Featurepreneur: Blow Your Own Way

By Genevieve Allen Hearn

Nathan Penney found his passion in an unusual way: through a chance meeting at a music festival. Now working as a glass blower while raising his 2-year-old daughter, Nathan chatted with The Grapevine about his journey becoming a creator, and how artisans are faring during COVID-19.

The Grapevine (GV): What got you into glass blowing?
Nathan Penney (NP): When I finished university I was going to summer music festivals that often had artists there for the weekend. I met a glass blower who did live demonstrations of his work for passersby to watch. I was enamoured by the process and how it all came together to make the final product. I ended up chatting for a bit with the glass blower from New Brunswick and struck up a friendship. After being an avid collector and fan of glassblowing for another 2-3 years, I decided to take the leap and get into it myself. It was an artistic passion that I felt I had to follow and do for myself. I started by reading up on everything I could about doing glass work from home. I watched just about every YouTube video about it as well. After finding another local glass worker from Halifax I was able to get some advice on what to buy to start. I now have a home studio in a shed just outside my home in the Valley and have been making glass products for almost two years now.

GV: Tell us about a day in the life of a glass worker. What is the process?
NP: A day in the life a glass worker can be quite varied from artist to artist. I chose to make glass work my hobby at the beginning and am slowly working it into a full-time job. I am more of a part-time worker at the moment as I look after my 2-year old daughter during the week and try to get out to melt when I can, often in the evenings or early mornings, 2-3 times per week. The process can be difficult to explain. Clear glass comes in solid rods and tubes. Coloured glass comes in smaller solid rods. You can melt down and coil the coloured rods in the flame to make a hollow tube. You work in front of the torch to melt the glass down before shaping and applying it. The light flares that are produced by the glass and flame are very bright and special filter glasses have to be worn. There are numerous techniques and skills that go into each piece and a wide variety of glass sculpting tools can be used. Glass exists as a solid but once it is heated to its melting point it starts to act more like a fluid. Using gravity, air, heat, and rotation you can achieve just about any shape or size. Each piece, depending on its complexity, can take 1-2 hours to make, with more detailed pieces taking multiple days. Once a piece is completed it goes into a heated kiln to bake the remaining stress out of it and then cool it down over several hours to not shock it.

GV: You have been making memorial pendants for pet owners, can you tell us about this?
NP: One of my biggest lines of work from this past year or so has been making memorial pendants, paperweights, and marbles for pet owners, creating something custom and memorable for pet owners to hold onto for many years to come. Whether its a pendant you can wear around your neck, a paperweight that you can set by your favourite photo, or simply a window hanger that reminds you of them, I work with each person interested in the service to acquire the ash, and go over options and colours to create something unique to the individual.

GV: How has COVID-19 had an impact on artisans? Any opportunities this holiday season?
NP: This year has been challenging for just about any artisan. Many of the craft fairs and shows have been cancelled or shut down. I’ve had to shift my focus from craft fairs to mostly online sales. Using Instagram and Facebook have been my main focus. The good thing about my work is that I can do it from home and I order most of my supplies and tools online. This upcoming holiday season there are two shows I will be attending: the Kingston Lions Club craft show (November 14) and Christmas in Kentville (November 20-21). Check me out at these events or contact me on Facebook or Instagram @ bardo.glass.