hot glass

Art and Design, glassblowing

Diary Of A Crowfunding Effort


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Brie Jackson & Parker
Brie Jackson of WSLS News in Matrix Gallery after the interview

 

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.

Media Coverage

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.

The Metrics

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.

indiegogo campaign final

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.

indiegogo campaign2 12-28

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

Onward and upward!  A village did it!

HERE IS THE CAMPAIGN LINK

Art and Design, glassblowing

Campaign Is Live (with Links)


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The campaign is now up and running and in the time it took to get over here to post this, I have gotten my first donation already for my campaign Lighting The Gaia Lamp on indiegogo.com.

For those not familiar, this is a crowdfunding campaign.  It means that I am seeking the help of MANY people to give to support a project that I could not do without the help of many people who are willing to spread the word.  In fact, the success or failure of this campaign will be known in the numbers.  Maybe 1% of our population will be moved enough to give to this campaign, usually, so it is important that this 1% be reached.  Doing that is a numbers game.  It is how this will succeed.  It will be about who knows about my campaign.  I wont be able to do this without your help. My campaign is a FIXED campaign.  I either meet my goal of $5,600.00 by January 7th, or I do not get funded.  Any donations made to the campaign will be refunded by indiegogo/paypal who are the escrow holders for funds until the end of the campaign.

If you are a blogger, I encourage you to come and let’s do a trade:  share a post for sharing a post!  Or interview me if you do that kind of thing and put a story together about what I am doing.  Like the arts?  Like hot glass?  This campaign has all of that and more.  To learn the more, go to my campaign page here:

http://igg.me/p/lighting-the-gaia-lamp/x/9122044

Art and Design, glassblowing

Step By Step Design Of New Glass Work


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Dichroic being sized and cut to be put into 980 degree pick up box kiln
Dichroic being sized and cut to be put into 980 degree pick up box kiln

I thought it might be a good idea to document a few of the steps involved in the design and making of a new glass piece in the studio to give you glass enthusiasts a rare look into the process.

All design begins with an idea.  That idea is then implemented using already existing knowledge about how the piece designed might be accomplished.  Often this works well, but sometimes new tools, materials, and skills have to be made or mastered in order to make new work possible.  In the case of the work I am showing you, a special kiln is needed to preheat the looked glass strips called dichroic (shown in the picture above) to be preheated.  2100 degree glass will not stick to room temperature glass, so it has to be brought halfway up to molten temperature.

In the case of the piece being made today, I am designing a new piece for a retailers association in our area for their grand prize winner.  This piece will wind up being a little over a foot tall and will be composed of solid glass with air traps, which are controlled air bubbles trapped in the glass as part of what will be an ethereal design.

Dichroic in the pick up box, ready to be preheated prior to pick up onto hot glass
Dichroic in the pick up box, ready to be preheated prior to pick up onto hot glass

People often wonder what dichroic glass is.  You can see some colored strips sitting in the pickup box kiln above.  Dichroic was originally developed for the Lunar Rover cameras to cut down on sunlight which was cooking the film when under full sunlight.  It is a very thin, translucent, even, metallized coating on glass.  High tech, dichroic is expensive at about 150 dollars per eighteen inch sheet.

I then go to the furnace where the clear molten glass is kept and get a “gather” of molten glass on the end of a metal rod.  This is turned constantly to keep it from dripping onto the floor.  The glass is about 2100 degrees when it exits the furnace, so it moves like honey.

The glass is shaped into a small cylinder and allowed to cool after which I get another gather of glass.  Depending on the size of the piece, I will add dichroic to the outside of a gather.  In this case, I will be getting a third gather of glass.  The volume of the glass in total will be the volume of between two to three softballs in size.  You can see the successful first pickup of color below on the outside of the glass.

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You can see some trails of bubbles in the glass which are part of the design.

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The glass is then twisted to get a spiral.
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The glass is then dimpled which will trap a veil of small bubbles once the next gather is put over the glass.

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This is piece shows the clear gather now over the glass.  This piece is being shaped into an egg shape, which is done with a wet carbon felt pad.  This is all by hand.image

This is a smaller piece.  You can see how ethereal the dichroic can be!

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Once the piece is heated and shaped a number of times, it is cooled and the base stressed with cold water which allows it to break off evenly from the rod.  It is placed in a kiln at annealing temperature, about 950 degrees, and will slowly cool over a period of days.  The picture above shows some of the effects that a glass piece like this has.

 

imageA piece of glass like this will last the ages.  Thick, glass is very durable.  The picture above is a closese-up of the dichroic with the bubbles.  Cool, huh?

That is how pieces like this are done.  One great advantage of being able to work with an artisan is that you get up-close involvement in the design and making of glass which you have commissioned and helped to design.  This process can be as involved or as “arm chair” as you, the customer, desires.  For creating one of a kind looks for everything for display pieces, drawer pulls, sun catchers, drinking glasses, and more, you can’t beat what your local artisan can make for you!

For more on commissioning your own work, read my post a few posts down the line on the steps most often involved in commissioning work by a local studio!

Until then, be happy, do good, and BE good!

~Parker

 

 

 

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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!