CJ Miller: Glassworking

Andy: What do you do full time? For your living?

CJ: I am a network security and forensics geek in Chicago

Andy: Is that your passion?

CJ: One of them

Andy: What is your art?

CJ: Stained glass, with some glass fusing and occasional bouts of madne—er, glassblowing and lampworking.

Some examples of CJ’s work:

11734039_625919431823_451146888_o 11741754_625919451783_1076557324_n 11724917_625919436813_1652559373_o 11696763_625919426833_853033561_n

Andy: Beautiful. What are the size of these things?

CJ: Good question! I think the dragon is 12×17… the round ones are 10-12″ in diameter.

Andy: How did you get into glassworking? 

CJ: Oddly, because of the “StumbleUpon” plugin for Firefox. I was in college, and hitting the button repeatedly one evening while bored, and one of the pages I got randomly was on making stained glass windows. I think it was for classes somewhere. And I went “Holy cow… you mean you can just go learn to make stained glass??” And I googled for classes near my college and discovered a teaching studio a few miles away in the same city. I took a glass cutting class, and then my aunt kindly paid for my first proper class. And it’s been full steam ahead ever since.

Andy: So when was that, that you found it through Stumbleupon?

CJ: I was still in my college dorm, so it was either freshman or sophomore year of college – that is, 2006-2008… I’d guess the 07-08 range more specifically. So it’s been about eight years, roughly.

Andy: If you had to guess, how many glass pieces would you say you’ve finished?

CJ: Oh lord, I’m not sure I can give an accurate count. 50? I’m easily counting 30+

Andy:  What’s the biggest piece you ever did?

CJ: About 18×18

Andy:  What do you think caught your interest about glassworking?

CJ: 1) It’s beautiful. It’s absolutely beautiful. 2) it’s not common. That’s a major draw for me. It’s my latent hipster gene. 3) I just kind of took to it. I’ve dabbled with many arts before and didn’t have a knack for any, which led me to be very quickly discouraged. I took a quick and instant liking to stained glass because I could actually make what I wanted, real.

Andy:  What’s it like doing a piece, start to finish?

CJ: Sometimes it’s heartbreaking. Sometimes it’s super exciting. I like potential, if that makes sense. I love a fresh piece of paper more than anything I could put ON it. So I have lots of sheets of glass I just have… like people who sew and fabric, I just like the glass and I keep it around. The potential of it is enjoyable.Then you start cutting it and sometimes you have a good cutting day and everything you do goes right and you are cutting away going “NBD lol!”. And some days you have a bad cutting day and its a fight for every piece you need to cut, every shape. Usually in the middle its like “Christ, this doesn’t look right, I’m a failure” but it looks better at the end, and better. There’s a moment I particularly like, let me grab you a picture…


This can be a very private moment, in some ways. The panel is dirty, covered in greasy flux and marker marks what not. But its the first moment you hold up the panel and get to see it in its entirety. That, incidentally, was also the first piece I ever did for myself.

But with each piece, there is that moment where the first time you hold it up as a messy, dirty, but complete and perfect(?) thing. I wonder if its how a doctor feels delivering a baby! Hahaha… Admire it a second, then run to the sink to get the nasty off you… Hahaha…

Andy: That’s an awesome analogy! Ha. I happened to be listening to the suite from Forrest Gump just now, at a very triumphant part, when I clicked on the photo. It was rather apropos. In general. How do you feel about yourself as an artist?

CJ: I don’t think I’ve ever called myself an artist. I don’t care for some of the baggage of the term. I usually say I’m a stained glass craftsman. By all definitions I’d say I am an artist, but… I think that means I have to wear a black beret, snap my fingers a lot, listen to pretentious music no one has ever heard of, and impart some super deep unfathomable meanings to everything I create. 

Andy: Ha… Intriguing.

CJ: Someone stab me with a paint brush if I go voluntarily writing “artist’s statements” 🙂

Andy: I like Seth Godin’s definition

CJ: “Artists” as singular, interesting. “He who works with his hands is a laborer. He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman. He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.” (St Francis of Assisi)

Andy: Anyway. All of that is an aside to the real question. How do you feel about your glasswork?

CJ: Hm. Sometimes it is a love/hate relationship.

It’s the only form of artistic expression I’ve found any real success with, and I love it. My art is lit by the unfettered power of the sun, you know? Its hard not to look at a window in all its glory and immediately understand why that big fiery ball was once worshipped, Sol Invictus.

But I always see every flaw. Every little flaw. Sometimes it drives me to be better. Sometimes it crushes me for days.

Andy: I know that feeling well. What do others say about your art?

CJ: Almost entirely positive. I’ve only had a few negative remarks. Unfortunately they were particularly crushing, hehe…

One project my soldering was so bad, a dear friend and fellow artist thought I had used a different technique and cement was leaking out. Another time a relative said a project (of which I was quite proud, it was good work) was ok for a first project…. this was a year ago. I had been doing stained glass for 7 years…

By the way, that relative does not do stained glass and is not particularly informed on the art 🙂

Andy: Ah. So, one was an informed critique and the other a layman’s?

CJ: The one was an informed, ACCIDENTAL critique, heh. But the other was…. yeah, I don’t even know

Andy: Mm. When was the last time you did any glass work?

CJ: Yesterday. I haven’t been doing much for the past 8 months. Took a bad hit to my confidence. But years ago I promised a close friend a glass piece if she got a specific award. She got it, and I have 17 days to deliver.

Andy: Ahh. It’s funny you should say that. I’m always telling my students the best way to practice is to put a gig on the schedule. Funny how when other people are expecting something of you…

CJ: It’s a serious award for a dear friend, and her asking me years ago was a privilege and an honor. Now it’s like, Time to put away all your emotional baggage bullshit and put on big boy gloves!

Or else look your friend in the eye with failure and shame in your face? No, not worth it.

Andy: Indeed! Indeed. Have you ever sold any art?

CJ: I have, usually at cost due to philosophical reasons. Reasons I probably need to get over, hahaha…

Andy: Ah. Yeah, I’ve been working on that issue myself in the past couple of years. It’s hard to think, “Why should someone pay me for something that feels as natural and easy as breathing?”

Just a final question. What would you say to a fifteen year old who had been doing glass work for a year, but told you he was going to quit because he thought he wasn’t good enough?

CJ: Keep studying what others are doing. Keep studying what you do, what you liked about it and what you didn.t “Keep on, until your idols become your rivals.”

Email CJ here.



One thought on “CJ Miller: Glassworking

  1. Love the quote by St. Francis, CJ 🙂 And being an artist in NO WAY involves a black beret… Just sayin’… Can’t wait to geek with you soon man!


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