Want to support a discussion on biodiversity, know of a cool tech office space, or maybe you just like gin?
Land transformation due to human activity poses the greatest threat to biodiversity worldwide. It's not enough to expect industry to do better, it's for all of us to be part of the solution.
Between 1999 and 2015, human activity in Alberta visibly converted over 23,000 km2 of native ecosystems into residential, recreational, or industrial landscapes, an area 3.5 times the size of Banff National Park.
While I do try to be as environmentally conscious as possible with my medium, I’m aware of the carbon footprint of glass. Tempered glass cannot be recycled, in fact the City of Calgary suggests you put it in your garbage bin to go right to the landfill. I’d like to give this material a new life with a body of work that speaks not only to recycling, but humankind’s growth and adaptation of the natural landscape and the consequences to Canada’s animal population.
The glass sculptures will be water jet cut from large fused thick slabs of once broken tempered window glass. The sculptures, life-size silhouettes of endangered Albertan wildlife would appear almost ghostlike made from the light greenish hazy glass. These ‘ghosts’ would then be photographed in urban landscapes that have replaced their natural habitat, creating an engaging portrait of loss that the viewer can’t ignore. Examples might be a school of ‘ghost’ Bull Trout swimming through a grocery store, a Swift Fox walking through a building construction site or a family of burrowing owls sitting on a new community playground. The images paired with the sculptures in a gallery exhibition would have an eerie beauty.
How you can help
I have received a generous amount of grant funding from the Canada Council for the Arts to begin the creation of this new work, but I still need to acquire a few pieces to finish the puzzle.
The sculptures are made from broken tempered window glass which I have ample amounts for the first phase, but I'd love to create at least one slab (or one or two animals) from recycled Bombay Sapphire Gin Bottles. The beautiful blue of the bottles is similar to our glacial waters here in Alberta.
To create one of the large cast slabs, I need roughly 70 lbs of glass - that's a lot of gin. Let's say an empty bottle weights roughly 450g. I'd need about 70 big bottles - that seems doable right Calgary?
If you have an empty or have a contact at a restaurant, bar, or bottle depot that might be willing to help a gal out, please let me know. Email Michelle
Drops of empty Bombay bottles can also be made to the following location:
8808 33 Ave NW, Calgary, AB
Just pop them inside the back gate, next to the garage door in the back alley.
Pro tip: Follow my Instagram for posts on how I water shock these bottles so I can then cast them.
Cool Calgary spaces
If you are open to having me (and my photo crew) capture images of your space to be used as part of this art project, I'd love to chat! Email Michelle
Types of places I'm looking for:
- Local pub/bar
- Dispensary/liquor store
- Big box grocery store
- Hair salon/aesthetics/beauty bar
- Mall (I might do the parking lot/loading docks)
- Fast food drive thru (I'll do this under the cover of night)
- Gym/cycle studio
- Tech office - all the gadgets
- Car dealership
- Suburbia – garbage day
- Suburbia – playground
- Large modern home
- Construction site
Even with the Canada Council grant, I'll be needing to raise a good amount of funds to create the work, so I've created art cards that directly benefit the project. The cards are collections of previous work aa well as some cheeky thank you and birthday cards.
I think it’s important to note that you as a consumer can spend whatever you choose to on an item, meaning, you spend what makes sense to you for items you purchase. If you need a watch, you can spend $200 for the Timex or $10,000 for the Rolex. Both items tell time, but you place value on the item based on your individual needs/wants/perceptions.
I’d like to do a really basic breakdown of some costs to help illustrate why buying small, artisan or handmade may cost you more than what you think it should for a similar mass-produced item. Also, I think glass artists have been underpricing themselves on smaller ‘functional’ works for far too long.
Let’s take the heart pipe/paperweight I released on Instagram. I set a price of $50 CAD for it, which compared to other similar pipes/paperweights may seem high.
Let’s try the most basic pricing calculation out there (materials + time = cost of goods x 2 = wholesale x 2 = retail). Full disclosure, I don’t use this formula. It’s far too simplistic and isn’t accurate in how I see the value of my work, but let’s try it out in this case just to illustrate my point. There are hundreds of ways out there to calculate pricing and profit, I actually use a glass weight-based formula that averages out all my costs and helps me decide the viability of an item.
