A perpetual traveler, Floral Islands Glassworks designer Robin Clason and her creations are a breath of fresh ocean air in the often-curmudgeonly Toronto weather. Reflecting and refracting, her designs have a unique focus on optics and the catching rainbows while being subtley modern and minimal. The glassworks are created by hand entirely in Robin’s home, which is essentially wherever she decides to lay her hat at that moment. We took a trip to her current sun-filled studio at College and Bathurst to check out her mystical creations. To the tune of slightly audible world music and a laptop that politely reminds her of the time on the hour, we discussed her worldly inspirations, material obsessions and what her ultimate glass creation would be.

Hey Robin! Can you tell me how your background led you to creating Floral Islands?

Well, education wise I graduated from OCADU with a degree in Integrated Media. In terms of my arts background, I’ve always felt compelled to make and fabricate three-dimensional work. I think Floral Islands was born from a few different paths I’ve found myself on in life. I used to spend a lot of time in the plastics studio at OCAD, and after moving to San Francisco for half a year and not having access to that studio, I decided to try out a new medium. Plastics are amazing, but harder to cut by hand than glass. I started making fractal, three-dimensional objects with glass out of a lack of access to my familiar tools in that studio. And so, that’s how Floral Islands was born as a medium/practice.

My inspiration has always come from my experiences traveling. For example, I used to live in Hawaii. I spent a lot of time in the ocean, and when you’re underwater you see the world in a completely different way- light moves in a magical way (refraction) and the colour spectrum from white light (sunshine) is broken up (rainbows) and seeing natural landscape like that has always inspired me to make the work that I do. I want people to experience that in my work- I hope to inspire a little mystery, wonder and magic into people’s lives through glass objects and to allow them to see the unseen.

In one of many tragic economical decisions, OCADU discontinued their glass programs some time ago. When and how did you pick that skill up?

I’ve never had any formal training glasswork, save for a few stained glass classes I wanted to take to learn more about the medium. I basically just taught myself, the process has evolved from day 1 onwards. It’s a never-ending learning process, which is both challenging and rewarding. Glass is rad!

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It is theorized that the shape of the pyramid represents the descending rays of the sun to the ancient Egyptians. What is significant about this shape to you and why does it feature so heavily in your designs?

Pyramids are a pretty consistent theme in my work for a few reasons. One is because of its strength- the triangle is structurally a very strong shape. Also, I’m really interested in the mystery behind the pyramids, especially around their origin and construction. It’s also an interesting shape to me, because when they’re filled with water (pyramids) do really cool things with dispersing light. The idea that every object we see in the world is either absorbing or reflecting light. For example, a black motorcycle is absorbing all the colours of the light spectrum/rainbow, and a white rose is reflecting every colour. Our brain just sees things as colour, but we rarely stop and think about how that process works. I want to emulate that process of dividing light through my work.

I’m also interested in alchemy and in threes, so the triangle provides an interesting space to work within.

If you had unlimited funds, what kind of optical based project would you create?

That’s a great thing to imagine! I would probably build a huge glass pyramid-shaped greenhouse but I would layer it and fill it part water and part plants. You’d be able to live in the space; it would be totally magical, a physically tangible dream space.

 

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You’ve done some back and forth to New York recently. Can you tell me a bit about what you’re doing down there?

I decided to have part of my summer there, just to see what it was like. It was a really interesting experience. I lived in a converted warehouse in Brooklyn. Everyone in New York seems to have partied, DJed, or lived in that building. There’s six roommates in most apartments, a sewing factory on the top and a print house in the basement. There’s a full panoramic view of Brooklyn and Manhattan and the sunsets are so beautiful from up there. It’s a really great communal space for artists to be living in- sharing ideas, hanging out and just envisioning future projects.

Bushwick is getting gentrified seemingly overnight and there are a lot of really cool warehouse spaces that are getting turned into cafes and bars. People down there have asked me to make things in their spaces, and in New York there are the funds for that, which is a huge difference between that city and Toronto. If they stand behind something, New Yorkers seem to support art a little more. I got a really positive response to my work from talking to people there about what I do.

Did you make the connections you expected to there?

Yeah I’d say so. There are always new people to meet, which I’m excited to do in the future, but the time I spent there opened a lot of doors for me and the work. I would consider Floral Islands work right now along the lines of design objects, and that’s great but I really want to be doing it as art, something more conceptual and experiential. I’ve been working in really cool boutiques in Toronto, New York and San Francisco, and a couple in Europe and Australia, and that’s wonderful, but I want to start taking that leap as an artist. I’d like to do Floral Islands as massive installations work rather than smaller commodifiable objects.

The Jefferson Subway in Bushwick has this beautiful brick tunnel coming out on the street. I would love to do installations like that in public spaces, but for something like that, with my work being so fragile, I’d have to try another medium like plexi for those ideas.

Have you tried glass blowing or is it something your interested in?

No. I would love to try it but I have this thing where I really don’t like round shapes in glass. I’ve tried stained glass, but I avoid it because it’s not really my world. I adore the minimalist style, and there’s something about stained glass that just doesn’t help me communicate my ideas very well with it. An interesting thing about working with glass is that it’s one of the only solid liquids that exists so it’s constantly in motion. Over time something you think is a solid might move and shift. If you score glass and don’t break it, within a few days it will start to fill in the gaps and heal itself. It’s quite magical really and something I would like to study intensely!

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You have a lot of organic compounds in your work, such as plant life for your terrarium designs and water. What inspired you to do that?

Again, it comes from traveling. I lived in Israel for a while and have spent time in the desserts in Australia and the Mojave. I saw how those ecosystems work and the cactus surviving in the harsh elements there. It is tough, strong and beautiful. By proxy terrariums have come from that. It’s nice to have a living, organic element to the work. Some of my favourite pieces are those that are just filled with water.

Where do you see Floral Islands going in the future? Will the focus be more on collectables, design objects or furniture type stuff?

I’m starting to do custom work with design houses now, including Gus Modern in Toronto. I’m designing a line of objects for that space, which has really big skylights, so I want to incorporate that into it. I’m interested in the design world but never studied it so what I know is all through personal interest. I did the KEDD Contemporary Design Festival recently where I created the biggest piece I’ve made to date, an 8’ x 8’ x 8’ mirrored Plexiglas piece. I would love to be doing more architectural and design work, and furniture too. If there’s any boutiques or shops out there looking for custom made larger pieces- I’d be really into working with them! I’m also very interested in maker collaborations as well as teaching people about glass.

You have several different online stores, including Etsy, Store Envy and your own site. Which is the best outlet so far?

I focus most on Storenvy, but I find that Instagram is the best platform if you are starting up a small business. It’s such an accessible way for people to see your life and what you’re doing. People are really interested in maker’s lives: what their studio looks like, what their process looks like, what they did on Sunday etc. It gives a face to a brand. Vending is also a really awesome opportunity to meet people who may have never seen your work and get exposure. Sometimes it’s hard because you might be there all day and not sell anything but there’s a good opportunity to make good connections. You might not make a million dollars that day but you might get a commission to do a whole boutique. Alternatively you can have a successful day and sell a lot.  I did Drake Sunday markets, Parkdale Flea, the Junction Flea… there’s a lot of good opportunities in Toronto to do it.

Stay connected with Robin and Floral Islands

Tumblr: floralislands.tumblr.com

Etsy: www.etsy.com/shop/FloralIslands

Storenvy: floralislands.storenvy.com

Instagram: instagram.com/floralislands