The World of Shannon Connor Castle
Shannon Connor Castle can’t remember a time when she wasn’t an artist. From an early age, Shannon was always happiest when she was drawing. Upon graduating from Cupertino High School she skipped college and founded her own company, Shannon Studios, in the San Francisco Bay area in 1981. Specializing in the new and exotic technique of sandblasting decorative elements onto the surface of glass, Shannon’s commissioned works graced storefronts and custom homes throughout California.
A restless and creative spirit, Shannon had visions of using her skills with glass in ways that no one had thought of before. Ultimately, this led Shannon from the world of commission art into the world of fine art, where she would have the freedom to create her visions and pursue her passions.
Shannon’s “Declaration of Independence” was the creation of her glass motorcycle, a prototype of a classic Harley Davidson: a free-standing sculpture weighing over 2,000lbs. She was even featured in an article in EasyRiders Magazine with the title: Glass-terpiece. Aside from this one monumental mechanical achievement, however, the world of Shannon Connor Castle is inhabited by beautiful, ethereal, magical and powerful female beings: A Visionary World of Angels, Mermaids, and Goddesses!
Shannon has three grown children from her first marriage: daughter Jessica Nicole, and twin sons Nick and Nathan. Upon marrying her husband violinist and producer Geoffrey Castle, she added another son Gareth, from Geoffrey’s first marriage. Shannon, Geoffrey, and their boys all reside in the Pacific Northwest, and daughter Jessica lives in Los Angeles where she has launched a successful fashion company.
There is almost no way to fully explain Shannon’s process. There are many many stages involved in creating one of these exquisite pieces. Here is a simplified, step by step breakdown of what goes into each one of her creations:
Step One: The Sketch
Each piece begins as a pencil sketch where the line work is intentionally created with future steps in mind. The sketching process has to be precise, so the image is drawn and redrawn multiple times until a final, perfect drawing emerges. The sketch must match, in size, the finished glass creation to come.
Step Two: The Transfer
Shannon applies a special kind of vinyl to one side of the glass panel that she will be carving into, called Buttercut. She then takes the sketch and transfers her design to the buttercut by rubbing the sketch into the vinyl, after lining it up precisely. She then redraws the faint lines so they are bolder and more visible, sometimes adding extra elements if she is inspired to do so. “Sometimes, I see ghost lines and I follow them”, Shannon says.
Step Three: Cutting
With a very sharp surgical knife, Shannon cuts all of these lines individually by hand in preparation for sand blasting. Some cuts are done in advance and some cuts are done later while the actual blasting is going on.
Step Four: Blasting
The glass panel with the resist is carried into the artist’s blast booth. The artist dons a protective helmet with air fed through a hose from 100 feet away, and protective garments. The interior environment of a sand blast booth is very very dangerous. In this environment, full of clouds toxic dust, like the surface of an alien planet, Shannon meticulously removes pieces of the vinyl buttercut and blasts the exposed glass with high pressure abrasive sand.
Timing is everything: blast too long and you go through the glass and it breaks, blast too little and you don’t get the three-dimensional gems and flowing forms that you see. Fearlessness and instinct both play a large role in this part of the process. There is no room for error, and there is a lot that can go wrong.
Step Five: Color
Some of Shannon’s creations remain as pure glass, but many of them have shading and painting and embellishments added after the fact. Since many of these works are carved from the back, but designed to be seen from the front, the art must be done in REVERSE order, from the back of the glass: highlights first, then gradually building up layers and doing the background last.
Step Six: Scanning and Printing
Using a painstaking process, the finished originals are rendered as ultra-high resolution digital images. These are printed using a fine art ultra large format giclee printer on a variety of materials depending on the desired effect.
Step Seven: More Glass!
Shannon then takes the finished original and creates another full size sketch, by hand, of the bubbles and gems and other interesting little details that catch her eye. This sketch is transferred to another piece of glass, with more buttercut vinyl, and it’s back to the blast booth again!
When this carving step is complete, the glass is cleaned and mounted into a custom frame with the finished print behind, creating a sparkling, original, three dimensional effect that shifts and glistens with the light.
Where are the Originals?
Since the original glass works are being used as source material to create additional work, many of the origin pieces remain in the collection of the artist, for now.
About the frames:
Developed and created by Shannon’s production partners at How It Works in Anacortes WA, these frames are noteworthy. Some contain inset custom LED lighting which makes the carved elements on the front of the glass pop and change colors. Some frames simply present the beauty of the image with the glass in its natural state, while protecting the glass from potential damage and giving the added benefit of ease in display: these pieces hang easily on a standard wall using standard hanging hardware!
Nearly every single aspect of this process is created, and realized, by hand.
What is a Rubbing?
In between steps four and five, Shannon may take the carved glass piece, lay it on the floor, carved side up, and pull thin fabric over it tight. Then, by hand, she rubs graphite over the surface, pulling the image through the fabric. Once this hand print has been executed, she then takes the print and embellishes it using a variety of techniques to achieve her desired effect. This can take a very long time, with fine detail covering the entire creation. This is art that rewards a close-up look. The further in you go, the bigger it gets.
In one instance, Shannon had the idea of using canvas to make a mold of the original glass carving, so she got a canvas wet, added starch and then pressed the canvas into the glass. After it dried, it held the three dimensional shape! This canvas was then stretched and embellished to create the rubbing of the mermaid Lorelei.
As you gaze upon these creations, it is important to know that Shannon has multitudes of visions, with new processes, swirling in her mind, right now, at this very minute, all waiting for the opportunity to be realized as fully formed creations.