Interview

Amanda Dziedzic

by Lucy Feagins, Editor
Friday 8th November 2013

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Glass artist Amanda Dziedzic, working from Phillip Stokes’ workshop in Cremorne, Melbourne.  Photo – Eve Wilson.

Glass colour rods in Amanda’s workshop. These pieces are uses in varying quantities to add colour to Amanda’s pieces.  Photo – Eve Wilson.

Amanda shapes one of her new handblown glass domes.  Photo – Eve Wilson.

Handblown glass domes (timber bases not pictured), created especially for TDF Open House 2013!  Photo – Eve Wilson.

Glass artist Amanda Dziedzic, pictured at Phillip Stokes’ workshop in Cremorne, Melbourne.  Photo – Eve Wilson.

Given the somewhat furious pace we run at around here, these days I often end up featuring people who I have never actually met in real life… and though of course we do all our research and ask lots of questions via phone or email, it’s never quite the same as writing a story about someone you know and like!

Glass artist Amanda Dziedzic is someone I met way back in 2011 when I first visited the AMAZING JamFactory in Adelaide.  At the time Amanda had just completed her two year traineeship there, mastering the art of glass.  I admired Amanda’s incredible work from afar, and even took a few snaps of her working in the glass workshop, before we’d really been introduced. Not long after this, we staged the first ever Open House event in Melbourne, and I was thrilled to bring Amanda’s distinctive glass bonsai to Melbourne for the event.  Suffice to say, it went down pretty well!  SO many of you guys fell in love with Amanda’s work at this event – we completely sold out.

Originally from a tiny country town in South Australia (‘Mt. Compass – there’s an annual cow race, we’re a pretty big deal…’ she says!), Amanda has moved between Melbourne and Adelaide numerous times over the years.  She was an associate trainee in glass at JamFactory in Adelaide from 2008 to 2010, and then continued on for two additional years before making the move back to Melbourne last year.  She is now based in Thornbury, and hires time at the Philip Stokes Hot Glass Studio in Cremorne for her glass blowing.

Glass blowing is a unique craft that demands more of the maker than most art practices!  Of course a high level of skill and precision is a given, but a certain level of strength and stamina is also important (it’s heavy, hot and sweaty work!) and, most importantly, glass artists often rely on a close team of collaborators to actually produce their work. Amanda works with a team of at least one and sometimes two assistants when making ‘production’ work – and watching this process in action is truly amazing.  Its mesmerising to see three people work seamlessly together on one piece – alternating between furnace, blow pipe and annealing oven, maintaining focus despite the incredible heat in the workshop, and working seamlessly to ensure the timing is always just right.

I don’t know Amanda well, but we’ve had many dealings over the past three years since that first passing meeting in Adelaide, and I have to say, she is truly one of the most warm, friendly and generally likeable people I have ever met.  There is a distinctive sense of optimism about Amanda – she’s always smiling and upbeat, nothing is ever a problem…  OH and she has the best laugh!  It’s been a pleasure to work closely with Amanda over the past few months to produce something new for TDF Open House this year – we’ve joined forces to come up with a series of beautiful new glass domes inspired by the idea of an old fashioned bell jar. Amanda has created 60 of these beauties with the help of her clever assistants (she travelled all the way back to JamFactory in Adelaide to make them!), and my dear partner Gordy has custom made timber bases in Victorian Ash for them all to sit on!  The result is a series of handblown domes which are both decorative and functional, in a stunning colour palette of blue, green, chartreuse, apricot and smokey black glass.  SO EXCITED to share these with you very soon!  They look THE BUSINESS.

Amanda has had a pretty big year.  She undertook a six week residency at reknowned glass studio Northlands Creative Glass in Lybster, Scotland earlier this year, producing a huge amount of work including a quirky new series of glass objects inspired by vegetables!  In July and August she staged a solo exhibition of Ikebana-inspired vessels at Craft Victoria.  But she’s always looking forward to the next residency, exhibition or project – and her biggest dream is a little unexpected!   ‘It is my dream to make the Masterchef trophies!’ she says below. ‘How amazing would a giant golden beet be?! Come on, who wouldn’t love winning that?!’.  Oh AMANDA!  You are golden!  And you are absolutely right, the Masterchef trophies should of course be a series of giant handblown glass beets!  CHANNEL TEN, are you listening!?

Huge thanks to Amanda for sharing her story with us today!  You can keep up with all her glass creations and various other antics via her blog here.

Tell us a little bit about yourself – what did you study and what path led you to what you’re doing today? As children we are told not to play with fire, but you have managed to make a career out of it! How did you originally become involved with glassblowing?

