My Approach To Making Lamps

My approach to making lamps follows a creative tension that most artists move between. Plan ahead, yet embrace accident and play. Construct and deconstruct in turn. Start and end with the basics but interject a load of novelty in between. Put the finished piece away and come back at least once for refinement and revision. Stop there though. It’s a slippery slope this process thing!

All of my lamps start with something old that cries out to me for re-imagining and suggest at least the seeds of its upcycled identity, so I’m constantly on the look out for old beginnings to new lamps. Or wait, is that new beginnings to old lamps? This works well because I love to forage. And I’m not a lingering forager so it’s better if I go alone to flea markets, estate sales and auctions. I move through pretty quickly. I avoid the high end resellers if I can to keep my cost of goods reasonable, but sometimes you just can’t count on seeing that special lamp again any time soon. It isn’t just complete lamps that catch my eye. Sometimes just a part screams out at me. And often an object that began completely outside of the world of lighting fixtures is just looking for a good re-purposing. It’s a little like a treasure hunt! Even those spooky vintage doll parts and animal skulls might work their way into a shadowbox lamp.

I never fear cannibalizing and reconfiguring. Which is not to say that I don’t respect the integrity of beautiful antiques. A really exquisite antique fixture is both beyond the reach of my wallet and my impulse to destroy. There are plenty of existing vintage objects that fall outside of this threshold and that’s where I start.

For many years I used paint and mixed media to approximate the compelling surfaces of distressed metal. It’s an ongoing pleasure to accentuate this process in my lamps. I find corrosion charming and while I have used some hoary chemicals in my studio, I’m learning about less toxic alternatives. Ironically, some of my surfaces are still created or finished with paint, the tried and true medium of choice. A torch is also an option on copper and raw brass for the vagaries of heat patinas. Now that’s fun!

I’m also using polymers in my work. They’re very versatile and durable if handled correctly. I’m not a big fan of plastic in the regular world of household objects, but I have to say the possibilities for surfacing and complementing metals are endless. One of my approaches is to layer and extrude polymer clay through mesh, using it kind of like a hardware cloth. The mesh adds a strengthening support to the thin layers of clay, and the clay creates a delicious snake skin effect through the mesh openings. I’ve also been exploring faux techniques like ivory and cinnabar.

I never wore jewelry, or made it, but beads and lamps go hand-in-hand in my mind, dangling and bangling, deriving from the tradition of hanging crystal pendants from saucer bobeches. Look for more beads in my work. I want to completely redefine what one can hang on a chandelier.

My lamp shades opened up the world of hand felting to me. Felt is probably the oldest textile. It’s a wonderful housing for objects and colored thread as well as being compellingly transparent when backlit. It opens like a skin. My lamp shades are going to get more outrageous too. Mesh, metal sheet, photo transfers on parchment and epoxied papers. Just no limit really. I hope you check back in and follow my imagination down this path. Perhaps we’ll even collaborate someday on a lamp created from objects of sentiment and made to commemorate a piece of your past!