Friday, March 28, 2014

Taking a Leap

5x5 fused glass, In Progress (after 2 firings) 
6x8, in progress, not yet fired

6x12 in progress, not yet fired, first attempt with the glass paint I have been developing.

In progress, experiments with glass paint continued (left 2 pieces) Poppies in progress, 2nd firing

Here are a few recent works in progress, most need another firing or two with additional detail.  I've been working on a variety of ideas lately, but I enjoy working from older black and white photographs I took years ago.  I am continuing my experiments with pigments and fluxes to achieve a paint with a viscosity that I am comfortable working with.  It is time consuming with lots of trial and error and failures, but with each failure I eliminate another variable.  As an added and unplanned for bonus, after taking the pastel workshop last month, I was inspired to also try to develop a line of pastels for use on glass so I am also using the pigments and experimenting with various formulas to achieve a usable pastel that can be fired on glass.  I have learned quickly that accurate measurement and precise note-taking are a must, something my ADD brain fights daily.  I owe much thanks to my good friends Gloria Moses, Laurie Mueller, and Trish Lyons Ansert  who encourage and inspire me to keep trying new things, offering much needed positive input and support.  My new kiln will make a huge impact on the direction I am able to go with my art.  And as always, I am grateful to my loving and patient fiance who trusts that I know where I'm going with this thing called art and taking a leap of faith that I will someday make a living with it :)

Finally, great news! (I saved the best for last) 

I received some unexpected news yesterday (coincidently, or perhaps prophetically, while I was picking up my new kiln at the time)  A couple of months ago I applied for a workshop at the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning NY, located in the Finger Lake region of Northern NY. CMOG is the world's largest glass museum and home to The Studio, an internationally renowned facility that offers glass making classes from some of the top glass artists of our time. 

I applied for a week long workshop with artist Catharine Newell called "Taking a Leap"  Catharine is renowned for her use of glass powders in her work, a direction I have been taking recently.  The Corning Museum offers a scholarship program to cover the cost of the workshop and hotel costs for the week, including a day before and a day after the workshop to utilize the research library and museum.  I did not expect to be accepted, let alone get a scholarship for $1,500, covering almost all of the expenses of the week long course.  Needless to say, I am very excited for the opportunity!   

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Lessons For a Teacher

A decade ago I was a senior in college.  Yes, I was 34 at the time.  It was my second go around at college.   It was my final semester at the University of Toledo to complete my degree in art education.  A single mom of 4 children under the age of 10, working and going to school full time, life at that time was certainly a challenge. One day, during a particularly difficult time in this last semester, I was late for a class.  Unfortunately it was a class that had a guest speaker.  The regular teacher of the class understood my personal circumstance, but the guest speaker did not.  When I arrived 10 minutes late, apologetic, breathless, and embarrassed, she proceeded to condemn and make an example of me and how unacceptable and rude it was that I was tardy.  I already felt horrible about being late, she didn't need to make an example out of me to my much younger peers who did not know or appreciate what I was going through or my circumstances.  After that, I vowed to never, ever, to call out my students publicly after what that teacher did to me.  Until now, I didn't really think of the event, but after seeing her name flash before me on Facebook, I realized I will never forget.

Recently,  I stumbled upon this teacher in a mutual group on a social network site.  I was surprised to see her name there and the memories of that class flashed before me.  Angry at first, for the shame she tried to bring to me, I thought of ways I could view the experience in a different way.  The only way I could think of was to inform others of how a single meeting, single circumstance, single opportunity, can impact a life forever.   I could have let her destroy my determination, or I could persist.    In my fragile condition at the time, something like that could have made me quit school altogether; perhaps another student would have.    Instead, it made me more sensitive to how I approach each situation and my students, "my kids".

 The other day, a new "kid" came into my life.  He was timid, scared, shy, and insecure.  I was instantly transported to the day I was "called out" for being late.  At first, I took him under my wing, but realized that he needed to be with his peers.  It seems that they realized this as well.  I was amazed at the other students that welcomed him and assisted him in this situation.  Forgive me for being obscure, but I do not want to give too much information to protect them, but suffice it to say, I'm so proud of my "kids".

It's amazing how we remember the details of situations such at this.  I thought I had pushed it far into my subconsciousness.  For all of you teachers out there: do not forget what an impact you make on those you teach. Every word is important, every word matters.


