Howdy Nation! In today’s post, we are going to be featuring our ‘Artist Spotlight’ of the week: Heather and Jeff Thompson. A husband & wife glassblowing team, these two have been creating sculptures together for over 20 years. That fact alone is jaw-dropping! Let’s take a look at how they create their handmade glass octopus sculptures.
Meet Heather and Jeff Thompson!
I am so excited to introduce our first duo artist spotlight: Heather and Jeff Thompson!
The Thompsons’ artworks are a blend of contemporary, traditional, and custom techniques that are further complemented by a diverse taste in sculpture.
Their connection is a driving force to expand and create artwork to showcase in their studio.
Their style is based on the traditional Italian method of glassblowing, which utilizes a long steel blowpipe to ‘gather’ liquid hot glass from a crucible furnace. They are best known for their sea life sculptures, contemporary vases, and large-scale installations.
Blown glass might be the perfect medium for depicting the octopus!
Hot glass flows like water to create the graceful curves of the arms. The brilliant color palette available in glass conveys the richness and diverse colors seen in all the amazing types of octopuses.
The sculptures glisten with glassy wetness that speaks to their ocean environment. Certainly, there’s a lot at play between the glass and the incredible octopus that we create.
So exciting- welcome Heather and Jeff!
What draws you in or fascinates you the most about octopuses? When did this start for you?
” For me (Jeff), it has to be their intelligence. From a very young age, I’ve been captivated by the mysterious octopus but, in recent years, we all have been learning more and more about how clever they really are.
Their problem solving abilities remind me of part of my own personality that I employ in the glass studio discovering the steps and processes to create complex sculptures such as these octopuses.
The path to creating blown glass is not always obvious at first but through trial and error the process reveals itself to us!”
OctoNation members love knowing how long your work takes you to complete… Can you describe the process?
“We work on each sculpture over several days.
The first step is creating marbles for the eyeballs. Working on the octopus eyes ahead of time allows us to pack a lot of detail in and then we can slowly heat them up and melt them into the sculpture when the time is right.
The eyes really bring the octopus to life so it’s well worth the extra effort!
When we color the sculpture, we start with a base layer of white glass and then apply the transparent colors over the white. This creates a lot of richness and depth in the color.
When shaping the octopus arms, we like to think about how the octopus would be moving in their environment. Are they hunkered down, traveling across the reef or pursuing something? Then, we try to have the arms express that in the pose we sculpt.”
Was this modeled after a specific octopus species? Did you use any references?
“We’re constantly using reference material such as photos of various species’ color patterns and textures as well as their poses and mannerisms.
We really love all the terrific photos, info and enthusiasm on OctoNation to inspire our creations! All the best content seems to find its way here.
Sometimes we’ll be watching a documentary about octopuses and then we suddenly know what we’re going to be making in the studio the next day.”
What materials were used?
“Blown glass is created with molten hot glass that is 2100°F. We use a 5 ft. long steel blowpipe to gather glass from the crucible furnace, and ours holds approx 300 lbs. of molten glass.
We then use a variety of techniques and tools to form the shape of the sculpture!
Glassblowing is challenging and it takes many years to develop proficiency.”
Who (or what) are your biggest influences?
“I’ve (Jeff) always been inspired by Wyland Whaling Walls and I admire the trajectory of his art career.
The traditions of glassblowing from Murano, Italy have been a big contributor to my style and interest in glass over the years.
Recently, the award winning documentary My Octopus Teacher has brought the octopus to the forefront of culture and it’s certainly been an influence on me too!”
When do you feel the most creative?
“I (Jeff) feel the most creative when I’m advancing my skills like trying out something new or more difficult.
From a technical standpoint, the octopus provides a really challenging task and is limitless in the ways I can progress.
For a few years now, we’ve been working through how to add suckers to the octopus’s arms. I’d tried a few different approaches but wasn’t loving how it turned out. Just recently, Heather and I really nailed it and the results propel these sculpture to new heights!
It’s time consuming and difficult as each little sucker has to be individually heated with a torch and then applied with tweezers to the exact location on the arm.
As I’m making the octopus, I keep an inventory of small, medium and large suckers ready-to-go so that I can apply a gradation of suckers down each arm.
It’s common to apply over 130 suckers to an octopus sculpture!”
How do you know when a piece is finished?
“We know an individual sculpture is finished once we’ve posed the arms and it has a lifelike movement to it. But, as a series of work, I think we will continually be refining the details and perfecting the nuances of these octopus sculptures.
The best is yet to come!”
What’s the best website for people to discover your work?
Do you have an artist statement?
The Thompsons have been creating sculpture in molten hot glass together for over 20 years. Their artworks are a blend of contemporary, traditional and custom techniques that are further complimented by a diverse taste in modern sculpture.
Jeff Thompson, a 5th generation Oregonian, has been working with molten glass since 1997. Having immersed himself in the traditional techniques of Italian glassblowing, Jeff now finds himself experimenting with his own interpretations of this medium.
After being married for about a year, Heather began to assist Jeff in the studio! Through teamwork, they are able to accomplish much more complex and difficult glassblowing projects.
Currently their artworks are represented in fine art galleries all over the USA and they were featured on Oregon Art Beat in 2007.
“We are inspired to create glass sculptures in a broad range of styles. The desire of creation moves us into new realms every day we are in our studio. Working side by side and having the connection between us is a driving force in the studio,” says Heather.
🐙 Fun Fact 🐙
They have the cutest studio assistant!
Thank You For Joining Us For Artist Spotlight!
First, we want to give a big thank you to Heather and Jeff Thompson for allowing us to showcase their glass octopus sculptures on OctoNation. To continue supporting Heather and Jeff, make sure to follow them on Instagram!
If you have any interest in commissioning a piece from them, make sure to visit their contact page in their shop here.
If you want to educate yourself some more about all sorts of different cephalopods, take a look at our encyclopedia. Or, what we call it, our Octopedia!
Connect with other octopus lovers via the OctoNation Facebook group, OctopusFanClub.com! Make sure to follow us on Facebook and Instagram to keep up to date with the conservation, education, and ongoing research of cephalopods.
More Posts To Read:
- Wunderpus vs. Mimic Octopus: Spot The Difference!
- Incirrate vs. Cirrate Octopuses: What’s The Difference?
- A Dreaming Octopus? Let’s Look At Cephalopod Sleep Cycles!
- Does An Octopus Have Arms Or Tentacles?
- The Fantastic Phore: Cephalopods Color-Changing Abilities!
Vee is the blog manager here at OctoNation. Her love and knowledge for all things cephalopods has grown immensely since joining the OctoNation team- and continues to grow daily!
Vee uses her skills of writing, editing, and brainstorming to help create fun, yet educational posts about cephalopods- Something everyone can read and enjoy! As someone who spent the better part of her childhood near the ocean in Miami, Florida, she grew up learning to appreciate all sea life. Her love for the sea inspired her to do something daring- she dyed her hair blue!