not-so-messy glasswork by Di Parsons.

IMGP45341. Most artists have a favorite medium, what is yours? If you work in multiple media, which one is the most enjoyable for you?

My favourite medium is glass. In particular, lampwork. My first love has always been glass, and I’m thrilled to finally get to work it myself, even lateish in life. My inner dragon is very, very happy.

I never could sculpt, or draw, or paint. But somehow, with my hands in front of a torch throwing a flame hot enough to boil glass, I can create things that were only possible in my wishes before.  I find I can use glass to express my often silly and blackish sense of humour.  Adding melting glass to more hot glass means I can build things I wouldn’t even have dreamed of before my inner dragon was woken.

2. Do you have any secret shortcuts? I mean, do you use odd tools, techniques, or anything else that isn’t strictly status-quo for your medium? How did you figure out that it worked?

LOL short-cuts is my middle name! So often, many glassworkers have to be resourceful in terms of tools and techniques. ‘Proper’ tools are expensive, so I have a lot of items that weren’t meant to be used as hot glass tools, which work just as well. Steel items, like cutlery can be used to great effect. One of my favourite tools is a simple flat-ended awl from a mini screwdriver set, while another is a steel apple/cheese corer. Even a pair of teabag tongs can be the go-to.  I’m always on the lookout for tools that I can use.  The best tool of all, however is a sense of humour. Without that, I’d hardly be making anything.

3. You’ve sold work before? What was the first thing someone bought from you, that you made? How did it feel to sell that piece? Are there pieces you keep hidden away, or keep for yourself, and why?

Yes, I do sell my work. In terms of glass, my first sale online was what I thought was the most awful bead, but someone really wanted it, and in that process, effected my very first Etsy sale. I will cherish that memory, and that particular bead forever because of that. That taught me that while I might not be happy with something I make, it might strike a chord with someone else. That was an awesome lesson.

I tend to keep the reject beads that I might have worked very hard on, or have finally got a technique down with, but the overall piece might not be right. Particularly with my vaping drip tips and the safety considerations they require.

IMGP49354. Working with people is sometimes the hardest part of art. 

LOL yes, sometimes working with people IS the hardest part of the thing you love doing most. I guess not everyone is as enamoured with our choices of work as we are. And many are definitely not familiar with exactly what’s involved.  I find one of the things I have to work on the most is about not personalizing someone else’s attitude towards my work.  After all, those people are complete strangers, who have no more idea of what makes me happy, than I do of theirs.

By far, however, my biggest challenge has been dealing with store owners who want me to wholesale my work to them for a fraction of its worth. The industry I’m talking about is a relatively new one, and very few have any perception of what it takes to produce one, piece, let alone twenty of them for a quarter of the asking price. It’s as if many of them expect sweatshop prices for artisan work, because much of the general merchandise available in that industry is sourced from just that.  I really struggle with that, yet it’s the industry that has allowed me a little success of my own.  Oh, the irony!

5. What jobs did you have before you started arting? You don’t have to list them all- but were any particularly awful, or interesting? Did those jobs influence the way you approach your art now?

Wow. Where to start?  My very first real job was as a masseuse at a parlour. I was seventeen-year-old runaway, and silly enough to let it all go over my head. Had I been smarter, it would have been a lot harder, I’m sure!  I taught aerobics when it was a big deal, while cleaning supermarkets and doing restaurant dishes.  I progressed to cleaning schools, and homes, and then caring for disabled people to get me through my studies, which resulted in an honours degree in my mid-forties.  Over that time, I also raised two daughters. Then I became a social worker in the disability, family and mental health fields, eventually burned out and bought a little store on the beach, where we are now.

During all of those years, I dabbled in various crafts, mastering none. I really enjoyed doing them, however, skills eluded me. I could never draw, sculpt, or (hand)write nicely.  Some would say I lacked ‘talent’, despite both of my parents having great skills with pens/brushes.  But that was ok – I loved colour from my first memory, and was more than happy to surround myself with that. Nobody came to me for fashion/palette advice, and I was kind of proud of that LOL  All this time, I would collect things like Indian glass beads. You know, the cheap, nasty ones. I still love them – they have an honesty and earthiness about them that keeps me grounded.  Every now and then, I like to, at least figuratively, bathe in them. Run my hands through them.

