When deciding on who to feature next on the blog, I got to thinking about all the artists I've followed over the years and Dichroic Glassman came to mind. I first came across Steven Michael (also known as Dichroic Glassman) on YouTube about 6 or 7 years ago. I was taken with his use of dichroic glass and fell in love with his designs.
At the end of January, I reached out to Steven Michael about a feature here on the Living Sun Glass blog. We decided to do a video chat interview and since I had never done anything like this before and I didn't know him personally, I had no idea where the conversation would take us. As much as Steven Michael can create sensational art, there is an equal sized part of him that wants to lift others up into the light. He has a very philosophical approach which he was eager to share.
Much to my surprise, we talked for 3 hours!
This blog post reveals some of the conversations we shared.
Introducing Steven Michael - Dichroic Glassman
After the first few minutes of conversation, Steven Michael revealed some very personal and tragic things. I asked him to clarify what I was permitted to share with you and this was his response.
STEVEN MICHAEL: Everything. I want people to know the dark side because I think it's important. I want to say “Live through the light.” I want to bring people to the light and it’s what I want to do until my last days.
I feel compelled to do this for others. I mean, sometimes it slays me and I feel guilty if I don't share what I just discovered. Usually, I run right to my YouTube channel but I've been vacant and searching for myself for the last 6 months. It was then that I was diagnosed with autism.
Throughout my life, I've lost everything due to synesthesia and autism. I lost my family. I lost my kids. People expected a lot out of me. I didn't know how to deliver many times, so I felt so inept and I caged myself in.
My observation of living inside myself is very acute. Fine, like needlepoint sometimes. But the pressure from the performance anxiety of having to be something based on other's expectations is crushing. I know you know how that feels and I believe there's a high percentage of people that run and hide when they don’t know how to handle it.
How did you come to be known as “Dichroic Glassman”?
STEVEN MICHAEL: I started my YouTube channel in 2008 because I planned on ending my life that year, in South Dakota. I'd already begun giving away my belongings but I didn't give away my glass. I don't know why I didn’t, but I created Dichroic Glassman in 2008. I guess you could call it my alter ego because I figured if I hated me, maybe I could create something that would teach me how to love myself. And maybe Dichroic Glassman would love me.
I'm very self-conscious so I created this Mr. Dichroic Glassman and I sort of walked into my third party if that makes sense, and I started talking to people from that point of view. And really all I did was show you what I did and invited you along for the journey.
At least a thousand times over the years people have said that I have the most unique teaching approach. And that would be because I invite viewers. I don't build a wall between us, I invite you. You could hand me the rag if you would.
There are two kinds of people; logical thinkers and theoretical thinkers. I always want to teach them according to their logic.
Logical people want to be pragmatic. They want to take the academic approach where they can regenerate and find themselves through factual information, like “What is the number of your video?”
I don't operate like that. I'm a theoretical thinker. I’m a dreamer. I actually epitomize the dream. I can't even keep track of myself! I invent forward but often I can't find myself from behind.
I get the feeling that art has been very important in your life?
STEVEN MICHAEL: Art saved my life.
She has been my mother and nurtured me when my mother was incapable. Art has never turned her back on me. If you could look at art as some essence, a beautiful essence that wants you to succeed, she's never let me down.
I hold art in the utmost because she saved my life when I planned on ending it. When I had to reinvent my last chance and Dichroic Glassman was going to be a guy, somewhere over there, she saved me. If Dichroic Glassman could exist and make it, maybe I could learn something from him.
Art is so important, but I don’t want to be a critic. Nobody gets out of this alive. What makes someone think their placebos are any better than mine?
I want to impact people with my fingerprint. It's not enough for me to make pretty things. That's not enough. Now I think I'm ready to tell them why they're really looking at my work.
I want to tell you something. I'm an abortion that lived.
I mean what can you say to that, other than who am I? And who do I think I am? It's the most horrible feeling of never belonging. Every day of my life I’ve never belonged.
If I pushed you in a way that you knew you wouldn't get hurt or fall down, but if I pushed you enough that you stumbled backward, what catches you?
It ain't you.
