Glassmaker

Admit it, you knew that the glass-making profession existed, but you didn’t think it was a viable career path did you? Luckily for you, professional glass maker Kerry Transtrum is here to change your perception of the art form. Like so many others, Transtrum’s love affair with making glass began as a hobby before rapidly transforming into her passion as she learned to create her own design and focused the direction of her art.

Now Transtrum is an accomplished glass artist who continues to create her own designs while also picking up opportunities to teach the art form along the way. She recognized that creating a viable business out of his artwork was not something that would happen overnight and that in order to be successful she would need to stay patient and motivated. But contrary to some artists who have tried to succeed as an individual, Transtrum embraced other glass artists and even formed a guild after realizing that he could earn more recognition as part of a group than he could as a an individual.

Given the relative obscurity of the art of glass making and Transtrum’s experience and success in the industry, she was the perfect person to interview on the subject. Not only did he tell great personal stories and share some of his experiences, but he also offered excellent advice to those looking to follow in his footsteps. Enjoy!

How did you first become interested in Glass artistry?

All my life I have been interested in art and dabbled in a few art forms from time to time. Although I enjoy them all very much I never did feel that any particular one was something I could really attach myself to completely so I tried several different things over a period of many years. In the late 1980’s I started doing stained glass as a hobby and that’s when everything changed. I loved how I could cut the material into different shapes and how it would cast a shadow in color. Everything about this material I liked and knew I wanted to do more with it. It was in the early 1990’s that I took a big step. At that point I was getting tiered of building stained glass windows and sun catchers from pattern books of someone else’s designs. I wanted to make it more of my own, put my own personal touch on it so I started creating my own designs which gave me more freedom in expressing what I wanted to do. About that time I notice an advertisement in a industry periodical about a national conference being held in Las Vegas Nevada where a workshop on “Glass Fusing”, technique where the glass could be heated, bent and sculpted by the use of a high temperature kiln was offered. This sounded very interesting to me. I had never worked with glass in this way before and the thoughts of it excited me so I signed up and took the workshop. Much to my delight I came out of that conference with a new direction of what I wanted to do as a glass artist. This method us using glass as an art form grabbed me like no other had before and I knew it was something I needed to pursue further.

At What point did you first realize that you could make a career out of your art? 

I could see a need for fused or kiln-formed glass in many places in the world. There had always been a lot of stained glass and even much blown glass but there was very little kiln-formed glass available. I could see it having a place far beyond the art industry that reached into the architectural, advertising, lighting industries as well as many others. The functionality of kiln-form glass also lent itself very well to everyday use in the form of vessels and bowls. It helps to understand that kiln-formed glass was really the first form of glass art ever. There have been examples of this found that date back to over 4000 years ago. However around 500 AD glass blowing was developed and since given the materials and equipment available at the time this was a much quicker and easier way to form glass and thus this was accepted and the method of forming glass and kiln-forming or heat-forming glass was somewhat lost. Now today with modern computer controlled kilns and readily available materials like glass, kiln-forming has reemerge to become one of the fasted growing hobbies/art forms in America.

 What kind of education or training helped you develop your skill set in glass making and design?

Even though at the time there had been a few books written on the subject and there were a few workshop being taught around the country there still wasn’t a lot of information available about it so those first several years of working with glass in this fashion was spent doing a lot experimenting. Much trial and error was spent on my part, much of which was successful and a lot was not but either way it was interesting and very much a learning experience. I spent time traveling to other studios in the country that were interested in producing similar work I was and took advantage of what classes were being offered on the subject. As time went on there were becoming been more and more information available on the subject. On four different occasions I have attended the Pilchuck Glass School in Washington State where different techniques of casting, fusing and kiln-forming glass has become a regular part of their curriculum.

How did you really break into the industry?

In the art world exposure is everything. I tried to put my work every place I could from local shops to national galleries. Because of the uniqueness of kiln-formed glass and the fact that there was little of it around combined with the functionality of the pieces I found it fairly easy to get my work into places where it could be seen. I also had a great opportunity to teach at a nation convention. I had never had the intention of being an educator. It was something that found me much for than me finding it. But I did this and discovered that that it was something that I enjoyed very much and thus spend many years traveling around the country teaching the glass forming techniques I had developed at conferences, personal studios and art schools. This was something that gave a lot of exposure, it got my name and work out there and was as much of a learning experience for me as it was to the students.

What skills as a glass artist do you think have really made you a success in the industry?

It’s important in the art glass industry as well as the art world in general that you make your work your own. There is a lot of competition and a lot of good work out there. It is important that you make your work stand out from the rest and make it recognizable to you. I have tried to do this by developing my own style and my own techniques of using the material in a way that is different than anyone else. I think you need to try everything and then concentrate on what you do best. This has come about from the many years of trial and error in the studio.

