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, we look at a long and challenging project from Pilisa Rainbow Lady…
Not Her First Swim
Creative Gateways and AMusinGlass founder Pilisa Rainbow Lady has taken on many projects in her years as a fused glass artist. These have included anything from personalized intention plates to creating all the light sconces for a new restaurant. Even with years of experience, however, certain projects can still have unavoidable challenges and misfortunes – all of which have to be diligently worked through. Such was the case for the creation of a particular door piece here at Creative Gateways…
The Complexity of an Ocean
The origins of the project have a fairly straightforward start. Pilisa had already created glass panels for the door to the AMusinGlass studio, the beginnings of a larger project to personalize the doors to all the studios and offices in Creative Gateways. Next in line was the door to Gallery Director Angela Palmer’s office. Pilisa and Angela discussed what type of style or theme Angela wanted, and ultimately arrived upon an underwater scene, complete with all sorts of sea life – including a mermaid!
This was an undertaking that, even on paper, seemed more complex and time consuming than the previous door. But it was also one that had the potential for great fun and creativity, albeit accompanied with hard work. So Pilisa set to work creating the door, using a variety of steps and techniques.
The first part was to make the two large glass panels that would go in the door. To capture an underwater feeling, Pilisa used the “flow” technique. Each sheet of glass was covered with frit powder of various colors, then watered down. Pilisa would then tilt the sheets of glass to get the wet frit to “flow” into organic patterns, before firing it in the kiln. The results were quite effective.
Next, Pilisa had to make a variety of different fish. Using photo references, Pilisa created templates that would allow her to screenprint the basic patterns of each fish onto pieces of glass. That glass would then be kiln fired to allow the printed sections to bake on. But that was far from the last step. Patterns are great, but the fish were still stuck in a sheet of glass. They had to be cut out of those sheets using a ring saw – a process that requires a good deal of experience to be successful with, as putting the wrong kind of tension or pressure onto a sheet of glass can cause it to break in unwanted ways.
The small jellyfish consisted of both a glass “head” and tentacles made from stringers. This was essentially the same idea for the large jellyfish – the single biggest creature of the door, and a magnificent focal point. The head was made from dichroic glass, and the tentacles were a vast array of different colored stringers, most of which were left straight, but some of which were bent using the heat of a candle flame, creating a dazzling but subtle illusion of movement.
As for the spiraling seaweed, Pilisa used torchwork – literally using a torch to heat glass so that it can be manipulated in real-time. Each piece of glass had to be heated up, twisted, and left to cool.
Keeping Your Head Above Water
Even all of this was not as straightforward as just described. The door and its pieces required careful placement and numerous firings of various temperatures. And that was if everything went well, which was not always the case.
At one point, the bottom panel of the door was put in the kiln, complete with all its sea life – including the giant jellyfish. Upon later returning to check the panel, Pilisa found that a large part of the panel itself had cracked and broken. It was a tough blow – no artist likes to see their hard work damaged, and it meant the entire bottom panel would have to be created again. And it was.
A new base panel was created using the same colors and “flow” technique. Most of the fish were able to be salvaged by cutting them out of the broken panel. Other things, like the seaweed, had to be re-made from scratch. As for the broken panel itself? It was chopped up and used for scrap glass, some of which can still be found in bins in the studio.
Eventually, after working on it since the Fall of 2017, the door was successfully completed at the end of May 2018. With the help of another artist, the panels were installed and Angela got the amazing scene she had hoped for. It is a beautiful and entrancing scene, especially when light shines through. One feels they are deep in the fantastic, illuminated waters of the ocean. For Pilisa, there was an ecstatic, rewarding, and well-deserved feeling of accomplishment.
Sea it to Believe it
You can see Pilisa’s stunning door, as well as work from all our resident artists, at Creative Gateways Open Studio and Gallery, open Tuesday-Sunday, 10am-5pm. And don’t forget to visit our sister gallery Kuivato in Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village, open 7 days a week, 10am-6pm!