There's something inside you that doesn't want you to fall and it allows you to put a foot in place to prevent it. It's going to do whatever is necessary to reassemble you. There's something in you that doesn't want you to fall down.
What prompted you to choose stained glass as an art form?
STEVEN MICHAEL: I was always a constructor. I would take an Erector Set, Lincoln Logs, it didn't matter what it was, and run to my room and construct. At Christmas, I wanted no clothes, nothing other than model cars, planes, and trains, and I would make them all and be ready on day 3 for the rest of my life. I shut myself in to build with Legos, sketchers, it really didn't matter.
And then I was walking down Colfax Avenue in Denver, West Colfax and a big store like a Walmart kind of a thing had closed and it became one of the first predecessors to an art guild-esque place, where artists had tables and makeshift little rooms where they were constructing in the crowd. I saw a guy making a stained glass clock and it totally blew my mind.
I had no idea about stained glass other than it was pretty.
I wasn't necessarily attracted to it and its function or anything. I just saw this guy confidently going about it. He didn't say anything and only two or three of us watched. I stood stunned and amazed. I walked home and told my roommate at that time, “I saw the most amazing thing today.” He assumed it must have been girls, so I told him that I saw somebody make a stained-glass clock and he had a whole wall of them.
I told him, “It totally blew my mind, Jean.”
And he says “You want to hear something crazy? I've got everything you're going to need upstairs in the attic and I haven’t been doing it for so many years. Do you want it all?”
So, I went home the next day and made my first window with what I could remember from watching the man for 45 minutes the day before. I figured it out but in the same way, you didn't catch yourself when you stumbled, I didn't figure anything out other than I allowed myself to be open and I was taught. In a matter of hours, I made my first window because I had stepped aside of myself.
I want to impress something on people. It's not important that you do or don't get along with others. I believe what's most important is that you get along with you. Isolate yourself in a room, put on your favourite music, burn some incense, let the cat purr near the window and learn to love you and what you make first. Then perhaps let the world in so that they can love you. And maybe you can see yourself in the reflections of them.
You can tell the pretty girl every day that she's pretty but she doesn't accept her prettiness and stays home. She is the wallflower torturing herself. And so my greatest gift is reaching the unreachable, Samantha.
I look forward to the microphone wherever that stage will be and to speak to the wounded. Those that are wounded have the ability to create the best because they’ve had to search.
Are you colorblind as well as having synesthesia?
STEVEN MICHAEL: I'm 87% colourblind. That number was given to me by the military and it was determined by taking a hundred colour block test. I only got 13 right.
So that in itself is a huge handicap and it was one of the most devastating things that happened to me. I was in 9th grade and my family thought that was an excellent way of making fun of me because I was so different. It buried me.
Colourblind people cry and torment themselves that they burnt the meatloaf, the turkey or some cookies. I want to tell them they're not colourblind. They’re colour free. The rest of the world is colourblind because they have to behave by algorithms and governances that say you can't mix pink with brown or yellow. Who says they can't? But yet good luck convincing me of that all my life until I realized it myself.
If I could afford the glasses that would allow me a chance to see colours, it's a 50/50 shot, but I would try it. Part of me wants to see what you see, if that's even possible. And then there’s a part of me that says, I don't know why I would because it's an alteration. It's man-made and I'm God made.In my dreams, I'd still be colourblind.
It’s frustrating being colour blind. That's why I had to reinvent stained glass for me. For two or three years I didn't make anything out of colour I just made everything clear. That’s when I learned to differentiate the speed and velocity of different textures. Clear glass was the perfect desert that I needed for my own evolution.
With synesthesia, I can actually determine the speed of clear glass textures. Gravel, moss, pinnacle, strata, matrix, I can determine the speed they hit your eyes.
I see people with windows where they use every texture they have on hand and it's like an orchestra that’s practicing. That ain’t a song.
I like to use triangles. Use opaque glass, clear texture and then any cathedral. As long as you have all 3, you can never go wrong. Use dense, medium and clear. I also do the same for the colours. I use a dark, medium and light so that they can interface with each other without being stark black and white.
I also stopped doing butterflies. The only thing I'll do now is a hummingbird, which I'd rather sell the hummingbird and not make it into a window because people get tired of the bird that won't fly.
