Edgar Valentine - Q&A
Edgar Valentine is a Tacoma based glass artist who was recently featured as a competitor in the Netflix series 'Blown Away' in 2019.
How did you become a glass artist? Do you have any inspirations? Can you tell us your origin story?
I was introduced to glass art through this youth program at Jason Lee Middle School called Hilltop Artists. I took the glassblowing class in the summer of '07 when I was in 7th grade. Basically my boy just told me he did it the year before and that I should sign up with him. I instantly fell in love, but as my friends stopped wanting to go once we got to high school, I felt i didn’t want to be there without them, but my mom kept pushing me because I had already been enrolled and she knew I actually liked doing it. The first big inspiration I got was my freshman year of HS when I was granted a scholarship to take a class up in Seattle. My instructor at Hilltop Artists knew I loved sculpting, and suggested I study with Karen Willenbrink and her husband Jasen. This is when my eyes really opened to the world of glass. The true ways to get detail, along with the Northwest glass scene in general. Ever since then, I’ve just kept pushing my boundaries and taking in as much knowledge from other renowned artists as I can to create my own style.
At what point did you realize the shift from hobby to passion? Have you always been inclined towards this kind of work?
Throughout middle school and high school, I knew it was something I was going to continue the rest of my life. But I was also taking lacrosse really seriously and accepted a scholarship to play NCAA D2 in Colorado after HS. Coming from an arts HS and then going back to a normal school for college, it was a huge culture shock, and I realized school and sitting at a desk all day was not my thing. Like at all. My grades tanked and my scholarship was reduced, so I decided I was going to drop out. Coming back home to WA, I needed to find a job to stay afloat. Glassblowing was really the only talent I had that I could get paid for and be happy. So I asked my old instructors of studio suggestions. I was working in Seattle for 3 years and a really high end glass studio called The Glass Eye, where I was the youngest at 19 and easily accepted into the scene because of my background, talent, and obvious passion. Working at that studio, I had mentors that really opened my eyes to the beauty of glassblowing and the people that come with it. Between 2015 and 2017 is when I realized it was more than a hobby and even a passion, but a full on lifestyle.
Are you a Tacoma native? How has your environment played a role in your artistic expression?
Being raised in Tacoma was definitely one of the best places a glassblower can start. The PNW is the hub for glass art, besides Italy. The amount of studio access we have between Tacoma and Seattle is pretty wild. Being surrounded by so many of the top glass artists in the world makes it easy to push yourself to be the best you can be because you want to be able to show off your work to the ones you look up to. A lot of my work is based on my natural and urban surroundings. WA has easy access to a night in the city, or the forest, which are the two biggest inspirations of my bodies of work.
How has your workflow been impacted or enhanced during the pandemic? How important is routine to your process?
Over the lockdown, I was not able to get in the shop at all, so I had to find something else to do that was still being created with my hands. My mom gave me her old sewing machine and I picked up upcycling and reworking old clothes, along with custom stitching designs. Drawing and graffiti have also been a huge interest of mine as well, and people wearing designs of mine has always been so cool to me. So I decided to pick that up as a lil' side hustle. Getting back in the studio after a few months definitely felt foggy. There were some steps I kept forgetting and Id have to remind myself to slow down and chill. Although it is like riding a bike, staying in a nice routine is important.
What are some of your studio essentials?
What’s your favorite tool to work with? Favorite color?
It really depends on what style glassblower you are, to determine what tools are set out on your bench. As a sculptor, my bench is a hectic mess. I'll have a bunch of different tools in different sizes and different textures spread out everywhere. Photos of whatever I'm basing the piece off of on the ground, and a couple different types of torches. But personally, one of my top favorite tools to work with is simply a butterknife. Great for detail and texture to really bring the piece to life. Although some of my favorite glass colors to look at are transparent purples and reds, but they don’t match my style of work. So I like to use black, this color called iris brown which is like a nice color to use for a white skin tone, and anything that will help give the natural look of woods or feathers or fur.
What was your experience like at art school (SOTA)? Did it influence your creativity in any ways? Was it stifling at all? In terms of what you’re doing now, do you feel like art school was necessary?
Attending SOTA was the best decision I ever made. Hands down. I truly sculpted me into the person and artist I am today. The fact we had so much freedom, let us create with much lease restrictions. I felt like an actual artist just by being at school and the way they treated us. We were taught how to take and give critiques. Which is extremely important as an artist. If you take every opinion personally, or you can’t tell someone what doesn’t look/sound good in a project, you’re not going to grow as an artist. Some of our teachers would break us down and straight shit on our pieces, but in the most loving way. And then see our improvement with the next project. I was taught how to be on stage and perform or speak under pressure and in front of a large crowd. I was taught how to present my work, and find connections. Our teachers really taught us how to view everything from all angles. Which really influenced the way I view all art now. To really look at the dimensions, colors, texture, to look for certain sounds behind the chorus or how to count crazy time signatures. SOTA didn’t only build me as an artist, but the way they taught regular classes helped me learn so much better. We talked about current events, racism in ways I know wasn’t talked about in other schools, the school was VERY diverse and we had no dress code at all which I think helped me be as accepting as I am.
How long does it take for you to create a piece from start to finish? Can you walk us through the process?
Depends on what it is. I can blow up a cup or bowl in like 5-10 minutes. But for the bigger, more detailed work, I like to spend at least 4 hours on it. For the fun ones, I'll make a bunch of parts one day, and then assemble the whole thing another day. But it all starts from a blob. Think of dipping a honey wand into a thick jar of honey. When you wind some up and come out, you gotta keep it turning so it doesn't drip and by you turning, it's keeping it somewhat round. There's many different ways to apply color, but for one, you can roll in these little rocks of color right after you come out of the furnace while the glass is still hot. The more rolls in the color after melting it in each time, the more dense of an application. After getting the color, you want to get it nice and round like a q-tip, and blow a bubble into it. This first bubble will make it easy to expand if you put more clear glass coating the color. Otherwise at this point you can start shaping into whatever you're making.
