Scott Hronich crafts the most beautiful glass spheres I have ever seen. His glass sculptures are interesting optical illusions which mystify and astound. I spoke with Scott about his journey as a glass sculptor and his hopes for the future. In a busy world, there's something special and deeply meaningful about Scott's work. Every sphere Scott creates offers endless inspiration.
Edward Alvarez: I think the first time that I heard about you was from the magic store Art of Play in San Diego. I remember I first saw the galaxy marble and I think what happened was I really wanted to buy that one but it was sold out at the time, and then I went to your site and I couldn't find the one that I wanted and I ended up buying the dichroic swirl. And then ironically after I bought that, Art of Play ended up restocking the galaxy one that I wanted. So then I ended up buying two of your marbles even though I only planned to buy one. They're not exactly the cheapest thing, but after buying both of them, they're both really unique and stunning when you look at them in different types of light. I marvel at them every time I see them. And so, I'm glad that I bought both. Maybe you could talk a little bit about those?
Scott Hronich: Nice, I didn't know you had a collection. That's nice, I appreciate the support and the kind words. That's awesome. I just actually did a run of the galaxies, they are one of the main styles that I make and I am a big space nerd so I'm really fascinated by the feel of them. For those what I do is I sprinkle gold and silver filings, little pieces of the metals inside the glass when it's at 3,000 degrees- and it's just getting those metals to flow into the glass to look like a spiral galaxy. It's just a layering and heating technique that I've developed, but it gives a neat, interesting feel with the stars and the wonderment of space.
EA: What you do, is it glass blowing or is it glass making? I'm not sure what the proper term is.
SH: Yea, I'm kind of at a weird crossroads with that. What I do is traditional techniques of glass blowing, flame working. It's a higher quality optical glass so it's all what's called torch work, or flame working. So it's directly right inside a specially designed torch that I heat up the glass, but I don't actually blow anything anymore. I used to make hollow vessels and I used to do things. But for the 20 out of 25 years I've been blowing glass, most of the stuff that I make are solid spheres. So I kind of consider myself more of a glass sculptor than I do a glass blower.
EA: Maybe you could talk a little bit about how you got started?
SH: I started in Colorado 25 years ago. I went to university and I studied art there. I was born in New Mexico and raised there, so it was a university in New Mexico, and I got through the first two years of mostly taking all art. I was a financial aid student, dependent on the financial aid, and they caught me in the middle of it and they said to proceed any further with getting financial aid you have to take these basic courses as well. I was getting a 4.0 in all my art classes but I failed at all the the basic stuff. Another year went by and they gave me a trial and I messed up, I got my financial aid withdrawn. So I never got to graduate from college. But after that I went up to Colorado and was working normal jobs, and wanted to get back into art. I missed it after working regular jobs for a period of time. I found a house up in the mountains that had a glass blowing studio in it. I wanted a painting studio, I've always loved oil paintings and I always wanted to be the next Salvador Dali. I really loved surrealism, I wanted to be able to paint reality in a surrealistic way to get across emotions and thoughts and feelings in a more in-depth kind of manner. So I went up there and the guy was doing this special torch work, glass blowing. And as I cleared out a space above a studio, he was doing this glass blowing underneath, which was 25 years ago, this is still pretty underground stuff, and it was even more so. He happened to get in a fight with his apprentice about, I don't know four or five months after living there at the house, and he asked me if I was interested and I was interested. I'd go down and watch him blow glass and I was fascinated. When I was in the university I played with every medium I could get my hands on. I really love human figure drawing, sculpture was another big favorite of mine, but I also did photography, I did the traditional graphic arts where you make your own font, you know, you hand draw everything, and I did graphic art on the computer as well, I did a little bit of everything I could get my hands on. So I was excited to touch another material, get involved and see what would happen, just seeing what its abilities were. I ended up taking an apprenticeship with him that didn't last very long. Sadly to say, a really nice guy, really heartfelt guy, but he ended up having a drug problem that really affected our relationship. So I wasn't there very long. I went off after a short time of the apprenticeship and, basically what I like to say is, I learned what the materials are, where to buy them, and how to start. And so that's what I did, I went off on my own and I started teaching myself, just by watching a material and playing with it, heating it up, moving it around, seeing what I could do with the limited knowledge that I had of its basic workings. So it was a little rough beginning, it was interesting, and had a lot to do with the underground culture of this type of glass, and a lot of personal choices led to the beginning of this journey as well.
EA: Did you say you were taking an art class that you didn't pass?
SH: No...in my art classes I was a 4.0 student. It was the basic courses, you had to have so many English, so many Maths, so many whatever classes, to get a degree. It wasn't an art college. If I was in an art college I would have been okay, but it was a university that had an Art program. So I was trying to major in 2D and three-dimensional art, which is fine because now what I'm doing in glass, I've made my living off glass for 25 years off of everything I make. Glass is so three-dimensional and sculpture as it is. So I hit my sculpture major there, but the colors in glass and the importance of light and the feel of glass is like painting. So I feel like I've hit my goals with both of those, but I was just a bad student as far as disciplining myself to do the homework that was needed to get the basic grades...I was always good at math. I enjoyed math, but I also was a person that wasn't diagnosed with dyslexia, but I had severe dyslexia. I was way behind in reading, my reading level was really low, I couldn't keep up with college level reading and assignments, so it affected my college career.
EA: I see, well it's interesting that you still found what you were good at and you were able to succeed at that. That the failures or the missteps that you experienced didn't completely stop your progress in life, I thought that's interesting.
