© 2011 . All rights reserved. juliespread

The Discipline of Craftsmanship

2006 was the year when I grew most as an stained glass artist. I was living in New York City, unemployed and my savings were dwindling. I was post college, and I had to start making tough grownup decisions. How do I pay my rent, buy a metrocard, pay for food, utilities, and service my student loans?  Which one could I forego this month? How could I live on less? For the first time, I understood poverty.

People around me told me to try to get a job at Goldman Sachs, or at a consulting firm. But that wasn’t why I moved to New York. I moved there to improve my skills as a stained glass artist.  I wasn’t about to abandon my dreams.

So I worked at my craft.

Everyday I made something. It didn’t matter what I made, as long as I honed my skills.  I went to galleries and roamed the streets for inspiration. I made mosaics. I replicated installations in the subway, but I was never satisfied.

My first break came when a friend commissioned me to make a panel for him. He wanted a gift for his girlfriend made of glass.  Unfortunately, his ideas were quite terrible; he envisioned cherubs with angel wings with trumpets, hearts and bows and arrows. As not to completely dismiss his vision, I asked him, “what do you really want to say to her?”

“I want her to know that I love her” he said.

“Well why don’t we just say that in glass?” I decided.

It was an important moment for me as an artist. I discovered that I loved writing in glass. Who says that stained glass has to be abstract, religious, or a floral arrangement? I began making unabashedly simple stained glass panels that said what it meant, and meant what it said.  I  called it Well Spoken Art.  I generated new business by taking a panel on the train with me.  People would approach me and ask me about the art, and a few people would take my business card, which lead to new commissions.

I deeply immersed myself in my craft.  I gained the ability to critically look at other people’s work and to quickly identify the slop from the excellence.  I could identify the company that they got their stained glass materials from.  I began to appreciate structural and design risks taken by artists that I never appreciated in the past.  I discovered that the lead lines could be just as interesting as the glass.

No longer do I strive to live a life free of struggle.  Instead, I strive to understand pain, struggle, stressors, and challenges so that I can used them fuel creativity, innovation, and to solve problems.  Thank you New York for teaching me the discipline of craftsmanship.  I am happy that I did not give up.

Below is one of the panels that I customized on behalf of somebody named Julie.

“It is the artist that creates the market, not the other way around.”

- Julia Cameron, The Artists Way

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