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Andi Kovel Blows Glass with a Functional, Modern Twist

When Andi Kovel began working with fellow artist (and now business partner) Justin Parker, they inadvertently developed a niche in glassblowing—functional, yet modern—that gave rise to their Portland-based, hand-blown glass lighting and accessories studio, Esque, which they founded in 1999. Since then, Kovel is known for developing unusual shapes and ingenious processes, such as using wind-powered energy and remelting glass remnants to create new pieces. Read on as Kovel shares her favorite materials, and why sketches make all the difference in a successful piece.

How did glassblowing become your full-time job?

I became a glassblower entirely by accident. I was studying museum education, and exhibiting as an artist in New York. I saw a beginning glassblowing class offered through Parsons School of Design and thought it would be interesting to add another material to my installation work. [After the course,] I was offered a position on a team assisting on producing glassworks for other artists, including Kiki Smith. I met my business partner, Justin Parker, around then. We realized there were no other glass artists focused on functional, modern design at the time.

Describe your creative process for us. How do you begin a new project?

I always start from a sketch. I have countless notebooks filled with completed ideas and future pieces. In creating working drawings, I’m able to free my work from the confines prescribed by the material and create new, inspired forms. Sketching also allows me to forge a connection between my work in glass and my work in fine art and painting.

What are your top three favorite items to work with in the studio?

Blow molds and unique color combinations. And of course, the torches!

Who has been your biggest artistic influence?

When I was starting Esque, I was entirely taken by the work of Marcel Wanders, the art director of the Dutch design brand Moooi. His disregard of technical expectations, playfulness, and interest in materiality connected to my personal art-making process. I also love the work of Gaetano Pesce, Emmanuel Babled, and Annette Messager.

What would you like to see more of in the glassblowing community?

More respect for the complexity of skill, the costs associated with the art form, and the understanding of how much work goes into producing glass by hand.


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