Thursday, January 1, 2015

New Year, New Technique

Happy New Year!!!  2014 brought a lot of changes and more success than 2013.  I narrowed the focus of my work, tried a few new shows (some duds, some awesome) and generally kept what worked and dumped what didn't.  So now on to 2015...

I usually reserve the first 3 months of the new year for playing with new techniques.  During the previous year I am constantly drawing and writing down the things that inspire me or images that I want to incorporate in my work.  As an artist if I don't evolve I will become bored, and it will show in my work.  Sometimes it takes a while for me to see the potential of what I'm playing with.  In this case there are two things I've been interested in for more than a year - Sgraffito and Zentangles but hadn't figured out what to do with them.

Sgraffito is the process of removing color to create the image.  Well, it's more complicated than that but for the purpose of simple explanation I would describe it like the old scratchboards we used in art class in elementary school.  Start with a black surface that has something cool underneath and scrape away specific areas to reveal the background.

Zentangles are a form of structured doodling.  I doodle all the time!  I've found that I concentrate better on listening if I'm doodling.  I think it takes the part of my brain that is waiting to distract me from a conversation and keeps it too busy to interrupt. 

A few weeks ago I noticed a January artist challenge set out by Kelly at Modern Ancient Glass.   In the past I have found similar challenges to be a great jumpstart to creativity so this was intriguing.  Today was the first day of the challenge - and as I pondered what type of imagery I wanted to try out first it hit me that a Zentangle would be perfect!

The point of this challenge is not to fire the "drawings" but rather to try to new things.  I spent about 30 minutes playing with the black glass powder on the 6x6 sheet of glass.   As a first attempt I'm pleased with the results.  Check back to see where this goes!

Day 2 ... make a tree using fingers and the edge of a card

Day 3... landscape with fingers and card    ---  This was exceptionally annoying and I gave up and snapped this pic to move on.  I do lots of landscapes with ground glass but I'm trying to stick with a single color and the tools listed in the challenge.  I've also been interested in doing desert mountains for a while so I decide this was what I would do.  After about 10 restarts this was the best I could do.  I will revisit this theme later when I have more tools/colors at my disposal.

Day 4 - 5 drawings - 5 minutes each.  None of these took more than 4 minutes so I'm starting to gain some confidence at my ability to translate shapes.  I'm also working through a "learn to sketch" book to help my skills for this challenge.   Nothing here is all that impressive but I'm getting a better feel for what the possibilities are.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Just me

Wow, haven't written since before the outdoor season!  I didn't mean to be gone that long, but life gets busy.  It was a crazy summer - Wendy and I have decided that our work is going in different directions, so for the first time in many years I was a solo artist.  My family did come and help out when they could - but I spent much of the summer with no backup other than "booth sitters". 

From a show perspective this meant that I couldn't walk around and visit (or purchase) during show hours without risking my own sales.  To get around that I developed the habit of arriving an hour earlier than necessary on Sundays so I could visit folks.  This works to a point, the problem is I'm not the only artist doing that so I just can't find some folks because they are wandering too.

Another change is lunch.  In the past I used lunch as a quick break - run to the washroom, get some food, and then back to the booth.  Now I can ask a booth sitter to watch my booth but I'm more likely to just hit the washroom and hurry back.  I've been more vigilant about bringing snacks and energy bars, and I rarely get lunch.  If you visit me at One of a Kind don't be surprised to see a PBJ sandwich hiding in my booth.

The biggest downside to being solo is how much I miss the company - Wendy and I remain great friends, but there is no built in (weekend long) lunch date all summer.  We still hang out and she is doing a great business selling her work in different channels.

The other big change that resulted from our shift is that I have dropped the business name "Heartfire Studios".  Most of the shows just put an artist name up even if you have a business name so I took the obvious path and have changed all of my social media and business cards to refer just to or Amy Ikenn Glasswork.  Even the name of this blog has changed to drop Heartfire.  I also revamped the website - comments are welcome.   I will maintain the Heartfire link to my website indefinitely, but if you want to find me on Facebook, Google + or Twitter you should start by looking for "Amy Ikenn Glass".  or follow these links:
Google +

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The People You Meet...