People's minds are changing so quickly that they're going to be bored and change the wallpaper, the countertops and the furniture in two years.
That's just the way it works when the mind understands the equation. Where's the mystery when somebody pays $4,000 for a beautiful hunting scene but that deer hasn't moved since the day they bought it. They're frustrated. So I advocate abstract. You'll never be bored with abstract as you’ll constantly see something from a different perspective.
Everybody understands abstract because that's the way life is, so it's another thing that I bring into my creations.
When did you start using dichroic glass?
STEVEN MICHAEL: I’ve been doing dichroic stained glass for 23 years, while the world had no idea because I was never public. So no one knew I existed then.
I found a fascination with the dichroic glass right off the bat. I knew it was some sort of a language. It addicted me.
It was heroin of the mind, and there was no escaping that feeling that it owned me.
There was a wavelength, an energy veil that I seemingly jumped into. Kind of like crossing through the Narnia window.
Where do you draw inspiration from? Is it just something that’s in your head or is it that you were looking at the clouds for example and they inspired something?
STEVEN MICHAEL: It is very rarely if I’ve ever had that happen. Let me ask you a question. Are you breathing or are you being breathed?
SAMANTHA: I should think I am breathing. But the way you ask the question makes me think it’s not that obvious.
STEVEN MICHAEL: You'll forget it at 2 o'clock in the morning because you had an extra wine or you were sedated or you don't feel like it or you're frustrated or worn out. No, you're being breathed.
The spirit is within, that's why we're called a human be-ing. And the spirit within us is breathing us. I made that connection a long time ago because there was nobody to help me and save me and I realized there was a component inside trying to talk to me. But until I can USB myself to you and you to me, how do I know what it feels like for you to burn if you put your finger over a candle flame? None of us do.
As the neighbours learn to love you, learn to love that component within you that doesn't want you to fall down. And that's what I do.
I have hundreds of patterns that are just screaming to get out but I can look at a bevel cluster, unique bevel clusters not just the stock ones, and I can see things. And all of a sudden ideas just come.
How do you do it if you cut hair? How does the singer sing?
I can't show you or even tell you, but I can tell you how to facilitate it. And that would be to step aside of yourself.
I'm discovering that you're a very philosophical thinker.
STEVEN MICHAEL: I had West Nile Virus eight years ago and when the fever burnt away I was able to talk. I've not been able to talk all my life. I was such an introvert that if a girl wouldn't dance with me, I would be ruined for two to three weeks. I couldn't be seen in public. It was so crushing.
You know, I used to think the worst human emotion was betrayal? It's not. It’s non-existing somebody.
Many of us suffer behind glass windows looking out. I want to encourage people to not look outside anymore. Look within.
Look at your own bench and surround yourself with success. Find as many 30-minute projects as you can make and start the evolution.
Who can lie and tell you that you're not a “completer” if you can complete lots of 30 minutes projects? And then, work to an hour, and then 5 hours and then a day and you will begin your own evolution.
Begin to turn the pages of success and when you have a wall of little suncatchers. Nobody can doubt that your potential lies there or that you can eventually make a window. They’ll see all your footprints all over that window with these little suncatchers. So it’s a metaphor. Begin with a small project.
Do you realize that glass is the greatest conductor of light?
I know a lot about your personality if you're insatiable about glass. I know you're an ambassador of light. People who are glass addicts are lightworkers.
You'll find that there's a correlation if they can stand back from their own ego and separate themselves of that headiness to say “I am the lighthouse and everybody's welcome.” Often in the dark, we can't even see our own outline. We’re just a voice. We’re an entity. So I like to take the headiness out of it and give people the chance to say “Yes, you can do this.” I encourage them all along the way whatever the practice, be it fusing or creating the dichroic sculptures that I make.
What would you say specifically to stained glass newbies or those early on in their glass journey?
STEVEN MICHAEL: I would say, think of yourself as a Christmas tree light. Think of an old simple Christmas tree string of 20 lights. The kind where if one went out, they all went out. It's a great storyteller because perhaps one of us checked out and the rest of us say, “Where's Molly?” or “Where's Sammy girl?”
