Inside the Artist’s Studio with Heather Bivens: Weathered Heather

Throughout the years, creating has been something that I must do. The medium and process has changed and evolved, but my desire to create remains the driving force. Whether they are tests, collections, samples, mock-ups or finished works, they are simultaneously bridges and destinations.

When I was in high school, I studied illustration and copy preparation. In 2007, I obtained my BFA from SUNY Oswego with an emphasis in sculpture and drawing. During that time, I created a range of work that explored performance art, digital imagery, video and installation. In 2010, I obtained my MFA in Sculpture from Syracuse University. My graduate work investigated the art of adornment through wearable sculpture. During that time, my connection with nature became more profound and could be seen as a common thread between all of my works.

Wearable Art: Butterfly Neck-piece, Latex Party Dress, Latex Garden Dress

Wearable Art: Butterfly Neck-piece, Latex Party Dress, Latex Garden Dress

Soon after graduate school, I taught a range of studio art courses as a part time instructor at Cazenovia College. There, I had the opportunity to work in a glass studio, where I learned to work with kiln formed art glass. Based on my interest in adornment, it felt natural for me to make jewelry from this new medium.

Art Glass Jewelry: Underwater Rocks Necklace, Pebble Design Earrings, Amber Stripe Earrings.

Art Glass Jewelry: Underwater Rocks Necklace, Pebble Design Earrings, Amber Stripe Earrings.

My glass work has opened new doors for me as an artist and maker while connecting all of my prior experience into one art form. Today, I consider myself fortunate to be self-employed and make work full time in my home studio. My business is Weathered Heather, named after myself and my inspiration.

Weathered Heather

My jewelry making process begins by assembling compatible glass. The glass can be cut, crushed into small pieces or made into strands with the use of a torch.

Crushed glass (frit) and stands of glass (stringer).

Crushed glass (frit) and stands of glass (stringer).

I layer the glass using a temporary adhesive to ensure that they stay in place during the firing process. Earrings are designed at the same time to ensure that they are similar in nature. It is important to make sure that the same amount of glass is being used on each piece. If it is uneven, the design can become distorted or they can end up unequal in size.

Prepared glass designs on a kiln shelf before entering the kiln.

Prepared glass designs on a kiln shelf before entering the kiln.

After each design is assembled, they are properly fired in a kiln up to 1500 degrees. In some cases, multiple firings are necessary to achieve the desired result. After the firing process, they are shaped and cold worked with diamond abrasives.

A small groove is ground along the edge of each piece of glass using a diamond disk. This grove provides a space for my wire setting.

Side view: Wire setting.

Side view: Wire setting.

Some of my newest work is created by hand painting the image with glass enamel. The enamel begins as a powder that is made into a paintable form using a liquid medium.

Dry enamel pigments and prepared pigments with a liquid medium.

Dry enamel pigments and prepared pigments with a liquid medium.

I then cut a piece of glass slightly larger than the pendant or earrings that I would like to create. I paint the image directly on the surface. The image can be painted all in one sitting or it can be completed in layers if the design is complex. Each layer is fired to solidify the bottom layer before more enamel is added.

First layer of painted enamel before firing them in the kiln.

First layer of painted enamel before firing them in the kiln.

Painting enamel in layers. Various stages of completion.

Painting enamel in layers. Various stages of completion.

After painting the image, I often place a clear sheet of glass on top of the image before firing it. This step embeds the image in the center of the glass, encapsulating it like a preserved treasure.
The excess material needs to be ground away with a diamond abrasive, giving the piece its final shape and size.

Final stages: removing excess and giving the work it's final shape.

Final stages: removing excess and giving the work it’s final shape.

The bubbles you see within the design are often described as “champagne” bubbles and are a characteristic of kiln formed glass.

“Phoebus Butterfly”, Hand painted glass enamel on clear art glass, kiln formed, with a 2.8mm, 20” Argentium sterling silver chain, soldiered links and toggle clasp. Glass Size: 1 15/16" x 1 1/16".

