Career Startup

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This first material was scanned in from the Glass Art Society (G.A.S.) Newsletter, Oct-Nov 2000.
GAS is the primary organization for hot glass working and collecting in the country. Its most important activity is an annual conference held in various parts of the country for a week in late spring early summer: Corning NY in 2001.
Below that is a reply to an e-mail which I wrote before seeing the article, which says much the same from a different view.

Getting Started by Richard Whiteley

Graduate study or advanced training has afforded you a place to work, a context within which to ponder your practice, and the freedom to explore and experiment. Once that is completed, the priority of introspection is over and the search for a studio in the midst of commercial reality has begun in earnest, even before the ink is dry on your degree.

Establish Goals
When graduates come to me looking for advice on establishing a studio and practice, I respond by asking, “Where do you want to be in five years?” It is easy to answer that you want to be a successful artist...but what type of artist? And how do you pursue an income while you are developing and establishing your practice?

The Studio Assistant Route
Many emerging artists are fortunate to find work as studio assistants for more established artists. This can be an excellent way to observe the working of a viable practice and to watch the machinations of translating ideas to art, and on to the galley. Employment like this can be a formative experience for even the most talented graduate.

Advice from Established Artists
There is a lot to be gained by simply talking to established artists about what strategies they employed after study or other training. Then the key is selecting what is right for you, based on the resources you have available. For example, I was able to make decisions regarding what direction to take after speaking to several mid-career artists towards the end of my graduate studies. The Production Route Many artists I talked to followed the strategy of developing quality production lines that would then subsidize the production of art work for exhibitions. This split approach works for some artists, but other artists considered it a huge distraction, and only saw this line of work as a means to an end. The reality of developing and running a production business is a full time activity, one which can leave little time to dedicate to developing a career as an exhibiting artist.

The Academic Route
This knowledge helped me make the decision to move away from a production line focus. I chose teaching, thinking that an academic environment would be an arena that I could engage with creative energy, and from which I could develop work. However, the reality of time constraints has proven to be similar to that of running a studio production line. The truth is, developing a successful art practice can be a full-time job in and of itself.

Financial Planning
The reality is that you need an income to pay those debts and studio rent. Deciding to take a job in a production studio (or even a Burger King) is not a step backwards unless you fail to look beyond this interim period. Your goal may be to gain practical experience, pay off debts, save for equipment, pay the studio rent, or finance a session at Pilchuck. Working towards goals such as saving can be difficult and not very glamorous. Ask an expert! There are financial planners who specialize in visual arts and are sensitive to issues confronting artists. They can offer strategies for the short and medium term. These people can often be found through local arts organizations.

Studio Sharing
One effective way of starting a studio is to band together with a small group of artists and share equipment. Establishing who will use a shared facility, and under what arrangements, is pivotal and can often be the biggest stumbling block. Clear communication is the key in any joint venture. If you choose to pursue this idea it is very important to get professional legal advice and draw up a partnership agreement. I have done this successfully for the past several years in the studio that I currently share. As we developed the studio, we all purchased equipment and shared it within a common space. We collectively contributed a set sum per month, which was used for studio maintenance and equipment upkeep.

Keep Your Goals in Sight
As I anticipated graduation, perhaps the most meaningful advice I was given was to think of small steps to take that would move my practice toward a goal. The key is to have a goal in mind and keep coming back to this idea. This goal may develop or change over the years, but what is important is to set time aside time to assess how you are moving, what you can do better, and very importantly what you need to stop doing to get there!

Richard Whiteley is an artist, G.A.S. Board Member and instructor at Sydney College of the Arts. He was a finalist in the RFC Glass Prize Competition.


MF thoughts:

Rick Venghaus wrote:

Our son (25) is considering doing an apprenticeship in glassblowing. Our question as parents:
1) What is the average cost of pursuing this craft?
There are two kinds of glassblowing, torch and furnace. Torch is much cheaper and done on a smaller scale (usually). An excellent torch setup can cost $1500 and fit in a space 5x10 feet that can be in a house, etc.

Furnace glass is much more expensive. If a furnace glass setup is done in a small building away from other buildings in a non-code (rural) setting, it might be possible to cut corners and self build a professional setup for $5,000. I know one guy who did. The tools for blowing glass all day can easily knock down most of $1,000. $10,000 is more reasonable as a studio figure. I don't think a studio should be built under roof with living quarters unless it is fully code compliant for safety. That adds at least 3 grand to the cost of a setup.

If he is doing an apprenticeship, he should be paid for this. Maybe not paid much, but paid. His duties should be well defined and some sort of written program set down (like X hours of blowing training per week, Y hours of free blowing time after a month of apprenticeship, Z working hours per week, and specify the rights to the pieces he blows - can he sell them or are they sold as studio property.) He must take every opportunity to learn how to build equipment and if he does not have them now, learn the skills needed to do all tasks, including welding and coldworking of glass.

2) Can a livelihood be made from glassblowing
Yes, with a lot of hard work, if you define a livelihood as doing something you adore and getting paid money for doing it. See below.

3) what are some important questions our son should be asking before he pursues this any further.
Does he want to work for someone else, work with a couple of assistants, work alone?
Does he need a broader introduction to Art than he will get blowing in a studio (not much) so should he be taking some college courses in color, shape, impression, and do some glass in the same place (one of several colleges with programs?) What is his Art sense now?

There are three levels of studio work (which may be mixed in some studios), what does he want to work in?
1. Feed the wholesale market, which requires producing a lot of a recognisable, saleable product, usually in a retail price range of $20-$70 which may be glasses, goblets, vases, pitchers, or small art work.
2. Feed the decorating market, which has retail pricing in the $90-$800 range (maybe higher) and produces pieces that are sold in select shops and used by interior decorators. In a sense, this is upscale wholesale and many studios doing one, do the other, with varying emphasis. For these studios, the various wholesale shows, run by Rosin and other operations are vital.
3. Feed the art market. This market starts above the decorating market and goes to the sky's the limit: Dale Chihuly and several others pull down $10,000 per piece, $25,000+ for assemblies. Art pieces are sold through galleries and by word of mouth from the artist. Commonly, an artist aims high in the decorating market and climbs out of that. Of course, the problem is that while waiting to make a fortune, an artist can a) starve to death, b) get lost in lower levels of mass marketing and be found complaining "we want to do art pieces, but production is taking all our time and energy", c) have no artistic vision to produce pieces of interest that add depth as time passes.

Contact Mike Firth