Art on the Road: Seattle

Time flies when you’re having fun searching for awesome art all over America and on part three of my ten city Art on the Road tour, I sure found some very special art. Seattle is well known as a hub for great music and musicians but did you know that Settle has some of the world’s most celebrated glass artists? In this, my first visit to Seattle, I was fortunate to be able to hang out for an afternoon at renowned glass artist James Nowak‘s studio and observe as he created a couple of his magical underwater themed glass creations.

James Nowak

It was a rare treat for me to be able to be a fly on the wall and observe a master artisan at work. While in comparison to me either photographing or working on my images on the computer which I assure you would be rather dull to observe, Nowak surrounds himself with a host of tools of all shapes and sizes and moves between stations in his studio like a man on a mission… it is far from dull to watch I can assure you. His mission (which he succeeds at amazingly well) is to create stunning and original works of art that the observer can literally spend hours gazing at without getting bored. That is quite the feat since we are talking about inanimate objects with no moving parts.

Glass Plate by James Nowak

As Nowak darts from place to place in his studio he is often carrying huge blobs of molten glass affixed to the end of a metal rod and if not careful, he could certainly burn himself quite badly. He assured me that this never happens and that after years of experience the worst that ever occurs is the odd scrape or cut from his tools. If it were clumsy me? I’d be a regular visitor to the burn ward at the local hospital. We are talking about some intense heat and dangerous tools. The studio itself has several kilns and ovens that each serve a purpose along the path of creating these works of art and then there are the torches…. Oh my! This is a man who not only gets to create some of the coolest glass sculptures out there but he gets to play with fire as he does so. I think I’m gonna quit photography and become a world famous glass artist now. Talk about a cool (yet incredibly hot) job.

artist james nowak

Nowak is not satisfied with simply working with glass and has dabbled in combining his glass art along with adding noble gasses like neon and xenon to his works. Just add an electric current to these innovative pieces and they truly come to life. Touch the surface and the art becomes interactive with every swipe of a fingertip across the surface of the glass. Now I know what I want for my birthday.

Some of the most striking designs that I saw that day were the beautiful plates that incorporate dichroic glass into the glass creations. Dichroic glass is a type of glass that incorporates sediment like bits of oxides or metals that breaks up reflected and transmitted light in a way that you will see completely different colours depending on how you look at it. Change the angle of the light and voila, you have a completely different piece of art in front of you. Nowak uses this dichroic glass in his plates and in many of his other designs. The most striking use of dichroic glass in my opinion was in his plates that you see here. From the abstract Beach Ball series to the very mathematically symmetric deigns of his Celtic Song series, you’ll see Nowak’s masterful use of the dichroic glass that has a somewhat hypnotic effect on the viewer.

Experience Music Project and the Space Needle

Experience Music Project and the Space Needle

I would have been happy to spend all night watching more glass art being created but there was a whole city to explore and so little time to do see all that I wanted. After a quick dinner, I headed out to what is perhaps the most iconic feature of Seattle… The famous Space Needle! Not only was I treated the funky 60’s design of the Space Needle, but as a huge fan of Frank Gehry’s architecture, I was excited to get a chance to photograph another architectural masterpiece form this living legend. The Experience Music Project is a museum that celebrates pop music, science fiction, and pop culture. The EMP was founded back in 2000 by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. As luck would have it, the EMP and Space Needle are both on the grounds of the Seattle Center and I was able to park just a few feet away from where I took this shot. I love when this happens, mostly because this never happens!

The art gods were smiling upon Seattle that day as fortunately for me, there was a massive sculpture named “Grass Blades” seen on the right of the photo which separated the parking lot from the Seattle Center. In a good news/bad news scenario I was happy to see (and hear) the sweet sounds of music emanating from the stage of the Bumbershoot festival as I approached the Space Needle but was a bit bummed out to find that many of the good vantage points to take photos from were blocked off by barricades due to the positioning of the stage. So I happily accepted my late summer serenade from bands like the Vaselines, Skrillex, and Passion Pit as I continued on my quest to explore the area. Next stop, to the top…

Space Needle here I come! I must say that I’m not a big fan of heights but I figured that since it’s enclosed, I wouldn’t have an issue. While it is very safe up at the viewing deck it is not easy to get a good photo at night because of the awkwardness of placing a camera on a tripod and the security bars that prevent you from plummeting to a horrific death. ;) Lucky for me that I have a fun tool called a gorilla pod that allows me to affix my camera right onto these kinds of security bars and get the shot I’m looking for. Some of the exposures I’m working with take up to 30 seconds or longer so hand holding the camera is impossible. What a view and what a great way to end my first full day in Seattle.

Day two was yet another glass art filled day and this time I was invited to view and photograph the mind blowing Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit that is also situated on the Seattle Campus right next to the Space Needle. Dale Chihuly is perhaps the best known glass artist alive today and his installations attract millions of visitors wherever they are set up, and for good reason… they are mind blowing! Please do yourself a giant favour and make sure that once in your life you go to a show featuring Chihuly’s work. You will see not just the work of one man but that of a team of artisans that he employs to create his fairytale like scenes made of the most intricate glass designs imaginable. The Garden and Glass exhibit is a permanent installation and if you find yourself in Seattle treat yourself to a visit to this fascinating attraction.

I spent quite some time here and visited both morning and night to get the full effect of the place. The experience itself is also quite different during the two time periods. In fact, you could say that it’s like night and day… Groan :)

During my first daylight visit there were large crowds and it was challenging to get good shots but I managed to get some good ones with my iPhone and where possible with my regular cameras. This is one of the big challenges I face wherever I go. Since I was being escorted by the head of PR of the exhibit I was allowed to use my tripod. This is actually one place why I can truly understand why they have a no tripod rule since there crowds are large, the tripods can be cumbersome, and the glass… Well, the glass is breakable.

During the day I found the Fremont Troll that so many of my followers on twitter suggested I visit, drove around the city and scouted my sunset photography locations and returned to my hotel for a delicious lunch. To quote Samuel Jackson in Pulp Fiction: “Mmmm, this is a tasty burger!” It seriously was.

My sunset location ended up being the very laid back and family friendly Olympic sculpture park where you can see all sorts of different types of modern sculptures. This is a sweet spot for a relaxing picnic or walk and a wonderful location to discover new art.


The day ended at a much more serene Chihuly Garden and Glass where I was able to spend some time before closing. I almost had the place to myself and I enjoyed every last second of my time there. It was the perfect way to bid Seattle farewell.


Next stop… New York City!


For more fun photography and stories from the road, check out these previous posts:

Comments (12)

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  1. says

    Incredible art work – not too sure on the making of it! Sounds very dangerous :)
    That hot tourch sounds like it could do a lot of damage in the wrong hands! And yep I so could see lots of trips to the hospital…especially for clumsy me!
    Love the photos of him working

  2. Ben Tucker says

    the first shot is awesome the lighting is spot on nice dof and nice processing! thanks for sharing really like the 3rd one too

  3. says

    Lisa, It probably is dangerous… If I were doing it!

    Al, Ben, Siddhartha, Matt, Boris, Golf, Dani, Kevin… Thanks for the nice comments :)

    Gaby, I’ll be back soon!

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