I studied a bachelor of Visual Arts at Uni SA way back in the early 2000’s. It was here that I got my very first chance to play with molten glass. I knew of JamFactory and the amazing artists that worked out of there (in honesty, as a total newbie, fresh from school, I though the jam blowers were just like the coolest crew ever and was totally terrified by them!), so at uni I did an elective in hot glass to see what it’s all about. I had the absolute pleasure of being taught by lecturer and practicing glass artist Gabriella Bisetto. Gab is so amazing, such an enthusiastic, warm and giving lady who really encouraged me to pursue glass. Unfortunately, due to timetabling restraints, I didn’t get to continue on with glass at uni and it would not be for another three or four years until I got to pick it up again.

In the meantime I had moved to Melbourne and was kicking around feeling generally unfulfilled, so I decided to go back to uni and study a Bachelor of Fine Arts and major in glass at Monash. Why not I thought? This kind of ‘Why not?’ attitude has seemed to follow me throughout my glass career and seems to have paid off. It’s like I made this crazy pie in the sky list of things I want to happen and they just keep rolling on! Next thing you know there I am being trained by one of the most skilled artists I have ever had the pleasure of working with, Nick Wirdnham.

At the end of my degree I thought I would apply to the JamFactory to be a part of their two year trainee program. I really was applying just for ‘the experience’, just hoping I might even get an interview or some feedback on my application. There is no way I thought I would get the gig. I actually think I screamed down the phone when they told me I got the job. So then I packed up my stuff and I moved back to Adelaide for the most intense two years of my life.

I don’t think I have ever worked harder than when I was an associate at JamFactory. I remember during my first week, my hands were cracked and sore, pretty much screaming at me. I had a burn on my heel, I was tired, I had left my life in Melbourne and I can remember calling my boyfriend (now husband) back in Melbourne, in tears saying what was I doing? The Jam is my most proudest achievement. Being an associate there is the most amazing opportunity a young glass blower can get. It is where, I believe, you learn to blow glass. As an associate you get the amazing opportunity to be on the glass everyday. Every day! You learn through repetition. Your time is divided up into working on numerous commissions, trophies or awards and then designing and making your own production lines or exhibition work. You work like a dog, I’m not going to lie, it is not for the faint hearted, but it’s rewards are off the hook.

During my time as an associate I produced numerous production lines, assisted and worked for other glass artists, participated in a studio placement in the UK and exhibited extensively.

Glass vegetables made by Amanda Dziedzic.  Photos by Haydn Cattach, styling by Rebecca Vitartas.
How would you describe your design aesthetic and what influences your style of work?

I actually find it hard to describe my design aesthetic. I think my production work is quite clean and simple, I take a lot of inspiration from Japanese aesthetics, but my exhibition work is all over the shop! I think the one thing I can honestly say is I am a total colour enthusiast. I just love it. It excites me, it motivates me, it influences my everyday life. I love how colour can alter a mood and I love how colour can create an atmosphere.

The biggest influence in my work as a whole is nature. I think plant life is fascinating. Probably the most beautiful design out there. The pattern and colours found in plants will always inspire me.

In 2012 I was fortunate enough to take a class in Seattle at Pilchuck glass school with the amazing glass sculptor Karen Willenbrink-Johnsen. This was also definitely a turning point for me and my work.

Glass  radishes made by Amanda Dziedzic.  Photos by Haydn Cattach, styling by Rebecca Vitartas.
This year you were awarded a residency at Northlands Creative Glass in Lybster, Scotland. How did this amazing opportunity come about, how was this experience and what did you learn from it?

Scotland was another ‘just apply, see what happens’ event… never in my wildest dreams did I think I would get chosen!  Scotland was an opportunity of a life time. For the second time, I was given unlimited access to glass to develop my new skills learnt at Pilchuck. Just like being an associate, except this time I had the skills to translate and really sink my teeth in!

So how it works is four artists from all over the world are chosen to come to this amazing world renowned glass facility (which just happens to be in the THE tiniest town, in the middle of absolute nowhere, right up the pointy end of the top, also THE most windiest place on earth I’m sure). At this glass facility you get to work on whatever body of work they would like to develop.

For me this was phenomenal and such good timing! This meant I could delve deeper into the techniques I had learnt and create a whole new body of work. Amazing! Having six weeks just to yourself to create freely is a pretty amazing thing. Soon you start to work almost subconciously and develop new works left, right and centre! Well I did anyway, terrariums at midnight? Sure thing, that sounds great! They actually turned out very nicely!

