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10 questions for Andy Paiko

by: COURTESY OF ANDY PAIKO, 
Andy Paiko, one of the artists featured for Portland Open Studios, has been blowing and sculpting glass for about 15 years.

Glass maker Andy Paiko is one of more than 100 artists who are allowing members of the public to watch them work over the next two weekends as part of Portland Open Studios.

The 32-year-old Paiko, who also is working on a commissioned remake of Ben Franklin's glass armonica for the Museum of Contemporary Craft, has been blowing and sculpting glass for about 15 years, starting in high school and continuing through college in his native California. Paiko blows glass at a hot shop in Vancouver, Wash., and sculpts the glass at his house in North Portland. He's married to Belle Chesler, a Beaverton High School art teacher.

Paiko shared with the Tribune his thoughts on his work and the age-old art of glass blowing:

Tribune: How'd you get into glass making?

Paiko: I didn't choose glass making - it chose me. It was a way of making money without really trying. I worked in three or four different studios and was able to put that work out in the world, and it paid for itself. After college, what was there to do, get another construction job, or spend all my time on glass? Glass is full time, and making glass is only 10 percent of the equation.

Tribune: Oh, yeah? A lot else goes into being a successful glass making business?

Paiko: Blowing glass is 10 percent, the rest is cold work - grinding, polishing, cleaning, finishing, photographing, cleaning up photos with Photoshop, putting photos on the Web site or have somebody do it. … You gotta go to galleries, talk to galleries, deal with consignment galleries, organize shows, bring stuff to shows, ship things out. You set up a whole shipping department in your basement so you can pack delicate things and send them across the country. It takes all day just to ship one piece!

Tribune: Glass blowing is a 4,000-year-old art. Tell me about it.

Paiko: It's all free blown, out in space. Romans did it the exact same way. It's been 15 years worth of practice for me to get them straight. When you take the glass out of the furnace, it's like honey on the end of a straw. You stop moving the straw, the honey will drop on the ground. You get glass when it's hot, you have to keep the (blow) pipe continually rotating because you're fighting gravity. The centrifugal force of spinning pipe keeps it symmetrical. You don't want to turn too fast or too slow, you want to turn it evenly. … You can use hollow pipe, so when it's heated glass on the end, you can inflate it and get a bubble.

Tribune: From there, what takes place?

Paiko: You have to continually reheat and inflate it, then you have a variety of hand tools that you can use to shape the glass afterward. It's a mixture of heating glass and cooling glass in certain spots, along with gravity and light force sometimes. … Then you use the lapidary (grinding) wheel. I make a lot of stuff out of composite parts, and in order to collage them together, you have to fit the parts really precisely. … I use adhesive epoxies and (ultraviolet) curing, and some combinations with mechanical hardware like steel and some solid glass (to fit parts). It's a lot of eyeballing to get things right.

Tribune: What are your favorite glass things to make?

Paiko: Making a simple cup, it's one of the funnest things to make, because it's one of the most challenging. It's like playing scales on the piano, the faster and more adept you get at it, the better you'll be. … I sell a lot of decorative bell jars.

Tribune: What do you like about glass making?

Paiko: When making a new piece that I've never made before, I like it when you're in the shop and you don't quite know the next step or next part you need to make. You have an idea in your head, you're trying to get to that - when you get it, that's always the best.

Tribune: You've made such intricate pieces, like a balance, hourglass, spinning wheel, seismograph, coral mirror. What took the longest?

Paiko: The spinning wheel, about three and a half months of constant work. But the current project (glass armonica) is five times more complicated, and it's taken two of us working eight hours a day for the past two months. We have to have it done by Nov. 1.

Tribune: What does the glass armonica project entail (It'll be displayed at Museum of Contemporary Craft, 724 N.W. Davis St.)?

Paiko: I've teamed up with a friend, Ethan Rose, a local composer, who's also interested in old machinery. When you rub your fingers on glass, it resonates and sings; you get (notes) A through G. We'll take wine glasses of various sizes, remove the stems and replace them with a long shaft, mounted horizontally - large bowl on one end with successive smaller bowls nested inside, and so on. Each shape makes a different tone. It'll consist of 40 units, mounted on the gallery wall, each modular unit has a 3/4-RPM motor, with a servo motor hooked up to a throttle (with a cloth rubbing part). They will all be controlled by a circuit board, controlling like a remote control airplane.

Tribune: What distinguishes your work?

Paiko: I try pretty hard to not fall into trappings of the process. The glass making craft has been around for 4,000 years, and the process basically is the same. It's easy to fall into the trap of mirroring things. A lot of glass art I see tends to be homogenous; I try to be more original than that, in order to project my way. … When you look at my work, you get an idea of what kind of guy I am.

Tribune: But it's not an easy living?

Paiko: Sometimes I wish that I could wake up, go to work, do the work, come home and leave work at work and know where the paycheck's going to come from. I wake up in the morning and don't know where the paycheck is going to come from. And it's scary, especially when you have a (home) remodel literally hanging over your head.