3 Things I Learned from a Professional Glassblower

Recently I was invited down to Tacoma, Washington to experience the city’s glass experience, consisting of museums, architecture, and other attractions. It’s hard to turn down a sponsored trip when you only have to travel an hour from home, and was pretty excited because I am very familiar with Dale Chihuly, a famous glass artist who has strong ties with the city.

My creation: a gorgeous paperweight. Love it!

One experience on my agenda for the trip was a visit to the Tacoma Glass Blowing Studio. There are several hot shops in downtown Tacoma but this is where you’ll most likely take part in blowing your own glass.

My glass blower, Shayne Nutter, has been working with as a glassblower for over 7 years.  He’s a super smart guy, working on his own projects as well as a full time worker at the studio.  I peppered Shayne with questions (I guess I forgot to mention I do small business coaching) while I sweated and slaved over my creation you see to the right, a paperweight.

I learned a HELL of a lot about glass, which is a material that has some crazy properties.  I also learned a lot about what it means to be [french accent] an artist [end french accent], and took home not just the wonderful memories of this experience, not to mention the keepsake, but also some life and business lessons I’d love to share.

Lesson 1:  Every artist must know the commercial aspects of his/her craft.

It was interesting talking about the financial aspects of a career glassblower.  I asked Shayne and as I suspected, commissions (and patrons) are few and far between – so much for the renaissance.  But Shayne and many of his Tacoma colleagues all do just fine, because they’ve figured out the commercial aspects of their craft.
The same goes in any industry – in any business, because we’re all artists.  You gotta figure out what people will pay you for, right now.

Lesson 2: You don’t need to know your life’s dream, but you need to be aware of an opportunity when it arises.

Said paperweight in progress. Clearly a work in progress...

My first question for Shayne was the obvious one: how does one become a career glassblower?  (Answer: ehhh, you probably don’t.)  Shayne actually got into glass blowing as a part of the Hill Top Artists program,  which helps youth put their energy to good work.

It reminded me of my own experiences – my career has been a series of twists and turns, starts and stops, ups and downs.  Right now I’m on a speeding curve – and not sure what’s around the corner, exactly. (I do have a hint.)

Some people will wake up every day and know what famous figurehead they want to be – but for most of us, you won’t know what you’re going to be doing a year from now, or five years.  Just focus on opportunities.  They will lead you where you need to go.

Lesson 3:  Mastering your art takes years. Not weeks, not months. Years.

Shayne made an interesting comment towards the end of our glass blowing session – he was holding my paperweight at a strange angle, and mentioned something about the fact that it was only in year 6 he figured out some certain aspect about the temperature of the glass that makes a better product.  It reminded me of a conversation I had once with Jackie Cameron, where Jackie mentioned that there were opportunities and skills that she put to use that couldn’t have happened in year one, year two, or even  year three.

This has been my experience as well.  But for the glassblowers at this studio, I was amazed that these guys come in on their days off, and they work through their lunches to take advantage of every single minute to work with the glass. Their dedication is incredible; Shayne showed me one very very intricate piece that broke during the cooling process, and nobody seemed upset – they were just ready to get in there and try again.

In an age of instant gratification, we want everything to happen *now*.  Some things are best waiting for.  Never stop testing, trying, experimenting.

In Summary…No, Not Everyone will Understand

After my glass blowing experience, I went to the Museum of Glass to look around – a great order to do it, because you really have an appreciation of the exhibitions then.  One thing that Susan Newsom, Communications Director of the museum, said to me really made me reflect on my experiences.  She said that the art of glassblowing is still a bit misunderstood – sort of like photography used to be not really considered an art form.

It made me think of that little nugget that Melody Biringer told me after the World Domination Summit about listening to your gut.  If you listen to your gut, all of these lessons are damn obvious.

But not everybody else is in your gut (wow, that’d be weird).  So trust your gut.  No, not everyone else will understand.

P.S. – IMPORTANT:  Tuesday evening we’re having the FREE July C-Booster Session, about content.  1 hour of creativity and confidence building – come join us!

3 Things I Learned from a Professional Glassblower

13 Responses

  1. Great lessons Andy, thanks for sharing!

    And great work on the paperweight too – be careful not to drop it :-)

    Clare Appleyard July 18, 2011 at 4:27 pm #
    • Yes, it is quite heavy so I have it in a safe place where I can enjoy it without the fear of shattered glass!

      Andy July 18, 2011 at 4:30 pm #
  2. What a fun opportunity, and it looks like you learned a lot from it. Thanks for sharing.

    Stephanie - The Travel Chica July 18, 2011 at 5:16 pm #
    • You’re welcome. Hope you can try it sometime :-)

      Andy July 18, 2011 at 5:19 pm #
  3. I love glass – I have spent many many hours watching glassblowing and being totally captured by the beauty of what appears out of the ingredients. I have bought way too many pieces – but I have never tried it myself. Must have been a great experience!

    I am touched that you mention me too….we did have many interesting conversations back in the day :-)

    Jackie Cameron July 18, 2011 at 5:36 pm #
    • You’re welcome Jackie. Miss our power lunches!

      Andy July 18, 2011 at 8:16 pm #
  4. Good gut-check reminder and fun write-up. Saw some glassblowers in Sweden once, it really is quite mesmerizing.

    Red Hunt July 18, 2011 at 8:14 pm #
    • Yeah, mesmerizing is a good word for it. And you’re very welcome for the reminder ;)

      Andy July 18, 2011 at 8:16 pm #
  5. Great post Andy.. I totally agree with the fact that we need to just focus on opportunities and that they should lead you where you need to go. Most of the time, we are sleeping when opportunity knocks.. and then we wonder why we were sidelined/bypassed! I also agree that as with all good things, mastering a trade takes time.. otherwise, everyone would be an expert! And so, we keep toiling! (it helps if you love your job though;) )

    Ciki July 20, 2011 at 8:06 am #
    • Yes, if you do love it, the toiling doesn’t feel so rough. Like with the glass stuff, yeah in the beginning it is hot and sweaty work, but once you get past that, you find what’s really worth it. Thanks for stopping by Ciki, nice to see your smile around these parts again!

      Andy July 20, 2011 at 8:32 am #
  6. The paperweight looks beautiful! I would like to learn more about what are the crazy properties of glass?

    Tookta the Tour Guide July 20, 2011 at 11:34 am #
    • Hmm. Here are the main things:

      • Depending on the temperature and speed of cooling, this affects the strength of the glass.
      • Even when you’re working with HOT, molten glass – that is drippy even – if you tap it with a tool, you’ll see that it is still HARD. Like glass. But it’s melting. Drippy. Weird.
      • Lastly, I find it interesting that glass is forever “liquid”, e.g. moving. If you look at very very old windows, you’ll see the glass is just slightly thicker at the bottom than at the top. Interesting…
      Andy July 21, 2011 at 4:42 am #
  7. Hello Andy, thanks. And you are right, that is amazing. I will check old window next time I see it :-)

    Tookta the Tour Guide July 21, 2011 at 10:10 am #

Leave a Reply