So not only did I get to create freely and without cost restraints (which are extremely high in glass blowing), but I met three other fantastic artists and learnt from them and made a whole new little family. In such an isolated place you learn alot about yourself and rely on those other artists quite heavily. You work together, cook together, nut out ideas together, form an awesome bingo playing, lawn bowling force to be reckoned with, you know, that kind of stuff.

I came home so inspired to make art again and not just production. I think residencies are crucial to an artists development and think that all artists should seek out a residency at some point in their career.

New vessels with quirky decorative glass stoppers by Amanda Dziedzic.  Photo – Eve Wilson.
What creative processes are involved in the creation of your pieces, do you make everything in-house or do you outsource any significant tasks?

I make everything in-house. All my work is made by me, out sourcing is not something I tend to go for, I like to make things with my bare hands! That being said I do tend to usually work with a team. Always with at least one other assistant. When I have a big run of units to make I like to work in a team of three. Lately my dream team and I have been pumping out the numbers in Adelaide from the Jam. I love working in a team, I wouldn’t do it any other way. When you work so closely with other skilled blowers it almost becomes like this beautiful fluid dance. You interperet each others moves, know what the other needs and everything seems to run like a well oiled machine… most of the time!  So let me outline how me and my team work –

Firstly there are two main ways to get coloured glass, powder, or concentrated colour in rod form. To make a piece that has an all over even colour you would use the rod. So you break off a small chunk and bring this up to temperature to pick up hot (around 520 degrees) on a collar on a blowpipe. I would have my first assistant (thanks Jaansie) pick this up, heat it, then pop a little bubble in in. He then takes a gather of molten glass out of the furnace (at about 1120 degrees), shapes it round with a wooden block or a wet paper pad and blows it up a little more. After it has cooled a little he will take another dip in the furnace and shape it some more. He then hands this off to me to shape it further. I like to use the wet paper as you get a good feel for the glass. You can also roll it along a steel marver to shape the glass as this will cool the glass quicker.

My second assistant (thanks Dani) is with me at all times. She takes reheats for me in the gloryhole and together we will put a crease in the glass so it will break off onto the transfer rod that is called a punty. Dani brings me a punty and we now have the piece off of the blow pipe and we can start to manipulate the opening. It really is easier to explain if you just come watch!

During this time Jaan has started up his process again, as soon as I have finished the piece, Jaan and I trade, he puts the finished piece away in the annealer (sitting at about 545 degrees) to cool down slowly, while I am ready to keep going with the new piece. See? Just like a well oiled machine!

We work in four hour slots and as you can see it’s pretty fast paced. On a hot day it’s tough in there that’s for sure. That’s when your awesome assistants come into their own, Dani is superb at manouvering my moods. She really is the best. And Jaan is always good for a laugh, I love those two. I am much better at controlling myself if I lose a piece now, much more well behaved. So great assistants, good music, a couple of beroccas and more water than you think you can handle, and you are away to a great session!

It took me a long time to figure out that glass blowing is actually all about precision. If you don’t have that perfect lil bub to begin with you really are banging your head against a brick wall. No matter how crazy you want the piece to be, you really have to have a good foundation for that craziness to work.

Amanda forms a glass dome.  Photo – Eve Wilson.
We are so excited to reveal that you are collaborating with The Design Files for a unique range of new products made especially for Open House! Can you tell our readers a little bit about this collab and the glass domes you’ve made for us?!

I am super pumped to be working with you guys on something fresh for the new The Design Files Open House! So we wanted to make something together that is beautiful and this time functional. After getting back from Scotland, Lucy and I met to have a chat about what we might like to create and we were both totally on the same page! Meant to be I guess.

We decided to make some beautiful bell jar inspired pieces and keep them in the tones of colour used predominantly in this year’s houses. I love designing to a theme! There will be a variety of sizes and heights so you will be able to store any number of your treasures in there. We envisioned smaller bedside ones to keep your jewellery safe and larger ones maybe more suited to fruit, candles or what ever your little heart desires!

I will be making the glass component and Lucy’s super talented man friend, Gordy will be making the wooden bases. A match made in heaven.

Amanda’s new handblown glass domes with timber bases, made exclusively for The Design Files Open House 2013.  Photo – Eve Wilson.
What does a typical day at work involve for you?

I guess like most artists out there no two days are ever really the same for me! I also have a ‘pay the rent’ job, so some days I’m there, but here is my usual studio day run down for you –

6am – Awoken by fury bats (my cats) to the face, which if not given the appropriate response results in escalating to the one claw to the nose tactic.