A lot of people have asked me if I would stop doing shows given enough galleries carrying my work.  On a rainy cold day in a tent with no potential customers in sight the answer might be yes, but overall I don't think so.  One of the best perks, in my mind, of doing shows is the amazing people you meet.

Some of the coolest people I know are other show artists who I would never have come into contact with if not for the art fair life.  I have spent countless hours next to these like minded souls, and often end up making connections that last.  These artists run the gamut from limestone carving to metal work to jewelry to painting to photography to ceramics to mixed media... the list goes on.  I own pieces by many of them and will continue to collect as I can afford to.

Some of my favorite meals have been the Saturday nights, mid-show.  At one show last year the artist next to me invited me to go with a group and I ended up with a bunch of new friends - and a roommate for one of my shows this year!

Believe it or not the internet has made making show friends even easier.  I participate in multiple artist forums and you yourself interacting with the same people frequently.  You feel like you know them but you have never met them fact to face.  It's a beautiful thing when you will be at the same show as that person and can finally make that connection.

This weekend I start my social shows at 57th Street Art Fair in Chicago.  I have a list of people that I'm looking forward to seeing, some old friends and some new friends that I have been in touch with but have not met.  I can't wait! 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Changes for 2014

Closing out 2013

By the end of last years shows I had narrowed my fused work down to a few types:

Framed Landscapes:

Florals (framed and functional):

Auroras (framed and functional):

These groups made a really strong presentation at OOAK, but my sales were not what I was hoping for.  My florals sold fairly well, but the Auroras got a lot of attention and virtually no sales.  I am working on the theory that florals are a good gift, but Auroras are more of a purchase for self, and OOAK is primarily a gift show.  At least I have enough stock to start the new season to test my theory!

Changes for 2014:

New work

Over the winter I have been working on ideas that bring the Floral and Aurora Series together.  Right now these are all framed:

I am also working on some new shapes for wall pieces, larger than before with different proportions.


Dropping old lines

My current plan involves dropping
  • all of the serving pieces except for cheese knives 
  • the Quilt Series
  • the Block Series
I have stock in all 3 and can bring them back if warranted, but sales on the Quilts and Blocks don't warrant the space in my car.  Margins on the serving pieces are low, so the big question is will that booth real estate be more valuable for higher margin items or will my overall sales drop so much that I miss those pieces.

Show Schedule

I'm keeping my top shows from last year, 57th Street, Spring Green, Northbrook, Geneva and Lakeview.  A special thanks to those organizers for wanting me back! I am hoping to go back to Riverssance but the jury is (literally) still out.  I'm also trying to add one show early, one show in August, and possibly one more in the fall.  I am also planning to go back to OOAK.

Without a magic Carnac the Magnificent hat to help me out I am gambling once again.  Stay tuned, I'll let you know how it goes!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

2 weeks away from One of A Kind, year 2

I'm in full on planning panic mode, and I've realized that this feeds my inner adrenaline junkie.   I have 184 pieces ready to be signed and packed, 35 pieces in the kiln or in progress and another 70 in my plans (30 of that 70 are 5"x5" or smaller, so I can get a lot in the kiln). 

I have spreadsheets tracking the pieces and how much glass I have left to work with, checklists, display stands and frames en route to my house and platform pieces waiting to be assembled to raise up my shelves.

Here is the planned vision for my booth:

Now I am trying to figure out which pieces go on which shelving units, and how to group the framed pieces on the walls.  Last year we were winging it, and I think it took much longer than necessary.  This year I'd like to have a plan so that everything looks organized and polished.

The other lesson from last year that I've been able to make use of so far is to queue up my fusing work differently.  In order to make sure that I can stay caught up at my engineering job as well as in my fusing I have planned differently.  I try to get a weeks worth of pieces cut and queued up during the weekend so that it's just 15-30 minutes a night during the week.  Just enough time to pull the last batch out, clean out the kiln and put the next batch in.  

