Here at Dicronix, we’re passionate about supporting local artists. In the past, we’ve done this by putting on events, stocking exclusively American-made glass art, and helping connect artists together to inspire great works. Recently, we’ve been blessed with the ability to convert our backyard garage space into a fully-compliant and functional glass blowing studio. It hasn’t been easy. In fact, our team has spent many long hours working to get that space ready for the next evolution of Dicronix, and now we’re ready to unveil it to you all.
Today, we’re excited to announce that Tyson Thornwall, aka TysonLikeTheChicken, is our first official glass artist-in-residence. You may have seen Tyson’s face in the shop as he’s been setting up and getting familiar with things over the last month or two.
We sat down with Tyson this week to dive deeper into his glass blowing career and the personal experiences that have brought him to where he is today.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Well, I’m 38 years old. I’ve always been into art. From a young age, I used to do oil paintings. I did a little graffiti for a bit. I actually ended up winning an award from MTV and was able to move from Wausau, WI out to San Francisco to go to art school. I ended up dropping out of that school after I had a child. Even before then I was realizing that the type of art we were learning about in school as mostly computer-based, graphic design, corporate stuff. I just couldn’t picture myself doing that kind of work for the rest of my life. I wanted to make what I wanted to make, do what I wanted to do.
So, what did you do after that?
I started a drywall painting business, ran that for ten years. We had some great clientele, did some great work, but ultimately, when the market crashed and everyone lost money, it more or less crippled my business and wreaked havoc on the construction industry as a whole.
Is that when you got into glass blowing?
I actually got into glassblowing in 2002, when I was still running my business. I met a fella at a Halloween party, Ryan Whitmore, and he gave me a pipe that he had made. I thought that was really cool so, you know, I told him “let’s hook up!” and I started to watch him blow glass every now and then. He ended up moving into a shop that we built together in my garage, which gave me a lot more exposure. I started making marbles and getting my feet wet.
Fast forward a year or two, my business had collapsed and I had moved to Madison, WI. I happened to run into Ryan again and he asked me to come pull prep for him. The rest is history.
What attracted you to glass?
To be honest, I had always watched it on the weekends back in the day when we had just an antenna on our television and the only thing on in the middle of the day, you know, on Sunday would be some show on PBS or whatever. There was this weird glass show and I think that was what inspired my first initial love for glass.
Was it more lampworking or…?
A lot of it was scientific stuff, if I remember correctly, beakers and stuff like that. They had Chihuly on quite a bit with the soft glass and that was pretty cool.
What is the most challenging aspect of working with glass?
Gravity. I tell everyone that’s the first lesson and the last lesson. Learn how to keep the molten glass on the stick. I also think that cracking is the other big issue. You have to know how to keep the glass hot, control the temperature, heat it up slowly without cracking because borosilicate has a tendency to crack while you’re working it if it’s too thick or if there’s a negative angle or things of that nature.
How do you come up with ideas for new pieces?
Oh man. It’s everywhere! When it hits me, I’ve learned to just do it. Right now, I’m making these aliens that ride on the back of a T-rex and it’s a fully functional rig. I’d wanted to do it for awhile and I made a T-rex one day and thought “you can do it, just take it to the next level”.
Slum bums were my first sculpture project. I was broke and all I had left was some amber purple tubing and I just said “screw it”. I ended up coming up with that design and it ended up paying the bills that month. Most of my ideas come to me like that, on a whim.
What’s your favorite color of glass right now?
That’s tough. This new experimental 90 is pretty cool. It’s a CFL reactive color that turns turquoise to aqua to purple. Not many CFL colors have a three-way shift like that and it’s got a really nice base to it. It’s still brand new so we’ll see if it remains a favorite.
I also really dig sunset slyme. It’s a CFL reactive color that changes from pink to green slyme.
What’s your favorite piece you’ve ever made?
I would have to say my Ghost collab that I did this past summer on my Midwest Free Range Chicken Tour. I worked with Ghost, Ryan Green, and we made a pretty sweet chicken with T-rex feet. It was crazy shit.
Who’s your favorite glassblower? Other than yourself, of course!
It’s so hard to pick just one. I’ve got a lot of friends and colleagues that I look up to and admire. Joe Howe, Jeremiah Kearne, Burtoni Glass, there are a ton of glass artists whose work I really like.
If I had to pick just one, I’d have to say Ghost, my buddy Ryan Green. His sculpting skills are just through the roof and that’s what I really aspire to be, someone who is known for really creative sculpture work.
Do you have any advice for people looking to get into glassblowing?
Go hard. It’s going to be a struggle. You’re going to lose money. It’s going to be tough and you’re going to have to just work hard. Always be at it. Be your own boss and just grind. It’s a lifestyle, not a job. You know?
We’re extremely excited to welcome Tyson to the Dicronix team and we can’t wait for you all to see the work he has planned. Keep an eye out for more of Tyson’s work on our shelves and on our site!