Developing her own techniques to match her style, glass enamel artist Cheryl Chapman take glass art to a whimsical world of her own imagining. It’s not surprising that Cheryl’s work reflects a sense of adventure – she enjoys many hand-on dimensional media, but painting and fusing glass to create her art satisfies her more than anything she can imagine. Every piece begins with a slice of her imagination that she has documented in years of sketch books.
How did you find yourself on an artist’s path? Always there? Lightbulb moment? Dragged kicking and screaming? Evolving?
When I was a child, I was always busy and creating. I was not a natural at any of it but loved to work with my hands. I remember drawing Snoopy cartoons, carving soap into whales, painting wood ornaments, wood burning, sewing, cross stitch, macramé, weaving and all kinds of other stuff. As I got older, I did some painting on wood and ceramics. But then I got into friends and school and didn’t really do much for several years.
As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Read more about our affiliate linking policy.
I graduated college with a BA in Psychology. Even before graduation was working at a great job in my chosen field with young children. It was rewarding work, but emotionally and mentally quite difficult. The same summer after graduation I looked back on my courses and realized I had only taken one art course in all of high school and college, and it was an art history course. It was incredibly dull, and I remember pretty much hating it.
To get back into making things again, I signed up that fall for a semester of beginning stained glass. It was either that or pottery. I chose glass on a whim. I didn’t know anything about it except that I was afraid of having to cut a circle out of glass. (Now I know how simple that really is – there’s a tool for that!) The next semester I took the intermediate stained glass class; shortly after that I built my first couple of windows for our home. After building just three windows, I felt quite confident and happy while doing it. Then I found a job as a stained glass shop assistant building windows for a living. The pay was lower and work not as steady, but I never looked back.
I designed and built stained glass windows for the shop and for my own business for about 8 years. Then I slowly got into glass fusing and eventually into painting on glass. I have been selling my glass art in all it’s forms for close to 30 years. I’ve never really considered any other work and was lucky that I married a partner who could support us no matter how much I brought in. Since I seem to always need to keep my hands busy, I taught myself to knit. I took a beginning quilting class as well. I do glass because it’s my passion and I make money at it. Knitting and quilting I do just for me or to give away. I think I just enjoy creating something from little bits and parts.
Why glass? How does that medium that best express what you want to communicate through your art?
Honestly I don’t know that it’s glass in particular that works with my expression. I do know that when I started painting on glass that I had found my true passion with glass. The entire process, from design to finished items, brings me joy. I have always been enamored with wood and lino cuts (and someday may learn those techniques as well) and wanted to paint with that sort of aesthetic. I taught myself some basic uses of glass enamels, then played and practiced until those techniques gave me the look I was after. If I had been a painter or other sort of artist, I think I would have manipulated those tools to create what I had in mind. For me it’s not the medium, but the art images themselves that communicate what I am expressing.
Who or what are your main influences and inspirations?
I am influenced and inspired by all different types of artists. It is color, style and emotions that I am drawn to, rather than medium. I love work from artists who are doing folk art designs but also ones who use modern, clean lines. Sometimes sad or otherwise meaningful work draws me in, but most often I linger on and buy art that just makes me happy. In glass, my favorite glass painters are Cappy Thompson, Keke Cribbs and Judith Schaechter. If you look at their work, it is definitely more serious and even dark compared to my very whimsical and colorful work. But it is also very moving and the techniques are spot-on.
Are there recurring themes in your work? What is it about a subject that inspires you to continue exploring it?
My recurring theme is playful. I have found that my life as a blonde Caucasian in America with middle class, still married parents and a pretty “normal” family life with no serious trauma has deprived me of any deep-seated fear, regret, angst that you might see expressed in other artists’ work. So, I draw happy, funny, fun, whimsical things. Mostly animals, but sometimes people and lately a lot of Central Oregon landscapes with bright flowers and colorful fish.
Recently I had the idea of drawing a “Cat on a Mat”. I drew one, then I couldn’t stop for a few weeks. Then I ended up with a whole 10 piece series of “Cats on Mats”. For me, I think it’s about how many ways you can see a subject posing or moving. I am not usually that focused on any one subject, but it was so much fun and for some reason I couldn’t “see” anything else to draw.
