kind of a result.  That is Artglass101.  What I have done is to take this to Artglass 605 which means years of work and practice and observation.  It was my teacher who said there wasn’t much you could do with powders and large pieces.  I took it upon myself to see if this was true.  I certainly didn’t find this out with any teacher.  I found it out on my own and what I found was that glass powders, when properly understood, offered up incredible potential, even for very large pieces. You just have to understand it and not assume that something is the way it is just because you think it is so.  For something that can create a vague veil of color smeared across the surface of glass on the first try, it is hard for some to understand how it can be taken to the place where it exists in my work.  I like such places because they represent an oasis of creative room where others aren’t trying to copy.  I have seen how my more difficult techniques have been appropriated by a few glass artists and I have been able to see the things that frustrated me initially frustrating them as well.  In one case, the artist stopped making the pieces because he could not get past a certain technical hurdle.  This hurdle, which I had mastered only came by repetition and learning from the glass all that I needed to know.  When you are only interested in trying to pick up a look from another artist to try and fold into your own work, this most often means that you aren’t really very engaged in doing the work necessary to take things to the next level.

There are other methods for getting patterns in the glass which often involve chunks of colored glass fused to the surface of glass.  One is the use of a type of cane called murrine (pronounced marine-ee).  This is where a cane is cut so that it is viewed on end instead of on its side.  You can create pictures with this type of cane.  In fact, some glass artists have pushed this to the extreme by making “portrait” murrine which has imagery as delicate as a painting which is the result of many canes being bundled together, pulled out into a small cane and then chopped up and laid out to be rolled up onto the outside of a cylinder of glass and then blown out in a vase or bowl.

For those interested in understanding how this is all done, either visit your local hot glass studio and ask some questions or watch the glass being made or go to youtube and watch a “cane rollup” technique by simply putting those terms into the search window to check it out for yourself.  In the end, all of this is in learning how to do what is difficult look easy.  It isn’t always as easy as it looks, not by a long shot, which is why it often takes years to begin to master glass as an expressive medium.  It can also lead you to appreciating the craft and skill necessary to make what I think of as sheer miracles in a medium that is unlike any other.  I don’t normally toot my horn about all of this probably because I am just not very good at it, but what I am probably good at is making all of this seem deceptively easy.  Once you understand how its not easy at all, you are on the first part of a journey towards appreciating hot glass as a frustrating difficult but incredibly rewarding material!

glassblowing

Making Your Own Ornament – The “B.Y.O.B.” (Blow Your Ornament Ball) In 2013


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early cup

It’s that time of year again!  If facing the gift giving season puts you in a state of angst, consider that there is a world out there where education and gift giving merge and you can let your hair down creatively and experience the ancient art of glassblowing for yourself.  That’s right.  Wouldn’t it be really cool to make your own ornament this Christmas?  Well, you can.  Here are the details:

From now until January 10th, you can blow your own ornament and you can lock in your savings by signing up by December 10th.

The regular retail price for blowing your own ornament is normally $47.00 but the promotional price for this deal is if you are an individual you  get it for $30.00.  If you bring a friend or are part of a group, you each can get the class for just $24.00.  Since the class is considered a service, it is not taxable in the state of Virginia.

shapingcopy

Who Can Participate?

The youngest student we have had for our annual BYOB event was five.  The oldest was 90.  The great thing about this class is that we can easily customize it to the age groups that are participating as well as the comfort zone of each person.  Don’t like really hot temperatures?  We can take the blow pipe and get the glass out of the furnace for you.  You can do as much or as little of the process as suits you.  Our five year old was more like a director who danced in the studio as she made her decisions about what colors I should add to her pieces and she was ready to blow the glass at the end, making each of the five ornaments she got to make that evening.  With this example, I hope I have provided you with an idea about just how flexible we are with our students.  You only do as much of what you feel comfortable doing and you get to be on the blowing floor designing and making your own glass creations!  To do this, its important to communicate first what you feel your capacity is for heat exposure and we adjust accordingly.  Is something too hot?  No worries!  With our glassblower shadowing you at each step along the way, help is just an arms length away!