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Writing, Symphonies, and an Old Man

"Ernie" 8x10 glass

I have often thought that I should have been a writer instead of an artist.  In college, I loved being given a topic to defend or analyze, or a book to try to derive further meaning. It made me feel smart.  One of my proudest moments was when I received my first graded essay back from my English Composition II professor. Mr. C, (I cannot remember his name for the life of me)(yes, that's a cliche followed by a contraction, both unheard of in formal writing, but cut me some slack, it's a blog ;)

 Anyway, Mr. C proclaimed on the first day of class that he does not give A+ grades and rarely will even give an "A".  I was ok with that. I expected nothing greater than a B anyway, based on my lackluster high school performance in writing. As he handed back the papers, I asked if we could re-write our paper for a better grade.  He ignored my question and continued to hand out the papers.  When he finally returned mine to me, I was shaking in fear that I had failed.  Flipping to the last page,  I was shocked to see the scrawled red  A+ on the last page and lavish words of praise that I did not expect.  After my initial bit of pride and self admiration, I admit I was actually a little disappointed. That was it. A+.  The best there was to earn, to achieve. But it did not sit well with me.   It meant I had nothing else to do; nothing to fix, and worse, nothing to strive for.

 My nature was always to strive to be the the best I could be, whether it be in track, the Navy, art, parenting.  I loved a challenge.   However, a top grade on my first paper of the semester was a bit of a conundrum for me.  I had exceeded my professors expectations right out of the blocks.  How could anything I wrote from that day forward ever compare to the highest grade this professor had ever given in his career and had made very clear that there was no such thing as a perfect paper?

 Confused, and more than a bit intimidated, I approached his desk after class and asked him why did I get a perfect grade when he had been adamant that no such thing existed.  He thought for minute before he spoke: "How could I give anything less to a paper that did not have a single grammatical error but also read like a symphony?" Insecure and very shy back then, I simply nodded and turned away, even more confused. Symphony? I couldn't play chopsticks on the piano, words like symphony were not in my vocabulary.  No grammatical errors? I guarantee a grammar check of this blog post would turn up more than several.

Why do I share this story now?  To be honest, I am not sure.  My intention is certainly not to brag about my high grade achievement in English composition two decades ago at a local college.  I am certain that I have something relevant to share here, but perhaps that is for you to figure out, I simply don't know.  However, here is what prompted this post:

I was inspired to write this when an artist friend posted on her blog her experience this past year as a full time artist after quitting her stable job in the corporate world.  She talked about how grateful she is to be doing what she loves, despite what others said to discourage her from it.  Reading her post, I remembered my love for writing, and questioned myself as to why I never pursued it.    There are many answers I suppose, perhaps you readers might be able to untangle the mystery for me, but for now I am happy pursuing my art.   As I go through the long days in the studio,  I compare each firing of a piece of glass, or each wipe of the canvas to the numerous times I would read and re-read and edit a simple essay to make it perfect.  I realize now that my writing back then was not much different than the paintings I paint, or the glass art I create.  I was perfecting my craft, trying to make a masterpiece.  Writing was easy for me, I suppose that's why I rejected it.  If it wasn't hard work it wasn't worth doing.  When I first started selling my paintings years ago on Ebay( the first year ebay was on the internet), I couldn't keep up with the demand, yet I was uncomfortable with the prices the paintings were selling for, even though the market was dictating the price.  I stopped selling my paintings online to go back to college to be a "real" artist.   I never wanted to be perceived as talented but rather as a hard worker.  It is all I know.  What I didn't know back then was that I was working hard, and had worked very hard to get to the point where I could paint the paintings that seemed to come so easily to me.  I guess I was looking at the sales of my paintings like the A+ on the essay.  I needed a bigger challenge, it was too easy.  (Side note:  If I could go back in time and re do this, I would keep painting and selling and would probably not be typing this blog now.  such is life)