SH: Yea, I've always felt lucky that I've been able to do this for a living. I feel like, how people say, "your ship comes in." I did find something that I enjoy doing, challenged me. I kind of needed something to be mine, I was kind of lazy before, I just wasn't motivated or interested in much. So when I found this, it was interesting to me, I found a way to make it mine, since it was mine, I nourished and really took good care of it. And I'm fortunate to have your support and other people's support, that it's taking good care of me and it's nourished me as well, so I feel very lucky to have it.
EA: I was also going to ask you, have you ever injured yourself when you're working with glass?
SH: I have a couple of times. The reason I'm laughing is, I just injured myself playing soccer. I'm on a soccer league and I injured my foot. I've hurt myself a lot more in soccer than I ever have fortunately playing glass. Yea, you get your normal burns, and you get your cuts and things, but I've never had a major injury from glass, which is great because everything I do is dangerous. I think right now the biggest problem I have and the biggest danger is heat exhaustion. For the spheres that I make, I make the largest that I've heard of made in the world of borosilicate spheres, and the heat off of them- you're talking a sphere that's at 3,000 or 4,000 degrees of glass radiating all this temperature off. The light alone will burn your skin. It gets really hot, so heat exhaustion right now is probably one of my biggest and most dangerous concerns. I can take a cut, I can take a burn. I really don't do that that often but right now it's mainly the heat. And the biggest thing for glass workers to really worry about, and the main number one killer of a glass blower is glass dust. I was fortunate enough to have a big brother that is an industrial hygienist with an OSHA degree. He knew when I got interested in glass blowing, he was finishing his degree and he researched glass for me and gave me all the things to worry about to keep me healthy. I really owe him as far as knowing how to ventilate, how to keep things under control so I don't get hurt. So, lucky to have him and his advice on that.
EA: I didn't really know that there was a such thing as glass dust, although I guess maybe it makes sense.
SH: Yea, anytime you break the glass it's gonna get a little in the air. But a lot of times most glass blowers use color which also has another problem besides the dust, a lot of times it's crushed into different gradations, fine powder, chunks. Anytime you're moving that around it's going to create a glass dust in the air and you got to be careful. But not only that, all the little pieces of broken glass- people want to sweep up, they want to clean up, anytime you sweep that up it kicks the little particles in the air and that creates a lot of danger as far as inhaling it, and it's hard to get out of your lungs once it's in there. There's lots of dangers with glass that you just have to be careful with. Metals are another one, like I said, I use a lot of silver and gold, like the galaxy we were talking about earlier. You're heating up these metals until they're the most active state, you're changing them from a solid into a gas and that means that they're separating into tinier particles and moving around really fast and very active. And metals- you have metals in your system but you really don't want to have a high number of metals. So ventilation is key on everything, keeping those metals away from you. I mean there's cadmiums, there's bright colors, there's a lot of things that you have to be careful with. My goal is to go as far as I can in this. I want to go the distance, so I want to make sure that I'm safe and taken care of.
EA: Yea, it's definitely something to consider. "Health is wealth" and all that stuff.
SH: Yes, realizing more and more as I get older, it definitely is.
EA: But yea it's funny what you say about injuring yourself more playing soccer, that's kind of unexpected.
SH: Yea, I enjoy it. And it seems like when I get involved and I like something, I kind of go overboard, I push myself at it, and I did that yesterday. Yea, I'll be out for a little bit...It seems like you have one of the spheres right now in your hands.
EA: Yea, I'm just looking at it in the light. The thing is that every time I look at it I still don't really know how you make it, even though you just explained it. The process, I'm still trying to make sense of it, if that makes sense.
SH: I go to shows all over the country and I talk to thousands of people about them and that's the funny thing. After seeing a wide spectrum of people from different places, different ages, different everything, the high majority of people that come and see them, which is awesome for me is, they go, "Wow." That's the first reaction but really quick on the flip side of that they say, "How?" Their minds start ticking, they know what they're seeing, they enjoy what they're seeing, but they're wondering what it's about, and how that happens, and people start reverse engineering, people start talking about it, so it automatically creates a conversation. You get that wow, you get that instance of feeling. It's overwhelmingly positive. It's what I call an active piece. You're calm and at peace and everything's great with the world, but you're also active, it's not lulling you. So your mind starts thinking about, what is this, how's it working...and seeing different aspects and the colors and everything. So it creates a spark hopefully in most people.
EA: Yea, the other thing that I want to ask you is, how do you make it perfectly circular? It seems like a perfect sphere, I'm wondering how do you actually do that?
SH: Sure, it's just another technique after many years of of blowing glass. Glass naturally wants to ball up. It just wants to do it at 3,000 degrees. What I try to do is, I try to get everything lined up as best I can, and using the viscosity, the flow of the glass to finish it up, by lining things up in place. As soon as I have it pretty much where I want it, I have to get the surface of the glass round while keeping the internal structure set. It's a lot of reading temperature, a lot of what I do in the process is make judgment calls on temperature base. I want to be able to work the glass when the internal temperature is cooler, but I can get the outer temperature much, much hotter and roll that, form that into the space by rolling it in graphite or wood bulbs. It's kind of a balance, but after I get it into that round shape then it's a process of heating it up really quick and letting it cool, heating it up really quick and letting it cool, and that kind of polishes out the glass, it solidifies it in that final percentage into a sphere. But it's many, many years of technique and figuring out what works best and which ways. Like I like to say, it's always figuring out a way to convince the glass to get it where you want it to go, you can never force it, you can never manipulate it. You really have to just convince it, work with it, and get it in the right place at the right time.
EA: What was the first glass thing that you made? You said that you were an apprentice to somebody else.
SH: The first project I wanted to do is, I had a girlfriend at the time, and I wanted to make her a necklace. So I made her a pendant. One of the big passions in life is finding your partner, or doing something for them. So I wanted to make her something nice to strengthen, secure the bond a little bit.
EA: I see, were you successful in making that?
SH: I was. Another nice thing about glass is that it's such a fascinating material, that you can make something and be completely happy that you went through the process and you made it from the beginning to the end. You can start really simple and then it takes many, many years to perfect. I can finish out another 25 years and I will still have goals. My skill level, my idea level, have not caught up to each other. There's just so many avenues and so many different ways you can go with glass. And there's so many different things to approach with it. It's going to take a lifetime or two just to get everywhere you want to go. But at that time I was very excited with what I turned out, and she was happy with it too as well. And a lot of things with gifts, as far as that, it's more intent than the actual turnout of the thing, effort goes a long way for many things.
EA: That's nice that that was how you started. Was it something that you thought you would be able to do? Or was it like you weren't sure if it was gonna work out but you still tried to do it?
SH: Funny thing is when I started with it I never really thought that it would take me this far really. So I didn't have any expectations for it, I never thought I would be able to sell enough to make a living. To me that was so far-fetched that I wasn't even thinking of it. I was just really in the moment of, this is exciting, this is fun, I'm glad I get to play with it, let's see what happens. And it took a while before I was like, oh this could actually be- when I got the response from people, my progress with it, with the strong art background, and the dexterity that I have, it took off quickly as far as being able to make a living and sell stuff. But when I first started playing with it I was so overwhelmed with the joy of looking at it, figuring it out, seeing what it does, and just being creative in the moment. That wasn't anywhere near my train of thought, it has come many, many years after, and sometimes I still wonder am I gonna make it another year, like how far is this gonna go? I celebrated 25 years this year of complete living off of glass and I have three kids and it's still, every step of the way glass is providing a life for me, for them. I've gone through two recessions, I've gone through, right now going through the war in Ukraine, and the world's in turmoil, but I'm still getting support, I'm still getting love for what I do. I still have love for what I do, so it almost goes to that Field of Dreams thing, "if you make it, they'll come." I can't absorb myself with the outside world too much, I just try to stay true to what I like doing and let that work its way out. I mean I do work at sales, I take it everywhere, I talk to people, I've done a lot of the hard work. For me it's really hard to worry and think about the money side and everything else, I never did it for money, I need money to do it but it's never been the main focus goal.
EA: Technically speaking you're not a scientist or a mathematician but you still are able to make these things, do I have the right impression?
SH: Yea, it's funny because I display this physics formula, it comes with every piece when I sell a piece of glass. And that comes from a professor that teaches industrial optics at MIT and Harvard. He does a specialty class between both schools of industrial optics, I met him in New York City at the show there and he told me, "it's amazing you can do what you do without understanding what you're doing." As far as the scientific formulas and the thesis about optics. I was always good at math, I loved math when I was at school, but I never took it further than algebra, trigonometry, whatever we finished in high school. But for me, I just try to build everything artistically because I know what I want to see in the glass. So for me it's just trial and error, trial and error, trying to get the glass to do what it needs to do to get in the sweet spot. An optical depth where you look outside the sphere, but lots of color as you go down, it needs to lead in there. And it's just troubleshooting, I do a lot of troubleshooting. Okay I'm getting this result, why am I getting this result instead of this result, you know, and then evaluating, no this is the level I want, this is the level I'm getting, there's a thousand steps, let's take out 10 steps, let's change them to these steps, let's put it back in the formula and try to see if that works to get the resolution that I want. So yea, I don't look at it scientifically. I wish I would, I really genuinely wish I was "smarter" like I wish I was more technical, I wish I could get into the science of the glass, and the colors, but in reality I am who I am, and I'm a visual person. I see aesthetics and I can tell in a heartbeat what is good and what's not, and I just have expectations that I can figure out how to make it good, and I try at it, I work at it to get it that way.
EA: It seems like you just have a natural talent for what you do with the glass and yea it is kind of ironic that it's not any mathematical mastermind thing going on.
SH: Yea, well I post that out because I use it as a sales, you know so people could think about it, but the way I look at it is, math is a language and it's a language that some of us kind of speak parts of. We all did elementary, high school, we know parts of the language, but there's people that are really good at that language and they can view the world through that. But it's kind of like a sense, you get a sense of of things even though you might not know the full language, you can hear the way people express themselves, so you might not know the language but you can kind of get a gist of what they're talking about, and the feelings and the energy behind it. I would say I'm more one of those people that can really read the energy of what's going on, artistically.
EA: How did you figure out the thing of injecting the metal gas? That sounds really technical.
