Design Side Down, Old Dogs and If At First You Don’t Succeed

Asian Totem

Asian Totem

I know glass artists have been firing design side down with great success but I guess when you’re self-taught, the learning curve is a bit slower, a bit gentler. It’s easy to get comfortable with what you know.  I have been merrily layering my design on the base glass and fusing them together- generally without incident and achieving the look I wanted.

One day, I proposed a design for a client that had crisp, clean lines- a highly grahic sensibility.  I was branching out from my customary look of soft, organic lines.  So I carefully cut the glass and layered the pieces on a clear blank as I had done before.

first attempt

first attempt

For me, opening the kiln is like opening a door into a room you’ve not been into before. Ususally it’s inviting, interesting. Sometimes it’s an opportunity for problem solving. Rarely is it dissappointing.

But this time, I could see the error of my ways immediately.  Despite careful cutting and positioning, the flow of the glass had had its way with my design.  The edges between the colors were anything but crisp.  This dog had to learn a new trick in order to achieve the graphic look the design demanded.

Being on an island has many wonderful advantages but easy access to classes at Bullseye Glass is not one of them.  Luckily for me, the folks at Bullseye have made the Pacific ocean just one more puddle on a rainy day when it comes to getting technical information and creative ideas out there.  I remembered seeing something about layering the glass in reverse order but had never tried it.

clean lines and texture

clean lines and texture

I quickly accessed Bullseye tip sheet #7 -Plate Making Tips.  It explained that in order to get the sharpest lines and cleanest seams one should fire with the design side down.  The top layer will hold the design layer closely together as the fusing progresses.  So, I recut the glass and carefully laid it out in this manner.  The glass behaved exactly as predicted flowing into any minor open spaces creating the crips lines that were essential to this design.

I tack fused the calligraphy, glass nuggets and glass stringeres onto the surface of the glass to create the textural element.  When the final firing was complete, the piece looked as I had invisioned.

Asian totem at home

Asian totem at home

Once the glass was finished, I built the frame and base to complete the sculpture.  The client was pleased with the final look and it fits in quite well with the room’s Asian vibe- white with splashes of black and red.

For me, the take away was remembering that trying new techniques will add depth to my design repetoire.  The same old trick will not always get you where you want to go.

Hoe a mau: paddle together

Hoe a mau is an expression that conveys the importance of paddling together- each contributing to the effort, each relying on the other to be successful.  I used this as the point of departure for a set of three fused and kiln carved glass sculptures.  My first thought was to explore how the elements work together to create a dynamic environment in the natural world.

Gazing at stars gGazing at stars begins with verdant mountain slopes disappearing into rolling waves.  They in turn give way to the deep ocean that has its own stars- sea urchins.  As I carved the patterns and created the curves, the crags of the mountains became a face weathered by time, buffeted by life’s events.   Learning to embrace the deeper meaning of traveling the road with a soul mate comes with gazing at stars.

You'll always be there b

 

You’ll always be there started as an exploration of the sun and the moon -each playing their role, extending their reach toward the other, with the ever-present sea keeping them apart.  Each reaches out through the waves knowing that, no matter what, the other will always be there.  This piece became a love song.

 

 

Room for new growth e

Room for new growth explores the flow of molten lava as it roils down the slopes of the mountain and spills into the sea.  The force of the undulating waves of lava kiln carved into the glass like great sobs brought to mind the emotional turmoil that often precedes new understanding.

 

 

The evolution of these pieces as they came together took an interesting turn that I would not have predicted.  The story that started as a gaze into the distance became one that looked inward at elements paddling together in my own story- hoe a mau!

