This is the first in a series of artist interviews for the blog!
Morgan Culture: What do you call your craft?
Shirlee of Enchanted Chic: It’s fused glass, but I’ve always considered it fun and functional art glass. Fun and functional fused art glass.
M: Tell me about the current body of work you’re exploring.
S: Right now I’m learning glass casting while I’m doing it. Casting of objects, bodies… what I’m doing right now is casting to make more art and fine art-style pieces and using those skills towards my tables and other functional items. I’m combining the fine art/high art with the functional. It’s absolutely fabulous, because you can cast anything. It’s very ambitious to start out casting faces and bodies.
M: I took bronze casting in college- is it a similar process with the moldmaking?
S: It’s similar to bronze casting, where you have to be careful of undercuts and shapes- but glass so sensitive to temperature overmelt/undermelt in addition to shape concerns.
M: Do you have a professional studio, a home studio, a shared space with other artists?
S: Home studio, but I also work at Pacific Art Glass for larger kiln stuff. For example, I have a 14-inch round table that I’m working on right now, and my kiln is only a 13-inch octagon.
When I work at Pacific, I see what everyone else is working on and get inspired by it. I’ve really gone from being a crafter to being an artist at this location. I’ve stopped spending so much time worrying about the technical part and now I get to focus more on why I’m making what I’m making.
M: Name someone who is not a visual artist who has strongly influenced the trajectory of your work.
S: I get a lot of my inspiration, honestly, from being outside. You see what nature created, and you just can’t beat that. I just kinda look around and go, hm, I wonder if I can do that? Like I wanted to see if I could create waves. And I’ve been influenced by Disney, and comic books, cartoons, retro fabric, and even horror makeup artists.
M: So you have these inspirations. Many people find the whole artmaking process to be a mystery. Can you give me the Reader’s Digest version of what happens in your studio from inspiration to final output?
S: Once the crazy Idea has flipped in my head, I’ll start, since I have no drawing ability, I’ll take layers of glass- sometimes it’s sheet glass, and sometimes it’s frit, little chunks of glass- and I’ll start layering. There are [also] these little tiny pulled pieces of glass called stringers, basically uncooked glass spaghetti. I’ll take my cutter and maybe cut out a shape, see if that fits, and I start the layering process. I can put stuff on and take stuff off until I’m ready to fuse.
I hated what was out there, so I also started making my own glass clay that I use for my designs. It made me crazy; the stuff that was out there was sub-par, and [I] couldn’t do with it what I wanted to do with it. So I figured out what they did and I made it myself.
Once I get the shape I’m looking for, I need to adhere it. You don’t build anything on a kiln. You have to move it from where you built it into the kiln. What works the best [to hold pieces in their places] is cheap hairspray. I’ll have a pile, usually 2-3 layers, and I don’t want my design to move, so I just take cheap hairspray and spray it over the top. Then, sometimes I’ll put a piece of clear glass over the top of it, depending on if I want texture on it or not.
For every piece, you have a firing schedule. The schedule tells the kiln to go to certain heats for certain lengths of time. It’s a digital thing you program into your kiln so it knows what to do. How high you go depends on how much texture you want. For my people [sculptures], I keep it low because I want the texture. But for things like coasters, I need it to be smoother, so I do a full fuse.
If I know what I’m making, I can do the whole process in a day. The kiln alone takes 9 hours. If it’s a hot day, I generally don’t run the kiln until the sun goes down so I don’t heat up the whole house.
I love making my [coffee and end] tables because they are something I haven’t done before, but I needed to make smaller ones first in order to know what they were going to look like bigger.
When it comes to artistic ability, the drawing part- I’ve got nothing. My process is more stacking the glass and seeing what it will do.
M: That’s kind of like draping on the fly, where a fashion designer, rather than doing a drawing, creating a pattern, and placing it on a dress form, uses larger pieces of fabric draped on the form and changes the look based on what’s showing up and how it’s looking.
S: …except that once I do that [to glass], it’s permanent. I’ve got this big “bucket of fugly” [glass mistakes], and when I get a certain amount of messed up pieces, I can put it all in my kiln and layer it. You get it up to 1800 degrees and stir it, several times. The first time I did it, I burnt off all my arm hair and I’m lucky I have my eyebrows. When it all cools, I slice it sideways and I get some beautiful and weird colors that I use in my jewelry. I don’t ever throw glass away. If my glass ever gets mixed up [with different incompatible glass types] and I can’t use it, I just donate it to a mosaic artist organization.
M: I’m jealous… when you make a terrible drawing, you can’t just mix it up with a bunch of other drawings and have something beautiful come out. I guess you could do a collage, but it’s not quite the same.
So what is the ultimate compliment someone could say to you about your work?
S: “How do you do that?” To me, that means I’m to that point to where you can’t find it on the internet, that not everybody’s doing it. When I first went to Pacific Glass, I met a very sweet person who looked at me and said, “So you wanna fuse glass. Do you want to make quality stuff, or do you want to make stuff any monkey can make? If you’re serious, I’ll get you where you need to go. If you want to be a monkey fusing glass, I can get you there too. And you don’t look like the monkey type.” Now I get to say that to people.
And you have to keep learning.
Shirlee teaches all levels of glass classes- check her facebook or website for the class schedule. Also, the last Sunday of the month, she teaches a glass class at Crafted at the Port of Los Angeles. You can see her work at her website, on her facebook, or in person at Crafted!