IMGP55196. How long have you been working in (the favorite medium you named)? Do you think there are any new ideas in that field that are worth pursuing? for example, 3d printing for sculpture/assemblage, rotary machines for tattooing, digital work for painting, etc

I’ve had a lifelong love of glass, and for the last 20 or so years have been making jewellery from glass beads, but with no view to making my own beads until just over 3 years ago.

Then my life changed. OMG here I was, nearly fifty and in a position where I could get myself a torch and some glass, and melt it!  And so I did. Just like that.  Since then, I haven’t looked back. I’m always challenging myself and the glass I melt to see just how far I can go with size, shape, manipulation, and colour effects. In this process, I’ve even burnt a mandrel in half, seeing how long I can keep a soupy bead in the flame before I ruin an effect or recipe.

7. How do you feel about using projectors, tracing, and photographs as reference for your work? Do you use these? Do you think it’s cheating if you use your own sketches or photographs to start out with? And, what do you think of camera obscuras, camera lucidas, and other optical aids like grids, for perspective and proportion?

Bring it on, I say. If someone can create a thing of beauty with the help of something for inspiration, scale, whatever, then why not?  If the artist does the art, any way they can, then it’s still art. I’m not an ‘artist’ in the sense that I’m trained, or have a particular talent or skill that sets me apart from anyone else.  What I do have, though, is creativity in spades.  This allows me to ‘cheat’, if you like, because proportion and perspective are not necessarily rules I abide by. I build things out of  hot, burny, melty glass. I’m governed by the not-burn-my-fingers school, not the Bauhaus.

My only rules are: 1. not to copy someone’s original design; and 2. Ensure the work will not harm anyone. That’s it.

Even  if I did use aids in planning a piece, it would be for nought. Whenever I actually plan a piece, it will inevitably go wrong, because I simply can’t work that way.  Sure, someone can ask for a brown one, or a green one, but it won’t ever be the same as the red one they saw in the first place.  I can keep a recipe in my head, or even copy it to the letter, but what normally happens is that something completely different ends up going into the kiln.

IMG_0388-Copy8. Have you taken any formal art classes? Have you had a mentor help you? Do you have “spirit artists” to guide you? (artists, living or dead, who you do not personally know, but to whom you look for inspiration or answers)

No. Not a one. Not even an informal one, excluding the odd YouTube tutorial.  However, there are glassworkers all over the world who share their ideas, techniques, and support. It’s to them as a community I owe a debt of gratitude.  So, I’d describe myself as self-taught, with some help.  As for looking to others for inspiration, there are dozens of glass artists of several modes, who do the most spectacular work, with the maddest of skills and imaginations, whose work I call ‘bead porn’, because it’s such a pleasure to see it.

I do ask the universe as well, for inspiration, or a way to approach a challenge.  So no, not particular spirit artists, but definitely spirit collectively.

9. Do you reproduce your work? Do you like galleries? Do you hang your art in bars or coffeeshops? How do you feel about public exposure to your work? Does it make you nervous to be in a spotlight, or do you enjoy it?

I don’t reproduce in the way paintings or drawings can be reproduced. I do make real-time versions of something I might have made before, however. But always with the caution not to expect anything I make to be quite the same as another piece. I see this as a freedom to keep things real. Even in ‘production mode’, I demand the freedom to make things that pretty much make themselves.  Yes, I need the skills to replicate a basic design to some extent, but I take my freedom from the ‘humanness’ of handmade, and its little foibles and quirks. That’s where the honesty and groundedness play a big part in the airy, creative side of my work.

I post images of my work as much as I can, however. There are risks involved in this, though.  I’ve had images appropriated by others in order to further their causes. Pinterest is rife with this practice.

