Sunday, March 30, 2014

TA's for Interactive Light

I pleased to introduce to you, Aaron Blendowski and Julie Conway, the two talented professional artists who will be my teaching assistants for Interactive Light at Pilchuck in May.  There were other very qualified artists who applied for this job making my choice difficult, I wish to thank them and hope that they will be joining our plasma neon class regardless.

Aaron Blendowski, Movement Barrier
Julie Conway, LINEAGE 
I first met Aaron Blendowski in my neon class at Pilchuck in 2004 as one of my students.  Aaron brought great imagination and enthusiasm to the class demonstrating the potential for neon to express a sculptural vision.  He was quick to understand that bending and filling neon tubes was only part of the way to a finished sculpture.  He recognized to complete a light sculpture requires an understanding of how to finish the artwork with a base to contain the transformer and other components necessary to present the completed work.  Aaron returned to Detroit’s College of Creative Studies to complete his BFA then entered the MFA program at Cranbrook Academy of Art.  Graduating from Cranbrook in 2006 with an emphasis in sustainability and furniture design, Aaron quickly found a home in Detroit’s emerging cutting edge design community.  He is a co-founder of OmniCorpDetroit, a hacker space in Detroit’s Eastern Market, and he works as a freelance artist/designer under the name of Real OK Design, building furniture, objects, and architecture. Cranbrook Academy of Art isn’t done with him yet, Aaron is currently the Fabrications Coordinator at Cranbrook where he oversees the Woodshop/CNC fabrication equipment and consults with students about professional art practices.

See Aaron Bendowski’s Artwork at:

Aaron Blendowski, Threat Manager 2
Aaron Blendowski, Partycles

Julie Conway, FIAMMA

The other TA for this summer’s class is Julie Conway of Seattle, where she operates her own glass studio Illuminata specializing in art glass and lighting design.  Julie brings an incredible amount of hands-on experience in glass working and design from furnace to flameworking.  She has worked at many glass schools both in the US and Europe, most notably on the island of Murano in Venice Italy for Abate Zanetti Scuola del Vetro.  For 8 years at the Abete Zanetti Glass School, Julie organized courses in glass and was a teaching assistant for many visiting international glass faculty.  Beside her extensive glass working experience Julie has a passion for the environment and feels we have a responsibility as glass artists to use our limited natural resources to their greatest effiency.  To realize this vision she founded in 2007 as a resource for glass artists to share best practices and methods for working energy efficient.  This year at Chicago GAS 2014, Julie and Chris Clark hosted a Green Forum to discuss practical ways glass artists can spare the planets resources and continue to use glass as an art medium.
See Julie Conway’s Artwork at: and

Julie Conway, PIOGGIA

I am so enthused these two skilled and experienced artists have agreed to join me and share our knowledge of art with this class in interactive light sculpture.
I know we’re going to discover together a bunch of new things about working with light and how that relates to the mission of making art.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Interactive Light Class Outline

What you might expect…
Interactive Light with Patrick Collentine 
Session 1: May 19th to 30th 2014,  Pilchuck Glass School,  Stanwood Washington

We will be building interactive light sculptures with one neon electrode using radio frequency transformers to illuminate our blown forms.  If you’ve never worked with neon or plasma at all, this is your class, we’re going to cover all the basics and beyond.  We will be working both Boro (Pyrex) glass using torches and blowing hot glass (soft) in the casting studio then putting neon electrodes on both.  I don’t expect everyone to have experience in both glass working processes but as a class we’ll cover both processes beginning to advance.  That’s a lot to cover in just two weeks.  The plasma neon class is certain to be one of the busiest groups on the Pilchuck campus.  Our classroom is where the boro torches are located so you’ll have constant access to flameworking but limited access to hot glass.  We’ll be using a multitude of inert gases (no health risks), neon, helium, krypton, argon and possibly xenon ($800/ 10 liters).  Work often runs late into the night because the darkness amplifies the plasma light effects.  There is something magical about this process of making light sculptures.

I’m a big believer in collaboration between students, even students in other classes. You’ll find everyone on campus wants to fill his/her blown glass with light.  Pilchuck is a fermenting incubator of glass skills and technique, it’s in the air and everyone wants the share.  We’ll be using the wood and metal shop in addition to every other campus resource available.

I won’t be teaching this class alone, I’ve got two highly knowledgeable TA’s; Aaron Blendowski and Julie Conway both are working art professionals from diverse experience and I feel lucky to have them.  I plan to dedicate my next blog entry to introduce them to you. I enjoy the group class experience, for the first week we’ll meet twice every day for 1-2 hour class meeting with a demo and discussion.  Then I’ll work with each student individually to setup a work plan that meets your needs and expectations.  Plasma neon is a multi- media class so we’ll cover how to finish the light sculptures with a base or discuss strategies to display the work.  The second week will be finishing work and getting ready to share the light sculptures with the campus on the last night of the session.