Powdered Glass Hearts
Materials ($10-ish per heart)
- 2.5 oz powdered glass (frit)
- Pipe filter
A 8.5 oz jar of glass frit averages for $12.95 USD (number pulled from Dephi glass). I live in Canada, so that’s $16.62 CAD + 0.83 GST + $2 shipping (average if I do a large order) = $19.45 Let’s round the bottle up to $20 because we didn’t even think about border costs… I use half a bottle per heart so that’s $10 in glass (my cost). So right now, if I multiply that by 4 I’m already at $40 for a retail cost and we haven’t even considered my time or overhead as part of this equation…
But wait, I know some of you are thinking that I’ve already got $30 in profit based on the above right? Wrong. Let’s reverse engineer this equation.
Let’s say I wholesale this heart to a store for $40. They take half the price right off the top meaning I get $20 in the transaction. Remove my glass price of $10 and I’m left with $10 as my profit. Not bad for one item IF that included my time and overhead, which it doesn’t.
Time (1h 20 min per heart)
- Creating the recycled frit – 3h every few months. I scrape, and triple sift the dried waste from my wet saw and bottle it for future use. (Let’s say 5 min per heart…)
- Molding process – 60 min to fill and freeze molds (6 at a time, so 10 min per heart)
- Drive to and from my studio 30 min (6 hearts at a time so 5 min a heart allocated for a trip to the Stude)
- Coldworking – 30 min per heart (wet grind any rough edges, clean-up on the holes with my drill press)
- Marketing – 30 min per heart (photo the item for social/website, list on the web, social media video posts, answering DMs/emails)
I’m being very conservative with my estimates above, but let’s say 1 h 20 min at minimum wage in Alberta ($15/hour) = $19.50 per heart.
Okay let’s try the cost calculation game again now we know how much time it takes to make a heart.
$10 (materials) + $19.50 (time) = $29.50 (cost)
$29.50 x 2 = $59 (wholesale price)
$59 x 2 = $118 (retail price)
See why this equation doesn’t work so well? According to this I should be selling those little hearts for over $100 each?! and we still haven’t talked about my overhead costs below - the tools and space I need to create the work…
Overhead ($????? per heart)
- 2 months of R&D to create my own molding process (adaptation of the freeze n fuse process)
- Studio rent/electricity
- Website fees, payment processing fees
- Shipping materials, marketing/packaging bits
- Tools: Kiln, drill press, flat lap grinder
- Molding process: modified silicone mold, straw, rubber tubing, spoon, water, plastic cup
- Firing process: kiln shelf paper or kiln shelf wash
So what the heck an I trying to get at here?
My price $50/heart may seem high right off the bat, but when you see the breakdown, it's really quite reasonable for the time/materials I put into it, but pricy compared to other mass produced items that do the same thing.
This is why I like the education aspect of my work (or any art). I need a lot of tools and I spend a lot of time (and money) to create the work I do. I’m not a factory, I’m an artist and you are buying a piece of my heart, not just a thing. You are supporting a dream when you buy a handmade item, and yes it costs more than the drop-ship item manufactured in mass overseas. you choose to buy the piece if you believe in the art.
Thank you for supporting small wherever you can. And before you berate a small business owner for an expensive price tag, please take a moment to think about that person on the other side of the work.
GATHER 'ROUND THE CAMPFIRE AND LISTEN TO TALES FILLED WITH GHOSTS AND GHOULS, THE FANTASTIC AND THE MACABRE.
Ghost Stories #YYC is a group art exhibition where each artist writes a short story to go along with an original piece of work inspired by a folk tale, urban legend, or ghost story. The work is collected for a gallery exhibition and also collected in a storybook.
Gallery show ran from October 23 - November 14, 2020
Opening Receptions were: October 23 from 5 pm - 9 pm and October 24 2 pm - 5pm
Ruberto Ostberg Gallery: 2108 18th St. NW, Calgary AB
Applications for this show tend to open in February each year, right when the dull, cold days of winter start to gnaw at your soul. I had seen the first year of the show and when the applications for volume 2 popped up, it was perfect timing. I was in a creative rut and struggling at both my day job and art practice. I asked my wonderful writer friend (Cyla Panin) if she wanted to collaborate with me on the submission. She could write the ghost story and I’d create a piece of art to go with it. And so, it all began…
Fantasy writing is a passion for Cyla, so we didn’t really chat much about what I could do art wise, she just said she had an idea that included water. Glass can look like water, so I just said sure not really thinking anything of it. I needed to be pushed, so I let her go where she wanted.