Michelle Caron

Brother Sun, Sister Moon- A Stained Glass and Fused Glass Skylight

Brother Sun, Sister Moon color sketchThis project was an opportunity to combine several of my favorite elements into a one integrated design:  the relationship of the sun and moon; the beautiful colors and chill of fall; the alchemy of wine.  The skylight was commissioned to celebrate the birthday of the client’s husband.  She wanted a design that would incorporate some of the vibe from the movie Brother Sun, Sister Moon as a nod to their two children and would also incorporate a love for wine as her husband is a Master Sommelier.

Moon rake close-upBecause the panel will be viewed as a skylight and the dimensions are almost square, I decided to anchor the design on the diagonal.  It has a medieval almanac feel to it as the rays of the sun grow wider as the seasons move toward  summer.  Within the raked blue glass of the moon,  I kiln carved a flame and a soaring bird, calling to mind the light of Saint Claire and Saint Francis’ love for nature.

 

summer rake close-up“De cep en verre” (from the vine stalk to the glass) is a phrase I came across  while at a wine festival in Nolay, France.  This project offered the chance to explore the cycle of the vine in design.  The vine and leaves pass from spring to summer and on to fall ending with two glasses of wine in winter.  The leaves were created by raking glass with the hues to express the seasons.

 

ready to solder close-up fallI kept the leaves as circles to reinforce the cyclical nature of the seasons, the sun and moon, and the process of making wine. The outline of grape leaves are kiln carved into the back of the leaf circles.  The grape clusters were also created using raked blue, violet, plum and lavender glass with iridescent glass nuggets tack fused on the surface for depth.

Brother Sun, Sister Moon-finOnce all of the glass was cut, fused and wrapped in copper foil, I soldered the  panel, framed it and secured it with re-bar going both horizontally and vertically.  The panel will be suspended over people’s heads so it needed to be very stable.  It was crated and shipped to the client’s home where it arrived safely ready for installation.  She and her husband are both very pleased with the new addition to their home. Santé!

Michelle Caron

Limitless- Fused Glass Sculpture

Limitless

Limitless

 

This art glass sculpture was inspired by the logo for Limitless Health Clinic in Ontario, Canada. It was commissioned as a gift to welcome their enterprise into a new working space. The client wanted the shape of the glass sculpture to capture the expansive feel of good health- as though it were reaching up, taking a deep breath of air, and then exhaling.

 

Raked Glass used for the sculpture

Raked Glass used for the sculpture

 

The sculpture is composed of three parts each created using glass raking to form the swirls and eddies of color.  Each part was shaped and draped in the kiln into the three dimensional forms for the final sculpture.  The body has a stethoscope kiln carved into the back of the glass body.

 

bird's-eye view

bird’s-eye view

 

It and the two ribbons are attached to a central stainless steel shaft via a heavy gauge wire coil.  The client, who works with stainless steel, kindly offered to ship precut pieces for me to use.  They were beautifully wrought and a wonderful way to have his artistry included into the sculpture.  Each of the ribbons is then attached at a second point to separate shafts of differing heights.  The three shafts were imbedded securely into a piece of lava rock.

 

lava rock base

lava rock base

The owners of the clinic had visited Hawaii and so having their sculpture created here added that energy to the piece. The client asked if the base could be made of indigenous rock- our local rock is lava.   In Hawaiian mythology, all things volcanic are under the purview of the fiery goddess Pele and it is believed that removing lava rock from the islands is a sure way to incur her wrath.  I talked to a friend about having a piece of lava rock blessed as a way of avoiding any undo mischief.  And then there was the issue of trying to shape the lava rock into a base.  I went to a shop called Geobunga to see what they might have- perhaps something man-made that looked like lava.  I was told the rock was indeed real lava- but not from Hawaii. Problem solved!  I found the perfect piece of lava with the shape I wanted and proceeded to assemble the sculpture.  It was truly a global piece of art!

Island Home

Island Home

 

The sculpture arrived at its destination safe and sound -except for one wire that somehow snapped but without damaging the glass.  Was this a “stern look” from Pele?  Perhaps.  The wire was replaced and the sculpture was given to the client’s friends at Limitless Health Clinic.

