Artist Interview: Kool Kat Art Glass

I got to know Kathy, the talented glass artist and owner of Kool Kat Art Glass, during two of her family vacations here in Costa Rica.  She and her twin boys did pottery with the hubby and her daughter Syd and her did a couple of jewelry classes with me.  She showed up for one of the classes with a baggie filled with beautiful glass pendants, which I was surprised to learn she made!

She said this bag full of colorful beauties were the castoffs, but to me they were stunning.  I had no idea she worked with glass, or that she was an artist -- dabbling in a little of this and a little of that. 

I'm fascinated by glass making.  As much as I try to understand it, the process of making something liquidity hot into something as solid yet fragile as glass mystifies me.  I wanted to know a bit more about the process and Kathy so I decided to do a little interview of her to find out more.

Tell me a little about your art background and how you got started in glass making.  Did you go to school to learn this or was it something you picked up on your own?

I have always been interested in all forms of art.  I really got into art and drawing in High School.  High school is such a hard time, as far as emotional development, so art was a release and a form of expression for me.  

At 17, I taught myself about stained glass.  My boyfriend's mother showed me the basics and I took it from there. I loved the different textures, the vibrant colors, and the 2 and 3 dimensions that I could create.  I taught myself by trial and error.  I started my own business and traveled around to art/craft shows and did some commissioned pieces.  I really got burned out on the monotony, so I left Virginia and headed south.

I went to the University of Georgia and started out in the art department as a Drawing and Painting major but slid over to Furnishings and Interiors.  I was afraid I'd be a starving artist.  I continued with glass making through school and until I had kids, then I stopped for about 15 years.  At 40, I felt the need to rekindle my artistic side.  I felt a large void for sometime!  My husband bought me a kiln and I jumped into making fused glass.  I have made some disastrous mistakes and apparently, this is how I learn. :)

I have a very hard time understanding how glass is made.  I've seen artists making blown glass pieces, but I really can't wrap my mind around the process.  Can you describe how your pieces are made, the materials used and how long each of the processes take?

I buy colored glass in 8x10 sheets.  It all has to be compatible with the same coefficient of expansion.  It's how glass expands and contracts when heated and cooled.  After I plan a design, I pick out the colors of glass I want to use.  I score the glass with a scoring tool and then break it along the score line with grozier pliers.
I cut out all the pieces for my design and then I take it to grind down all the sharp edges of the glass.  I also get a more precise shape with a diamond bit grinder.  After I rinse the glass and dry it, I tack glue my pieces together.  There needs to be two layers of glass for a strong piece.  The bottom layer is usually a clear piece and I put the design with the colored glass on top.

After assembled, I place the piece (or pieces) in the kiln.  There are different effects, different fusing techniques, achieved by varying the levels of heating and holding at certain temperatures.  The higher the temps and longer the hold, the more fused, or melted together the glass becomes.  On the other hand the lower the temps,  the less molten and it's more of a tack fuse.  I like this look because it gives a piece more texture.
Generally, a full fuse, tack, or slump takes about 12 hours in the kiln.  This includes the heat up and then cool down to room temperature.
 This plate is amazing! How long does it take to make a detailed piece like this?

This one takes awhile!  Each piece is cut out individually and smoothed with a diamond bit grinder.  Then glued and placed in the kiln to tack fuse.  Once cooled, it's placed in a mold and fired again at different temps called slumping.  Each fuse is 12 hours.  The cutting and assembling is probably 2 1/2 hours.
When designing a creation, is there anything that influences the shapes, colors and designs that you combine?  

I love nature, so many of my pieces are reflective of that.  I do a lot of organic shapes with vibrant sunset colors.  I also gravitate towards ocean creatures so I think I am predisposed to use a lot of blues, greens, and purples.

Do you sketch them prior to making them or do you prefer to work in a free-form fashion?

I do both.  Sometimes I have a real picture in my mind and need to put in on paper so I can get the dimensions just right.  Other times,  I just let it fly....especially when I create a jewelry piece.
 Describe your studio and the equipment you use.

My studio is in my basement and I have almost outgrown it.  I have glass everywhere and tools everywhere!  There is a 3x5 cutting table where I cut the sheets into pieces.  I have a table with a diamond bit grinder that smoothes the edges of the cut pieces and an Olympic kiln that fuses the pieces together.

What do you feel are the biggest challenges that you encounter in your art?

I get glass everywhere -- my feet, my fingers, and even glass dust in my face!  I get that when I grind glass.  It equates to fiberglass burn.  I could probably avoid all if I practiced safety measures like I should by wearing protective glasses and masks etc.  Another challenge is that most people don't want to pay what I think it's worth.  I think they don't understand how labor intensive making a fused piece is and that the materials are expensive.

Is glass making your only art form or do you create other lovely things?

I love to draw and paint with acrylic and water colors.  My favorite medium is charcoal.
 Is there anything you haven't made yet that you'd like to master?

I really got into pottery on the wheel a couple of years ago.  I'd like to continue but I tend to dabble everywhere and never really get anywhere. So, for now , I'll focus on fusing.
To view more of Kathy's beautiful glass work, visit Kool Kat Art Glass on Facebook