Usually out the door by 6.30 (I’m speedy) and on the train to Philip Stokes Hot Glass Studio in Cremorne, where I hire time to make my work.

7am – Get the colour on to warm up and turn the glory holes on, then usually have a coffee with Phil or Scotty and get to pat their adorable schnauzers Ruby and Dug. In this time my fantastic assistant Andy rocks up, usually with some type of delicious breakfast treat to share (share as I have bought nothing and he takes pity on me).

8am – Start the sesh! Blow for four hours and make some amazing stuff. That’s the plan anyway.

12:30 – Back on the train to Thornbury (home), grab some lunch maybe at Lowlands, then on the bike and ride to my studio in Brunswick. Andy and I share a space in a warehouse we have just taken on with seven other artists. We are a mixed bunch and look forward to lots of exciting times ahead!

The rest of the arvo is usually spent responding to emails, all that kind of computery stuff that seems to take up so much time, wrapping, packing and sending out any orders that are ready to go out, perhaps working on some new designs, drawing, doodling and what not.

At some point in here there will be a trip out for coffee and snacks. I’m pretty stoked that A1 Bakery is just up the road from the studio. So by the time 4.30pm rolls round I am spent. Glass blowing is a very physical job, super tiring in all that heat. If it’s a week night I love to try and do some sort of exercise, lately I have been taking a pretty rad hula hooping class, then it’s home for dinner with my husband and little cat face. Maybe a couple more emails (Facebook… ahem) and then probably in bed by 10 snoring away like a little slumbersaurus (it’s been a big day, I snore when I’m tired ok?)!

Can you list for us your top resources across any media that you turn to regularly for creative inspiration?

Blogs – The Design Files, Beci OrpinHello Sandwich, and Foxes Lane.

Music – Pandora.

Books – At the moment I am totally into collecting second hand gardening/hot house building books or old floristry ones. I am obsessed! The ones from the ’70s are particuarly good.

Markets – Nothing for me is more inspiring than wandering around a fruit and veg market place! I love it. I always leave feeling refreshed and revived, full of new ideas.

Which other local artists, designers or creative people are you most inspired by at the moment?

I have, like probably a million others, a small design crush on Beci Orpin! I just love her approach to colour and I think her work is beautiful and playful. I just think she lives a really creative life that inspires me to want and do the same.

Ruth Allen, my friend and mentor is a constant inspiration to me. That woman is amazing! She is an amazing glass artist. Her drive to succeed is second to none. She is always there for me with advice to any curly question I may have, she has a practical solution for everything and always so generous in sharing her wealth of knowledge with me.

I am also totally in love with Clare Bowditch and her Big Hearted Business ideas! That woman is a gun. I adore a strong woman who is out to help others.

What would be your dream creative project?

I have so many! I think my dream creative project would be to have the opportunity to be a part of some amazing fit out, maybe for a restaurant or cafe, from the very beginning, perhaps working with an architect. Design, install and make works for a site specific piece with a brief in mind, and working with like minded individuals. That would be amazing. A big job like that would mean I would get to employ a little team to work for me. I love the team aspect of glass blowing, but it also means whats good for me is good for the glass community, sharing the wealth I guess.

It is also my dream to make the Masterchef trophies! How amazing would a giant golden beet be?! Come on, who wouldn’t love winning that?! Thats quite a big pipe dream, I know!

What are you looking forward to?

A Christmas holiday with my husband!

Tools in Amanda’s workshop.  Photo – Eve Wilson.

MELBOURNE QUESTIONS

Your favourite Melbourne neighbourhood and why?

Thornbury! Thornbury is where it’s at. It’s got everything I need, super awesome fruit and veg markets, crazy European delis, sweet cafes, and the best espresso martitini in town at Kitty Somerset. What more do you need?!

What and where was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?

Kumo on Lygon Street for Izakaya style Japanese. My husband and I go there when ever we get the chance, anytime someone comes to visit us we like to take them there, it’s just so delicious. You have to get the Karrage (fried chicken)! There is also this miso eggplant dish on a crunchy rice that I can’t get enough of.

Melbourne’s best kept secret?

Has be Thornbury Bowls Club. That place is just round the corner for us and is just awesome for a roll in the sun and a cheap beer or three. They also have a barbie where you can bring your own snags! How ace is that? I think this Summer we are going to put a team together…or at least get a membership which entitles you to even cheaper beer!

Glass artist Amanda Dziedzic, pictured at Phillip Stokes’ workshop in Cremorne, Melbourne.  Photo – Eve Wilson.

by Lucy Feagins, Editor
Friday 8th November 2013

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