I'm also trying to take advantage of bulk cutting.  When I cut a piece and have less than 1/2 a sheet left over (a sheet is roughly 20"x30") I look at that sheet and the standard sizes that I use for bases.  I cut that sheet as efficiently as possible to create those bases and stack them out of the way.  That way, when I go to create the queue for the week a lot of the bases are already cut.

 In the photo above, the pieces on the far left standing on end are the bases that are waiting to be matched and used, the front center are pieces that are fused and waiting for slumping during the week, the back center are cut and waiting to be fused and the far right are pieces that need to be cut and put on the bases.

See, an old dog can learn new tricks.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Taking on even more!

Well folks, I have done it!  I have taken on even more work during the prep for OOAK!  My work is in a gallery!!!!  Yipee!!!  And it is an amazing gallery.  Check it out at

How did this happen?  A Chicago girl's first gallery in Tubac, AZ?  Funny you should ask.  My daughter goes to school in Tucson and when I flew out with her in August I had a few hours to kill.  So I did what any artist would do, I found the biggest collection of artists within an hour drive and went there.  The first (and best) gallery I saw was Art Gallery H.  I talked with Karl (1/2 of the gallery team) for about an hour and just fell in love with this place and the work that they feature.  When he mentioned that they would like to have more glass it became obvious - I should apply to be one of their artists!   I got home and had to deal with a few more shows, and then I had to update my website to be current, and then I had to figure out what next.  Another trip to Tucson on the horizon (Parent Weekend) and I emailed them with some pictures.  They told me to bring a few samples and we made an appointment.  Carrying 8 pieces of art glass in a carry-on was a new experience.  There was so much bubble wrap that I heard a piece pop when I bumped into my own suitcase.  My younger daughter and I drove down to Tubac on Saturday morning to meet with Karl and Audrey.  My hope was that they would look at the pieces, tell me that they like my work and give me an idea of what I should ship to them to get started.  It took less than five minutes for them to decide to keep all 8 pieces for the shop!  I left with an empty suitcase and a huge smile.  I'm so glad I had my daughter as a witness because I just couldn't believe it.  By Monday they had me on their website, and I had an idea of what other pieces they would like to have on hand to fill in when things sell!

So, now with all of my prep for OOAK I want to make about 10 extra pieces to ship to them to round out their collection.  Time to take a deep breath and keep fusing!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Patience, no shortcuts

I'm not a particularly patient person.  I like to see results of my efforts immediately, an odd trait for someone who fuses glass.  Most sessions in my studio end with an 18-70 hour wait (thankfully way more 18 than 70) before I can find out if I created what I wanted to.  The final assembly for many pieces happens in the kiln so my kiln space limits how much work I can do in a studio session. 

This is my big kiln, I also have one smaller kiln that does a single piece at a time

People ask me if I know what I will get when I open the kiln.  When I started fusing that was a very real question.   My results were similar to what I hoped for 80% of the time and 20 % of the time I was surprised, and rarely in a good way.  After 8 years of fusing I can say that I am accurate (instead of similar) probably 95% of the time and when I get surprised it is almost always because I tried a shortcut.

So now I'm on a fusing marathon to get ready for One of a Kind.  Prepping for this show is stressful, I'm always afraid I won't have enough stock, or I will have the wrong stock.  I make spreadsheets to figure out how to maximize my fusing cycles and I plan to work at least a few hours EVERY DAY between now and the show.  44 fusing days until I load the car and it feels way too short.

So what is the most effective way to maximize my kilns?  Patience!  As I loaded the kilns tonight I considered putting one extra piece in.  It would make the fit a little tight, but I am fairly sure that the pieces wouldn't have ended up touching while they fired.  I put the extra piece on the kiln shelf, I started to walk away and I stopped.  If I misjudged this I would be reworking a 15" bowl, an 8" bowl and possibly scraping/refinishing a kiln shelf.  I considered the risk and decided to be patient.

Hopefully this new attitude actually nets more successful pieces in December.  I'll never know but that's my theory and I'm sticking to it!