Today we’d like to introduce you to Steven Ciezki.
Steven, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
Art has always been a part of my life. My first memory of drawing a cartoon from the Sunday comics was in 1995. I was seven years old growing up in Calumet City, Illinois. My parents encouraged this behavior. An interest in the visual arts brought me to Illinois State University in 2007. I started as a studio drawing major but later changed to glass. I was attracted to the atmosphere of the glass studio and the skills of my instructors. My professor John Miller and his graduate students offered an understanding of how to manipulate this magical material. It takes many years of practice and patience to understand how glass reacts to heat, pressure, and gravity. In my first class, I made thick cups that functioned poorly. They were heavy and awkward. Each new piece was better than the last. This progression had me hooked.
John Miller, as an artist, professor, and active part of the American Studio Glass Movement, helped to start my professional career. Our class was always encouraged to apply to the summer craft workshops. He also presented avenues to the gallery scene with student group exhibitions in Chicago. I was directed towards opportunities.
During the summer of 2011, I traveled across the country to study glassblowing techniques. I received a scholarship to the Pilchuck Glass School in Stanwood, Washington and the Appalachian Center for Crafts in Smithville, Tennessee to take classes with Boyd Sugiki and Lisa Zerkowitz. Aside from college, these were my first major trips on my own. It was awesome and scary. The classes provided a foundation that I continue to build upon over the years. That same summer, I drove to North Carolina for a one-month internship with Pablo Soto. I was his second assistant. My responsibilities included lighting up his studio, blowing, running doors, racking pipes and punties, coldworking, and keeping the shop clean. This opportunity to work at his studio was inspiring. The Penland School of Crafts was just down the road. In the evenings, I was able to watch some of the best glassmakers share their skills with the students at the school. Within three months, I felt as though I received three years of experience.
In 2012, I graduated from Illinois State University with a BFA in glass and drawing. My education at ISU provided a seamless transition into life after graduation. I saved up and took a class with Dante Marioni at the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Deer Isle, Maine. At this point in my career, I was able to pick up on so many fine details during class demonstrations. Soon after that, I started working at Neusole Glassworks in Cincinnati.
Neusole was a place to reflect on the past several years and establish myself as a professional artist. My responsibilities spanned a broad range including: shop technician, equipment maintenance, mobile hot shop demonstrating artist, glassblowing, bead making, and fusing instructor, and lead in glass production, repair, commissions, and replications. My skill set improved drastically. Most importantly, I had the opportunity to make my own work. I was always encouraged to document my art and work experience. My portfolio built itself.
Towards the end of 2012, I began working once a year for, the now-retired, Tom Riley of Riley Galleries. One year later, he showed my work at Wheaton Arts: Glass Weekend 2013. The same year, he took me to SOFA Chicago. My time working for Tom exposed me to how some of the best glass galleries and glass artists operated at the professional level. From packing and shipping to lighting and presentation, I was learning new facets of the glass world every step of the way.
In 2014, after two years in Cincinnati, I received a month-long residency at the Corning Museum of Glass. This momentum led to my first solo show at Flame Run Gallery in Louisville, Kentucky. I would soon find myself looking towards the Southwest for new opportunities.
Jason Chakravarty was the hot shop manager at Neusole Glassworks. He had a plan to move back to Phoenix, Arizona with his family and build a studio. He invited me along. On a snowy morning, I packed a small trailer with my life, and we moved across the country. This was my first time in the Southwest. We arrived late one evening in February. It was warm and there was a floral smell in the air. The desert landscape was new to me. I loved it here.
Long story short, we did not end up building a personal studio but found a home at Circle 6 Studios instead. John Longo invited us to become a part of the shop. We took care of the studio and helped with commissions and classes. In return, Jason and I had time in the shop to make our own personal work. I taught my very first classes at Circle 6 and the Mesa Arts Center. I wanted to write notes to my students. Little did I know, two years later, this would turn into a glassblowing technique book called Life on the Rails. I moved my life back to my parents’ house in Illinois and gave myself a deadline to publish. I wrote, illustrated, and self-published one of the very few glassblowing technique books ever written. It became my ticket to travel and teach. After some planning, I embarked on a book tour to spread the knowledge. The first stop was the Glass Art Society Conference in Norfolk, VA in 2017. After seven months, I visited at least 24 studios in 11 states and 2 countries. I have shipped the book to 14 countries.
