Mollie Makes meets Netflix’s Blown Away glass artists

Blown Away contestants, host and judge. Photo courtesy of @blownawayseries

The stars of Netflix’s Blown Away, our new favourite craft-off show, tell us all about what went on behind the scenes…

It’s the TV crafting competition everyone’s talking about – and no, we don’t mean The Great British Bake Off. Blown Away, a show about competitive glass blowing, has been the surprise Netflix hit of the summer, and shot straight to the top of our binge-watch list.

It’s hot, sweaty, and includes a whole lot of glass smashing as the 10 competitors – all professional glass artists – blow, melt, manipulate and colour their raw materials to create amazing glass art that’ll take your breath away. With one creative kicked out each week, they battle it out to be crowned the winner and take home $60,000, plus a residency at the Corning Museum of Glass.

With the furnaces now cooling we caught up with four of our favourite glassblowers from the series – Leah Kudel, Momoko “Momo” Schafer, Alexander Rosenberg and Janusz Pozniak – to find out what went on behind the scenes, what they learnt from taking part and all about the after-hours hot tubs!

Janusz Pozniak. Photo courtesy of @blownawayseries

Janusz working in the Blown Away ‘Hotshop’. Photo courtesy of @blownawayseries

We’ve loved watching your create your glass art. How did you come to take part in Blown Away?

Leah: I got an email asking if I’d like to apply for the show, which I thought was fake! I eventually figured out it wasn’t a joke and decided to apply.

Momo: I was scouted by the casting director. Because of the shows’ affiliation with the world-renowned Corning Museum of Glass, I felt compelled to take the opportunity and showcase my love for the material.

Janusz: At first I wasn’t interested in being part of a competition. I’ve always encouraged sharing and helping others. I think this is the healthiest way to learn and sometimes competition can be a negative thing.

Alex: Honestly, my participation came from a place of desperation. I’d left a secure full-time teaching position about a year prior and was really struggling financially, so when I saw the call for the show I applied.

Leah Kudel. Photo courtesy of @blownawayseries

Glass artist Leah Kudel. Photo courtesy of @blownawayseries

What was the hardest thing about the competition?

Momo: Racing against the clock. It’s commonly understood that when you rush glass, you break glass. It was all I could do to keep a steady pace when I was fuelled with adrenaline.

Janusz: The stress and worry of whether my idea was good enough to get me through to the next round. When in the Hotshop I’m, for the most part, calm because I can only do my best. After that it’s out of my hands.

Leah: The hardest part about the competition was not letting myself get scared of showing my true self. It takes a lot of guts and vulnerability to be authentic on a platform like Netflix, but it was always worth it. The other hard thing about the competition was never getting a day off – I got pretty tired a few weeks in.

Alexander Rosenburg. Photo courtesy of Carola Rummens

Alex ‘knocking off’ a glass creation. Photo courtesy of Carola Rummens

Alex: Most of the things that were challenging on the show are extensions of inherent qualities of glassblowing. You’re never alone in the studio – you work with a team, so there’s often an audience. We often have to rent time in a studio, or at least have access limited to a few hours per week, so the feeling of a ticking clock or having to perform under this type of pressure is also part of the culture. Breaking work in the last few minutes is something we’ve all done at some point. For me, the most surprising and unexpected aspect was the judging. We didn’t know who the guest judge would be or what their criteria for evaluation was. Sometimes I’d think I’d done well and the feedback wouldn’t agree, or the total opposite.

Momoko Schafer. Photo courtesy of @blownawayseries

Momoko “Momo” Schafer. Photo courtesy of @blownawayseries

And what was the best?

Momo: Having the opportunity to meet so many talented and passionate people. It was beautiful to see the sense of community develop in the short time we spent there.

Janusz: Meeting the other competitors and amazing crew. Also, in retrospect, I was forced to think outside my box and new work can grow from there.

Leah: The best part was hanging out with the other glass artists. We’d have dinner together in the evenings and chill in the hotel hot tub. The world glass community is a really wonderful group of people, so it’s super fun to get together and nerd out about glass stuff. I also really loved the challenges. It was super fun for me to have to think on my feet and be creative in a short period of time.

Alex: It was a joy to blow glass the way I like to, day in and out. I was pleased my way of working with, and thinking through, the material achieved some degree of success on the series, and has received extensive positive feedback from the public since the show’s release.

Blown Away studio. Photo courtesy of @blownawayseries

The ‘Glory Hole’ in the Blown Away workshop. Photo courtesy of @blownawayseries

What was your proudest make during your time filming?

Alex: I’m really pleased with almost everything I made on the series. I was proud that I’d never really compromised my vision, though technically I could have made some of the objects better. The trick of assignments, I always tell my students, is figuring out a way to make something that excites you – sharing your own unique voice, in spite of the prompt or the rules. I really enjoyed the collaborative challenge and I think I’ll work with Janusz again in the future to see what we can come up with.

Leah: I really loved my ‘Step into the Light’ lamp in episode three. I hadn’t done a lot of lighting before, so I was very proud to make something that not only meant a lot to me, but also had a beautiful light quality to it.

Disappointment of the Tropics by Alexander Rosenburg. Photo courtesy of Marble Media

Disappointment of the Tropics by Alexander Rosenburg. Photo courtesy of Marble Media

Janusz: The thing I’m most proud of is my final piece. It was definitely not as resolved in many ways as I would have liked, but it was a lot to do in a very short time. It was however the furthest away from anything I had ever done before and so the most challenging.