We put in our submission (a short 200-word synopsis) and were accepted! I worked off the synopsis for the first couple months, planning and experimenting with all sorts of things. I don’t think it was about actually creating the piece at this point (unless one of my experiments went really well), it was really just me trying to get out of my creative rut.
I made many failed pieces, learned so much, and spent a LOT of time on this work. There was a freedom in the fact it didn’t matter if I sold the end work – I just needed to play without restrictions.
My first idea was to make a piece of glass that could go over top of a mirror and have the appearance of water/ice. I was somewhat successful with the glass resembling water/ice, but it didn’t work with the mirror. The glass was too thick and distorted the image you saw in the mirror too much. I still needed you to see yourself, not just wiggly shapes.
Then I tried to do really thin glass in the same way – total failure and several molds later.
So, I decided to step away from the mirror concept for a bit and go really crazy and cast my hand inside a huge hunk of glass! Huge chunk of glass (ice) with a hollow void inside shaped like a hand. I’ve always wanted to do a reverse relief casting like this. I got a little too excited (and went a little too large) and tried to demold my hand casting too soon and broke all the fingers off. You can’t reattach or fix plaster/slica molds, it just doesn’t work due to differences in moisture, but I fooled myself into thinking it would work and tried casting the hand anyway. All the fingers broke away and floated to the top of the glass casting! Plus, my kiln just didn’t want to get to the high temperature range needed for such a large casting (and it was mid-summer at this point – not a great time to do high heat work in the shop). Long story longer, very big failure, but I leaned a ton about casting larger pieces. Also, made a great smashing video.
Now we are about two weeks from art deadline at this point and I really have nothing to show. Cyla is all done the final story, but I’ve got no art. Nothing like a deadline to push me to figure it out. I decide I like the hands a lot and I also still think the mirror is needed (the viewer needs to become part of the piece), so I sit myself down and formulate a plan based on all the learnings from the last few months.
Let’s revisit casting the hands, but not reverse relief, actual glass hands (much easier) and the mirror. The hands can be attached and I can augment with some sandblasting to make the mirror look like water and volia! A mirror with glass hands mounted on it so when the viewer looks into the mirror they see themselves reaching back with cold, ghostly hands. See Cyla’s story below to really get the experience.
Surrender by Cyla Panin
Ice cracked under my feet and I froze, waiting, watching for movement. Lightly, carefully.
My relief came out in a puff of warm air, like tiny clouds. The sky today shone grey straight across. Nothing to break it up, no wisps of white or glow from the sun. It was like a dull blanket spread over us, keeping us in.
My thumb ached from wet and cold, inadvertently dipped in water as I tried to hold the heavy pail without spilling its contents on my shoes. I could wipe my hands off, drying my boots would take much longer.
Another layer for you.
I poured the water out faster than I’d intended, but the pail slipped in my numb hands. Drops splattered onto my boots and skirt, but I stepped back in time to avoid a drenching. The water slipped over the ice, pooling in cracks and crevices. There would have to be two, maybe three more layers after this. I just needed to cover the index finger. Almost done.
The eyes seemed to watch me though they never moved. The deep, brown colour I knew they were was faded and distorted through the ice but the expression shot through the layers and burned me with its rage. I would have been terrified if there was a way for it to get out.
As it was, I was only a little scared because it was hard to forget the burn of those eyes when I slipped under the five wool blankets piled up on my narrow bed at night.
I hadn’t meant to bring her here. She slipped in behind me, clinging to my skirt like a small child too afraid to look at the world. I hadn’t noticed at the time because she had made herself so small and I had the whole big ship to look at. The smoke staffs belching grey clouds, the blonde wood deck beneath my feet, the chipped rail where I rested my hands — paint worn away by countless people squeezing the wood with one hand while they waved goodbye to everything they knew with the other.