I remember distinctly every paper I wrote for each book we read in that class.  There were 5 of them, the final one being Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway.   A short novel, with simple words, it was by far my favorite book to write about.  It is about a young boy who sees an old washed out fisherman struggle to keep doing what he loves even at the very end of his life, and he wants to help him.  The old man resists the boys help, but the boy does not give up trying to help, nor does the old man give up his dream of the "big fish".  Many people see the book as the struggle with man and age, or the relationship with him and the boy,  but I looked at it with the perspective of leaving a legacy.  At the end of his life, the old man wanted to leave his mark, his legacy. Ultimately, his legacy was his impact on the boy, not so much the battle with the fish.   Isn't that what we all want?  To leave a permanent impression or impact on the world when we are gone?  This is why I paint.  I want to leave a legacy, not just in spirit for those who share this brief journey with me, but for generations to come.   So while my art my not speak of social injustice, inequality, current events, gender issues, art reflects my life, what I love, my family, where I come from, and where I am going. I do not need to paint pictures of worlds not my own, I paint what is within reach and relevent to me.  This is not to say I condemn those that do, because often times it is easier to paint that which we do not know.  I too will paint a subject foriegn to me.  But my body of work, my proudest pieces, will be obvious, and come from the story that is my life.  My art friend commented on a piece that I created that is based on my memories as a young girl growing up in Concord NH.  She asked: "how could you ever part with this piece?"  Referring to : "A Street Called Home", which is a glass collage of all my favorite things, memories, and mental glimpses of the days I spent downtown, I responded: " I have the important memories permanently etched in my brain, I need nothing more that that.  Besides, I can make more art, memories are priceless"  I hope to create more in this series in the months to come.

Thank you Nancy Medina, for your post that reminded me of why I create, and to just keep painting what I love, the rest will follow.  

p.s.I know the time will come that I will realize that I have to write.  I have many stories to tell, but no time to tell them now, I have stories to paint and create.  For now, here is a short one:

"Ernie" is a fused glass piece from a photo I took a few years ago.  I attended a family reunion with a friend where I knew no one else at the picnic.  Feeling a bit awkward, I busied myself with my camera and snapped many photos of people just being people.  Uncle Ernie was the only one at the reunion who tried to get to know me.  He was a truly sincere gentleman, with a smile an acre wide, and the most clear blue eyes I've ever seen.  I've wanted to paint this image of him since the day I took it, and this is my first attempt.  The painting above is in powdered glass, a very difficult medium to control.  There will likely be several more in other media.  This  painting is part of Ernie's legacy, though it is  likely he will never know.  I don't even know if he is still alive, but I hope so. He impacted my life one hot summer day just by being kind to a stranger.  That's legacy enough for me.

Monday, March 17, 2014

In Like a Lion, Out Like A..........

As most mid-westerners know, this winter has been a real bear.  Over the course of the winter, the cold has driven 2 possums, many feral cats, and more recently a skunk into the barn.  The blue jay family warmed themselves under the dryer vent, and the baby doe I stumbled upon in the thicket near the garden this winter are all indications that this will be a winter to be remembered for years to come.  What would the fox say? (I know, terrible joke, but I bet the song will be running through your head for hours to come)  I love poking the proverbial nest.

This weekend I got out of the house for the first time in months....I met 2 of my favorite art peeps Gloria Moses from Chicago, and Trish Lyons Ansert from Louisville in Toledo for a 1 day pastel class at the Toledo Botanical Gardens, hosted by the Toledo Artists Club with pastel Artist Mary Jane Erard. When I saw the posting on facebook for her class, I knew I had to attend.  (No, I am not a pastel artist, I've never painted with pastels, but have given it a few pathetic attempts in the past, only to end up with blurry mud, but I was drawn to her clean colors and very defined lines, brilliant landscapes,and more importantly, it very closely matched the look I've been experimenting with recently in glass.  (more on this later)  I needed a diversion from the experimentation and intense (almost studious) things I've been doing in the lab, (oops, I mean studio) for the past few months.  I've ordered more things that end with "ate" and "ide", complete with health warnings, and use alpha numeric name that rivals my college chemistry course (that I failed).

Mary Jane's course was a perfect respite from the worst winter I've seen in my life (and this is coming from a true Yankee; a New England native who remembers studded winter tires, mile long treks up the mountain with laundry and groceries after the car got stuck at the bottom, and snow until the end of April)

Mary Jane's subject matter, her sunny disposition, well laid out examples and materials and a day in beautiful Toledo Botanical Gardens, albeit frozen, were just the re-charge I needed to feel inspired.  I plan on taking next months class (unless I have a track meet to attend) and many more in the future.  Please let me know if you want to join me!

Here's a bit more news on what I've been up to.  If you are not a glass artist you will likely just want to skip the rest, lest your eyes glaze over in boredom.