The book tour continued on to Canberra Glassworks in Kingston, Australia. In 2018, I was the first international artist chosen to receive a six month Art Group Creative Fellowship. This length of time allowed me to immerse myself in a creative brain space around art and teaching. It was a chance to refine ideas from the sketchbook and bring them to life! Among so much more, it was a time to continue my research for the next book. My time around the Australian glass community was enlightening.
After a quick rest, I was invited to teach a week-long workshop at Tokyo University of the Arts with students from Japan, Israel, and Turkey. From there, I was asked to demo and lecture in Osaka. The trip concluded with a visit to the Toyama City Institute of Glass Art and Toyama Glass Art Museum. My travels continuously remind me about how different cultures view and use artistic materials differently. It’s a constant breath of fresh air to see how glass is used as a creative voice.
I am very lucky to teach and work in so many different hot shops across the world. Glass has a world language that brings people together.
As for now, Phoenix is home base. I plan to be here for a while, too. Wherever life takes me, I will continue to share and nurture the spirit of the American Studio Glass Movement.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
It has not been a smooth road. In college, I was declined twice when I applied to get into the BFA program. As a result, It pushed me to make better work and prepared me for life after graduation. As an artist, I apply for so many opportunities and get denied so many times. My pile of rejection letters far surpasses my acceptance letters.
Glass is a unique material. It is expensive to rent time, torches, and assistants in a hot shop. Every gather of glass out of the furnace is a fight against gravity. I need to avoid bubbles and stones in the glass. A stone is incompatible with the glass and will likely cause a crack. At 2100°F, glass wants to be a blob on the floor. It takes an incredible amount of patience and resilience to control it because you can’t touch it. Your sense of touch needs to be transferred through the tools. Certain glasses are incompatible with one another. If they are melted together, it will crack when cooled to room temperature. We can prevent this in most cases, but some just don’t get along.
I have to put a lot of trust and dependence on my assistant’s skills. Most of my designs require the help of at least one or two skilled assistants. We have to work together as a team to produce successful results.
Glass breaks, therefore, I learn quickly from my mistakes. After I design, make, coldwork, and finish a piece of glass, I professionally photograph and edit the images in order to maintain my portfolio. The glass has to be professionally packed. Sometimes it breaks in shipping and needs to be repaired.
I don’t always have the chance to make work. The equipment is expensive and not always available to use. It is common for hot shops to turn off during the summer months. This puts a break in the workflow. I never know when the next piece will sell. There is constant monetary uncertainty. It feels like a juggle to get by because I wear so many different hats. It is never a smooth road, especially when you rely on it as your main source of income. Regardless, a life dedicated to glass is fulfilling in so many ways. I love the material and love the community. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Ciezki Design – what should we know? What do you do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
I am known for my artwork and the book “Life on the Rails: Intermediate Glassblowing Techniques”.
My ‘Stacks and Towers’ celebrate glass and architecture. They were originally inspired by the evolving shape and design of goblets. With an increase in scale and tweak of design, the ‘Stacks and Towers’ were born. While traveling the world, I revisited my visual attraction to metropolitan architecture. I am excited by building profiles that divide the visual field into exciting layers of shape relationships. They play with space. This inspires my design.
Sometimes my glass, photography, and painting background merge together in my Sweet Spot series. This work explores memorialized scenes from my environment. I utilize pattern and colored glass as representational components in ‘forced perspective’ oil paintings. When objects line up in multiple planes of space, they compete with each other for spatial attention. Distance flattens and reality gets warped. I take inspiration from these Sweet Spots and glorify a memory with the numerous properties of glass.
“Life on the Rails” was published in 2017. It is the newest glassblowing technique book for hot shop soft glass. The 285-page layout includes 837 colored process illustrations of glassblowing instruction accompanied by detailed explanations of invisible forces like heat, gravity, and pressure. Most importantly, troubleshooting portions are scattered throughout the pages. Full page charcoal illustrations depict fifteen teachers, artists, and friends who played a pivotal role in my glass education and journey. I see this book as a new teaching tool to build a foundation for technical skills that will inspire individual artistic thought and design.
Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
In many ways, we create our own luck. Luck stems from how hard we work. It relates to our outlook on life. I feel most lucky when I take risks and put myself out there.
- “Life on the Rails: Intermediate Glassblowing Techniques” is available for $65 + tax. Please visit my website for more details.
- My artwork ranges from $2,000-$9,000.
- Website: www.stevenciezkiglass.com
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ciezkiglass/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/steven.ciezki
Canberra Glassworks, Evert Van Laere at Gent Glas 2017