I first met Chaka at the Piece of Mind OC art gallery where Chaka and Boom Felazi were hosting a demo and showcasing their most recent collaborations. This is where both Chaka and Boom had an impact on my interest in Functional Glass Art. Chaka was kind enough to speak with me 1:1 on this day, but it wasn't until a later date when I found myself conducting a proper interview with him. I stood there with Chaka amongst a crowded sea of wooks & preppy hash-heads attending the annual Glass Vegas convention show in Las Vegas, Nevada, where the hustle and bustle of the city of sin never seems to rest. This time I was prepared. I had done my homework assigned to me by Professor Felazi, attempting to bring myself up to speed with glass, functional art, and the evolving industry. Once again, I found myself 'talking shop' with the Iceman himself.
How and when do you know what types of elements you will be adding to your pieces?
Chaka: Often times I’ll start a piece and I’ll begin to think of adding this little touch and that little touch and it usually starts to add up. Lately, I’ve been enjoying the fact that I’m going simpler, and it’s been nice to pull the designs in a little bit. For example, going in-depth on the tube section that I use, but keeping the actual shaping of the piece simple. We are in an environment where not everybody is selling their biggest and headiest pieces all day, so we need to work with the market when it’s asking for more affordable pieces. It’s been nice to have that middle point, so I’ll make a few of the simpler pieces, but that doesn’t keep me from making the bigger pieces, you just got to balance it out.
And that’s the funny thing, I’m not necessarily trying to make the craziest piece, rather I’m looking to create a unique and different thing that nobody had ever seen before. Simply put, less is more, and it’s taken me a long time to learn that because I’ve always been one to over complicate things, and now that I’m getting older, I’m getting more refined in how I do what I do. This is really helping me make art that is a lot more coherent and thus I’m a lot more confident in what I do.
What designs or product lines are you actively working on?
Chaka: I have the penguin line, splashers line, glacier tech line and blizzard tech line. That’s four things that could be a whole line on its own or to collab out with other glass artists. These designs have provided a lot of options and a lot of potential for glass when collaborating. That’s why I’ve been able to do so many different collabs with Eli (Esh Glass – fellow glassblower and shop mate). All of them have little threads of stuff that I always do, like ice cubes, so it’s not too far away from how I do what I do, while pushing the boundaries of what I can do with the creative ice cubes and the icy motif concepts. What’s nice about the consistency is that it makes my work recognizable. So, people may say ‘Oh that’s icy, is that a Chaka piece?!’. And what’s funny is that even if I didn’t make it, people still say my name.
That’s the thing with Sherbet and the pencils, everyone started making pencil dabbers, but his name was the one being mentioned, and he was the standard by which people would refer to a glass pencil by saying ‘So, is that a Sherbet pencil?!’. And so, when other glassblowers were making pencils, it was getting his name out there. It’s tricky, as an artist you want to have a unique enough thing that you stand out that way.
Where did you make your Blizzard Tech milli?
Chaka: This frosty snowflake milli with the six diamonds all pointing towards the center was the base milli design which I wanted to use for the Blizzard Tech line. The Blizzard Tech snowflake milli was developed at the Starship with Marcel Braun, making the clean and simple milli of six diamonds all coming together at a face-point of a geometric pattern. I had to make this milli at Marcel’s place because I wanted to make a lot of it so I’d have a lot to last me through the years doing what I do, and I use such small bits and pieces when I make each piece that it goes a long way, which is really nice. That’s kind of the base milli I use as a space filler, and I’ll use less of the more intricate millis. I usually have less of the more intricate millis, which take me more time to make and I don’t get as much of a yield when I make a batch of those, and therefore I have to use them very sparingly.
How have you been using the snowflake milli?
Chaka: I like to use snowflakes of different sizes, so I’ve been pulling down millis into smaller sizes, but you've got to be careful when you do that; you don’t want to pull it down too much because it becomes indistinguishable. I’ll pull the snowflake down smaller to get these small representations of it, and then I’ll have bigger snowflake chunks, so you’ll have this nice size variation which creates a texture when you look at the work.
It creates depth because you’re seeing different sizes whether they are layered or sitting on a two-dimensional plane. I’ve pressed the millis together so that it becomes hard to see where one milli ends and another begins. Like a motif, your eyes will see it a certain way and bring everything together. And that’s what a lot of this is; it’s not the understanding of how to make something look exactly how it needs to look, rather it’s actually how the eye looks at the entire piece. Like this juicy glacier piece which works off of the simplicity of the color contrast between the blue and glacier white, and the hard, cold, icy chiseled edges gives the piece a nice texture. It has a substantial quality to it.
Are you the only one who has a snowy/icy design concept in glass?