SH: Yea, that's been years in the development. When I first started that's the only way they colored glass is through what's called fuming, heating up gold or silver to the point it turns directly into a gas from a solid state. They would use that fume to coat the glass, which is again dangerous, you have to have the right ventilation, which they didn't have when I started. So that was a trick, but they didn't really know how to get the colors out of it, they were just kind of trial and error, they were doing their own trial and error, but they didn't have any theories on how to do it well. But the piece that you're talking about, the galaxy, that came about by a kid, I talked to this kid, he had to be between I would say 8 and 12, in New York City again at Lincoln Center Square show. He came up to me and he's like "this is great, this is beautiful." He's like, "you know what'd be really cool though?" He said, "wouldn't it be neat if it just looked like the night sky and those were all stars spiraling." And like they do in the cartoons I had the epiphany, the little light bulb pop up, and I go, I know exactly how I would do that. I know really how I can make that happen. I already had a dichroic version of that going to create the spiral, so all I had to do is change it with the gold and silver. So I just had to figure out how to take the material, implement it differently to get that effect. And I'm still working on it a little bit, because again, I don't know metals. I know people that play with metals, I'm learning more about metals and manipulation, but I kind of figured out a way for different gradations, different textures in them. And what I do is, how I entrap them using colors, because the metals will want to gas off. In my darkest galaxies the trick is not to get the metals to gas off at all. And that's a big trick because again, everything you're touching and working with is at those high temperatures. You're talking 1,875 for the glass to start melting. Well metal, silver and gold, melt below a thousand degrees, they turn into a gas below a thousand degrees. So the trick is, is entrapping them without any of that, or some of that, or a lot of that. It's always experimenting, keep playing with the material, keep seeing what it does, finding out what conditions are out there that changes things. One of the hardest things I figured out with metals is, I was talking to a physicist about it and I was like, I know, I can get the perfect colors out of silver when it's raining. And he's like, that makes perfect sense. And I was like, what do you mean? Because to me it was odd, like why would rain, rainy day make working with the metals better? And he's like, it has to do with the positive ions in the atmosphere, will attract the metals to the glass and they probably adhere better. So there's little things that I've learned, but a lot of it's talking to other people that have these other knowledges, and snowballing it. It's funny because I always bring things back to spheres, but it is, all this knowledge base is just like a snowball, it's collecting information from here and there, and it just keeps trying to add into the one focused area that I have, as far as what I make, as far as the depth and the color and the spheres.
EA: Do you remember when you made your first sphere, like the ones that you make now?
SH: I'm trying to think, the first one...I can't remember the first one. I know what was in it, but I can't picture it in my mind. I can't picture what the first sphere was. I know it was probably several years after I started blowing glass, four to five years after I started blowing glass, before I went into spheres. I know it was probably a Seascape because frit was one of the cheaper materials to use, which is crushed colored glass. One of the first techniques that I developed was a Seascape. Kind of looks, feel of the ocean as you go in. Same ideas as the vortex, kind of going down. But I'm not really sure what the first piece was, that would be interesting...One of my biggest regrets is actually not keeping more of my glass when I first started. There was a lot of pressure to make sure I had income to buy equipment, it was always you know, get this, I need this equipment, I need this material, I need this glass, I need rent. And so I didn't start keeping my own work until about 12, 13 years ago. I'd keep a piece now and then. I always gave it to families, when I go visit family and stuff I'll see really old pieces, because I'd give it away as gifts to family for holidays and stuff early on, because I didn't have much money, so I would make my gifts, I would make them something I think they would like.
EA: How do you make the inside of the sphere look like there's a swirl effect?
SH: Yep. The swirl, what I say is, you have a straight line, you add your color, and it could be multiple layers, but everything is horizontal, and what you have to do is convince the glass by heating it up in a certain way that creates that line to go in, moving in two different directions at the same time. And when you get that line to rotate in two different directions then you can create the spiral. Of course everything I'm doing you're seeing it from the inside, but what I'm seeing is from the outside of the glass, because once I add the metals I can't see in there, but I watch to see how that outside of the glass turns. Even with a straight dichroic vortex, I still have the material just gently on the surface on the inside, slightly swirl, and I do that for two reasons, I mean, the normal swirls are obvious because it just adds more color and goes down, but it's also part of the psychology of the piece. If you go straight down and you have lines going straight down, you drop to the bottom too quickly, and you don't know how far you fell, but if you have to go a spiral it takes longer to get there, and it feels deeper. But yea, creating the spirals, is heating it up and doing it, but if you get to the dichroic swirl, which is the most difficult piece I make...In this piece with the dichroic swirl, this is really complicated to get that material to really fold, because that's folded over. You can see the material is actually folded over, two opposing colors, the blue and the red, they're going down at the same rate. So you got to swirl it, that material folds over, and then you want it to swirl faster at the bottom...So it's really difficult because you have to really have dexterity to be able to do that, you can have the theory, but then you physically have to rotate at different times, and different things, and line up the heat just right, staged. It's not just you can heat it right up and go, it has to be staging up the heating up of the material to get it to flow in the right place. And then when you round it off you cannot ruin anything that you added in there, so it gets a little tricky.
EA: It sounds really complex. The dichroic thing is actually metal inside of there?
SH: Yea, it's a crystallized metal. It's actually grown on a sheet of glass, and the reason it's grown on glass in the first place wasn't for art, they were looking for a material that they could put in a high pressure chamber that could withstand two things: high pressure and high temperature. Glass is perfect for both of those things. Glass is really strong and it can withstand a lot of temperature... from my understanding, I was just at Corning Glass and they used this, said, dichroic was developed for NASA to reflect a lot of the heat and light back when entering the atmosphere again, or something like that. So they weren't making it for art, they were making it for science. They had a special need for it. So one of the people that helped develop it took it back to his home studio and he was just playing around with it and started making things and discovered it made fascinating color in glass. And I'm lucky it did, because when I started 25 years ago- borosilicate glass, the colors that we had were pretty basic, they were pretty boring, there wasn't much color in them at all, because the higher quality glass that you have, the higher it goes, the lower the coefficient expansion goes. So how much it's going to move as you heat it and cool it, and it had a very low one, and there wasn't as much of a need as soft glass. Soft glass was everywhere...they had lots of scientists, lots of people developing colors, so borosilicate had a lot slower process of getting there. One thing I became proficient at, because as a guy that wanted to paint, was a lot of color, and the only way to get that vibrancy was using dichroic. And dichroic is all the same crystal, it just depends how thick the crystal was grown. So the thicker the crystal growth- it goes through the light spectrum and the larger it is it changes the actual color, because it's reflecting the color back to your eye differently, but I became proficient at it and I use a lot of it, and it's a good thing to have.