How To Get Started

First, contact us for dates that are still available at our link below.  Our schedule of available dates is constantly changing and its important to get your appointment asap!  As a general guide times available for this event currently are:  MWF 10 am to 2 pm and then 6 pm to 9 pm.  Tuesdays and Thursdays are available 6 pm to 9 pm, and after December 15 our schedule opens up on Tuesdays and Thursdays so that both morning and afternoon & evening hours are available (same as for MWF times).  Weekends are available from 10 am until 9 pm.  We are not open on Christmas Day and New Years Eve and New Years Day.  To register for this promotional event, you need to go to FB and “like” us at the following link (clicking on the link will open a new tab/window in your browser) :

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

Then, simply message us on Facebook about your preferred times and how many will be in your party who will be blowing glass and we will do the rest!

How Long Does It Take?

I schedule each ornament “class” in a half-hour cycle. A class is in truth one-on-one instruction so we can have as many or as few people signed up as you want!  Sometimes we get through much faster than just half an hour, but some people will need more time to make their delicious glass creation.  Also, your ornament has to go into a special cooling oven once it has been blown where it is available the following day. For those who are traveling a distance from the studio, shipping is available.  We have shipped all across the world and know how to get very delicate glass to its destination all in one piece.  Each piece is in its own gift box unless your piece is blown larger than our standard-sized ornament gift boxes in which case it is carefully wrapped in bubble wrap or foam to keep it safe for taking away.

Where Are You Located?

We are located at 8685 Virginia Avenue, Newport, Virginia 24128.  We are 13 miles from I-81 on Route 460W and are about 43 miles from Roanoke Virginia and 6.5 miles from Blacksburg, Virginia.  Contact Parker Stafford for detailed directions (through our FB page or at info@staffordartglass.com).  The studio is located directly on Route 460W so you can see us from the highway!

Studio 5
The Studio in Newport

What Do I Need To Wear?

We require that you wear only 100% cotton clothing.  Synthetics can break down from the brief exposures to heat and we just don’t like them.  So check your clothes; no cotton/synthetic blends either!  Do not wear open-toed shoes. Clothes should be comfortable to you, not too loose.  Wearing a T-shirt with a long-sleeved shirt over it is an EXCELLENT idea.  You can then adjust for heat while also wearing the long sleeved shirt to protect your arms against any radiant heat you might encounter.  Normally the studio does not get oppressively hot, but it can get warm and most normally the heat is experienced more as brief periods when heating the glass up for the next step.  Wear shoes that grip well and leather is best.

I Don’t Want To Make An Ornament – What Other Options Are There?

You could make a small suncatcher for the same price!  For $10.00 more, you can also make a superglobe which is a suncatcher that is approximately 10 inches in diameter with more color and opportunities for cool visual effects across its surface.  These make great display pieces in large windows, for example!  It takes a little more time to make a superglobe, so make sure we know you want to make one so we can schedule accordingly!

What Do I Need To Bring?

Bring yourself.  Bring your family!  But please, no clowns….we don’t like clowns….But seriously!  You are welcome to bring friends along to watch if you want.  Taking photos is encouraged.  We are family friendly and are happy to discuss glassblowing with you and how we make the things you see in the studio.  We provide you with safety glasses, gloves and even arm protectors if you need them.  Your price includes all materials and supplies and there are no add-ons either! Having something to drink afterwards is a good idea in order to stay hydrated.

While visiting our neck of the woods, we can suggest some really great restaurants in our area that have been been making the news where you can bask in your new-found creative spirit while eating good food.  We have a great sandwich place with a green twist (sustainability!) called Mikie’s 7th (closed on Sunday) which is just 2/10 of a mile from the studio as well as The Palisades (6 miles) in Eggleston and The Bank restaurant in Pearisburg.  These restaurants stand out from the crowd and are all locally owned and operated by locals who love to make really good healthy food (many things on their menus are locally sourced and even organic when they can!) There are other options available in the New River Valley including Blacksburg to our East and a number of other interesting places to see and food to eat!  Just let us know if you are interested in making some new discovery while you are visiting!

If you are coming from further afield, let us know how long you plan to stay and we can offer up suggestions for where to stay, what to see, what to eat, and where to go.  We have a couple of interesting covered bridges within minutes of the studio (who knew, right?), and some beautiful vistas we can point you to along with other places to visit.  Our region is host to more artists and artisans per capita than most localities in the state, so there are a lot of very interesting gift shops offering handmade items as well as cultural events that happen year round.  Stafford Artglass is part of the Giles County Artisan Trail network of  19 counties in Southwest Virginia that include studios, restaurants, farms, and galleries.  With so much here, let us know what we can do to help make your stay more interesting!

