In this series, the artists working at Creative Gateways give us a behind-the-scenes insight into their current works in progress, inspiration and creative challenges. Today, Pilisa is opening up about one of the most difficult parts of being an artist: what happens when things don’t turn out as planned.
When things go wrong
Working in glass, we always know to expect the unexpected. In fact, sometimes when things go “wrong” they actually open up a whole new door we hadn’t known was there. It’s an organic process. The most challenging part is getting to a point where nothing seems to work. That’s where I’m at right now with one particular piece.
The bowl that won’t work
It’s a pretty simple piece – I’m not doing anything unusual or experimenting with a new technique. I made the flat glass piece as I usually would, and everything seemed fine. Then I moved on to the slumping process, where the bowl gets fired over a mold inside the kiln. It gets just hot enough to sag into the mold and takes on its final shape.
I’ve done the same process with hundreds of pieces, only this time something’s not working. Every time I try to slump it, it tears. Structurally it just keeps coming apart and there doesn’t seem to be anything I can do to help it. It’s been through the kiln maybe six or seven times now and I keep having to fix it, fuse it, then slump it again.
Fixing things when they go wrong
We have lots of techniques we use to fix things when they go wrong. Tearing is actually pretty common in glass, and can come from invisible weaknesses in the materials, or unexpected differences in the firing process. In this piece, I first tried a “band-aid”, a small rectangular piece of glass used to patch the pieces together. I put it into the kiln on a full fuse to bond the pieces together and make the piece flat again. When it tore on the next slump, I filled the crack in with amber frit, and fused again. Everything looked good, until I went to slump it. It tore again, and again, and again.
But it’s happened multiple times with this same bowl, and now I’m not really happy with how the design has had to change to fix the piece. The repairs have diminished it in my eyes, and taken away from the intention.
I start to question myself: Have I done something wrong? Am I meant to be doing this? Is this just a bad idea all together?
The pace of creativity
Of course, I don’t expect everything to flow fast and easy all the time. I’ve been working in glass long enough to trust the rhythm of creativity. There’s another piece I’ve been working on for the past 6 months. I pick it up, work on it for a while, then put it away. I’m still enjoying the work on this piece – yet, I keep having a sense that I have to wait for the piece to let me know what it wants next. And that’s perfectly fine.
And there are times where like this bowl, I feel stuck: nothing’s working.
So what’s next?
I haven’t given up, but I did decide to put it to one side for the moment. There’s a chance that when I return to it with a new energy, I may come back around and see it with new eyes. After all, we’re each subjective in our views of art. There are some pieces I think are amazing, which other people don’t seem to like much. And there are also pieces I think are terrible that other people fall in love with.
So I’ll see if this piece starts to “speak” to me again at some point. If I still don’t like it, I may decide to recycle it into something else instead of trying to force this piece.
The reality of being an artist
We live and breathe art, but it can also be the source of our greatest frustration! As working artists, they don’t hide the process they go through, or the energy it sometimes takes to arrive at their proudest moments.
For every finished piece you can see in our gallery, there are many others that might not have made it past the idea stage, or didn’t work out as expected, or where technical misfires stopped them in their tracks. These unfinished pieces give our community the challenges that make them such great artists, and as professionals their high standards mean they won’t show anything they’re not 100% happy with.
Our open studio policy means you can find out exactly what goes on behind the scenes, and learn about the creative flow that allows them to move past blocks and keep creating, every day. Find out what’s on at the gallery here, and plan your next visit.