Learning Library Segments
Kathleen AshPrimary Use of Medium: Fused Glass
Interviewer: Donna Wetegrove
Interview Location This interview takes place with Kathleen Ash in her studio among many projects in progress.
Interview Date: 2.15.99
Writer: Donna Wetegrove
What Type Of Artist Do You See Yourself As?
Kathleen Ash does not use artist as her title. She prefers to call herself a designer "it seems less pretentious". With a philosophy that there is no mystery between herself, her glass, and the end user, Kathleen sees herself as someone who makes things that people can really live with.
How Did You Get Here?
"I did not have a choice." Kathleen thought she would be a math major or a doctor while all along taking art classes. Academics always came easy to her. During her junior year of high school, her family moved to Texas, where schools had shop instead of art classes. The next year, her school got its first art teacher; a University of Texas graduate in her first job. Kathleen describes her situation as "I was desperate for art, while my teacher was so nervous and so wanting to do the right thing". When considering college, Kathleen always thought she would spend her years at Rice University in Houston. However, because of this teacher, she applied to UT. Her plan was to study medical illustrations because she felt she could make a lot of money and live in a clean house. She also logically loved the marriage of a biology and zoology combination along with the nature of controlled artwork in medical illustrations. "Wild painting gestures and watercolor seemed too scary!"
Working two jobs through college and going for a double major added up to not much fun, she admits. During Kathleen's last year in school, she decided not to complete her major.
Growing up in New England, Kathleen developed a love for glass in churches. She recalls being transfixed with the light quality. On a family vacation, she was able to visit one of the oldest glass blowing factories in the country in Sandwich, Massachusetts. This factory blew cranberry glass in the 17th and 18th centuries. As a child, she remembers being unable to speak at the sight of this glass.
Once out of college, Kathleen took classes from Renaissance Glass in Austin. She was able to meet the owner, and, eventually, was employed there. She was later fired with changes in management; which launched her into starting her own studio "otherwise, I would not have had the courage!" She really had to scramble. Soon after, she began getting her own business, started doing architectural glass, and met some very generous teachers along the way. At 30, and single, she started to inch her way to what she has become today. "I learned so much and wish I could have done it in half the time with some guidance." That was a big year of transformation.
There were some breaks along the way. A loan officer loaned her $2,000.00 against her car to buy her first kiln. She was in business! Orders started to pour in from markets she attended. It soon was clear that she needed more kilns two more would triple production. Kathleen's Mom loaned her the money to buy these kilns. "That was the first check I wrote every month" she recalls at such a tender time in her business and not wanting to take advantage of her mother. It wasn't until much later that Kathleen learned that her Mom never cashed those checks. They actually did a ceremony together and burned them one Christmas Kathleen had never received this type of gift before.
To this day, you can find a picture of Kathleen's Mom in her kiln room dubbed "Our lady of the kiln shelves" with glow in the dark roses painted around it. "She is the patron saint of Studio K" Kathleen proudly remarks". Her Mom is still active in Kathleen's business. "She comes to every market and cooks for the crew. In fact, she has developed a following of people who also want to dine with her and sample her cooking. They are affectionately referred to as Helen's refugees it's a tradition now!"
Kathleen wishes she would have allowed her parents to help her more in her early years. She can now recognize the gift to herself when someone allows her to help them.
Where Does Your Inspiration Come From?
Kathleen describes a synergy that happens when "getting" to do artwork that only occurs in her business once or twice a year when it feels like being an artist because it moves her emotionally.
She is also quick to point out that much of her inspiration comes from having her son "it was a creative explosion". She wants her son to be proud to claim his mother's work, something that can last 100 years "to design something worthy of standing on its own along side things that I admire as cool as the coolest stuff I see out there".
It goes back to "you don't have a choice; all you need is a goal and you will get there. After a certain point, it is up to you. You can be anything you want to be."
Kathleen is doing what she would do if she could do anything; this is her dream. She works from her instinct, doing it without thinking. It is a release for her by allowing designs to happen. Once someone else interacts with a piece, it becomes theirs and symbolism shifts from her inspiration.
Studio K and Kathleen have become a magnet of sorts to other creative souls on Thornton Road. She likes being around other artisans on a day to day basis. " not so hard to make it happen is a big, big thing in speaking about the coop aspect for emotional and physical support" For this, she is a proponent of the TIPS ON ART concept and one of our physical facility advocates.
How Would You Describe Your Work?
"When successful, it is fun, happy, beautiful not pretty' functional but beautiful." "A sensibility of clean lines, minimal, rich and certainly not fussy."
Kathleen has carved her niche in the market place with her technique for fused glass. Though she got her start in doing architectural stained glass work, it is not the focus of what she does now.
Why Do You Like The Medium?
Kathleen likes the "found object" quality of glass and it's permanence. "Good design is having it be cool fifty years from now". "The medium itself is so beautiful and seductive; interactive when successful." And yet, "Glass has a primitive quality; an irradized patina that looks as if it could have been dug up from 100 years ago."
Does The Material Dictate The Design Or Does Your Design Idea Dictate How The Material Is Used?
Kathleen sees herself as forging a new glass movement. She comments how no one else does it the way Studio K does. It is a fussy, tedious medium. This difficult side is what plays to her mathematical side. She admits she has always been prone to doing difficult things in life and insinuates how it is really all connected in her circle of life.
The size of the kilns does restrict the size of her pieces and, consequently, the design. The colors available in glass can also be considered restrictive at times. "Glass is not a spontaneous medium. Fused glass dictates its own limits."
Even with all the restrictions, Kathleen points out that when she starts a project, and even after a price has been quoted, things may start to shift. "Once you see the potential, you must follow it regardless of the set budget it really is about the art then."
What Brings Your Medium To Life?