She was with me when I wound through the stark corridors of white wood and white-painted metal in the underbelly of the ship. It was as if they were afraid of darkness down there. I didn’t mind. I was afraid too — terrified of the dark water on the other side. Separated from me by a few inches of painted metal. Knocking against the walls. Calling me with low moans.
I wasn’t sure if it was the water or the whales as I lay in my tiny bunk that first night. I wanted to sing back, just in case. Three other women were breathing and sweating and sighing around me, but none of us spoke each others’ languages. We’d shrugged and given half smiles and each claimed a bunk. We settled into loneliness.
That’s when the ocean’s moaning changed.
My ears thrummed with the low sound, beating in time with my heart. Her cold body slipped in next to mine, puckering my skin with goose bumps. I held myself perfectly still. I’d thought I’d escaped her, left her on the shore. I didn’t want to open my eyes to see her blank ones.
Somehow I slept as she cupped herself around my body. I ignored her as the ship cut through the endless swath of deep blue. She tried to get my attention when I ate – turning my belly against the watery soup and hard bread – but I never spared her a glance.
It wasn’t until I walked on new earth, sucked in breath after breath of air I didn’t recognize and felt the difference in my lungs. Clear and empty of judgement. No one knew me here. Except her.
She stalked me, darkening the edges of doorways and clinging to the underside of the wagon taking me deep into the trees. I tried not to listen to the scritch scratch of her nails on the wood as I sat, trembling from the ruts in the road.
The cabin had been used before. Other people’s disappointments made the air inside stale. I went in alone, hoping she wouldn’t notice, would keep hanging on under the wagon, taken to the next destination far away from me.
I wasn’t that lucky. The first night, I heard her breathing next to my ear. I’m here, she whispered. I turned my back on her and squeezed my eyes shut and counted daisies in my head until consciousness slipped away.
The next day I trapped her. I used the axe to open the pond and slipped in, the water cutting through me like I’d just cut through the ice. My teeth rattled in my head. I almost bit my own tongue. The pain surged through me, but leaving the water wouldn’t help. It wouldn’t accomplish anything. I couldn’t live with her anymore.
Finally, her shadow darkened the ice and she filled the rest of the space in the pond. I pulled myself out before she could reach me and pushed her under, holding her there until the ice began to form again. She reached out a hand and I ignored the fingers that looked so much like my own, the chewed nails and the freckle near the base of the thumb.
It was done. She was stuck and I was free.
But the ice was too thin. I took the wooden bucket and filled it from the well before spilling the frigid water over the dark form in the pond. Layer by layer, I built up my defense. Somewhere deep down I knew it would never last. Spring would come and the ice would desert me too.
I went out to her, pouring another layer of water to reach the end of her index finger, but it moved. Bent, twitched. My heart leapt in my chest, beating hard against my ribcage. She used her nail to grate against the thinning ice. Scrape. Scrape. Scrape.
She was as determined as I was to be here, in this new world, where I thought I could be someone else. Maybe she thought so too.
The ice cracked, sweated. Water beaded and ran. I flinched but didn’t move. Couldn’t move. I had to see her face again.
It was pale blue with dark circles ringing her deep brown eyes. Eyes I know too well but had almost forgotten since the cabin had no mirror to stare into. Her hair hung from her head like the thin brown snakes that lived near the pond. Harmless but still terrifying to me.
I stared into her face, my face. She opened her arms to me and I didn’t want to go to her but I couldn’t help it. I had to. I couldn’t let her go — I thought I could leave her behind but I should have known better. She was stuck to me like sap, like tar, like sweetest honey.
She pulled me in and dragged me under.
Fossil Vitra is a kiln-formed glass technique using natural materials such as leaves and branches, powdered glass and the heat of the kiln to create a shadow or imprint that resembles a fossil.
I utilize the powdered glass excess from my wet saw to create the fossils on the glass. I scrape it from the saw bed, dry and sift it ready for fusing. I use this glass to minimize my waste and because it's a cumulation of many colours, the end result almost looks like stone (light grey). The powder is placed right onto real leaves and a glass panel overtop, then it's heated in my kiln to burn off the organic matter and fuse the glass powder to the glass panel. The end result looks like a fossil!