Artist Feature: Mike Shelbo

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Artist Feature: Mike Shelbo

Mike Shelbo, glass blower and pipe maker, reflects on his career in glass art and his relationship with cannabis culture. Shelbo is Calyx Containers' Artist Feature for the first episode of Art of Glass, an exploration of heady glass in relation to the cannabis industry.

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Artist Feature: Mike Shelbo

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Jun 10 3 min read

By Calyx Containers in Art of Glass

Mike Shelbo is a renown lamp worker and glass blower based in Vista, California. For Shelbo, glass is a medium for personal fulfillment and artistic expression. Featured in Netflix’s™ 'Blown Away', Mike Shelbo’s trademark goblin pieces are a complex and iconic lampworking style within the community, combining his love of fantasy creatures and sculpture. Shelbo’s personal standards of quality and detail convey his 23-year journey in glass art, and inspire his ethos of authenticity in the digital world.

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How did you originally get into pipe-making and heady glass art?

I was able to get my first glass pipe when I was 17, and I knew I wanted to learn more about glass in order to make pipes for myself and friends. I began glassblowing in the furnace in 1998 and quickly realized that I needed to use borosilicate and a torch to make pipes. So, I immediately got into both styles of making glass. I found that learning soft and hard glass at the same time provided an advantage to understanding the medium.

What is it about glass as a medium that keeps you coming back?

I tried every other medium, from paint and clay to photography and bronze. Glass showed me that art can be instantly satisfying, and a piece can be finished in one session if you like. I always found the other mediums to be extremely tedious because of my own personal standards of quality and detail.

When selecting a glass company to work with, what are you looking for? What qualities are you looking for in your raw materials? How do you know when glass is of good quality?

I have melted every type of glass I could get my hands on to know the possibilities and limitations of clear and color. We are taught that the best glass is air-free and very high clarity, but that doesn't mean you can't find beauty or use in some "ugly" glass too. Typically, I just search for glass that can withstand a lot of time in and out of the flame and the kiln without being overworked.

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What is the difference between a production piece and a one-off piece?

A production piece can be replicated, and is great for practice and paying the bills. On the other hand, one of a kind pieces are something that will not be made again, and serve a different purpose for the maker and collector. A one-off piece is the closest glass can get to true art.

From your perspective, why is glass so important to the cannabis community?

Glass is important to the cannabis community because it is a bridge and a bond as a basic common ground for those who enjoy and partake. These pipes serve as tools that cultivate community in the sharing of what we all feel is a truly special part of existence.

Who or what is your biggest lamp-working inspiration?

My biggest inspiration in art is the fantasy world I knew as a child, where goblins and faeries dwell. Where all the imaginations of artists of all mediums ran wild, and built the creatures and places I grew up loving.

My biggest lampworking inspirations are Carmen Lozar, known for flameworking intricate sculptures, and Lucio Bubacco, known for biblical and carnivalesque iconography. They have amazing portfolios and fantastic conceptual figurative work that everyone should explore and admire.

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