Happy Holidays and I hope to see you at the studio!

~Parker

Art and Design, glassblowing

New Work


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Perfumer2
©Parker Stafford

If you are an artist then you know the importance of new work.  Developing new winning designs is a way to not only generate renewed interest in your brand, but it serves an integral effect of helping to keep you creatively vital.  I know that for me I get a big bump behind developing new work that helps to push production for a while.  I feel better.  Life just FEELS better to me and my mind is working in a much more fertile way as I wonder just what might be next on the creativity front.  Its as if the world moves from few options to one where options are just bursting at the seams.  Such is the effect that inspiration has on us.

The last four years have brought unprecedented change to my life.  From a severe shoulder injury, to a divorce, to managing an eight-entity partnership to being without a home and without income.  Being instantly disabled was no fun. The doctor explained I would not do anything except therapy with my shoulder for an entire year.   The combination of pain killers and discomfort and my inability to work was like a depth charge in my world.  It shook my confidence, it took me back to square one, and it also gave me a solid period of introspection into WHY I was doing what I was doing and caused me to step back and look—really look—at the who when where and why’s of all of this.. When the tree was shaken in this way I had to look long and hard and honestly at WHY I was motivated to do the things I was doing.  Why was I running a business in production glass?  It isn’t as simple an answer as you might at first expect.  Having a marriage break up during this time was itself a double-whammy and was made much more difficult by a spouse who sought to put children in the middle of it all while also limiting my exposure to them.  The economy was in the doldrums and I had few options available to me as I recovered just enough to wind up in another pot of soup.  And in the midst of all of this very terrible stuff was a center of clarity and purpose…..and even design.  I don’t believe in destiny.  I believe we create much of this.  A life can have a design that often escapes our notice but emerges in times when we allow ourselves to grow quiet.  If you step back and look at our culture and world as a whole, we really aren’t known as the species that quiets itself.  What we take as quieting the mind is akin to a brief distraction from the normal rush of inner dialog that goes along with our days.  You just never realize just how much you do it until you are suddenly without it.  Boom.  The sound goes off. The lights go out.  You are suddenly suspended within a deep blue buoyant ocean of a place.  What happens to you in places such as these?  In sensory deprivation tanks the mind is known to feed information out of itself for its own consumption just in order to keep the information loop it is so used to having supplied to it, going.  We never realize any of this until something comes along to put the brakes on things.  Its relative, so breaking the frame of reference just a little does a lot to begin to shift awareness, feeling, and being.

So, putting away the violins for a minute, I want to say that one of the few things that has helped me get through this period has been the ability to create.  During this time period I have had some of the biggest outputs of writing in my life.  I amassed a 700 page manuscript for a book, wrote several children’s stories and began developing new work and classes for my studio business.  I have written music, poetry, maintained up to three blogs and wrote an article for an online magazine on the subject of nonduality.  I was asked to teach at two colleges locally.  Now I teach at just one.  Part time and perfect.  It keeps me in the mix with young minds that want to be involved in new and different projects in a collaborative way, much as was done this past semester with my sculpture students in making blown glass sculptural forms for the Glass Garden project that I wrote about a few posts down the line.

Being able to have friends who serve as inspirational source-points can be incredibly important for turning the boat in your life around.  I know that for me, the creative was the one force that made the difference between madness and great joy.  It wasn’t a crutch; it was a means for changing how I thought, how I felt and how I reacted to the world around me.  A curious thing happens in the brain when we choose to feel differently; we do!  Our bodies stop pumping out things like adrenaline, which is a stress chemical and begins to pump out things like endorphins, dopamine, and other feel-good compounds.  The body is actually a loyal servant to our own minds and feelings and will most often mirror our thinking and feeling state as precisely as it can chemically. If you care to know just how fast this change can take place, observe as you allow your feelings to shift from one mood to the next. Our bodies can shift on a dime for us if we realize that it is we who control the boat and where its sailing!  Too often, though, we wind up being mastered by our feelings, and this can put people into quite dismal places indeed.  At the end of the day, though, until you understand that YOU are in control of all of this, even your own so very crazy emotions (that feel out of your control), you wont develop the sense of personal responsibility and self mastery that is necessary to have the confidence to take charge of your interior life and put it into a more positive direction.