Island Baby Night Sculpture

Island BabyIsland Baby is a night sculpture inspired by the Korean lullaby of the same title.  The lullaby sings of a mother who has gone to the island to pick oysters while her baby sleeps to the sound of the sea as it ebbs and flows.  Though all seems well, she becomes anxious and hurries home to be with her child.

 

Island Baby dehors

 

The baby is nestled safely within the oyster shell watched over by the pearl of wisdom.  The crescent moon shines overhead while the rumbling sea sings its night song.   The platinum highlights add sparkling movement to the piece.

 

 

The fused glass is securely seated in a wood base that is framed in mahogany.  A 4 watt light bulb is installed behind the fused glass and can be illuminated to cast a warm ambient light in a child’s room or anywhere a bit of gentle nostalgia is desired.

Island Baby illumine

Michelle Caron

Kailua Hanging Lanai Lamp

The lanai lamp suspended above the table by heavy duty leather straps

This project consisted of 11 fused glass panels that were created to fit into a custom made Greene & Greene style light fixture.  The client wanted the glass to capture the feel of the ocean (which is just down the street from the house) with cool colors and swirling shapes.

Each panel is part of a complete design that encompasses all four sides and the bottom panels as well.  Cobalt and midnight blue eddies of color created focal points on each of the sides and in the center panel of the bottom that the other colors radiate out from and towards.

Kailua Lamp 2

Areas of raked glass (the glass is heated to a near molten state in my kiln and I then rake across the surface with a metal tool) add to the organic feel of the piece.  The raked pieces were created during separate firings. As some of these sections traverse two panels, they were created as a single piece and then divided and finally added to the assembly of each panel.  The panels were fired and then sized to match the wooden blanks created for each opening and finally fire-polished one more time in the kiln.

Kailua Lamp 4When the panels were finished, they were numbered and installed using silicone into the frame of the light fixture.  Finding the best light source was something of a challenge that the client solved by using flat LED panels that sit flush against the top and illuminate the piece without hot spots or heat build up.  The size and weight of the piece required hanging it from a sturdy beam using substantial leather straps.  The completed piece is a new take on a classic Arts and Crafts style light fixture.

Michelle Caron

Glass in the Garage

Small spaces require lot of organization.

Small spaces require a lot of organization.

I’ve been so fortunate that I have always had a dedicated space for working with glass. Living in Hawaii, that’s more of an issue than one might think. For nearly two decades, that space has been our garage / studio.

We still park one car in the garage. That is mostly due to a dear neighbor who helped me maximize my work area while keeping it flexible and safe (he used to work for OSHA). My first big project, a church window, was composed of 6 panels measuring 6′ x 3′.  The project put my work area through its paces and it preformed admirably well.

Though it’s not the biggest space, having my studio right in the garage has allowed me to work whenever time allowed or inspiration struck. When our children were young, they could hang out with me (at a safe distance) and I could be part of their neighborhood gallivants. When they got older, they both spent time in the garage / studio as artists in their own right either painting, working with glass or any other medium that appealed.

View of the Ko'olau mountains from my studio.

View of the Ko’olau mountains from my studio.

In Hawaii, the garage is often the main point of entry into someone’s home. Having my studio there means that neighbors often stop by to see what I’m doing or just to chat. Several of my neighbors are also artists and the openness of the garage / studio gives our neighborhood an artist’s colony feel that adds to my art.

Some days it feels very small and hectic but usually a thorough putting-away-of-things moment restores the equilibrium that my garage / studio gives me. I love working here and my family always knows where to find me.

