Vitrus interruptus as a teachable moment

>>>Vitrus interruptus as a teachable moment

Much as I love to whine, I won’t; I’m over my quota for the quarter. However, I’d just like to point out that I HAVEN’T SO MUCH AS TOUCHED A KILN CONTROLLER IN A MONTH!! Is there such a thing as glass cold turkey?

Still, it’s given me some time to process the directions my work is taking, come to a few realizations about what I do (and don’t do) well…and maybe make some course corrections. I think educators and HR people call that a “teachable moment,” which is a whole lot nicer than, say, “screwup.”

Lots of reasons for the hiatus: I’d pretty much done nothing but cast glass, non-stop, for the previous three months to get ready for the Guardino show. Client business (by day I’m a content strategist, AKA writer with an attitude) thankfully went from trickle to flood; I found myself dealing with serial emergencies pretty much 18 hours per day…leaving little time for art. Taxes happened. My friend Becky had an emergency and needed someone to babysit her downtown gallery for a few days (a task I love, but it ain’t exactly like I can sculpt clay on the cash register).

Besides, my frantic, last-minute Guardino rush left both studios looking like I’ve had my own personal tornado for a houseguest. For some reason I can’t work in a messy studio, and by the time I cleaned it up I’d have no time for glass.

Happily, I finally grabbed some solid glasshours Wednesday, shoved aside the mess and went back to work. Doing a few pate de verre bowls, a couple of small sculptures, some small-scale jewelry, casts for a few vessel waxes I’ve just never gotten around to making. Hopefully I’ll fill up the kiln with molds today, get a few more ready tomorrow, do a booth walkthrough with partner Terry tomorrow afternoon, and then spend the weekend making more.

I’m beginning to realize that I will probably never be a production glassmaker; I’m talking to a couple of high-end decorating folks about fancy glass tiles but a friend’s casual remark hit me like a cold-water shower. “Wouldn’t it be great if they bought 4,000 of them?”

Clunk. No. That would NOT be great.

This one rarely gets stroked, even though the hand-finish makes it very strokeable.

And so I discovered that MY idea of selling tile, or vessels or jewelry is maybe a dozen of each design. Three dozen, max. Retailers, wholesalers and architects probably have a different amount in mind. I’m kidding myself if I think I could churn out, say, a thousand of these (left) in a month or three.

It’s becoming clear (and there go those experienced artists, rolling their eyes at yet another of my duh moments) that there could be a reason why pate de verre is not mass-produced. Production stuff needs to be relatively simple to make. Also reproducible.

Pate de verre is neither, especially when you figure in the inevitable and extensive coldworking. Even if you 3D-printed this (assuming someone ever builds a 3D glassprinting machine), and refined it with a CNC coldworking system, it’d being more trouble (and expense) than it’d sell for, at least at this level of refinement.

Plus, now that I’ve got some sales under my belt I’m coming to a second realization: Transparent shiny stuff often sells better than translucent satiny stuff. No matter how many times I point out the beauty, delicacy and difficulty of pate de verre (above, left), the customer’s eye is invariably drawn to the billet-cast transparent version (below, right):

This one, from the same mold as the piece above, ALWAYS gets stroked. And oohed and aaaahed over. Transparency gets ’em, every time.

But I gotta admit after this last orgy of totally delightful transparent casting: The customer may have a point. Transparent stuff is luscious. So while I’m not abandoning pate de verre by any means, I’m beginning to understand that it’s probably a better choice for one-of-a-kind sculpture, and small, more easily produced transparent stuff might be a better choice for multiples.

I am working on some ideas in that direction. They are most likely NOT going to be ready for my big debut at an art fair (since that happens next week; I suspect my half of the booth will be the biggest grab-bag of techniques you’ve ever seen). But I’ll work on them anyway and see where they take me.

And yeah, I don’t know why it is that I need to learn all this stuff the hard way when the whole rest of the glassmaking world already knows it and maybe three seconds of concentrated thinking would make it glaringly obvious. But hey.

I’m also working on a proposal to get some kind of cooperative going between kilnglassfolk in the northwest, where designers develop simple products, everyone works on them with their own touches, and we sell through some kind of centralized organization. We’re playing around with the idea of grants, figuring out logistics, and trying to discover pricepoints and general feasibility. But that stuff is months or years away.

For now, I’ll just make glass.



  1. sunny strapp April 24, 2010 at 2:00 pm - Reply

    yea, toots laid that one on me at one of her tremendous expos. Her creativity was being smothered by her sucess. What a way to go down. If it could happen to me….

    thanks for the insight. As far as high pricing goes, if its a dynamite piece, who’s gonna say its not worth it? If you work 60 years doing junk, can you claim “rights” to high prices? Do you have to suffer first, or what….

  2. cynthia April 23, 2010 at 4:51 pm - Reply

    Thanks, all. Janet sometimes writing smoothly simply adds frosting to the cake of floundering. I kinda feel like I’m still searching for whatever the “one thing” is gonna be for me.

    Uhm…Sunny, Toots ZYNSKY said that? I know her work pretty well–is she saying…never mind.

    I know quite a few artists who do glasswork production-style; some are pretty successful with it. I admire their discipline, possibly because I don’t seem to have it. Each time I make another edition of something I see ways to improve it, start wondering what would happen if I moved this over there…next thing you know, it’s no longer identical.

    On pricing, the 14 pieces in the show ranged from about $150 to $6,000. I was later told by several people that $6,000 is way too high for an emerging artist (which is the most charitable way to put it). But when I subtracted commission and costs, there wasn’t all that much leftover at that price. Obvious conclusion is to get my costs down, which I’m working on.

  3. sunny strapp April 23, 2010 at 1:19 pm - Reply

    Toots Z once commented that to be a big hit in some ‘one thing’ is the road to never ending drudgery. It is very possible that some pres. from the electric company wants 30 of some piece. It happened to me, but not with casting, rather with fused blocks made of glass stacks like in the BE tip sheet. Went just fine, 30 pieces, each with original composition, around theme “cities”. Then he came back for the 3000 pieces. I was not rolling in big money and was going to give it a try. Had a big gas kiln and … why not? But then the price per unit came into focus. Wanna know a secret? You don’t have a chance trying to explain why one costs X and ten cost 10X. And 30 = 30X. And 3000 of those buggers cost 3000X. I could go down SOME in the price, but the work is still the same, and its just me doing it. It’s a One Slave shop. Which brings one to think about why the first unit had the price that it had. It seems that you’ve wrestled with that price confrontation recently.
    Besides that quagmire, who among the artists think that they have to do a string of 100 repeats? I’m not a potter by trade, nor a glass blower. I can understand their pride at the ability to re-produce anything ANY amount of times. If they can’t, their not pros. The biggies of bygone days who did p’d-verre all had factories. Thats not the direction I seek.

    A thought in question form: Can you give a low end and high end figure for your pieces in the last show? What was the spread between your less expensive and most expensive piece? I’d rather drive by and go in to see for myself, but I’m out of the neighborhood at this point in life. If its too tacky a question, just smile. :O)

  4. Barb R April 23, 2010 at 12:09 pm - Reply

    Funny, it’s the translucent satiny stuff that always catches my eye!

  5. Janet April 23, 2010 at 9:37 am - Reply

    Cynthia I am always amazed at your smooth writing skills… the part about learning the stuff the hard way … I thought it was only me resifting the ideas and techniques again and again…

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