Because some things just can’t be learned from YouTube.
Richard and I were reminded of this last week as we wrestled with self-leveling cement for a bathroom floor. We have 15 years of art school education between us, and a broad range of practical skills. Richard has been MASS MoCA‘s Director of Fabrication and Art Installation since the museum opened in 1999, and responsible for building hundreds of extraordinary works of art in a wide variety of materials. But this tiny, 5ft x 8ft bathroom floor was threatening to get the better of us.
We’d watched the videos, pored over instructions, and measured everything precisely, but this darn cement turned out to have a mind of it’s own. Plus, a fierce surface tension that made it cure into pahoehoe-like slabs with lightning speed. Self-clumping would be a better description, like kitty litter. Figuring out how to level this lava-like eruption forced me to become more intimate than usual with the subtle topography of our bathroom floor. Eventually, we sort-of won, and the floor was sort-of leveled.
Battle-weary, as we cleaned our tools and tidied my studio for a week of glasspainting, it hit me: I teach in order to save others from this same experience: the demoralizing frustration that results from such a huge gap between what you want or expect, and what the mixture or material appears able to do.
Just a few days earlier, Annie O’Brien had come from Cornwall in England for private tuition. She had heard about my methods, downloaded my Notes for Students and painted glass with my mixture, but had yet to achieve the results she saw in my videos. Annie teaches stained glass at Penzance School of Art and, besides developing her own work, wanted to help her students paint glass more fluently.
Reviewing Annie’s workshop in the light of my floor-leveling struggles prompted me to recall comments such as “Oh, I read about that in so-and-so’s book but it didn’t/I couldn’t/it wasn’t clear…”. Then, as I took Annie through my basic procedures, I began to hear “Oh, this is so different than I’ve been getting… “. Or, as she learned to recognize the correct consistency and viscosity “This is way easier, and so much more fun.”
And this is my point: all the YouTube videos out there cannot substitute for a few hours of hands-on time with the right person.
And so, last week, four more artists drove across the country to take a 5-day workshop, Glasspainting For Artists, in my studio. Marianne Parr from Athens, Georgia, was working on developing a free and more personal style of glass painting and figuring out where she wants to go as an artist. Daniel White of Cain White Art Glass, Virginia came to learn how to create more expressive tracing and textural effects for commissioned work. Carol Slovikosky, who has taken several design and painting workshops with me, was expanding her figurative work to include canine portraits, and Brenda Benson came to the workshop to learn how to add pattern to her sculptural pieces.
I always aim to teach the individual, and this is easier with small groups. As I figure out each artist’s needs and goals I can be flexible with the curriculum, address specific requests, and encourage exploration. Last week I gave slide presentations that included aspects of stained glass design, including the positioning of support bars, which spurred a spontaneous session I dubbed “Sacred Geometry 101”. Then, since both Brenda and Daniel wanted to use my mixture for figurative work, they chose to paint faces during the workshop. Brenda, whose tuition fees were covered largely by the SGAA’s MalDeb Fund, went on to figure out the precise viscosity of paint needed to print hand-carved linoleum.
My next student, LeaAnn Cogswell, is an accomplished sculptor and painter who has yet to figure out how to use glasspaint as beautifully as she does clay. She has remarkable drawing skills, masses of experience and solid art training. The Stained Glass Association of America awarded LeaAnn a Dorothy L. Maddy Scholarship to come and study with me. With a few days of one-to-one, hands-on instruction, I’m confident that LeaAnn will swiftly become an excellent glass painter.