10. If you earn your living with art, how many hours a week do you work? Counting research, sketching, cleaning up, framing, promotion, etc. Do you think you get paid a decent wage for this? Do you think it matters, as long as you’re enjoying the work?

I don’t earn a living with my glass. I’m lucky (and grateful!) for my ‘habit’ to support itself, which it does, but only in terms of materials.  Once I’ve turned the kiln on and had it warming up for an hour and a half,  I’ll spend six to 8 hours (in the one day)  actually melting glass, another six hours the following day cleaning and fitting the beads, then another six hours on photographing, editing, and listing on the internet.  Then another two hours the following day, promoting online.

Throughout the week, I’d spend on average another 8 hours doing customer service enquiries, promotion, and packing/shipping orders, if I’m lucky enough to get orders.

On the one hand, it’s worth it if people like my work enough to buy it, which means I can keep creating weird and wonderful things. On the other, while materials might be covered by sales, the time I spend on it is most definitely not. It cuts in significantly on my ‘living’ work time, which is a seven-day-a-week general store business, and my ‘worth’ as an artist is definitely not reflected in monetary terms.  But I’m fortunate in that I can do much of the online and computer work concurrently in the store while I’m ‘working’.

But I keep doing it anyway <3

IMG_0146-Copy11. When you began with (favorite medium), what was the hardest thing to learn?

Patience.  That I needed to practice to get basic forming skills down before I could start getting creative and proficient at the same time!  My ideas are always a few steps ahead of my abilities!

12. When you began making art, what was the hardest thing to do? What mistakes did you make? Do you have pictures of any of those mistakes you can share? How did you solve that problem?

The hardest thing, apart from acquiring patience, was getting certain basic skills enough to produce work that was worth showing.  Acquiring the confidence to show my work to peers in the first place in order to gain feedback was just as difficult.  It’s one thing to visualise a piece to work on, but it’s quite another to turn that picture into a tangible item looking remotely like it!

The mistakes I made as a learner haunt me to this day. Many of those mistakes have found their way onto a friend’s mosaic art, which now resides on my coffee table. Others into my giveaway bowl on the store counter.  Others still, I’ve kept to remind me of how far I’ve come.  I believe the term for such beads, are ‘fuglies’ LOL

Mistakes in terms of my practice in general are around forgetting to forget. Rather than take a task on and be like a dog with a bone, I always have to remember to let that go and simply see what happens. And that if it doesn’t work out, it’s not the end of the world.

13. Do you have a site where you sell your work? which site, and how do you like it?

I use three main places to show my work online. My Etsy store is my primary site, where transactions take place. I don’t have the wherewithal for a site of my own, so I’m happy to pay the fees there. It provides sales and view data, messaging with customers, and keeps the accounts for me.

I also have a Facebook page, where I post my new listings or ideas, and engage with customers on a less formal level.

Pinterest focuses as much on my vaping life as my glass life.  Vaping has changed my life as much as having discovered my ability to practice this art form. Both have given me a future in which not only my body, but also my very soul can truly live.  My forty years of smoking was about to take any future of wellbeing on any level, away from me. I’m grateful that both have come into my life at times when they were needed most. I work now to continue to honour those gifts.

I also post an ad on Reddit, usually on a weekly basis, which results in a few views, although I get voted down a fair bit. But that’s cool – it still gets attention ;-)

14. Anyone you want to give a shout-out to? One or two names only…

Apart from Resonanteye, of course? LOL

There are too many glass artists worth naming, to single out only a couple. Sadly.

15. When you aren’t working, what are you doing with your time? Do you have any hobbies that are totally apart from your creative work, or does your art tend to creep in to your recreation time? 

When I’m not doing glass, I’m working in my general store. Often both at the same time. I try to get time to knit and crochet dolls/characters as well as get jewellery made for the store display.  I’m having to learn to take photos all over again, now, too.  New cameras kind of necessitate that LOL

My art and craft gear really has crept into my everyday work space. It’s the joke of the neighbourhood!  I eat, sleep and dream glass.