Can you give us a description of what you do with your art to create such an amazing product? What is it that inspires your style and makes your pieces different?

I like to do what is different. I like to work on a large scale and was recently commissioned to create the largest kiln-formed sculpture in the world. Much of the work I do has never been produced before so much of the time there is nowhere to go to find the answers to problems you run across. It’s a lot on the spot problem solving and developing but that’s what makes it so interesting. A lot of my work in on a project by project basis where if you are working for someone else on a commission type project there may be a lot of brain storming between myself and the client. This sometimes works better than others. If it is the type of job where I am completely free to come up with my own thoughts than I can go wild with different ideas. Many things have to be considered like where the work in going end up, how is it going to be lit, how does it fit into the space, safety issues and such. One thing for sure is though once the ideas start flowing one thing transforms into another and soon there many more avenues to explore than you have the time or recourses to so.

Can you describe what you think have been the most important ways that you have built your business and marketed yourself in the industry?

Building any business in not easy. It takes hard work and you have be a self motivator. You have plant many seeds everywhere you go and from those seeds things will grow. There are many ways to market yourself and I think you have to take advantage of as many as you can. It’s difficult to do everything. I think you have to try everything and then concentrate on what works the best. Several years ago I and a few of my friends started an artist organization in my local community of Salt Lake City Utah called the Glass Art Guild of Utah. Our intention was to bring awareness to our medium of kiln-formed glass. We did shows together, promoted our work, and did demonstrations of our work wherever we could. In doing this we discovered that we were much stronger as a group than we were as any one artist. We received much more attention and was taken much more serious as a group than we ever were on our own. Today that organization has been in existence for over 15 years and has over 50 members. It has proven to be more successful than any of us would have expected as far as marketing ourselves as well our art form in general.

Thus far where have most of your clientele come from?

You can’t expect to create a client base over night. I have tried advertising, mailings and gallery exposure. All is good but most of my clients come from word of mouth or from other work someone has seen somewhere and inquires where it came from. That’s why I say exposure is so important. I did a series of lights for local restaurant chain. I put an information plaque on the wall next to the work. I have received many calls over the years from patrons of the restaurant that saw the work and was interested obtaining some of their own. This was a great way of free advertising that has paid off well. It’s a small community of designers and architects. They all know and talk with each other. This where most of my clients come from.

What are you favorite things about being a glass artist?

Wow! That’s a hard question. I love working with a 3 dimensional material like glass and hot glass in particular. I love the way it transforms from a solid, hard material to a soft molten flowing material and then back to a hard form again. I have always been comfortable in hi heat and I really enjoy handling the glass when it is at a molten temperature. Kiln-forming glass like I have mentioned before is a fairly new medium and I enjoy breaking new ground with it, taking it places where no one else has ever taken it before. I see more potential in kiln-forming glass than in any other way of using glass as an art form. I think my favorite thing about being a glass artist is first having that idea in your head, that thought of “what if I did this”? What would this look like and how would I approach successfully pulling it off? And then finally seeing that original thought transform into a tangible final object is the most satisfying feeling there is.

Could you give us a 9-5 of your average work day?

That can change quite a bit. Many times that 9 to 5 turns into 5 to 9. It runs on a project by project basis depending what needs to be done and what I feel like needs to be done. Sometimes it’s hard to turn off the creative juices once they get flowing resulting in some pretty late nights. I usually find it easier for me to do office work in the morning, hit the studio around 10 AM and then work many times late into the evening. I think that differs for person to person though.

If you could go back in time and give yourself advice starting out in the field of Glass design and art in general, what would it be?

There would have been maybe a couple things I would have done different. I wish I would have started earlier in life. Was 30 years old before I picked up a glass cutter. I wish would have gotten more formal, general art training when I was younger. This is just good basic training for any art form in developing a general sense of design. I don’t think I would have done too much different though. It’s been a good journey.

Any final words of wisdom for aspiring glass designers that may help  them to become successful?

I believe there are three things you must do NOT just to become commercially successful but more importantly become personally successful and that is try, try, try. Let’s face it; the art world is tuff gig. The competition is fierce. If making a lot of money is your goal than you’re probably not in the art world in the first place. But it is very possible to be both commercially and personally successful in the glass art world. It takes lots of hard work and never letting go of what’s important to you. Doing this will pay off in many ways. Developing a body of work that identifies you with your work in also important (something I have never been very good at). If someone sees your work and can immediately associate your name with that work than great for you. Glass as beautiful and elegant as it is at the same time is a very unforgiving medium to work with. It can be your best friend or a pain in the neck but either way it’s a wonderfully fantastic material. It takes patience to work with glass but I have found nothing more satisfying. I thinks it’s important to remember that no one person can do all that it takes to get the job done by themselves. Few people are great artist, marketers, fabricators and business people all in one. We all need help. Surround yourself with great people and great things can happen.

Follow Kerry’s blog here.