Momo: I don’t want to say too much without spoiling it for the people who haven’t viewed the show yet, but ‘Everyday Polka-dot, Everyday Sparkle’ was one of my favourite pieces during this competition. I would have wanted to pick a form that was less mechanical, but the process of torching all the dots and making a tribute to Yayoi Kusama was something I’d love to recreate again.

Janusz Pozniak. Photo courtesy of @blownawayseries

Janusz working in the studio. Photo courtesy of @blownawayseries

What did you learn while taking part in the competition?

Alex: I was surprised to find that my technical skill set, teaching experience and research-based studio practice seemed to add up perfectly to prepare me to be on a show like this.

Leah: I learnt a lot about how I thrive thinking on my feet and being creative in a very short period of time. I never realised it would be so much fun. I enjoyed all the problem solving – it gave me a lot of confidence in my abilities. I also learnt a lot about myself in the competition and that I really enjoy talking about my art. I also found out that I’m not an early morning breakfast person, especially when I’m nervous! We had such early call times some days I’d have to resort to bubble tea for breakfast to get me going.

Work by Momoko Schafer. Photo courtesy of @glassymomo

Momo showing off a reflective creation. Photo courtesy of @glassymomo

Janusz: The thing that became most apparent to me was not in fact related to the show. It was the importance of being with your family and how quickly time passes, and how much you can miss when away. Thank goodness for video calls!

Momo: I knew the challenges were going to push me in directions I may not have explored otherwise. I’d never made this many finished sculptures in such a short period of time. I learned a lot about what my capabilities are as an artist, designer and as a glassblower.

Drinking Light by Leah Kudel. Photo courtesy of Mel Taing

Drinking Light by Leah Kudel. Photo courtesy of Mel Taing

If you couldn’t work with glass, what other medium would you like to work with and why?

Alex: Without access to glass, I’d continue to work with a multitude of materials, but in a “glassy” way. Think bubbles, smoke, light, shadow, translucency, transparency, reflection etc. These are the materials and material qualities I’ve fallen in love with.

Leah: Aside from glass, I really love painting and pottery. Glass is so immediate that you pretty much get one shot to get the colours right – painting, on the other hand, gives you tons of tries to get exactly what you want. I’m a fan of pottery, simply because I like to make things to put coffee and tea in. I’m pretty much obsessed with making mugs.

Janusz: I’d really like to spend more time working with wood and metal. They’re both so different to each other and glass. Both you can walk away from and finish another day.

Momo: I’m very interested in making work that’s more architectural, so I feel inclined to say metal. But if glass wasn’t an option, I’d love to explore designing virtual realities.

Tableware For Changes in Texture of Mi Xao Don by Alexander Rosenburg. Photo courtesy of Marble Media

Tableware For Changes in Texture of Mi Xao Don by Alexander Rosenburg. Photo courtesy of Marble Media

Where do you go to find inspiration?

Leah: I get inspired by my relationships with the people around me. For the past few years I’ve been thinking a lot about absent (or negative) space and how glass can beautifully fill those spaces.

Janusz: I have never been one to search out inspiration. It usually just pops into my head from somewhere or develops in my sketchbook.

Momo: I explore my dream experiences for inspiration. I used to practise lucid dreaming, where I would simulate experiments in glass or design spaces. Now, I’m more interested in seeing the different bridges in my dreams as the subconscious connections between memories and ideas unfold.

Alex: As a media-specific artist and educator and a maker of objects that consumes resources at an alarming rate, I find myself confronted by the need to quantify my carbon footprint. To assess the relative scarcity and availability of material, and, ultimately, to measure the environmental impact of my work.

Blown Away studio. Photo courtesy of @blownawayseries

The Blown Away workshop. Photo courtesy of @blownawayseries

What does making mean to you?

Leah: Making means everything to me. I genuinely need to create in order to stay happy. No matter what’s going on in my life, I need to create for my own sanity. I’m one of those people who will obsessively create until the day I die. Making is engrained deep into who I am as a person.

Janusz: I feel very fortunate to be a maker. It’s given me the opportunity to travel and teach. Mostly though I think I’m lucky to be forever challenged to do things better and be forever learning. I can’t imagine spending such a vast amount ones life doing work that you don’t enjoy – I am very, very lucky.

Momo: To me, making means leaving a mark that could spark someone’s curiosity or even an epiphany.

Alex: The techniques and materials I use each have a history, and the resulting work often incorporates aspects of conventional historic research. In my artistic practice, I attempt to illuminate connections between archival and material research. Manipulating hot glass creates a literal recording of a series of movements – a dimensional snapshot frozen in time as the material solidifies from its molten state. If I reproduce an ancient vessel perfectly, I also re-enact a series of movements made by a craftsperson hundreds, or sometimes thousands, of years before me. The resulting tactile and emotional connection to the past is at the root of my investigation and directly related to other research practices.

Work by Momoko Schafer. Photo courtesy of @glassymomo

Glass art by Momoko Schafer. Photo courtesy of @glassymomo

To find out more about Leah, visit her website or follow her on Instagram 

For Momo, visit her website or follow her on Instagram 

For Alex, visit his website or follow her on Instagram

And, to find out more about Janusz, visit his website or follow him on Instagram

For more Meet the Maker interviews, check out our blog posts here. Oh, and remember to subscribe to Mollie Makes for more fab interviews and inspirational craft projects.

First image courtesy of @blownawayseries