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
I think my work stands out due to my bright color palette and whimsical animals. When people first see my work they say “how fun”. Then they move in closer and start looking at what it is and say they have never seen my use of the glass medium before. I am clearly not the only artist to paint on glass. But my style is unique and the way I use the materials is unique. For one thing, I use opaque enamels. Many stained and fused glass pieces have been painted, but they have transparent enamels on them.
My work is actually best viewed with reflective light rather than transmitted light because of the opacity of the paint. Many people want to hold my pieces up to the light as you would with other fused or stained glass. Also, the details and visual texture I get during the painting process are unique. There are three stages of my painting process in which the glass is fired between each stage. In the second stage I apply the enamel in a wash and allow it to air dry before scraping it away in a sgraffito (removal) technique. It is the most laborious and time-consuming part of how I paint. It is the stage that really sets the tone and style of my pieces.
When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?
Definitely a planner. I think I am on the border of that whole right brain, left brain debate. I love the freedom of improvising but need the support of planning. If I improvise too much, I tend to lose focus and feel chaotic and have to go back to clean up and organize before I can move on.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
I have a craft room in our home that has my sewing machine in a beautiful oak cabinet that my husband made, a small bookshelf stuffed and overflowing with knitting and art books, an antique dresser that holds all kinds of papers, beads, photos and other supplies and a drafting table that I use for many purposes, one of which is to do the first stage of outline painting on my glass. I have a Bluetooth speaker there where I connect to listen to music or audio books while I work. Above that table is my collection of art that I started a few years ago. It has a number of prints and originals from some favorite artists and pieces that I fell in love with. The closet is filled with fabric, jewelry making supplies, photo albums and who knows what else!
Half of our two-car garage holds my glass supplies, work benches and a large light table for painting. In addition, there are two glass kilns, glass grinders and sanders. There is even a space on one of my lower shelves for my dog Missy to come in and cuddle in blankets to be near me while I work.
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
My light table, kilns and a glass cutter are truly the most indispensable tools I have. In order to paint on glass I have to be able to see where the colors are going; the light table makes that possible. The one I use is one that we made many years ago to use for stained glass. It is a deep wooden box about 24 x 36” with two LED strip bulbs inside with a white plexiglass on top and a ¼” thick clear glass on the top of that. I love that table. When we built my workbenches, we made a space for the lighted surface to sit perfectly snug. It makes a level transition between stations.
I currently have two kilns. One is a small 12” round Evenheat glass kiln that allows me to put test pieces or other small projects in and fire quickly. The other kiln is also an Evenheat glass kiln, but larger and holds a 21” round shelf. I have a third kiln that I ordered in March of this year and should arrive in the next couple of weeks that will replace the 21” round. That one holds a 24” square shelf and will allow almost double the capacity that a round shelf does. A glass kiln has heating elements in the top lid and all around the sides to allow for even heating. It also has an electronic relay system that allows me to program precise heating, holding and cooling temperatures for exactly the look I need at each stage of firing for the glass.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
I use a sketchbook all of the time. In my craft room I have them all currently lined up on the floor next to my overflowing bookshelf organized by date and book size. All of my glass paintings since 2007 begin there.
I make line drawings of finished designs, lay my glass on top and trace the painted lines onto the glass. So all of my glass paintings start as a line drawing in my books. I try to date every one of those drawings so that I can look back and see what I was working on at any given time. I can see a clear evolution of my struggles with finding my style over the years.
It really is fascinating to see not only my style, but subject matter, change. I sometimes go back several years and repaint a design but make some minor changes to reflect my current style. For example, I might change the shape of the eyes on an owl or the stripes on a cat. I make notes about ideas to test and possible assembly or process notes to jog my memory about my thoughts.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
I listen to both music and audiobooks while I paint. I love historical fictions or anything that’s on my current reading list for my book club. My favorite author is Stephen King, but I am pretty caught up with his books. I prefer to read him from an actual paper book!
My music tastes might be considered odd, but my current favorite band is Rammstein, a German industrial metal band. I like pretty heavy music most of the time. But I do find days where I just ask Pandora to play some coffee shop music or bluegrass or 80’s bands or even Rockabilly. I don’t care for classical, opera, jazz.