EA: What was NASA using it for?
SH: I think it was the Space Shuttle is what they were using it for, tiles, they wanted to put special tiles on to reflect heat.
EA: Oh huh...that's interesting. When you say it's really difficult to make, is it like, do you ever mess up while you're making it?
SH: I don't make the dichroic itself, I buy those from companies that have the equipment to do it.
EA: I mean when you're making them into a sphere?
SH: Yes, there's several ways, the main thing is burning it out, which means you're turning that crystal into ash, you're destroying the crystal and you're losing all the color. That's fairly easy to do and you can burn it out once it's already in the glass too. You can overheat it, you can heat it up too much. When you move glass, as I'm saying you're doing that, actually that moving of the glass if you stretch it, that moving glass actually creates more heat, makes it warmer quicker. So if you move it really fast, you move it too much, you can burn it out as well. So yea, it's kind of a delicate material to use as color. It's not consistent, even buying it is inconsistent, because making it is inconsistent. I have quality control issues with the production of dichroic. It's man-made so there's going to be flaws in the material, there's going to be good sheets, there's going to be bad sheets. You got to learn how to read the sheets when you get them and then cut them up and use them depending on how the sheet lays and how it looks. Just something you figure out after many, many years of using it.
EA: So earlier in your life when you thought about your future you didn't think that you would be where you are right now?
SH: Not at all, not at all. Where I grew up it was hard for people to make a regular living more or less in art. It was a very rural town in New Mexico. So very practical people, a lot of ranchers, a lot of farmers. My mom was a school teacher, practical work. Art wasn't a consideration, it wasn't available. There wasn't much culture for art there. Ironically I was born in Santa Fe, which at the time when I was in school was the third largest art market in the world. Lots of art, lots of culture. But I grew up with a practical mindset of, this is possible, this is not, this is not for you. When I went to university, I wanted to be a painter, that's what I was there for. My painting teachers in the art department at the time said, "painting is dead, you can't make a living at painting." Which at the time, when you're sitting there paying for a university, saying, "it's okay you want to paint, but you got to figure out a different way to live" that was pretty discouraging. So even at university I didn't think, I didn't feel that art was possible, unless you did something practical like my teachers were doing, they were teaching art. So it's nice that I've been able to do it and the ironic thing is, I guess I meet a lot of parents, a lot more people with kids since I have young children and interacting with them, so many people are more excited about what I do, because they appreciate it more, because a lot of people are doing jobs they don't love, they're doing a job because they're doing the practical thing. They need to make a living, they have responsibilities to take care of, their goal is to get through and make it to retirement and I'm just lucky that, you know, I mean it came through a lot of hard work, but it's also luck that I am getting to do what I do, something I really enjoy that also is paying all the bills and letting me have a life besides working, which I'm pretty grateful for, thankful for.
EA: Yea it kind of reminds me of this poem that I read. There's a guy who's a professional poker player his name is Phil Hellmuth, and he wrote this book about how to be a good poker player. I bought the book randomly, there's a poem in the beginning that he wrote and it's a totally random discovery that I found his poem. Anyway the poem is called The Universe Conspired to Help and it has a really interesting line, it says, "Once he took the first step down the line, the universe conspired to help make sure he was fine. He never dreamed he would accomplish so much that the Universe would give him such incredible luck. Now older and wiser he understood the hardest part was convincing himself that it was time to start." Maybe that's a timeless thing that people experience, that sometimes just trying to start- taking the first step sometimes is all that's necessary, but it could also be really difficult.
SH: Sure, yea, and I think continuing to do the steps, even though, like I said, the world falls apart. And you don't see how somebody's, you know, people have a lot of things to worry about, how is somebody gonna spend money on something extra? But sometimes that's the time they need that art the most, they need something in their life that brings a little magic and brings a little brightness, a little hope, and a little bit more love in their life. So it's, yea, when all else fails, to still do what you're doing, you're doing good things, in the end hopefully it all comes out.
EA: Are you the the only glass artist that you know of that does what you do? Like the style that you do everything, like the glass vortexes?
SH: No, there's other people that are doing it as well. I know of at least two others that are on the same path as me.
EA: I see, what about the galaxies and everything else that you make?
SH: Not the spiral galaxies no. There are two people last year that figured out my dichroic swirls which used to be my signature piece because I was the only one that I knew of that knew how that was made. Like I said, it's the most difficult thing I make. One of them messaged me through one of the social media and said, sorry about this but I figured it out. And I'm like, you know, I hope you enjoy it it's hard, it's a trick. And they're like, I didn't want to tell you, and I'm like, I appreciate you telling me, but if you can do it, you can do it. And so it's interesting, especially in today's age because it's the information age, internet, everything's possible. When I started, if you walked into a glass blowing studio and they knew you were doing glass, everybody would shut down and stopped what they're working, it was very secretive. And now people are sitting with their phone while they're blowing glass, every time they blow glass they try to get as many people to watch them as they can. It's just such an extreme change in the 25 years, which is probably for the better. The ability of people is rocketing off, as far as what type of glass is being made and the quality and everything, it's because people decided to switch that around. Instead of being secretive, be completely open, and they're making better glass, but it's such a shock. I'm still working by myself, I work privately, I'm coming up with my own work, my own designs and trying to figure them out, and I have some stuff that I'm doing that nobody else is doing, which is great. What I tell myself is, I gotta be faster, I gotta make them better, I gotta make them bigger, and then hopefully that'll keep me surviving. I still have a good group that are following and I hope I can make it another 25 years.
