Growing up, whenever someone asked me what my dream was, I would always say, "I want to be an artist". I immersed myself in creative activities - sculpting, drawing, painting, designing, and daydreaming about what I could create next. I took pre-college design classes as well as studied studio art and business in my undergrad degree.
I was in my last semester of college at Binghamton University. My Sculpture class was given a prompt to design something bigger than life-size. I did extensive research on sculpture projects and museum exhibits and started writing down the top ideas that I came up with. Let me tell you it wasn’t easy! I tend to be very indecisive and came up with a long list of ideas. I then went on to get additional design inspiration by browsing Pinterest and Instagram. What really caught my eye were pictures of stained glass windows in churches, mosques and synagogues. I especially fell in love with the colorful reflections of the stained glass windows.
After many hours of pondering, I decided to go with the glass theme. This idea came with many challenges and constraints, the biggest being that the studio at my university did not have the proper equipment to work with stained glass. I tried using other materials that I purchased at the local Michaels art supply store. The materials that I chose could have worked to complete my project but I felt it would not have a professional feel but instead resemble an elementary school craft project. Most would say I am an overachiever as I was not satisfied! I thought my senior project was going to be a disaster. I spent the next week staying up to crazy hours of the morning googling and going through a long list of backup ideas. To my surprise, I found a stained glass studio that was located in Vestal about 20 minutes from the University. I was so excited and received permission from my Professor to work outside of the University during class hours. I started making sketches of my project using Adobe Illustrator.
I decided to create a life-size umbrella that resembled a Kaleidoscope and represented happy childhood memories. I used to love looking through mini toy kaleidoscopes I chose as prizes from doctors’ offices or amusement parks. Sometimes childhood memories can be overused and lack originality. However, I felt that my Kaleidoscope idea was unique. I brought my sketches to the studio and the owner thought that making an umbrella was going to be very challenging and thought I should create something on a smaller scale. I told her that the final product needed to look impressive because it was my capstone project and that I would do whatever was necessary to make it come to life.
I felt accomplished and proud when it was completed after 150 hours in the studio using over 500 pieces of glass I cut by hand. No, it wasn’t perfect! What I learned was that perfect projects are made by machinery and not humans. True artwork has flaws that add value and character. I was living proof that one doesn’t need to have tremendous talent and experience when learning a new design skill. The real turning point was when I first understood what I was truly capable of. No one believed that this life-size umbrella was my first ever stained glass project. What was my secret? I used my grit, strong determination and spent countless hours in the studio, exceeding class requirements, to make this great piece. My Kaleidoscope umbrella was featured in the Binghamton University Art Show.
In addition to learning how to create stained glass art, I learned how to use a saw, sandblasting machinery and glassblowing tools while creating sculptures out of foam, clay and plaster materials. My eyes were opened to new skills and ideas and endless possibilities of artwork I could create. The next time you have the opportunity to try a new art technique or start using new design machinery or materials, go for it!