When you think of an artist, you probably don’t imagine a woman using fire to shape glass into works of art. However, that’s exactly what artists like Shayna Leib do on a daily basis. Leib is part of the 51 percent of female visual artists who only earn 81 cents to every male artist’s dollar. So, she’s trying to change that by breaking the glass ceiling.
The truth is, women’s status in the art world is improving, but there is still plenty of room to improve. Luckily, we have artists like Shayna Leib to prove that women can definitely take the heat when it comes to glassblowing.
How did Leib become interested in this fiery form of art? And how can you start breaking the glass ceiling in the field of glassblowing? We talked to Shayna Leib to discover all the inspiration, advice and insider tips you need to know!
ENTITY: On your website, you mention being interested in glass blowing from a young age. What first drew you to this art form compared to others?
SHAYNA LEIB: I was always drawn to glass as a child. Its transparency was mesmerizing to me. I used to play with my grandmother’s collectables when I was little. She had these glass grapes that were rather quintessential ’70s décor. Walking past them, I could never keep my eyes or my hands off of them.
Once I saw the art of creating glass through lamp-working and blowing, I was pretty much sold. Fire is the obvious reason, but beneath the surface is this idea that something we think of as so solid and rigid is permeable and flowing. That in itself is was a mind-bender to me at a young age.
ENTITY: What inspired your Wind and Water series? And what do you hope to convey or do through your art?
SHAYNA LEIB: The Wind & Water Series was inspired by watching motion. I used to sit and meditate on waves and grass, and on how currents moved objects. After I became a diver, another focus began to emerge: that of the invertebrates, which were moved by the currents. The patterns, colors and textures of wind and water drew me in, and a subset of the series was born.
ENTITY: What has been the biggest challenge in your career, whether a particular project, critics, etc?
SHAYNA LEIB: There are so many challenges to this career. I would have to say the sheer amount of diverse experience I need to do this job – from building and maintaining equipment, welding, repairs, computer controllers, engineering and drafting, to glass chemistry, knowledge of adhesives, web design, image processing and editing, proposal writing, international shipping and creating ways to ship my art that defy physics.
READ MORE: Looking For a New Hobby? Try Glassblowing
The most challenging project I’ve done is an eight-foot long chandelier. I’m a one-woman operation so engineering how to build a 400 pound chandelier that breaks down into 13 sections was no small feat. On top of that, it needed to be lit.
ENTITY: What piece of work are you most proud of and why? Are you working on anything right now?
SHAYNA LEIB: I’m most proud of the chandelier. It pushed me beyond where I thought I could go. I didn’t hire out the job to an engineer or a lighting guy. I had to draw upon all of the skills I’ve ever had to learn, including drafting from the 7th grade.
Currently I’m working on some independent projects I’ve wanted to make for over a year. They have no relation to the series I’m known for, but are stand alone pieces.
ENTITY: What is something you think people should know about glassblowing or your work that they probably don’t?
SHAYNA LEIB: The one thing that people don’t know about my work is that all of my glass canvases have to be created similar to how a 3D printer creates objects. I have to start from one corner and work my way to another. It’s not at all intuitive or even natural, but the materials necessitate the process of creation. To express it through analogy, it would be like painting Starry Night from one corner to the opposite corner with no ability to revise.
My new favorite way to pass the time is to watch videos of glassblowing. Fascinating.
— Wesleigh (@thewesleigh79) January 8, 2017
“Glassblowing is an animal unto itself. It requires skill, knowledge, physical strength and respect.” – William Morris
— Olympic Color Rods (@Glasscolor) November 4, 2016
There is nothing cooler to me than glassblowing. Such a beautiful art form that requires so much skill.
— Olivia Rose (@OliviaSureWin) April 14, 2016
ENTITY: What advice would you give to young women who want to get involved in glassblowing?
SHAYNA LEIB: I’d say, “Do it.” It doesn’t matter what gender you are. It’s an art predicated on patience, endurance and learned skills. In that regard, it’s no different than anything else. The world has changed a bit since I started.
At that time, women weren’t obviously discriminated against, but there was a good deal of heckling by the boys or they just flat out wouldn’t help you. I can’t imagine what the generations before me had to go through to learn the material. It was hard enough for me in the early ’90s when people were more evolved. Undoubtedly it was more brutal for those that came before me and they had to fight to learn the art. Now, glassblowing seems to be so much more egalitarian.
Glass blowing is one of the most rewarding, hardcore and creative hobbies you could have. It requires not only mad skills, impressive equipment and practice, but also plenty of dedication and determination to persevere through any challenges.
As Shayna Leib shows, however, succeeding as a glassblowing artist is entirely possible as long as you’re ready for the challenge. Who knows? Maybe glassblowing is women’s secret weapon to breaking the glass ceiling and earning their due credit in art!
To get a better idea of what glassblowing really looks like, check out the video of an introductory class below!
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