Florence Niven, Glass Artist

My life is filled with love and laughter thanks to the amazing people I get to hang out with. As well as being awesome moms, they’re creative, talented, generous, and fun! I thought you might like to meet them so I’ve asked them to come and give us a behind-the-scenes look at what they’re passionate about. I have to warn you though – creativity is contagious!

Florence Niven, super-talented glass artist, is my guest today. She can make anything out of glass – from elegant jewelry to whimsical ornaments to stunning large glass panels – even 14 little birds for my mom!!

glass poppiesHow did you get started as a glass artist? FN: My background is in Graphic Design and Illustration. I was a greeting card illustrator for years. In 2000, I took a stained glass course that completely changed the direction of my work and I replaced my paintbrush with a glass cutter. I now work full time as a glass artist.

What is the process involved in making a piece? FN: Each piece starts with a concept and design. My background in Graphic Design informs how I work. Like any glass designer I know the limitations of glass and how to work around them. This for me is the most enjoyable part of the process. It’s like solving a puzzle – eliminating any unnecessary pieces while maintaining a strong design; building a strong foundation with pieces and layers of glass. I have to think in 3 dimensions, working from the base up; being mindful of what will happen once the layers of glass are subjected to the 1200+ degrees of the kiln.

Yikes – 1200+ degrees in a kiln – how thick is the users manual with that 🙂? FN: The firing process involves trial and error and careful note making. Tweaking your firing schedules is crucial to getting the result you are looking for. Too high a temperature will give you a lovely puddle of glass. Nice only if you were aiming for a lovely puddle of glass. Taking the temperature of the glass up or down too quickly will cause a stress fracture in the finished piece – destroying hours of work in a few seconds. (I urge you to have chocolate on hand for moments like these…) Most kilns are regulated by a programmable control panel. My kiln allows me to save 6 different firing schedules that I can alter depending on the project. These allow me a wide range of firing options.

Man – no ‘undo’ button, eh? (Maybe your superpower should be to rewind the clock!) Where do you find your inspiration? FN: I’m constantly inspired. I have a notebook with me at all times. I see ideas in nature, on TV, in movies, books, fashion. Often the project that I am working on will lead me to other avenues. I think after you’ve done this for a while you become attuned to the ideas that are bouncing around, and capturing them before they disappear becomes second nature.

Do you work from a plan or do you tend to wing it and wait to see the effects of the glass? FN: I am a graphic designer as well as a Virgo, so ‘winging it’ is not in my vocabulary.

; )

I always have a design mapped out including type of glass and color choices long before I start the messy work of cutting the glass.

glass bowl with polka dotsHow do you choose the colors? FN: I used to be intimidated by color and didn’t feel I was particularly good at choosing them. I now have a strong sense of what will work together so am a little more courageous. Color options in glass, generally speaking, are quite limited – it’s not like paint that you can mix to create your own variations. You choose sheets of glass the way you would choose fabric – what you see is, most of the time, what you get. (Some glass changes color with the heat of the kiln.)

I am finding that the palette for my smaller items – my angels and Christmas ornaments – is becoming, by choice, somewhat limited – with lots of white and just a small hit of color. For my larger pieces, like my bowls, I enjoy combining a strong opaque glass, which can be a bit bossy, with the playfulness of a transparent glass.

Beyond the artistic process, how do you manage the business side of it? How far and wide do you sell your pieces? FN: I have an online Etsy shop that allows me to ship items worldwide. I also show my work at 4 different galleries and they ship pieces on my behalf. I have pieces in Tokyo, Australia, the UK and throughout Canada and the United States. The rather large panel that is presently in Australia was shipped by an airline in a piece of my customer’s checked luggage. Not sure how that one survived, but surprisingly it did. (She did not tell me beforehand of her plan…)

I order most of my shipping supplies online and they are delivered to me within 48 hours. The Fall season is typically my busiest when I spend a great deal of time at the ‘Angel Factory’ either making or shipping angels. I receive orders throughout the day, pack them as the orders come in and ship them out the next morning.

That’s pretty awesome that people all over the world are enjoying your art. If someone wanted to become a glass artist what advice would you give them? FN: I would advise anyone wanting to work as an artist to make sure they have a strong design foundation and realistic expectations. Being a working artist is not for the fainthearted. You have to be committed to your craft and willing to forge your own path. I started out as a greeting card designer long before the Internet made mailing cards obsolete. I have switched directions in my work many times over the years and have done so because I remain highly motivated not to work for anyone else. It is easier to be a working artist if you know what the design rules are beforehand, so you can decide which work for you and which you are going to bend.

What was the most exciting moment for you in your work? FN: I received a voice mail a couple of years ago from a woman in Washington interested in my work. I called back assuming I was calling Washington State, but actually it was the Canadian Embassy in Washington. That was pretty exciting.

I just sold my 1000th item on Etsy this year. That was fun too.

photo Florence angels copyWow – Congratulations!! That’s a lot of successful kiln firing 🙂! What do you love about what you do? FN: Every now and then – usually when I am in the middle of my busiest season, knee deep in angels, wondering how I ever got to this place – I receive an order that totally alters my perspective. The first time this happened, a group of women contacted me through Etsy about their friend – a young woman who had lost her little girl to cancer. The friends were rallying around her and commissioned me to make a little girl angel ornament for the grieving mother and identical angels for each of the friends.

This year I received requests from two separate hospitals. The first was for a shipment of Mended Heart ornaments for a Pediatric Cardiology unit. The woman who contacted me had been looking for symbols of hope and healing. Shortly after I received another request for 100 angels that could be handed out during an annual perinatal bereavement memorial service.

I am honoured and humbled by these requests and find myself thinking – ‘Ah, yes. This is why I do what I do.’

 Art that touches people’s hearts is the best kind of art. What song would be your theme song? FN: I would like to be able to name a strong ‘empowering woman’s anthem’ kind of song. The kind that makes you stand a little taller and roar a little louder. However, when I look back over the path my work has taken me, with its many ups and downs, bumps and hurdles, and the fact that I keep moving forward, I’d have to say a more realistic theme song is the simple little Garden Song:

“Inch by inch, row by row, gonna make this garden grow.

All it takes is a rake and a hoe and a piece of fertile ground.

Inch by inch, row by row, Someone bless the seeds I sow.

Someone warm them from below, ’til the rain comes tumbling down.


Pulling weeds and picking stones, we are made of dreams and bones.

Feel the need to grow my own ’cause the time is close at hand.

Grain for grain, sun and rain, find my way in nature’s chain,

to my body and my brain to the music from the land.”

Lovely. What would you pick as a superpower? FN: Oh I would love to be able to clone myself. I would have one of me taking orders, another me handling shipping, another me designing, another me cutting glass, another me running out for groceries….

Haha – the world would be a better place with more of you! What’s your favourite dessert? FN: Chocolate. Hands down. End of discussion. Doesn’t even have to be good chocolate. A handful of baker’s chocolate chips works just fine in emergencies.

Thank you very much for sharing your art here, Florence! Our Christmas tree is filled with your ornaments and I’m looking forward to adding more each year!

You can find more of Florence Niven’s Glass Original artwork at:

Flickr        Etsy Shop