EA: I also want to ask you, you have some pieces where there's a gemstone floating in the middle or an opal, I'm not sure what it is.
SH: Sure, it's the Gilson opals, and I was lucky to find out the story, because when I was making them and introducing the opals, I saw other people using the opals in there. I wanted to use them too. Through the supply chain I was getting really bad opals. And so I met a guy, Gerry at Manning International in Connecticut, he was the national distributor for them. So I took in my work and I said, look, I'm trying to make these really nice glass pieces and I'm trying to put these in there. To make the nicest sphere I need the nicest opals. So he sat me down, he's an amazing guy, and he's like, okay well, I'll tell you the history of them. So Gilson opals were made by this guy Gilson who discovered how opals grew in nature. Scientist guy, and what he did is he tried to mimic it in a laboratory, so he figured out how to grow opals, in high pressure, high temperature, inside kilns. He brought it to Gerry and said, I have this product I need to distribute it, I want you to sell these man-made opals for me. And he wouldn't do it, he's like, no they're not the quality I need right now. People were trying to make synthetic opals through plastic and resins, and something that was more opal that was reliable. So he ended up improving the technique and Gerry bought his product, got the rights for world distribution...So he had an amazing collection of opals, we went through them and talked about them, and that really improved the quality of work that I had as well. So yea, main thing I'm doing right now with them is, I'm doing two things, opal planets in my space scenes, because I went from the galaxy ones, the spiral, to open stars, into like galaxy, nebulas; the space scenes went a lot further. So what I'm doing is placing in opals for planets. I get sphere-cut opals, I get different colors. And when you move back and forth, the colors of the opals change, and therefore it just really gives that whole planet feel to them. But I'm also using gradations of opal, different crushed opals, different sizes of them. I can use them for meteors, I can use them for dust. So right now the pieces that I'm making, even in the galaxies like you have, I'm adding a little of the opal dust, and when you move it you get this twinkle of color and it looks like stars are twinkling at you, just like they do in the night sky, it's pretty amazing. So yea, when I added the gemstones to it, they're Gilson opals, they're laboratory grown opals, they're not synthetics- synthetics are plastics which will melt. These are gem, high quality opals, they just have zero water content. Natural opals have water and these have no water, so they're compatible. You still can burn them out if you don't put them in right, not as hard to do as dichroic, but still possible, they still can fracture. They create a lot of pressure in the glass, but still capable of them. So that's something that you can enhance the glass with.
EA: Also what I was wondering about is, you have a piece where it looks like it's floating in the center, how do you do that?
SH: Yep, so basically setting the opal in there. And usually if I have it in a vortex, I used to put them in most of the vortexes, I don't put them in as much anymore, but yea in the vortexes.
So basically I would start with clear glass, heat it up and place the opal at the bottom of one rod while adding another glass rod behind it. So it's basically entrapping it, and adding more clear glass and building it up will center the opal, and go from there. So that gemstone is actually trapped inside the clear glass from the beginning. The trick is to keep it centered and where you want it the whole time, because you're always rotating and moving the glass. So you can get it cockeyed, or over to one side or to the other side, but when you work on your technique and you concentrate on it, you can get it centered really nice. If you get it in the center of the sphere then when you rotate it, it just looks magical rotating in there, when you rotate the sphere.
EA: I'm sure it looks a lot better in person but the photos and videos that I've seen it's really magical and it's just kind of baffling, well all of your pieces are baffling, but yea, it seems like there's something special to those for sure.
SH: Yea, it's nice to add. They add a lot option of color, they add magic, because they do look like they're floating. And a lot of that happens because you can only use these in borosilicate glass, soft glass is too weak for them, they'll shatter, different coefficient of expansion. But since borosilicate is so optically clear, you can make them look like they're just floating in space, and that's one of the big wow, after wow, how questions that I get. How are those floating in there? Because people don't see where they're trapped, they look like they're actually floating, it really kicks in that magical effect.
EA: Yea definitely. I was talking to my friend last night and I was showing him some of your spheres and the work that you do, he said it reminds him of the movie Men in Black with the galaxy on Orion's belt, he wanted me to to tell you that.
SH: I get that a lot. Again I see a lot of people at shows, and that is a moment in cinema history that touched so many people. I was the same way, I'm a big sci-fi space fan, I watched the movie. When that part of the movie comes up and you look into that little ball in the cat's neck and it turns into all these galaxies, it's just an amazing moment. When they made that they made gold and it affected so many people. I hear that a lot at the shows, it connects with them. The joke is, which came first? And I don't know the exact date I started the galaxy necklace but it wasn't inspired by that, but it does give people that feel which is amazing, because something as stagnant as glass compared with the motion picture you know, and animation, for sure to be able to be compared to that and get that same feeling, it's a good compliment.
EA: How did you start working with the magic shop that's here in San Diego, Art of Play?
SH: Yea, Art of Play. I wholesale to a lot of places, and I'm not sure how they found me because I used to do a wholesale show, the Rosen show, many years ago in Philadelphia. But after 2008 there weren't as many galleries being able to survive off of American craft. They contacted me and asked if they could purchase wholesale. I set them up with an account and they've seemed to do fairly well off of them. They've ordered several times, and they're nice people, great people. So I'm not really sure how they found me. They saw it, they figured it would work. I love the idea of magic, magic show, magic cards, everything. Because that's what I joke about at the shows, it's like well, when people are like, how do you do that? Well do you want math or do you want magic? It kind of gives that magic feel. So I like them, I'm not sure how they found me but I appreciate it...It's amazing how it gets around, how people are connected with it. I had some viral videos happen about six years ago. I had 24 million views in 24 hours on a combination that Bored Panda did, when Bored Panda just became a hit on social media, and the true viral thing happened. It was just everywhere all at once, and I'm still getting ripples from that. So I don't know if it was from that, people have seen it, so I'm thankful for it. I'm thankful for their support, keeps giving me the ability to make more so other people can get it, plus also build the next big thing too.