Chaka: I wasn’t the first one to come out with a snowflake design by doing snowy prep-work. It had been done before, for instance, if you look at Grasshopper1468 or my buddy Purdy and compare, it’s a whole different tech and these guys didn’t necessarily make snowflakes their whole thing. That’s the thing that you forget sometimes when you’re blowing glass; a lot of the designs have already all been done in a way, it has and it hasn’t, you know, a lot of people have experimented with things, had ideas and tried things out, but not everyone executes that the best way. A lot of times the people who get recognition are the good executers who are able to make a real-world manifestation of something in front of you so that is well made, well executed and has all the considerations of what you’re trying to accomplish with that piece. Ultimately, something such as a different set of hands, techniques and order of operations can influence a piece, and the characteristics of the final product will tend to show such differences. With that said, an experienced glassblower can watch me make a piece and figure it out because they know how glass works.
You do have control over some things, and you don’t have control over other things. You have to take responsibility for what you do have control over. So, if you mess up, you have to own that, and if you succeed, you get to own that. But if your view of the world is one where you think ‘I don’t have control, things just happen’, you never get to enjoy your success, because the successes is not yours to own.
How have you developed as an artist?
Chaka: In the early days, I was exploring techniques a lot, so I would think about how much technique I could throw on a particular piece so I can practice it. That’s a lot of what it was. One thing that doesn’t get talked about often is competence; being competent in your craft. That’s where the confidence comes from. Knowing what the f* you’re doing. I used to have to say ‘no’ to a lot of things, and when I made a few products that were simplistic in nature and they sold well, it got me into the idea of making beautiful product designs. So what ended up happening to the pieces I was overdoing, was I slowly started to remove clutter and said ‘no’ to a lot of design elements I would have put on the piece previously, or take the time to adjust a piece so that the elements fit in harmony.
Do you have any advice for upcoming glassblowers?
Chaka: A glassblower should possess the mentality to work on their craft and increase their competency, and their ability to competently execute techniques. This actually ups your profile in the community when you show other artists that you’re very competent and capable so that they would want to work with you… you essentially want to get on their level.
Who has had an influenced on your style and work?
Chaka: Marcel Braun is one of my mentors. He founded and runs the Starship in every Garage facility and Project 33, which are epic glass projects to help fund the making of these coins. I think what he’s doing is building on a local community and building it out from there. A lot of people donate their time and/or supplies when they go to the Starship. I visited Marcel’s facility strictly for the mentorship and to be able to put my inner fire, my ideas out there. After designing the snowflake milli, we worked in Marcel’s glass furnace facility to pull the snowflake milli. This is a huge facility and it revolves around the big glass furnace. Marcel has the technical expertise and understanding on how to pull these millis. During my trip to the Starship, I was able to make my own custom color, got my own millis pulled, and adopted some new techniques to further my solo career. To help the Starship monetize and keep the facility running, I bought the color mixing pot, color elements and the glass used for the color and milli pulls. Marcel mentored in a lot of ways about the proper techniques, craft and application of glass. You can find a way of do something really clean and nice and get it done in a low skilled way, or you can apply a little bit more skill and technique and make it way nicer – Marcel is into that kind of stuff, where he’s constantly experimenting and not seeing it as a success/failure, rather another step of improvement.
Nancy Moskin is another mentor of mine out in Boston. I didn’t even make pipes with Nancy. We made soft glass paperweights that had tiny little sculptures of flower or sea-life which were covered in glass. This is a very technical process because when you cover something with glass you can totally destroy all the detail you put into the piece if the glass is too hot, or if the glass is not hot enough, you could trap all sorts of air in there because glass wont flow into every single crevice. Nancy taught me about making texture out of frit, using proper color tones, and applying proper composition by using techniques like odd numbers or the Fibonacci sequence.
Other notable mentors with whom I’ve taken classes with are; Robert Michelson, John Kobuki, Loren Stump, and Milon Townsend, who all specialize in what they do in the industry. I must say that I’ve learned a little something about how to operate as a glassblower from all of them.
My number one mentor is my Dad. He was a surgeon for almost 40 years, and he saved a lot of lives. He is a high integrity person and someone who is conscientious. He taught me to own it and take responsibility, not to be a wimp, you’ve got to be the man. It’s so huge because we are in a world where people don’t do good work or have alternate agendas that don’t line up with pure intentions. So, I like to operate with integrity and be around others who are the same.
What’s next for Chaka?
Chaka: I want to get back on the road to get together with some bosses to make some new work. I’ve received a lot of invitations and it’s time to start making them happen.
Thank you, Chaka! Be on the lookout for upcoming collab pieces with Chaka Glass via the links below: