Custom Made Gifts for Inspirational People by Renata Pugh

How often does someone suddenly inspire you to make an art piece that represents what that person means to you? For me, it's a pretty rare occurrence, but last year around this time I decided to make a surprise birthday gift for my boyfriend's mother, Claire. These days, the word "amazing" tends to be overused, but for me and others who truly know her, Claire is simply an amazing person. She's crafty (in the good sense of the word), hardworking, a fantastic problem-solver, passionate about social and environmental issues, outspoken, generous, positive, full of energy, AND a Gemini. She also sews for a living, so I felt that the "stitched" solder I incorporate into my work expressed this fact about her as well. As always, I set to work first on choosing the colors, and I was especially excited about it because I felt like I had the liberty of creating a more unusual and bold palette. Naturally I chose an assortment of bright spring colors that I had in stock: a light grass green, a sky blue (Gemini is an air sign after all) a Kokomo lemon yellow with semicircular swirls, and another one of my favorites, the clear "Chopstix" glass from Bullseye. If you look closely, I put 2 glass gems next to each other to represent the twins, and in addition to the glass gems I always incorporate to serve as accents, I also picked out some fuscia agate slices to offset the lighter colors and give it the bold and passionate quality that I associate with Claire. For the base, I cut strips of clear glass with rows of beveled squares, and, as you can see in the pictures with the bulb switched on, lines of light radiate out around it. It's a great choice for a base in that way.

As a last minute idea I decided to put a patina on the solder and make it charcoal black. I knew it was a risk because it would change the look of the piece dramatically, but I did it because it I felt it needed to be toned down and given some contrast. Also, Claire is a bad-ass, and nothing says that like blackened metal! In the end it turned out very well and Claire was very touched. Even though the piece itself is only about 7 or 8" tall, it's very striking on her bookshelf (pictures to follow). For me, it got me thinking more about how each lamp has it's own personality and can complement the person who has it in his or her home, expressing their attributes and interests in an abstract manner and radiating them outward, as people are wont to do.

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Primordial Light: Using glass to represent astrological elements and patterns in nature by Renata Pugh

A while ago I randomly discovered online a call for entries at the South Brunswick Arts Commission for an exhibit centered around geology, meteorology, and astronomy. I was instantly inspired to make something exclusively for the show, and with only a few weeks before the deadline, took some plastilina and sculpted what I had in mind for the overall structure; essentially a sort of jagged pyramidal rock formation, something crystalline that formed naturally over time with various elements. I decided to use textured cathedral glass with earthy tones of green, brown, and blue, black glass to represent space, and the icy-looking Bullseye Chopstix to give it even more of a crystalline appearance.  For the accent pieces I included a sheet of layered mica that a friend had given me, sliced agates, and crystals, and the glass for the base has a swirling texture that is reminiscent of flowing geological patterns. Usually I have a tough time coming up with names for my pieces, but after some brainstorming with others who looked at it, the title “Primordial Light” was chosen. Making this piece was very meaningful to me because it was for an exhibit in my hometown and the subject matter is something that I’m very much interested in. It also made me realize that I want to make similar works that include more natural gems and stones as accent pieces (particularly translucent ones of course). In this way more of an organic appearance is achieved, and the sublime, timeless, and inherently beautiful quality of nature is incorporated and blended seamlessly with handmade glass.

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An introduction: My love of decorative glass and solder as an art medium by Renata Pugh

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From the time I scored my first piece of glass with an oil cutter, I've been hooked on stained glass as an art medium. There was definitely an adjustment period when I created my first designs, (I smile now when I look at my first sketches and note how there's no way the glass would break into some of the shapes I drew) and to this day I curse difficult glass when it just won't break the way I score it. As an artist though, I welcome challenge and don't mind thinking on my feet if it doesn't break the way it does in the design. I'll accommodate the piece I've ended up with so that it will still be in keeping with the vision that I have, even if it's slightly altered. Disappointment doesn't linger because I always remember to work with what I have and be open to new possibilities. In the end, I find this method always pays off in the art-making process and in life as well.

I've dabbled in a variety of artistic pursuits from singing to playing guitar to acting and so forth. But from the time I made my first drawing, visual art has been my main focus. Even within visual art of course, there's so much to choose from; drawing, painting, collage, clay modeling, printmaking, photography, carving, metalworking, are all things I've done. After high school, I attended SVA and graduated with a BFA in illustration, but I became frustrated because my portfolio was too varied and didn't have a specific consistent style that art directors look for. I found myself gravitating more towards just experimenting with different materials and producing abstract works. Sometime in 2010 a friend introduced me to stained glass and the Tiffany copper foiling method and I began making sculptural forms that could be illuminated from within. I also became very fascinated with solder itself and experimented with interesting techniques which made it look like the glass pieces were "stitched" together with shiny metal. Around this time I started taking welding classes at the Art Students League of NY, and made some small scale glass and steel forms. I liked the edgy, industrial look to them, but as the steel corroded over time, it looked more like experimental junk art to me and I lost interest in combining those 2 mediums, so I decided just to focus on stained glass by itself. Aside from devoting about a year to making metal sculptures and a large scale aluminum piece, I haven't really strayed from this medium. I think that part of the appeal is that stained glass is considered "decorative", and since it's generally considered more of a craft, I don't have to go into much explanation about what I'm trying to convey. It's beautiful, it's colorful, and there are patterns which flow and are pleasing to the eye. Technically my work can be labeled as "lamps" or "votive holders" (no one's going to ask me what my votive holder "means").

What's also appealing to me is the broad selection that various glass-making companies such as Bullseye, Kokomo, and Spectrum supply. I feel like a kid in a candy store anytime I step into a stained glass supply store or even shop online (although seeing it in person is obviously preferable). Good luck on trying to get me to think about a color scheme for my apartment, it's not on my radar. Glass however, is a whole different story. It's not only choosing the color palette for a design that's exciting, but the surprise illumination factor as well. I once had a sheet that looked like a light warm opaque gray, but when lit from behind became a very light rosy pink. And of course, the sheer variety of textures to choose from is exciting as well; as soon as a candle is lit or a bulb switched on from within a finished piece, various patterns of light brightly splash on the dark surrounding surfaces. It's always a magical experience.

It's undeniable that there is an unspeakable beauty and warmth in illuminated glass, and the sense of awe and wonder that it inspires never wanes. Using solder as a sculptural element and the juxtaposition of metal and glass is equally satisfying for me. And so, that's why I will continue with this often frustrating, messy, and finger-cut inducing material and challenging work. It is indeed a labor of love.