Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Designing Artwork for the Most Difficult Client-YOURSELF!


Artists have vision. We can see our finished pieces of art in our minds eye long before we pull a sheet of glass off the shelf. We take for granted that everyone has the natural ability to come up with a new idea, plan how to make it, and then have the resulting artwork actually look like we envisioned. In my 34 years’ experience making commission glass work for clients, I can tell you, not everyone has that gift.

So, we draw sketches and show sample glass colors to our clients. We give them insight into our process and hopefully a better understanding of what their finished artwork will look like. This planning makes it easy to work with customers. 

The trouble starts when we want to make something for ourselves because frankly, we can make absolutely anything we can think of. Our only limitation is our imagination. And of course, artists have oodles of imagination. The sky is the limit. Often this realization causes anxiety over what to make. And that stress stalls or stops your productivity. It wastes your time and taps your energy. 

So, how do you narrow down what to make when you have limitless possibilities? It’s easy. Treat yourself like a client. 

Clients come to me with a project in mind. They have a specific installation site in their home, or place of business, where they want to showcase custom art glass. The site usually dictates the shape of the art I’ll make. Whether it’s a wall mount, a ceiling mount, going to be hung in a window or a freestanding piece, that site narrows down the design shape. And so, the first step in making art for yourself is to pick the installation site. Then decide what art shape is best suited for that specific location. 

When working with a client, my next step is to look around the installation site. I identify the patterns, shapes and colors that are dominant and repeated in the customer’s decor. I look at the patterns and colors on fabrics on their sofa and drapes. I look at the metal color and style of their light fixtures, door knobs and faucets. I look for shapes and colors that are repeated, over and over in their existing artwork. 

For example, in one client’s home circles and ribbon shapes were prevalent. Their furniture had silver, half-circle shaped drawer pulls. The marble on the floor in their foyer had purple ribbon-like veins running through the tiles. For that client, I designed 3 wall mounted pieces of art with circle shapes. All of the circles had purple veins running through them. The glass rounds were then mounted to custom metal frames with a silver finish that matched their other existing fixtures. 

When designing for yourself, look around your site and take note of the shapes you gravitate toward. Look at the patterns you like and the colors you keep selecting. Then design something totally new that includes all those elements.

The last and easiest step I follow when working with clients is to eliminate subjects they don’t like. It can be difficult to narrow down exactly what they do like or want in their design. But clients usually have very strong opinions about designs they will not consider. For example, some customer’s love traditional designs with classic, graceful curving shapes and jewel tone colors. While others favor contemporary themes with strong lines and bold primary colors. Some like literal, pictorial designs like flowers, birds, and landscapes. While others prefer abstract, organic designs with a focus on unique shapes, engaging textures and a play on color mixes.

When working for yourself, mentally list the designs you do not like or want. Surprisingly, this simple exercise makes what you do like crystal clear. 

When it came time to make a fused glass backsplash for my kitchen I hit a wall. There were so many options and directions the design could take that I didn’t do anything for the longest time. I considered designing a pattern with geometric designs or maybe florals or possibly flowing ribbons. I wanted my backsplash to be unique. But at the same time, it needed to be consistent with the style of my home and not so stylized that non-artists would think it was over-the-top. 

Scale drawing of my kitchen backsplash.

My indecision was frustrating. But I know there’s a fine line between classy and gaudy. Just because we can make something extravagant, doesn’t always mean we should. For artists, sometimes restraint is the biggest challenge we have to face.  

The backsplash was a big job that would take months to complete. It would be time consuming to cut the glass, fuse the glass and then install the fused glass tiles. I wanted to get started so I could make tiles between commission pieces. But having limitless possibilities stalled me into inactivity and therefore nothing happened.  

Detail of pattern repeat.
Finally, I decided to draw a small scale version of the design I was considering on the computer. Then I could get a feel for the overall impression and decide if I liked how it looked before cutting any glass. And if I didn’t like my design, I could easily plug a new design into the template. I could also test different color combinations until I had one that felt right. The template also made it easy to calculate the amount of material I’d need to cover the wall of my kitchen. Though it seemed a step backwards, the drawing simplified the huge project and made it easier to plan how to proceed. It also gave me confidence that my time and effort would result in an installation I’d love.  

Glass selection.
Making table top art for your home is one thing. That type of seasonal decoration can be made spontaneously with reckless abandonment. Part of the fun is experimenting with new materials, exploring new assembly techniques and having surprising results. But when it comes to large scale, permanent installations don’t rush. Let the process evolve naturally. Give yourself time to consider different directions before committing to the first design that comes to mind. Then lay the design out on paper to ensure it is indeed what you want.

Treat yourself with the same courtesy you treat your clients. Then you’re certain to have an installation you’ll be proud of and admire for years to come.  

Note: I’m still working on my backsplash. Look for process pictures in future blogs. 

Good luck getting started and finishing your own big projects. Keep making beautiful glass work. You’re doing a great job!

Happy fusing!


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