EA: How did you come up with the name Internal Fire Glass?
SH: That actually came from, kind of what we're talking about is the people's excitement, internal fire, it was my creative energy. Like the fire that gets you going, that moment that gets you out of bed, it gives you something that you want to do, the passion, the fire. And to me it was kind of a working relationship, I noticed that my energy and my creativity was amplified in making it with the person that was viewing it, and connecting to it, and purchasing it. So to me it was a combination between the collector and the artist, they had internal fire. The collector is sitting there finding something that they're passionate about and when they get it they're excited, they're happy, they're handing me that energy. I'm sitting there making something with that energy, presenting it, somebody else is picking that up and they're getting energized by it. And it's just trying to keep that internal fire going inside you, inside me, as the creator, as the collector, as people.
EA: Yea, I really like that name. And I think that kind of just adds to everything, like the whole special feeling that I have about your pieces. The name Internal Fire Glass makes it extra special for some reason.
SH: I appreciate that. I enjoyed it, I don't think about it as much anymore as far as the name, it's just what it is. But when I'm asked about it, it just kind of brings that back up and you know a lot of people wonder if it is because there's fire inside the glass. There's that color...I think art does reflect life, and the more energy, the more color, the more fire I have, the better the glass turns out, the more excited you get, it works.
EA: Yea that's a really good point actually. I was wondering do you believe in life in the universe? Or some sort of other worlds beyond Earth, or something like that?
SH: Oh yea, I'm positive. I feel like sometimes we're the Who, you know we're on the little speck of dust and there's a whole bigger life out there that we're just not aware of. I believe that we as a species, we'll find that. Hopefully we can evolve enough to be able to do that. I think we have a long ways to go in our evolution but I hope we can explore, and I wish I was a part of it, getting to explore space, getting to explore other planets, getting to do that. I believe that's the best thing for us, I think that's what we're meant to do. I think just through our knowledge base and how we've grown and how we can understand the universe spiritually, mathematically, practically. I think we have a big lesson to learn before we leave Earth, and hopefully we figure out everything we need to know so when we leave we can explore and do a good job when we go out, and I personally can't wait. Hopefully it's, I don't like Star Wars because it's fighting, I hope we get out there and we find a more evolved way to be besides fighting other creatures and other civilizations...But I'm sure it's out there, it's all a matter of time and we're headed that way.
EA: Yea I totally agree with that. Hopefully we could evolve so that if we do ever explore the universe it'll be more about learning and that sort of thing. And then I guess like mathematically it has to be possible, because there's millions or billions of galaxies, and so just by that alone, there has to be something besides ourselves.
SH: Oh yea, yea. I mean, and just what we can see and not see, size is a huge difference. You know, where with going micro you can see so many living organisms that we just, it's unbelievable how much life is on our planet. And our definition of life will expand, I'm sure. It's going to be an amazing world in the future as long as we can get along and evolve, and we can share resources and knowledge, and we can do something great. I hope it's that way for my children, my son, he wants to be an engineer and an astronaut and I hope he gets to do it, I hope he gets to enjoy that and explore that.
EA: Bertrand Russell said one of the most important things was for people to learn to tolerate each other and to get along with each other, so it's definitely something that hopefully will be in our future.
SH: I hope so, I really do.
EA: Are your spheres in any museums?
SH: Yes, well I'm usually in the museum to sell, not museum collections. Corning Museum was selling them, Guggenheim was selling them in their shop, Kobe Museum in Japan was selling them, or they still have one left, but they're ordering, they're going to be doing another marble show, I'm contacting them, so they're going to be there. There was another one up in, I can't remember, there's another one in Canada. So yes, but I don't know as far as collections. My goal jokingly was, there's a 12 inch glass sphere in Corning Museum of Josh Simpson, which, I'm a big fan of his work, I always have been. He makes planets, he's a soft glass artist. It took 15 people, he told me the story, like 15 people, it's 155 pounds of glass, just a huge, huge feat to make a 12 inch sphere. Borosilicate again melts at a higher temperature. I'm up to 9 inches by myself right now, I'm hoping since I'm a New York artist and I'm using Corning Pyrex glass that maybe one day I'd be able to get in their museum, as far as making the world's largest borosilicate. I'm hoping I can sit beside him before I'm done in my career with a 12 inch sphere next to his in the museum. They have a world-class museum there, it's amazing, I just took my kids this summer. Amazing collection of work and I would feel very honored to be amongst all the collection in there, I really would.
EA: I could see your pieces in a museum, that makes sense to me, so hopefully at some point that'll happen. I have, let's see, I think four more questions here. One of my questions is, how do you deal with stress?
SH: That's a good one. Yea, exercise. Exercise is my best stress relief, and cooking. Eating well, and exercise. I enjoy cooking, I enjoy gardening. Growing the food gives you exercise, it's physical. Going in and cooking the food that you grow is elating when it's more nutritious. It's just a sense of pride, you've waited the time, you put the work in and then you get the reward. So those are my two biggest things. I used to do yoga, too busy, I just haven't taken the time. But exercise, that's what I was doing with soccer. Trying to create a social moment to get exercise and be with people, friends, that helps as well. So my life is super stressful as far as everything that's going on, but those things really help balance that out.