“Phoebus Butterfly”, Hand painted glass enamel on clear art glass, kiln formed, with a 2.8mm, 20” Argentium sterling silver chain, soldiered links and toggle clasp. Glass Size: 1 15/16″ x 1 1/16″.

For more information on Weathered Heather, visit Heather’s website at www.weatheredheather.com. You can also follow Weathered Heather on Facebook and Instagram (@weatheredheather).

Take a look at our previous Inside the Artist’s Studio blog post, by painter Melissa Huang.

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Melissa Huang

Painting is a very relaxing process for me. It’s the one thing that  clears my mind and allows me to focus. Painting is great for brainstorming and letting your mind work through all of the thoughts and concepts swimming around in your head.

My studio space is currently set up in the living room area. The natural light is something I really enjoy.

My studio space is currently set up in the living room area. The natural light is something I really enjoy.

A lot of my artwork focuses on things like trinkets, porcelain dolls, and other beautiful childhood objects. I’ve always been a collector, and I filled a bookcase full of fossils, crystals, and ornaments when I was younger.

Artists like Audrey Flack have greatly influenced the way I view still lifes. Symbolism is very important in Flack’s work, and I try to focus on the symbolism in my work as well.

Melissa Huang, Self Portrait, Oil on canvas, wood frame, sculpy objects, 48" x 36" plus frame, 2012

Melissa Huang, Self Portrait, Oil on canvas, wood frame, sculpy objects, 48″ x 36″ plus frame, 2012

I enjoy painting from life, but find creating photographic reference images to work from really helps my process. By rearranging objects and photographing them in different situations and different angles I can find compositions that capture the emotional intent of the piece.

My oil paintings are intentionally soft and feminine with melancholy undercurrents. Broken dolls and figures intertwine with bright and colorful flowers that could represent new life, or possibly death. We are intruders, viewing these figures from an intimate perspective.

Melissa Huang, In the Flowers, Oil on canvas, 24" x 18", 2014

Melissa Huang, In the Flowers, Oil on canvas, 24″ x 18″, 2014

Melissa Huang, Muhammad, Oil on canvas, 20" x 20", 2014

Melissa Huang, Muhammad, Oil on canvas, 20″ x 20″, 2014

Melissa Huang, Sammy Mouse, Oil on canvas, 20" x 20", 2014

Melissa Huang, Sammy Mouse, Oil on canvas, 20″ x 20″, 2014

Recently I’ve been using gold leaf in my paintings. During my study abroad in Florence I visited as many churches as possible, and saw many beautiful altarpieces with gold leafed panels. The subjects of the paintings were made more important by the glimmering leaf. I wanted to lend a similar sense of importance to the subjects I painted.

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Melissa Huang, Philip, Oil on canvas, 48" x 36", 2013

Melissa Huang, Philip, Oil on canvas, 48″ x 36″, 2013

Melissa Huang, Garden, Oil on panel, gold leaf, 6" x 6" (each), 2014

Melissa Huang, Garden, Oil on panel, gold leaf, 6″ x 6″ (each), 2014

Using gold leaf in my work allowed me to play with a sense of depth versus flatness, as well as brought a more graphic quality into some of my paintings. If you’d like to learn about the gold leafing process I’ll be leading a gold leaf workshop at Main Street Arts on Saturday, February 21st, from 1–3pm. This workshop relates to the current Solid Gold exhibition, featuring nine artists using gold leaf, gold paint, and gold lustre.

Working on paintings on gold leafed panels

Working on paintings on gold leafed panels

Melissa Huang, The Aviary, Oil on panel, gold leaf, 6" x 6" (each), 2014

Melissa Huang, The Aviary, Oil on panel, gold leaf, 6″ x 6″ (each), 2014

Come see Melissa’s paintings in person during Solid Gold, or check out her upcoming exhibition Upstairs at Main Street Arts.

You can see more of Melissa’s portfolio at www.melissahuang.com or on Instagram: @melissahuangart. Take a look at our previous Inside the Artist’s Studio blog post, by painter Amy Vena.