Shell form 5 -b sizedSo art and creativity was a powerful way through all of this for me.  This was good, too, because I like simple and nondogmatic.  I happen to believe or feel that all of this here was not meant to be difficult but can actually be amazingly simple.  Like falling off a log.  Instead, though, we often set up barriers to our success.  I know I have.  Lots of them.  Why?  it all comes down to self love.  Not selfish narcisism, but rather a reverence for your own self as a gateway to worlds of wonder and boundless joy and love.  We tend to mess it up somehow, self-sabotaging most often.  Somewhere along the line we begin to feel that we aren’t good enough.  We are then on the lookout for any suggestion that we aren’t.  Our minds actually are on the lookout for ANYTHING that matches this pattern turning in our minds or hearts.  The thing about these patterns is that they are like plants; they will continue to self-propogate and can wind up getting worse.  You can also in that moment choose to go in the other direction and actively change the pattern into something different.  You can literally change your mind.  You can change how it operates, how it responds, how it chooses from a list of behaviors.  One of the most powerful ways to change these negative patterns is through creativity.  By being creative, you are granting yourself permission to be happy and to enjoy what it is you are doing as well as to begin to consider not just new ideas but also allowing yourself to enjoy something that you may have felt edgy or uncertain about (because maybe you felt like you just weren’t GOOD enough at it) for some time now. Sitting down with a guitar and playing music alone might at first seem like a lonely thing to do, but it can also be an incredibly nurturing thing too. Giving yourself the freedom to dream wildly and creatively is another way of honoring your own insides. It can be a game changer, it really can.  We now know that the very substance of our brains actually undergoes change as we begin to rewire the brain by developing different thought and feeling patterns.  We can see how different parts of the brain begin to light up when we move away from anxiety and uncertainty and allow ourselves to play and have fun. Play and fun are not mere idle activities; they are the very substance of what gives us long lives, healthy hearts, bodies and minds, and productive relationships.  When we are happy, when we are engaged, everything moves so much more smoothly.

As a result of all of this I remind myself that I need to stop what I am doing periodically and design new work.  Already I have begun some very different things.  Who knows if they will be of any interest.  When it comes to developing new work you do what you like and what winds up selling helps to support the business and more innovation.  Its not unlike a publishing company or movie producer that has blockbusters that help subsidize the less successful but just as worthy lesser known movies or books. I can remember making some of the ugliest suncatchers ever.  They were an experiment that went wrong.  I took them to a show and placed them in a basket on the floor.  They were the first things to sell and were gone within the first hour of the show.  So there is no way to gauge popularity; do what you like, make what you love and leave the rest to the fates.  Really.  If this is about pleasing other people, you are going to spend many sleepless hours trying to do just that when the only thing that ever made any sense or works is pleasing yourself.  I know maybe that sounds self centered, but you know, I have noticed that when I am happy, those around me feel that happiness and respond to it.  If I am not right then those around me are most certainly affected.  Instead of seeking to fill your cup from others, fill it yourself so that you are overflowing.  If we each did this we would each be in a lot better shape emotionally, and socially as a species.

This year I have embarked on some very divergent ideas creatively.  I wanted to do fish for my home.  I made some out of ceramic.  I wanted a garden because of how being amidst living things make me feel.  Last week I had a hummingbird buzz around my head as I stood stock still watching it move through the garden.  Bees and butterflies by the dozen are zooming in and out of this garden and it just lights me up to watch.  It lights me up to watch people enjoy making art, enjoying what they are doing.  I am making new work in glass, more different than anything I have ever done and yet its also some of the most satisfying so far.  I am breaking away from the vessel more and pushing blown forms into sculpture.  I am beginning to make water fountains; this was something I had NEVER considered but once I saw the results of what I and my students had created, I was hooked.  I wanted one in my yard, too. I wanted TWO.  One in the front, one in the back yard!  Here is glass and color and water all in one place creating sound and movement. Maybe its not highbrow, but I am a simple man.  Sometimes the sublime speaks to us through the ray of light peeking through the trees, or in the particular pthalo green we have on our pallet for the day.  In each moment, tucked between the obvious and the esoteric there is something and it is waiting quietly for us to recognize it.  When we do, it doesn’t require grandiose visions.  Its as simple as a smile, as grand as a waterfall.  It is in both, and it waits for all of us.  The gateway is in allowing ourselves, which is so very much like what making great art and invention is all about.

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