Fused glass connections. "There are no dark lines between the colors, no outlines. The outcome is a lighter piece in general. The glass itself is free and pure in color and texture. It becomes a homogenous piece in texture."
What Tools Are Required In Your Process?
Kathleen dubs herself "queen of power tools there is no power tool you don't need". Power tools support the cross use of materials. Other hand tools include a glasscutter - whose only improvement in this century is an oil reservoir, special pliers to chip away glass, - though still crude she remarks, and Exacto knives. Alloys are now in cane utilized in connecting stained glass work to make it stronger. "Glass is a very primitive trade, not a lot of high tech involved except when it comes to kilns. Electric kilns, managed by a computer, are a remarkable thing! You don't have to watch them." The kilns' shelves have ceramic fiber impregnated refracting material and sugarbinders to hold it together. They do put out a lot of heat and for this reason are in a room to themselves.
Kathleen says she envies artists who only work in one medium type because its seems their lives and their tools are much simpler. She claims to have boxes of lamp parts, etched glass tools and buckets of glass pieces.
Please Summarize Your Entire Process.Kathleen is quick to point out that it varies!
If a new production line piece, she seeks out some serious relaxation. She takes a ride in the country and tries to release and go from there. Once an idea is conceived, she sets out to build a prototype and then set a price.
If a commission piece, she will meet with the client and sketch with them to find a connection she can work with. Kathleen will then draw a formal design, set the price and present it. She requests a 50% deposit at the onset to figure in the time to make it, order the glass, draw up a pattern (which she admits you can't design too much) and then start making the piece.
All fused glass pieces are two layers thick minimum. The seams must be covered during the fusing process in the kiln. The glass is heated to 1540 degrees Fahrenheit to fuse it to one piece of glass. It then cools over 8 hours after which the edges are sanded. The glass is then reheated to 1240 degrees Fahrenheit in a mold to "slump" it to shape. Only wall panels are fired once.
Do You Recommend What You Do As A Career Choice? Why?
"Yes she loves it and the outcome."
What Tips Might You Have For Someone New To The Medium? How Best To Develop Their Interest?
"Believe at the time that you can get what your goals are done. Don't wait to look back at the power of this time." And "just start working with it!" "Day to day work is always a challenge", Kathleen remarks, "but new products out of the kiln is like Christmas and still it is a precise medium".
Kathleen also points out that there are some good books out there, like "The Fusing Book" by Boyce Lundstrom. This is one of her favorites.
There is much in the past of glass making that was and, in some cases, still is dangerous. The old paints used to paint glass, the lead in the leaded glass process and some sandblasting mediums.
Flux, used to solder cane in a stained glass process is non-toxic. Fused glass is not caustic; there are no fumes. The City of Austin does not recycle her colored glass "scraps" so she gives it away to ceramists who use it in mosaics, starving artists and anyone who shows interest. The pieces are always smaller than what they can use but Kathleen's nature will not let her simply throw them away!
All the glass utilized at Studio K is comprised of 30% recycled glass. This constant factor allows Kathleen to know that the glass will expand at the same coefficient rate when the pieces are in the kiln.
The glass is cleaned with alcohol rather than another additive to the surface.
Please Talk About Making Multiples Of A Creative Effort As A Part Of Your Business.
Studio K has several hundred stock production pieces available in 17 shapes, 4 different styles and 10 different colors. Kathleen's instinct for predicting trends and creating shapes for target markets have paid off for her in her career. She knows she is constantly battling the reality of the table top glassware market vs. the glassware as art market, which is only 5% of the population. The gift market is 75% of the population, she comments.
Changes even in stock items evolve as projects and Kathleen is continually faced with covering costs and still giving her market a "really good deal". She finds this usually is always more complicated than it needs to be.
Kathleen does have a trained staff that works with her in her studio on a daily basis supporting the multiples and custom aspects of Studio K products. Not wanting to be an employer, however, Kathleen made a business decision to hire Staff Leasing to do her payroll, taxes, etc. She is convinced that what she pays them equals what she would pay for insurance coverage and Staff Leasing has a great workman's compensation plan. In other words, her staff works for Staff Leasing. This frees Kathleen up to focus more on the creative side of her business.
Because Kathleen's eye for market trends stands out at the shows she exhibits at, she has been invited to the Chicago Design Show of modern furniture and accessories. This is one of the top shows in the world with the top people in the world attending or in Kathleen's words, "those who get it!". This is the kind of stuff that leads to other possibilities.
Where Do You See Your Creativity Evolving?
"Designing more." Kathleen believes that her next step may be to design a line and let someone else produce it. She would receive royalties for the product sales and this would free her up to pursue more satisfying or custom work in her studio and yet, she doesn't know.
Kathleen can't imagine she wouldn't want to work with glass but giving up a production line could lead to that. She is certain of one thing, she is excited to see the evolution and where it leads her.
"Be excited about it!" Kathleen recommends that when young, it is critical to get instruction to avoid frustration. Once hooked, explore! "Get a job at any studio, any creative field, versus food places, and work hard. Know your limits of what you want and don't want to do."
"Hire yourself out; do something with your hands and discover how to make yourself happy." "Start making money early on. Packaging is important also; that becomes part of the gift."
"You can make your own decisions to live the life you want to live. It does not happen as an accident. All you need is a goal; any goal a car, a good marriage, rent. And then a bigger goal to get you there. In five year increments, look ahead and behind."
Kathleen has her own website at www.studiokglass.com
Studio K Glass
2311 Thornton Road
Austin, Texas 78704
Thank you for utilizing TIPS On Art Learning Segments On The Web to further your understanding of the process of artists and art forms. Please take a few minutes to fill out our website survey. Through your feedback, and by making special requests of us for future segments, we will know how TIPS On Art has impacted your situation.