Glass as Art

Profitability and possibility when interior glass shines as art
Bethany Stough
June 30, 2015

Turning an artistic vision into reality using any material is a challenge. Working with artists, and satisfying owners with one-of-a-kind works of art displayed in a technically complex, reflective material like glass takes on all new challenges. It's these challenges, however, that make the glass as art market a lucrative showcase of glass fabrication skills.

“The increasing complexities of glass fabrication and design demands will continue to encourage creativity and promote a culture of exploration and learning,” says Steve Sudeth, creative director for GlasPro. “Despite the inherent difficulties…of using architectural glass as an artistic medium, the ongoing collaboration will push glass fabricators to stretch their creative abilities.”

The market for decorative glass art is expanding rapidly, as owners and architects look to bring a “wow” factor to interior spaces, sources say.

“Art glass is often integrated into the interior architecture of buildings—interior curtain walls, movable walls, doors, partitions, railing systems, balustrades, reception desk backdrops and privacy screens, restaurant booth dividers,” says BJ Katz, principal/art director, Meltdown Glass. “Let’s not overlook its use in flooring and stair treads, cabinet door inserts, elevators and water features. The latest thing in decorative glass is thick glass used in countertops and tabletops.”

Sudeth notes the growing market for art glass, specifically for use in public works and healthcare projects. “These types of developments allow for larger scale art pieces that have both an aesthetic value as well as a functional role,” he says.

The benefits of the art glass market are twofold: profitability and possibility. The increased value and time added to processing art glass pieces can command higher price margins for fabricators.

“The increased complexity [of glass projects] will benefit the medium and the fabricators,” says Mike Pfafenberger, decorative glass manager, M3 Glass Technologies. “The market for this type of product is upscale, so the complexities will keep ‘fly-by-night’ companies from trying to undercut the professionals.”

“Sometimes it’s about the profit margins and sometimes it’s about what can be done with glass by inventing new techniques for custom projects,” says Veronica Erick, marketing and product development for Ellen Blakeley Studio, fabricator and glass artist of mosaic glass tile. “We get to think outside of the box. We love to experiment with glass to show what can be done.”

Of course, some projects are more lucrative than others, but fabricators can benefit from art glass installations in several ways. “Smaller projects often aren’t particularly profitable, but Meltdown Glass manufactures smaller projects to showcase our process and our capabilities for new clients,” says Katz.

Additionally, because collaboration is a big part of making art glass installations possible, glass fabricators are able to showcase their creativity and technical know-how by engaging with architects, artists and building owners to bring the artistic vision to life.

“One of the best parts of doing an art installation is the ideation process where we get to figure out how we can best utilize our current capabilities,” says Sudeth.

However, in order to capitalize on the growing market for glass as art, fabricators need to understand the challenges and the processes—from finding jobs to completing the installation.

The Project Search

Traditional bid and material supply processes are rare for decorative art glass projects. In general, sources say, artists find the fabricators of their choice to bring their artistic vision to life. Creating relationships and a strong Internet presence help attract art business.

Bernard Lax, president, Pulp Studio, says building strong relationships with arts councils of various cities is key to helping artists connect with a glass company.

Social media and Internet presence also play a role in building brand awareness in the art community. “Most artists are smaller scale, so a large social media or Google presence goes a long way towards putting you in front of the right people,” Pfafenberger says.

Additionally, companies can use past projects as publicity for future jobs. “We have used the high profile jobs we have done in the past to capture interest of potential clients via publications, Internet presence and word of mouth,” Erick says.

The Challenges

Like many markets for glass, the challenge in the art glass market is educating other project players. Artists focus on art. Fabricators must meet the artistic demands while understanding and communicating technical requirements of glass.

“You are not always working with someone who knows anything about glass. Many art projects are commissioned based on concepts and then taken to a producer…to make that concept a reality,” says Lax. “The process of educating the artist about what elements that glass needs to have for safety and performance requires finding compromises.”

Using glass as a medium for art can also create visual challenges and aesthetic surprises. Working with glass is not equal to working with a canvas or a blank wall, sources say. “Glass has reflection that causes shading, slight changes in color in different environments,” says Marisa Ferreira, owner, Artistry in Glass.

“When we can educate the artist on the nuances of color on glass, it is much easier to create a piece that meets expectations without breaking the bank,” says Pfafenberger.

The Process

The design, fabrication, transportation and installation processes for art glass are different than for traditional glass products because it’s art—“something unique for the client,” says Katz. “In addition, there is a cognitive and emotive aspect of how the design influences the end user.”

Because of the unique nature of art glass, fabricators and glass artists explore many possibilities through sampling and design for fulfilling a particular vision, with the look, the project and client, the material and the price in mind. It’s imperative that care is taken from conception to installation for each glass as art project, sources say.

To ensure proper handling of the value-added products, fabricators and glass artists stress the importance of high-quality shipping materials, including specialty films and crates.

“We have designed special carts that are used for our high-end products to keep them in a controlled area separate from our production glass,” says Pfafenberger. He also notes that handling and packaging all glass this way would be too expensive, but also too expensive to not handle art glass in this careful way.

Installation support is also key. “For non-local jobs we include detailed instructions on how to carry and install each piece of art. We have at times enclosed a video for installers for a visual instruction on how the piece should be carried and installed,” says Erick.

“[Art glass] is a lot of extra work— from handling, install, and trying to make the final price not prohibitive,” says Ferreira. “The more intricate the design, the more costly it is, including the additional care and proper install required. You can always get something beautiful, but close communication with the client along the way is necessary.”

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Stough is managing editor for Glass Magazine, and e-glass weekly. Write her at