Location: Berkeley, Ontario
Kate Civiero is the glass artist behind Infinite Glassworks. Established in 2005 with fellow glassblower, Matthew Civiero, Infinite Glassworks fuses the functional with sculptural through a variety of colourful and modern handblown glass. A graduate of Sheridan College School of Craft and Design, Kate's material curiosity reaches beyond glass to metal, which she explores alongside her glass creations from her home studio.
What attracted you to glassblowing as a practice and artform? Any surprises when you first began working with glass as a medium?
The challenging combination of intense heat, fluidity and unpredictability of the medium is what attracted me to hot glass. It’s an unruly medium – drippy, malleable and constantly moving while it’s hot, then less than a minute later it’s hard, unforgiving and unable to be coaxed into shape. Those transformations that occurs during creation are addictive, the constant shifting between hot and cold, soft and hard, liquid and solid, unstructured and specifically formed.
When I first started working with glass I struggled really hard, and I wasn’t prepared for that. At the time, I was also woodworking and I felt very comfortable in the use of specific and precise measurements to create an object. Molten glass was the polar opposite of that for me, and it was incredibly frustrating and at times demoralizing that glass wouldn’t "behave" for me in the same way wood would. It took me years of glassblowing to learn to release control so I could lean in to the material. It wasn’t until I started to bend to the will of the material instead of forcing it bend to mine that I finally succeeded in making objects I was happy with. There are extreme physical and technical skills necessary to blow glass, but there’s an equal amount of mental effort that goes into the medium that I didn’t fully comprehend when I started.
Can you explain the process of glassblowing and your particular method of bringing ideas to life?
Working with 2100ºF molten glass is a fast-paced, fluid process. The clear glass is gathered in layers from the furnace onto a hollow glassblowing pipe, then colour is added to it. Unable to touch the glass while working with it, I rely on special tools, heat, inflation, motion and gravity to shape and blow the glass. I have a deep interest in mold blowing, the process of inflating molten glass into a mold in order to either reproduce a design over and over, or achieve a design that is difficult to create from free blowing. Most of my day to day production work is mold blown as it allows me to make multiples of an object quickly and efficiently.
I rarely ever draw or sketch ideas when developing new designs, and instead work out my concepts with the glass itself. Sometimes it will work right away and it looks and feels like what I envisioned, and other times it will take me months of refining, reimagining and reworking an idea until I’m happy with it. Most of the glass I make is functional (focused on glassware for wine, cocktails, beer and cider), and so I have to take into account not only the aesthetic of the finished piece but also it’s intended function, usability and durability. Some designs never make it to production, but others have become long running lines of work that span over decades.
As a solo glassblower, are there any unique or unusual techniques you've developed in order to achieve your designs without assistance?
For me, solo glassblowing was born out of necessity and I learned very early in my practice how to work without help. I live and work in a rural area and don’t have access to other glassblowers for assistance. My success as a solo glassblower can be attributed partly to my user friendly glassblowing furnace that has a hanger to hold my glassblowing pipes when I need to free up my hands. It also helps that I thrive in a problem solving environment and get a massive kick out of engineering ways to do things alone that should be a two person job. It all comes down to technique, timing and temperature. If you have a handle on all of those things and how they relate to the glass, solo glassblowing is a breeze.
How would you describe your style or approach to glassblowing?
I am drawn to geometric forms and clean streamlined designs. I have a particular love for mold blowing which is the perfect way to achieve this modern aesthetic. I design and CAD my own molds for fabrication and use a variety of materials such as wood, steel, and graphite. I am particularly drawn to the markings and ripples left on the glass by mold blowing, specifically from steel or graphite. These materials create the most gorgeous refractions when the light hits them, adding another dimension to the wonder of glass.
I describe myself as colour obsessed. For years I worked with bright, saturated colours and often used them in bold, contrasting combinations. More recently, my tastes in colour have mellowed out and I find myself drawn more to subtle colour shifts and varying opacities and transparencies. Colour is my first love in working with glass, there are endless combinations to explore and I constantly am surprised and enchanted with unexpected colour combinations.
Besides glass, you also work with metal. How do these materials differ for you when it comes to what you design and create?
I started exploring copper for practical reasons because it has a similar coefficient of expansion (rate at which the material expands and contracts) as glass, meaning the copper can be embedded inside glass without cracking or breaking the glass. Once I started working with it, I realized many similarities in working with copper (and other metals) and hot glass. I need to manipulate the hot materials with tools instead of my hands, and I assess the temperature and workability of a material through its changes in colour and its ease of malleability.
As opposed to my glass production work, my work with copper and glass are primarily sculpture focused and are mostly wall pieces. I build components and assemble them into larger pieces. Often I construct and assemble them cold, such as my Wings + Things series, but I am also deeply interested in combining them hot as in my Confine + Release series. These pieces are comprised of a soldered cage of copper which I inflate the molten glass into. The glass bulges through the open spaces in the cage. A form of mold blowing, the Confine + Release pieces incorporate the mold both as a forming tool as well as an integral component of the finished form.
In what ways do you hope your own practice continues to evolve?
I am rarely content to focus on just one thing which is why I tend to explore tangents in glass and other materials so easily. Though my day to day business is primarily focused on production glassblowing as a means to support myself, I see my art practice evolving to make space for more mixed media sculptural pieces. These explorations tend to ebb and flow in my daily life, and it can be hard to carve out time to follow the path of these artistic pursuits. I hope to set aside focused time in the coming year to drop down the rabbit hole of sculptural work again which will in turn feed my creativity for production work.
Pay it forward -- tell us about something or someone our readers should know about.
It’s worth mentioning that I could not be living my glassblowing dream and have the success in my art practice that I do without the supportive and creative rural community I live in. Grey County (Ontario) is home to a wildly talented community of creatives, not only artists and craftspeople but chefs, farmers, entrepreneurs, designers and fabricators. I love collaborating and sharing ideas with them. I am endlessly humbled and inspired by the amount of drive and talent that is surrounding me and I am beyond grateful that to be a part of it.