As a glass artist, turned oil painter, turned glass-oil painter, I have striven to find the exact medium that fits what I want to accomplish in my creative endeavor.  I have been experimenting with "painting" on glass for years, but after trying nearly all available commercially made materials and or enamels made to paint on glass (and fire to fusing temperature)(not oven temp paints) I have given up on the idea that there exists a product that encompasses not just my goals but the palette and quality that I seek.  Realizing this, I began the painstaking process of breaking down the elements and properties of glass (90 coe for simplicity).  In the process I've stumbled upon many an artist that "paints" in glass.  The stained glass artists paint, but not in the way I would like to paint.  Frit painters "paint", but that is layering and sifting.  Yes it results in a painterly look and effect, but its not painting like one would paint with a brush.  Sgrafitto is more drawing and likened to printmaking.  I went through all of the above techniques, but in all of them, I am forced to think like a glass artist first, not a painter.  I am a painter.  I want the freedom to paint instinctively with a brush and a single stroke, on an easel, on glass, with paint that will fire to fusing temperatures and achieve the look I seek, as a glass artist and oil painter.  Perhaps I am asking too much, but I don't think I am.  This quest has led me to more college science department websites than art sites.  I've learned much, but there is much more to learn.  While I experiment and make mistakes, I am learning.  Every mistake is costly, but I learn something from it.    I will post some trials and errors soon for those interested.  For now, I am happy for the return of my easel's long winter visit in Kentucky, and the generosity and trust of a friend who allowed me a "payment plan" to purchase a much larger kiln to explore my dreams......stay tuned....

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Breaking the Rules

In progress 8x10 fused glass

4x4 Juicy Pear fused glass

When it comes to life, I don't break too many rules.  However, with art I seem to go out of my way to break every hard and fast rule out there, especially with glass.  Sometimes this is due to my own rebellious nature and I want to see for myself what will happen even if the "experts" advise otherwise.  For example, most glass artists are told never to open the kiln until it is at room temperature.  I break this rule A LOT.  Most of the time I do it with test pieces or experimental things and I don't want to waste any more time than necessary waiting for it to cool.  I don't mind if test pieces aren't properly annealed since they are just for my own learning, so I fling open the lid and enjoy the heat warming up my studio.  Sometimes, I over fire things in my kiln because it is old and doesn't have a pyrometer.  Unless I sit with my eye glued to the peephole, it's hard to judge when it will be ready.  Again, I use this kiln for my test pieces and experiments, relying on my other kiln with the confusing digital controller to pay attention for me.  Today was one of those fun days where I had some really cool results from my lack of attention.  I'm going to actually try to repeat the same mistake deliberately to see if I get consistent results, and if so, I will share the outcome, but suffice it to say, it's something I haven't seen out there in the fused glass community so it could have been a one time fluke.

Here are some of my works in progress from February.  I'm saving my pennies to buy a bigger kiln.  I'm limited in sizes under 8x10 for now.  Many of the pieces I did in Jan and Feb were based off of a painting I did in oil.  It was easier for me to try to achieve the painterly look by using a subject that was easy for me.

I promised to post some of my piles of tears, and the piles have grown.  I meant to actually finish some of them before posting the piles, but I keep moving on to new projects.  Likely these will languish in my studio for some time........

one of many of my piles of tears

For those of you that are wondering if I will ever paint again, the answer is yes (I'm even taking a one day workshop in a couple weeks) but I  never anticipated this winter would run into March and still be in the negative digits.  My paint is in my barn studio and the cool temps are not conducive to good paintings and it takes forever for them to warm up to proper consistency.  For now, I'm quite content "painting" with glass and breaking all kinds of rules in my studio.   Speaking of breaking.  This piece befuddled me.  It shouldn't have broken.  I can't figure out what happened.  Anyway, it was a test piece for a larger one of my studio.  I'm happy with where it was going so I will definitely be doing a larger version.  I've been experimenting with a lot of different techniques and materials but I plan on doing some series as soon as I get my glass order. I'm liking the printmaking look of the one below so I plan on playing around with that a bit more, but my main goal is to achieve a look in glass that I do in oil painting.

I am applying for summer art shows and will be at all of my usual haunts and hopefully some new ones .  Expect to see some very different work this year, and a few surprises too ;)