Working with glass is my passion.  It grows deeper with each new project, success and unintended opportunity:)

Working with glass is my passion. It grows deeper with each new project, success and unintended opportunity:)

Cymru Am Byth – Wales Forever

Cymru Am Byth

Cymru Am Byth

close-up of the Welsh dragon panel

When I was asked to do this piece, my first thought was “too bad his wife isn’t from France.”  I am very familiar with the Welsh flag and I knew it would be a mighty challenge to do the Welsh dragon justice.  But the client’s wife is from Wales and how could I say no to such an opportunity.  I was hopeful that my idea to do the dragon with a mosaic-like approach would achieve the look I wanted.

I assembled the individual pieces of red glass in a somewhat irregular yet recognizable copy of the Welsh dragon using several red hues. I then added the background colors all on a clear piece of base glass. By damming the glass before firing, the glass pieces flowed into each other creating a fairly tight color array. I painted the detail onto the dragon using black glass enamel and fired the piece a second time.

Cymru panel with back light

I designed the border after symbols used for love spoons. In Wales, love spoons were carved by the groom and given to the bride on their wedding day. I chose the interlocking hearts, a version of the eternal knot, as it seemed a fitting expression of the client’s love for his wife. The red and green hearts with the connecting bands extend the colors of the Welsh flag.

 

I wanted this project to express the energy and pride of the Welsh flag and I feel that the combination of various reds and the slightly irregular shapes combined with the precision of the black outline accomplished this goal. Being of Welsh descent myself, it was an honor to do this project. Cymru am byth!

Michelle Caron

C’est la lune que j’aime le mieux – It’s the Moon I Like the Best

C’est la lune que j’aime le mieux

C’est la  lune que j’aime le mieux is a fused glass table sculpture and accent light.  The central area of glass was created using a method called glass raking.  Pieces of different colored glass were heated to a near molten temperature in my kiln.  At this point, I opened the lid and using a metal rake, pulled the glass in different directions creating the fluid, ocean-like quality you see.

 

C’est la lune illuminated

 

The raked glass was combined with other colors using traditional fusing methods.  Dichroic glass was used to add further depth and interest.  As a final flourish, swirls, a Celtic knot design and the phrase “C’est la lune que j’aime le mieux” (It is the moon I like the best) were added using liquid platinum and firing once again.  At night, the lamp can be lit to illuminate the glass from behind.

 

C’est la lune- detail

The title of the piece and the phrase were inspired by the story “The Moon was the Best” by Charlotte Zolotow.  A mom and daughter are separated but realize that despite the great distance, they both see the same moon.  As my daughter prepares to go off to college this fall, she will take this piece with her.  The ocean’s movement will remind her of her home in Hawaii and the moon that we are not so far apart after all.

Michelle Caron

Moloka’i Slide

West Moloka’i

My family and I are on vacation on the island of Moloka’i.  It is an amazing place with amazing people.  It’s not called the ‘Friendly Isle” for nothing.  When you talk with local folks, it is quickly clear how special this tiny island is to them and to their families.

We met a charming lady, Teri Waros, who runs the book, art and gift shop Kalele (Have Faith) in Kaunakakai.  She showed us many beautiful pieces by local artist but one in particular caught my imagination.  It is a very large painting of an ‘Io, a Hawaiian hawk.  The artist skillfully captured the power and majesty of this animal but for me the really amazing aspect was that she had achieved a whole range of shades from palest champagne to deepest ox blood using the local dirt as her pigment.

Moloka’i wall

This got me thinking about something you run into a lot in Hawaii- people using local resources to create beautiful culturally grounded art.  As I thought about the iron rich dirt here on Moloka’i, I wondered about the effect it might have on glass.  Would the iron ore add color or even texture to fused glass?  What about including sand?  So I have a baggy of Moloka’i dirt to bring home to see what it adds to my work.

My brief time here on this embracing island has not only recharged me physically as any good vacation should but it has got me thinking about ways to weave the ‘aina (land) and my art.  I may not get results that are terribly interesting but being on Moloka’i reminds you that it’s not the destination but the journey that matters.

“All over, mo’ betta, Moloka’I, I will return.”  [Moloka’i Slide]

Michelle