We're all waiting in support for you that once you plug in, we all benefit. And no matter how low you think you are, you're a chink on somebody’s zipper that the rest of us are waiting for. That once it’s repaired, we are complete.
If you need to remind yourself of this, then isolate a light or two or three and see yourself as a 5 watt light bulb before you can ever see yourself as the sun. You've got to begin the evolutionary path.
So if you want to get into glass, I like to let people know that they too might be a torchbearer.
Why did you get into light? Why not leatherwork? Why don't you polish cabochons and create a rock ring? Why not build a treehouse? Why glass, is really the question.
Why glass? Because it is the greatest conductor of light.
I don't care how good your quilts are. They’re not going to create a rainbow.
For newbies, I’d say don't be discouraged. There are no failures. There's so much value in the failure, but don't look at it as a failure. Look at it as everything builds momentum. As an example, it took over a thousand tries for Edison to make a lightbulb. Don’t be so hard on yourself!
I believe all psychology boils down to two words: self-image. Who do you think you are?
The greatest thrill is when you make something and somebody says, “My gosh. That is so cool. I want to buy that.” The most incredible aphrodisiac of self-image is being validated by somebody else as being good and worthy. I'm so thrilled that they would want it, and the power that that wields is beyond the explanation of being validated and valuable.
What's your favourite piece that you've made?
STEVEN MICHAEL: The door. I was channeled every aspect of it.
January of 2016 is when I made it. And then when I finished it, I put it up against the wall and it stayed there behind a blanket for 3 years.
I made this window because up until about 4 years ago I thought I was lying that I was a stained-glass artist. I thought I was a liar and I asked God really? God, can you let me make something so pretty that people will validate me as a stained glass artist?
I think if you're true to yourself you have to challenge yourself with a feat like that. I was faced with a wall that said “You're a liar, prove it.”
And when I made that door, there was a voice that said “No, the lines have got to be wider. No it’s got to be green. No, no. You’ve got to put the seed of life in it. ” And it was like “Wow, this is dizzying," because I was being guided.
I had help from a lady who’s written her own stained glass book. I didn't take most of her help because she couldn’t help me. She’d never seen anybody that will make a window with no plan. She just couldn’t help me.
SAMANTHA: So there was no cartoon, no drawing for the door at all?
STEVEN MICHAEL: There was in simplicity, just a base. I kept telling her this is where I was going,
and she would just throw her hands up in the air and say, “I can't help.”
And then there was a lady who helped me with colour, her name was Julie. But it was like “No Julie, I’m not feeling that’s the right colour of green." Here I am colour blind, arguing with someone who is brilliant with colour. It didn’t always come off so good, but the door did.
I'm gonna make it again with my new technologies. I have new dichroic technology that I've developed that I can't sell or teach anybody because it’s proprietary to someone else who showed me how. The next door I'm going to make is going to be the most incredible dichroic peacock ever.
Is there a new direction you plan to go with your art?
STEVEN MICHAEL: My current focus is on cold-work sculptures and jewelry.
One other direction I want to move in is bringing people to the light. Olivia Newton-John's got one of my pyramids and I've got someone else interested in one of my movements. The movements contain a capsule that is included inside the movement.”
Watch this video clip to see the movement mentioned above and hear some of the interview with Steven Michael.
Where can people find you and your work?
- Website: www.dichroicglassman.com
- Etsy Shop: DichroGlassman
- YouTube: Dichroic Glassman
- Instagram: @dichroicglassman
- Facebook Page: Dichroic Glassman on Facebook
A big thank you goes out to Steven Michael for sharing his insight, creativity and passion with us!
Know of an artist I should feature?
I'll be featuring more artists and already have some talented people in mind but I'd also love to hear your suggestions. Leave ideas in the comments below or send me an email.
You asked for suggestions of artists to interview, I have two names for you:
Scott Riggs – he makes Tiffany shades, beautiful work, very nice man.
Aureleo Rosano – very talented stained glass worker, also very talented writer.
Thanks for the suggestions, Nancy. I’ve added these names to my list.
This is an amazing article about Steven.