There is a certain contrast between the delicacy of the final product and then the extremes of the creation process that I find pretty psychedelic. Reminds me of growing up in a certain sense. What is it about the glass process that keeps you coming back?
It's so meditating to me. Being able to sit there with a vision and use your hands and tools to make a 3D model and bring it to life, without actually touching it, is satisfying to me. The way it moves is mesmerizing. I love how hectic it can get to. Like when you're making something big and it NEEDS to stay hot so you only have a certain amount of time to make your moves before it cools down too much. For the stuff I make, I like to work on the outside of the bench and have my assistant turn the pipe for me and reheat it when need be. Personally, I like to have at least two assistants helping. One of my favorite sights is seeing a whole gang of glass blowers assisting the gaffer to make sure the piece comes out.
Have psychedelics influenced any of your pieces or any parts of your creative process?
Haha. Oh yeah. A lot of the images and emotions I base my work on are from past experiences with mental realizations and outer body experiences while exploring the ‘real world’.
In your recent interview with “Help I’m Alive!” glass art was referred to as alchemy. Can you expand on this? Are you an alchemist?
What I personally do, I wouldn’t consider alchemy really. More of just forging. But those who make the colors and the glass are alchemists. They are mixing different chemicals and minerals and metals together to create these glass colors we use, which can be a very toxic process.
Do you find glass blowing to be a therapeutic or meditative outlet?
Yes. Very. There've been times where I'm arguing with a girlfriend at the time, or just got a lot of other shit I'm thinking of, and it definitely shows up in the piece. Sometimes I come in like that and the glass will brush away all the bullshit and i'll feel right where I need to be, other times I Just can't fully focus and it shows in the outcome.
Are you a perfectionist?
I like to perfect my skills. One of the biggest, most important things i've learned as a glass sculptor is to know when to stop fuckin' touching it! Sometimes the glass is gonna do what it does and you can't beat it, so even the smallest movements you do will just mess it up more. So take that, and fix it on the next one. If a piece isn't at least close enough to what I wanted, I’ll just trash it before it's done and start over.
What’s your ultimate dream project?
To own a house with all my glass as decorations. Bathroom sink made by me, light fixtures by me, glass studio in the backyard. All the renowned glassblowers I look up to who have let me stay with them have their art allll over their homes and studios and I think it's just so beautiful. And my parent’s house is getting pretty full.
Can you talk about your experience on Blown Away? Was this your first time receiving that kind of exposure/coverage?
Yes. The fact I was able to create a world wide audience and fanbase opened a lot of doors.
Has your life changed since?
I wouldn’t say my life changed, but it's going in the direction I want as an artist.
Has your creative intent changed?
My intention behind every creation of mine is to just make something I think is cool. If it inspires someone else who sees it, that just a bonus and gives me joy that my work speaks to others in however way it may be.
As a black glass artist have you faced any challenges within the glass community?
I'm really honored to be a part of a community that is so diverse and accepting. Being one of the very few glass artists I’ve seen, Ii have not faced any challenges within the community.
Do you have any advice for a young person (or anybody) looking to get into glass art?
If you’re a youth in Tacoma and want to get into glass art, look into the Hilltop Artists program. For anyone else, the studio I work at, Tacoma Glassblowing Studio, offers a variety of ways to get hands on with hot glass. Also PRATT fine arts in Seattle is a great way to take classes and learn from some of the best in the game.
Can you tell us about Qpid? Have you found creative overlaps between clothing design and glass art? Do you have the same passion for design that you have for glass art?
QPID all started in high school as a graffiti tag. I kept going back and forth between that and another name that I had already been using for a couple years. Because my last name is Valentine, I always wanted to own something or have something that people knew me by, as a play on my last name. So the name qpid came to mind to represent myself and my more urban styled art like graffiti, clothing, and pipe making. I decided to start going by Valentineglass or Yourvalentine as a more professional way to showcase my more modern bodies of work. The character you see with qpid, the chubby blue guy, was the first graffiti character I came up with in 8th grade and once I decided I wanted to use him more professionally, I realized I should stop drawing him on private property.
Unilalianism could be described as the process of voyaging into the unknown (Unilalia) in order to bring back something new to share with the rest of us. What have you been able to find in the unknown?
With my explorations into the unknown, some of the most useful information I’ve found is to take knowledge from everyone and everything. There is never the ‘right way’ to make something. With all the people I've worked with in my career, I've been told to do things this way to get this outcome. But then i'll go study with someone else who can do the same thing, with a different process. Which makes me realize the only ‘wrong way’ is if the piece doesn't come out at all. I still hear the voices in my head of mentors that have made the biggest impacts in my skill trait. As a kid, I have always had images and visions in my head. These mentors have been the ones who taught me how to use these skills to create the things I see and think about. Taking all of their knowledge, combining it into one, and creating my own style.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not in the studio?
I love just getting out there. Snowboarding is another passion of mine, so In the winter, the mountains are the only place I want to be before or after I'm in the studio.
What are your plans for the future?
As of 2018, Ive learned not to plan too far ahead. I almost enrolled in arts school and then all of a sudden I was on a Netflix special getting all the explosion I was looking for without going back to school. I want to get back out of WA for a while and explore other areas. I never want to stop blowing glass so finding a studio in a city or town I want to be in is the biggest obstacle. Living in New Zealand is my biggest goal. But just like any artist, I eventually want to just work for myself.
Where do you sell your work online?
More of Edgar's work with clothing: