It has been a busy, sometimes exhausting, sometimes fun, month for me attending three different craft fairs on three subsequent weekends. The first one required driving six hours in a packed car, and three days in a big city. The others were more local and actually a lot more successful. You learn a lot about people sitting in a booth for seven days: people love to touch things, people love buying something from people they know, people are, in general, hesitant about glass because of its perception as fragile, and most people who say they’ll be back don’t come back. It is a real adventure in retail and I so much prefer being in my studio, but it is a great way to get your artwork in front of people during a time of year when they are more inclined to buy art.
Success – when do I have it? how do I feel it? how do I measure it? It seems to be a volatile, hard-to-pin-down thing. Lately I have been thinking about how I define success because of my experiences at my most recent show. My pieces were selling very well and it was a great feeling, continuing to make some income week after week. I was feeling successful. But then I started questioning why I could only feel this when some other person decided to buy my art – isn’t there more to it that that? Shouldn’t I be a success whenever I meet challenges each week, be it creating a brand new design, or figuring out how to repair a flawed piece. I’m slowly expanding my definition of success and embracing it. Sales have slowed down, but I am trying to hold on to this feeling of success flitting around in my brain.
I’m just back from a trip to Portland to restock my essential materials – sheets and jars of multicolored glass. Portland is the home of Bullseye Glass, which offers a broad range of colors and products for the glass artist. All of the glass is COE compatible, meaning that it will expand and contract at the same rate in a kiln. Fuse together two glasses that are not COE compatible and cracks will result, ruining your artwork. That is the last thing you want to have happen when you’ve spent lots of time putting together a beautiful piece. Bullseye is like a candy store, full of tempting colors (do I really need that purple?), new mold shapes to slump my work into, and very helpful clerks, experienced artists themselves. I enter with my shopping list and I try to stick to it despite the temptations. Now its back to work in my studio!
There is a place for everything in my studio, and in my eyes it is very organized, but through a visitors eyes it is a jumble of equipment, supplies, materials and miscellaneous stuff. I know just which drawer to look in for a rod of black glass, or which shelf to reach for the blue frit. I’ve finally gotten myself into the habit of putting things back where they belong, realizing that it saves so much time and frustration in the long run. There is still a lot of room for improvement. It took me about a year to finally store my glass by color, letting me spend less time handling glass sheets, which for me means less opportunity for cutting myself. And then there are some things that I have more than one storage place for, the “old” place and the “new” place and they migrate between the two, creating problems when I want to find something fast. I’ve got to cut that out. It’s hard to pull myself away from my artwork and carve out time dedicated to becoming more organized, but in the end it is very much worth it. With North Coast Open Studios just around the bend (June 9 – 10) its time to take a look at my studio with a critical eye and fine-tune my organizational skills.
Here’s what I really like: the feeling of “flow” when I’m working on glass. Making fused glass art involves many steps, starting with researching and drawing the pattern design, then cutting pieces out of the various glass colors, grinding rough edges off the pieces, cleaning glass pieces thoroughly, assembling the finished product, adding frit, stringers and other details, and finally loading into the kiln. Once I start cutting out the pieces I find I enter a special “glass zone” where I lose track of time and am absorbed by what I am doing. I’ll think “Eighteen dragonfly wings, this will take forever!” and before I know it I’ll have them cut and ground and won’t really have noticed where the time has gone. The concept of flow was defined by psychology professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi as part of his theory of happiness. He has described flow as”being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.” Working in fused glass can definitely bring happiness, especially when you get on the “flow train”.
In our everyday lives we take for granted that our essential machines work: the computer, the car, the phone. In fact we just assume they will work for us. This is how I feel about my wonderful, reliable kiln – a 24″ x 24″ shiny workhorse that is fusing glass for me at least 4 days a week, sometimes 7. Until yesterday, when I looked up from my glass cutting and realized an error message was flashing on the kiln’s computer screen. I tried reprogramming it and running it again to no avail. It would not climb higher than 200 degrees, a far cry from the 1475 degrees I was targeting. So I spent today driving around to every electrical supply store in town to try and find a new relay, unfortunately with no success. I’ve ordered two (one for the next breakdown) and now must be patient until it arrives in 5 days. Just one small downfall of the art of glass fusing – having to rely on a machine other than yourself. It gives me renewed appreciation for the day-after-day reliability of my kiln. Maybe it just really wanted a vacation!