EA: Nice, yea. Do you do any sort of meditation or anything?
SH: Generally I would say no, but one thing I'm trying to do is really change my posture. What's happened is that I'm working like this, so I start really getting a lot of tension in my shoulder right there and my neck's going forward. So what I've been doing are a lot of exercises, either laying on the floor, hanging my head off the end of the bed, trying to reverse that motion. And when I'm doing that I'm sitting there for 10 to 15 minutes trying to do nothing else but realign my spine and to get it in a healthy position. And so I guess in a way I'm starting to, because I'm doing nothing else in those 10 or 20 minutes. I'm trying to just focus on, I know this is going to be better for my health, it's going to feel better, and giving myself that time to do it. But it's not intentionally like, I'm meditating...I actually am doing something, I'm trying to realign my spine, but I'm just leaving it at that and letting my mind rest, and not think of anything else. I don't fall asleep, I just don't do anything else. And it's helped, I've noticed, I've been doing this for the last two weeks and my alertness, my awareness has been heightened, it is, it's just higher. So it's good. I believe in it, I believe in its effectiveness, that's the only way I'm doing it right now.
EA: What kind of art inspires you in your own life?
SH: I think there's lots of beautiful moments that are just art in the world, natural art. But I get inspired by other artists doing things as well. Paintings, I still would love to be able to be a painter one day, I love the beauty in it. But I love cinema too, I love movies, I always have, I always will. I love books, I listen to books while I work, I love written word, I love people's imaginations. I'm going through the Wheel of Time right now, I'm a big Dune fan, so I listen to those. I love other people's creativity as long as it's in a positive way, a beautiful way. Doesn't mean it doesn't have to have some kind of pain involved in it, but just anybody trying to create something that's beautiful in the end. You can go through trouble, you can go through that, but the end result is something inspiring or beautiful... That kind of helps me, inspire me, and it does the things that I'm trying to create for other people, it really ups my day, it envelops my heart, it strengthens my courage to live and be part of the world, it does.
EA: Yea, definitely. It kind of reminds me of what John Frusciante says in the beginning of this one documentary about the Red Hot Chili Peppers. He said if he spends too much time thinking about all the terrible things in the world that he would never have the energy to make the music that he does.
SH: I can see that, you got to be aware that it's going on but you can't focus on it, not where you're at, you got to do the best you can where you are at. And hopefully the change is coming through that.
EA: Do you feel that all you touch turns to gold, as in things are always easy? Or is it like, you feel everything's just a result of continuous work?
SH: It's continuous trying, trial and error, trial and error, it's continuous. There's nothing set for me at all. There's no safety net, I always have to try, I always have to go, I always have to put the effort in. I have lots of things that don't turn out. I have a whole table full, I don't know why I have these up here right now on my desk, but I have a table full of stuff that just didn't work out. I guess I was separating them from the rest of the stuff. I have a lot of mistakes and I make a lot of mistakes, there's a lot of things, there's avenues I could have done better on and things, so it's always a struggle. I need that in a way though, if it was easy it wouldn't be interesting, and I wouldn't be engaged. So I need it, I don't need it to be extremely difficult, but I need it to be a challenge, and it is a challenge.
EA: My other question, this is a two-part question here, the first part is, do you think that you're a genius? And the other part of that is, do you believe in the idea of a masterpiece?
SH: I'm the first person that would say I wish I was much smarter than I am. I've met really smart people and I'm jealous of it, I wish I had more of that kind of a mind, especially for facts and information. That would be great, that would be amazing. What was the second part of the question?
EA: Do you believe in the idea of a masterpiece?
SH: Yea, yea, oh yea. Just like that moment we were talking about in the movie, the Orion's belt, that was a masterpiece within the movie. It was that one segment. The movie was fun, it was great, I don't think the whole movie was a masterpiece, but that moment, you know it all came into that one moment, that is amazing. I think Dune the book is a masterpiece. I think there's paintings out there that break my heart when I look at them, they're masterpieces, you couldn't change anything. There's some songs that hit every note, hit everything. You can get to moments of great art, or masterpiece, whatever you want to call it, great moments in time that are encapsulated. I think it's possible and I think it's nice that humans are striving for such things and are able once in a while to get them. And I feel bad that there's people that probably put in effort, they want that and maybe they don't quite hit the mark, but at least they're out there trying and making it. I don't think I've mastered glass yet, I think I have a ways to go. I think it's possible, maybe I'll have a great masterpiece. I have one piece I'm really excited about that I've done, I've created. But as soon as that one's made, I gotta make the next one. And I'm not going to make a masterpiece every time, I just have to keep trying to get as good as I can. And my joke when I do shows, I joke about this- I always wanted to be a well-rounded deep person and it's keeping a balance in your life that gives you the ability to do your best every day. Just gotta try to keep an even balance, keep you in a good state where when you go to work, when I go to make something, when I go to blow glass that I can do my best when I'm in that moment. I'm at a spot right now where I'm at a good pretty good balance of it. Last two weeks has been beautiful work. So I don't know when it's all said and done and I'm gone, if they can look at my work and say it's a masterpiece, or a period of time was masterpiece, I don't know how they'll look at it, but that's for somebody else to judge, not me.
EA: That was really well said, and a lot to think about there. Anyway, we could wrap this up, it was a really great conversation, I really enjoyed talking to you. It seems like maybe we just barely scratched the surface but I think we also touched on a lot of good things as well.
SH: Yea, it was a pleasure Edward, I appreciate you taking the time and getting me involved, thank you.