General things, bring photos of your work, everyone is curious and its professional, but we won’t be sharing them in class.  The computer is a powerful tool for today’s art maker, I have experience with CNC driven machines, 3D printing, CO2 laser, router, waterjet cutting and CMYK digital printing this will be a class discussion.  Bring what tools you need to communicate your ideas with others, drawing pad, computer or caulk on the concrete.  Bring cameras for sure, I make 2-minute movies all the time, they’re fun and you’ll certainly to want to document your work at Pilchuck.  The school provides basic materials particularly molten glass and basic boro tubing for flameworking.  You’ll need to buy some of your own materials for the class; 5-8 neon electrodes $2/soft -$5 boro/each; fancy or large diameter boro tubing; and your own neon transformers $50/each.  The school has a well-supplied art store with lots of specialized neon materials available for our class.  In the past the school provided a loaner transformer to each student, which is then available for purchase at the end of the session.  For fun check out: look at the ‘Neon, Plasma, LED’ section.

Its best if you don’t come with too many pre-conceived ideas on what you want to make in these two weeks and let your ideas evolve here.  Pilchuck is a constant play of opposites, cool rain-comforting warmth, exhilarating-exhausting, engaging to distraction, creative-conforming, I could go on but you get the vibe.  You’ll have at least two types of experiences here at Pilchuck, the glass skills and technique development thing and the serendipity of contact with 100 people cloistered on a forested hillside sharing a passion for art and glass for two weeks, it’s always a transformative experience.  I have come to value both experiences equally.

I am looking forward to having fun and working together with a little magic of the cosmos mixed in.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

How I came to plasma neon.

How I came to plasma neon.
I’ve always had an interest in the underlying physics of neon illumination.  I began working in neon because there was magical the way the gas inside the tube vibrated and glowed.   I’d been a apprentice neon worker for a couple of years when a college friend built a Tesla coil with me one afternoon.  We used only wire, sheet glass , aluminum foil and some other basic materials, it was all powered by a neon transformer.  We were lighting tubes up without wire and striking 3” lightning bolts, which seemed to defy everything I thought I know about electricity.   That was a turning point for me and I knew there was more to this neon thing then letters and symbols for signage.  The next big step came when I became a T.A. for Cork Marcheschi at Pilchuck in summer of 1995, I’d already been working in traditional neon for over 15 years.  That session we began exploring the potential of single electrode neon and radio frequency transformers combined with off-hand glass working techniques what we now consider plasma neon.  The results were a revelation, the blown glass form was defined by its interior shape illuminated by radio waves.  In that Pilchuck course, I met glass artist James ‘Animal’ Nowak, he invited me to build a neon shop for plasma at his glass studio below Pioneer Square in Seattle.  
 Animal and I Teaching at Corning Studio 2004

That Fall began a intense creative collaboration to develop the methods of adapting exisiting neon tools and methods to make experimental plasma neon sculptures.   Together, Animal and I created the capability to use any combination of inert gas not just neon and argon but nitrogen, krypton, helium, xenon as well.  This required building high vacuum equipment to suit the needs of an artist working in practice of plasma physics.  This new way of working also necessitated creating glass techniques for attaching electrodes to blow glass forms.   I feel this media is still at an early phase of artist development.  I’m certain this summer at Pilchuck, we’ll invent new ways of working and forms I’ve never even considered possible before.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Why " Interactive Light" ?

What does the class title “Interactive Light” mean?

Seeing isn't believing, we want to reach out and touch to confirm our observation, its as if we’re hardwired to react to wonder in this wayThis was apparent from the first time at the San Francisco Exploratorium in 1972, when I reached out and touched the lightning in a Bill Parker Xenon filled plasma sculpture.  Parker is widely considered the father of modern plasma art, establishing a high technical and artistic benchmark for all artists to follow.   He’s responsible for the large plasma globes we're all familiar with utilizing an external electrode that I will go over in a later blog entry.

 Bill Parker with "Quiet Lightning" at SF Exploratorium

Behind this interaction of wonderment there is also a fundamental principle of physics at work calling for your contact with a plasma object. These streaming wisps of light are positively charge ions flowing around looking to discharge their energy to a negatively charged  body(you) or earth ground.  There can be a greater or lesser emphasis placed upon this interaction but it is impossible to ignore.

Mundy Hepburn installation at Charles F Smith Fund 2006

Then of course there’s the whimsical sculptures of Mundy Hepburn.  Hepburn has been combining offhand blown forms with neon flameworking for decades.  These are  displayed in large dancing groups of luminous forms.  I want to introduce to you some of whom I consider the best plasma artists of our time in the course of this blog.