Glass Studio at RISD Promotes Collaboration, Risk Taking and Nontraditional Approaches

students work together in the hot shop

In Modern Vision: Shaping Glass, a Wintersession studio offered by the Glass department, students are experiencing the precision teamwork that goes into glassmaking. Taught by grad student Will Beattie MFA 24 GL, the entry-level elective focuses on a wide range of techniques and the artists who have brought them to the forefront of the medium.

On a cold January afternoon, Beattie and the class TA, Tayu Ting MArch 24, co-lead an exercise in sand-casting, making objects by pouring molten glass into impressions made in the sand. The class works together in the hot shop wearing goggles, face shields and other protective gear, one person scooping material from the kiln, another using sheers to remove excess glass dripping over the side of the ladle and a third using wooden paddles to move the hot pieces to the annealing oven to cool. Beattie advises the students to spray the sand liberally with a molasses concoction that helps to minimize its texture and then burn that off with a blowtorch before adding glass.

His goal in teaching the course is to expose the students to as many techniques as possible during the five-week session. “Risk taking, collaborative work and nontraditional approaches are integral to this class, and mishaps, gray areas, errors and ‘failures’ are all part of developing your creative process and understanding your voice as an artist,” he says.

abstract photo of glass piece
Grad student Freya Zhuang created this image of her work in response to an essay by Mohammad Salemy called Instagram as Non-Photography.

“Mishaps, gray areas, errors and ‘failures’ are all part of developing your creative process and understanding your voice as an artist.”

Grad Student Will Beattie

Part of that process involves studying the work of other artists and considering how it relates to one’s own vision. First-year student Jiwon Hong 27 AP explored South Korean graphic design studio Zero Per Zero. “Their work captures people’s everyday lives in cities around the world,” Hong explains. “Their nonchalant, simple line drawings and warm colors put the viewer at ease, and that’s what I want to incorporate into my own work.”

Fellow first-year Sasha Sha 27 EFS investigated Hawaiian artist Jon Ching, whose practice highlights the beauty of Oahu’s flora and fauna. “His work is a surreal imagining of what limitless wonders and combinations nature can produce,” says Sha. “Just like him, I want to create new creatures and symbioses in my artworks exemplifying the endless potential of life on Earth through metaphor and allegory.”

a student in a raised face shield cuts an apple in the hot shop
Will Beattie and students collaborating in the hot shop
Above, first-year student Alisha Zhou cuts an apple she’s planning to pour molten glass over; below, Beattie and students work together in the hot shop.

As the term comes to a close, students are preparing their final projects, responding to a prompt of their choice. Those who selected Shaping Narrative are exploring the overlap of glass, memory and storytelling, creating pieces that reflect on memory or personal experience. Light and Reflection encourages students to create a kaleidoscope, lens or other device used to manipulate light, color or reflections. Students who select Glass Transformation will create a multimedia sculpture combining glass with another medium to depict a person or space.

“All of these prompts are intended to harness the research students conducted in an effort to discover what kinds of artwork resonate and why,” says Beattie. “Working with glass is greatly informed by process, and the results often contrast our preconceived notions about how the piece ‘should’ turn out.” 

Simone Solondz
February 8, 2024

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