Glassblowing in Seattle
It's like I've got the whole world in my hands... but actually it's the glass paperweight I made in Seattle at the Seattle Glassblowing Studio.
As I mentioned in my previous post, it was a bit pricey ($150 for a private 30 minute lesson, including the end result of the paperweight) — especially for my budget — but I just felt like while in Seattle, it was something I wanted to learn more about. It was my very big splurge. I was even more motivated and excited after I went to the Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit. Who knew glass could be so creative and inspiring?
Let's walk through some of the exhibit and the glassblowing process together, shall we?
Upon entry, the first thing aside from the beautiful signage and a brief history of Chihuly's life and some notable accomplishments — including the Bellagio ceiling which I was already stunned by when I saw it a year and a half ago —there's a display of oddly shaped glass with neon light tubes in them. I thought it was an incredible experiment of how glass can be shaped, and the addition of neon was brilliant. Most of what Chihuly did felt like successful glass experiments — how he could continually push the boundaries of what defined glassblowing as an art form.
For example, the next part of the exhibit, which showcased his work inspired by Northwest Coast Indians. The basket pictured above was against what glassblowing usually tries to accomplish — something symmetrical, and perfectly curved. Chihuly wanted to focus on creating movement like you see in the bends of woven baskets.
The next room after that was an oceanic theme. This sculpture (pictured above) went from floor to ceiling and was an intricate assortment of different blues and various forms of glass along with the sea creatures entangled within.
Photos do not do this, or much of the other elements, justice.
Another room featured a fiori ceiling theme — much like the Bellagio ceiling — the colors reflected to make you feel like you were in a different world.
I also love how Chihuly is inspired by nature and culture. The sculpture in the photo above was inspired by Niijima Floats — Japanese glass fishing floats.
I was also amazed by Chihuly's artwork/sketches. Sketches. Yes. Now older, blind in one eye, and with a dislocated shoulder, Chihuly shares his vision of the next project to his team through sketches/paintings.
Walking from the inside to the outside was an entirely different feel. To see his work in natural light gave it a feeling of expansiveness and lightness to me. It also made me feel like it was just part of the environment instead of in the spotlight. I especially loved the piece in the glass house, and the piece just outside of it (pictured above) — it feels so dynamic as if each tentacle of glass is actually squirming.
I also took some time to watch the videos being shown with insight into his process and art installations around the world. My favorite part was when he was talking about how he doesn't always know, or very rarely if at all knows, what the final piece will be. He'll change his mind the morning of sometimes of how he wants something to be put together. And that he doesn't think when he's creating because that means it's not original because he's taking it from something else. Maybe I misheard that line, but I'm going to go with that anyways because it makes sense to me.
If you want to see more of his works and some videos, visit his website here.
So I went from that experience, to the next one: learning how to make my own glass "sculpture."
I had pretty high hopes when I strutted into the Seattle Glassblowing Studio. Like maybe I was just going to discover some hidden talent and become an expert glassblower, and the instructor would be really impressed and I'd make something like Chihuly made. Because maybe my experience in something like ceramics in high school was really preparing me for this moment. It didn't.
It was actually more difficult than I thought. And required more patience than I thought. It's not that it takes that long to make something — technically I made a paperweight in thirty minutes (with help) — but to make that small paperweight you have to get the melted glass, wet the handle down so you can actually hold it, dip it in some coloring, put it into a heater, put color on again, put it into the heater, sit down and clamp and twist it, then add more glass, wet it, shape it... and make sure you have someone who knows what they're doing.
I'm thankful for my instructor because he really let me handle most of the aspects of the process even when I looked at him with uncertainty and "help me" in my eyes. One of those instances was when he mentioned to wet my hands before getting the hot metal stick. I didn't understand why I needed the water until I was sitting at the bench, unable to drop the stick, but feeling the intense heat coming off of the molten glass. After that, I never forgot to put water on my hands multiple times.
There's some photos of the process below. I couldn't really take my phone out for most of it. I was kind of sad at the end when he put it in a place to cool, and I realized I wouldn't see the final creation until I was home — it takes 24-48 hours to cool, and so I had it shipped back. It really did feel like my ceramics class in high school when we had to put our projects in to heat and you wouldn't know what your project really looked like until you took it out. Most of the time, my colors were pretty awful.
At least this time, I seemed to get it right. Once it arrived, it was really beautiful. Especially in the light. The two blue colors I chose (I gave it as a gift to my mom for her birthday and blue is her favorite color), twist and remind me of the ocean. If I were to take a four-hour class, I'd love to make a wind-chime of some sort so that it could hang in light somewhere. But for now, the paperweight sits in a window, not really serving any paper-weighting purpose except to look pretty and remind me of my time in Seattle.