Can you tell us about the inspiration and process of one of your works? How does a new work come about?
One of my favorite pieces is one that I won’t sell. It is hanging in my kitchen and is special to me. It is the first piece you see on my website and is called “No Hands”. This is a tile depicting a girl on her bicycle towing a small trailer with her cat in it. Both the girl and her cat have their hands spread wide enjoying the thrill of the wind in their hair.
This piece was inspired by my childhood. I used to ride my bike everywhere and when I learned to ride with no hands I remember the feeling of fear and freedom all wrapped up together. My parents finally allowed me to get a cat of my own for my 10th birthday. Charlie was the love of my life and he lived a long life giving me hugs all of the time. He was never actually towed in a bike trailer, but the idea makes me smile.
New designs sometimes come to me naturally when I just think about an animal and start sketching. The drawing will evolve as I go to include other elements such as trees, people, other animals, flowers. I don’t really think too much on those types of drawings. Other times I work harder at planning the layout of a piece and try to draw on ideas of things that make me laugh or that I know will make a colorful, fun piece.
Tell us about your website. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?
I hope that people will get a feel for the whimsy of my work from my website. Since all of my pieces are originals, when I post pictures on my site, they are not generally available for sale for very long because I’ve taken it to the co-op gallery I belong to or sold it at an art show. I hope people will take the time to see where I’ll be or contact me to find out what’s available. Perhaps I can make a custom piece for them.
My website also shares links to purchase my video tutorials for glass painting and glass box making. I sell the videos as well as the painting supplies for my process. I am always happy to answer questions and help fellow artists learn more about my work and process.
Is there a part of your process you enjoy most? Why?
My favorite part of glass painting is the first stage, the lining stage. For one thing, I use powdered enamels. For this stage I mix the enamel with clove oil to paint onto the glass. I love the smell of cloves, so there’s that.
Also, I like this stage because I don’t have to think about it. I’ve already got the line drawing that I am simply tracing onto the glass. I find it very soothing and meditative and could do it all day long.
If you could interview a creative person (past or present), who would that person be? What is it about that person that intrigues you?
This question is hard for me. There are so many creative people out there that I like and follow on social media. And I think I could come up with questions for every one of them. I like to know why people do what they do, how they do it. I love seeing inside of homes and studios. Most often, when I see a seemingly successful creative I want to know what they did to become successful. So I like to know the business side.
I’m also quite awed by those creatives that seem to have it come so naturally. Many of Cappy Thompson’s glass paintings are drawn from memories of her dreams. I wish I could have ideas flow through me like that. I would love to know how that works and how that feels for her.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people, or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
I think there is a difference between creativity and artistic ability. I believe that creativity has to come naturally, but that you can nurture it. However, I strongly believe that artistic abilities are skills that can be learned, practiced, encouraged and improved upon.
How can people overcome the challenges they feel to their creative ability?
Most of the time people are creative, but simply tell themselves that they aren’t. They compare their creativity to others, when it is a truly individual thing.
To nurture your creativity means spending some time on it just like any other ability. Start small and rearrange the cushions on your couch or bed. Have the courage to try something you normally wouldn’t. Just substituting an ingredient in your favorite recipe and having it come out even better can give someone the boost in self esteem to try something else they’ve never done. Experimentation is what it’s all about. Even the most creative artist in the world has “failed” in something they’ve tried, but they tried it!
If you were no longer able to use the medium that you are now working in, how else would you express your creativity?
I’ve thought about this plenty in the last year or so with some elbow and shoulder pain that made some of my painting process uncomfortable. I think it would be very hard for me after so many years with the same medium. Perhaps I would start by taking classes in a bunch of different mediums. I might use that opportunity to change my style, to fall in love with another artform. There is no doubt that I would do something else. I love 3-dimensional art, so maybe some woodwork, metal work, clay? I don’t know, but it could be so much fun!
Learn more about Cheryl on her website Silly Dog Art Glass.
Interview posted September 2021
Browse through more inspiring interviews on Create Whimsy.