Editor's note: This month, we are introducing a new feature column titled “Things We Tried.” In the largest city in Arizona, the possibilities for new and exciting activities are endless: I’ve broken a television at a rage room, thrown axes, gone behind-the-scenes at a jousting competition and now, I’ve created my own glass art. Arcadia News will be branching out and trying unique things around the Valley and if you have ideas, feel free to send them my way:
The next time you’re in the kitchen, take a moment to notice how much of your dishware is made out of glass. While most of your pieces were probably made by machine, there might be a few that were created by a person.
And these days, that person can be you. There are glass blowing studios all around the Valley, and at Circle 6 Studios on the outskirts of Downtown Phoenix, people can participate in a glass blowing class and take home their own works of art.
Circle 6 Manager Jason Chakravarty defines glass blowing as shaping, manipulating and forming molten glass into a finished product.
“I consider glass blowing a technique, process, and tool used in creating art, and there has been an exhausting discussion over whether glass as a creative medium is craft or art,” Chakravarty said. “I tend to think of glass as a material used to create sculptural, decorative or object art just as steel, clay, wood, or plastic.” Chakravarty said that many artists create decorative, sculptural and even narrative-driven works from glass.
At Circle 6 classes, students can create a vase, bowl, pint glass, paperweight, ornament or snowman. I went the practical route and chose a drinking glass – something I could use every day.
At the start of the class, the instructors go over safety techniques and explain the creative process.
“As a glassblower, we always wear closed-toed shoes, natural fiber clothing, safety glasses, and rely on communication with others in the studio to ensure safety,” Chakravarty said. Two instructors work with each student to ensure a safe experience and students go one at a time.
The process starts with “gathering” the glass, which Chakravarty explains as “the act of using a solid rod or hollow pipe and scooping up liquid molten glass from a furnace.” This step is repeated until there is enough glass to create the piece. Then the glass is dipped into pulverized colored pieces, called frit. Finally, the glass is spun around in a reheating chamber which sits around 2,400 degrees. Students are then instructed to blow into the metal rod to help give the piece its shape.
There are multiple techniques for glass blowing, depending on what kind of product the artists want to create. Lampworking/flame working involves using manufactured rods or tubing and manipulating glass using a torch or off-hand glass blowing, which is what happens at Circle 6. Artists work with solid or hollow pieces while sculpting and blowing.
“While the glass is hot, it is moving so we are constantly turning the steel that the glass is attached to in an effort to keep it from falling toward the ground. Ultimately we rely a ton on gravity and heat,” Chakravarty said.
For my piece, I held the rod vertically and spun it while waving it back and forth to elongate the glass. Then, I set it into a mold and was instructed to blow into the rod to give the cup its square shape. I used tweezers to create the opening of the cup and the paddle to smooth out the bottom. The instructor took over from there and finished off the project by using a blow torch to remove any sharp edges, branded a “6” on the bottom of the cup and took it to the kiln to cool.
Students are able to pick up their finished product two days after the class. Circle 6 Studios offers beginner and advanced workshops, as well as First Friday events. For more: circle6studios.com.
Meet the manager: Jason Chakravarty
How did you get into glass blowing?
I attended ASU for undergraduate studies and fell in love with neon, which was a class that they used to offer taught by Jim White. Working in neon made me want to light up more glass stuff that was not line/tube like. I searched for a graduate program which offered off-hand glassblowing. This was over 20 years ago. Today I consider myself an artist that among many techniques, includes glassblowing.
How long have you been in this industry?
I worked at a commercial neon sign shop in Mesa called Graham’s Neon from 1997 to 2001. I first took on glass blowing and glass casting as my primary focus in 2000. I have been making and exhibiting work consistently since graduating college.
What is your favorite part about glass blowing?
It seems to always change with each piece. Most often it’s the idea and the way I see it mapped out in my head. It can also be figuring out how to translate that idea to something real, considering color, technique, textures, scale, etc. Sitting down and setting out the right tools, getting the music right in the studio. We work in teams so it can be talking out the steps, the process, the timing. Making it and opening the kiln to a happy thing. All of it can be a diamond on any particular day.
What is the biggest piece you’ve ever created?
I have a permanent public art piece in California that is a combination of aluminum, glass and neon which I created with another artist, Derek Parker. It sits around 20 feet tall. I have filled walls with installations consuming up to 40 feet long. Last year I worked with artist Andrew Schultz and Circle 6 to complete over 150 two-foot cylinders for a private custom lighting project. I am currently in the design stages with ASU to create glass elements for a 140 feet lighting installation in the lobby of a senior home. Every new idea or piece is the ‘biggest’ yet. They all build from the piece prior.
Why do you think people enjoy this creative process?
It’s a sport, a dance, challenging and non-forgiving. You work in teams and rely on your teammates. It’s very “in the moment.”
How long does it take for someone to become a professional glass blower?
Everyone picks it up at their own pace. It is a very difficult thing to master. Technically there are less than a half a dozen glass makers alive that are considered masters. The industry is so versatile though that someone with a couple years’ experience can find their niche. I personally feel like I am constantly learning and growing within the process.
Is there an apprenticeship for this industry?
Not so much. Around 70 colleges in the country offer glass blowing within their fine arts departments. Many large cities have art centers that offer nonacademic opportunities for individuals. Privately operated studios also offer classes that can help people gain experience.
Why do you think this industry has gained popularity in the past few years?
Art in general seems to be changing as rapidly as the world. It does seem that as we get bored with scrolling through our ‘feeds’, we are hungry to participate, which has helped the industry.
It’s a ‘thing’ that people can go do. This does not necessarily translate to sales of actual objects, as Amazon typically ‘has that thing’ cheaper. Netflix putting out a reality show [about glass blowing] has created a spark of popularity also. Circle 6 has roughly 300 people per week coming through and trying out the process.