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Calgary glassblowing student turns to Twitch to raise profile, immerse digital audience

With COVID-19 taking Calgarians away from live art events, one local glass artist has made the move to online streaming to promote their art and interact with fans.

For Kenzie Roth, a fourth-year glassblowing major at the Alberta University of the Arts, the move was natural.

“I wouldn’t have done it if it wasn’t for COVID and everything shutting down,” said Roth.

“I found that online sales and online open houses were really difficult. Because glass is a medium that not a lot of people were familiar with, especially the process of creating hand-blown glass.”

Compared to painting, where what-you-see-is-what-you-get, Roth said that the behind-the-scenes of glass art is just as important as the final product.

“I find that when people watch the process, they’re more inclined to buy, or at least inquire about a piece,” Roth said.

In a pre-COVID world, it was common practice for glass artists to invite potential buyers to their studios, let them watch the process, and experience the creation of a piece together.

Digital promotion

There are artists out there who have found success on social media platforms like YouTube and Tiktok.

But Roth found that she disliked the editing that went into creating a final product.

“I find that there’s so much that’s cool about it and so many questions that I was getting. So, I thought well, Twitch might be a nice alternative.”

Twitch is an online streaming platform more commonly associated with those in video gaming. There gamers would stream themselves playing popular games.  Viewers can tune in to watch.

Roth took the leap.

This gave her the freedom to answer questions as they came in, and gave viewers the opportunity to see a piece from start to finish.

And since Roth has begun streaming in January of this year, there has been an uptick in sales of her work.

“I’ve definitely had a few more sales get made,” said Roth.

“Which doesn’t seem like a lot but when you’re an emerging artist, it can be quite substantial.”

Others will leave tips or donations, which is “another fantastic little source of revenue,” Roth said.

Kenzie Roth is a part of Silica and Soda, a Calgary-based glass art collective. MATTHEW SIU / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Hot stuff

Given the nature of working with molten glass and high temperatures, there have been some technical limitations to livestreaming the craft.

“It took a little bit of time to figure out what type of equipment I could use and where to still have the get the best views,” said Roth.

“I don’t want to risk batteries exploding.”

Aside from the high temperatures, the location of the studio also proved to be a hurdle.

With the primary “hot shop” used to work being on the AUArts campus, the particular location provided little to no internet connectivity, resulting in some creative workarounds.

Director’s commentary

In order to work with the internet limitations of the studio, Roth has devised a system where the whole glass blowing process is filmed from start to finish.

The footage is then premiered live on stream, where she is able to commentate, answer questions and otherwise interact with the chat in real-time.

Which has also opened the door for collaborators to join the shows.

One such collaborator, Matias Martinez, a fellow AUArts student and glass artist, was a recent guest.

“I’ve been on livestreams before, but being on a Twitch stream that’s glass-based is just really interesting,” said Martinez.

“I like the idea of watching glass, that might just be because I’m a glassblower, but I think a lot of people like the idea of seeing how something’s made.”

For Martinez, this also provides an opportunity to learn and grow.

“Sometimes when you just work with the same people all the time and then you work with someone new, they have a brand-new perspective on how to do something,” Martinez said.

“Everybody has that individual touch in glassblowing.”

Looking forward

So, what does this mean for the future of art and virtual engagement?

Roth doesn’t think you can replace the experience of in-person demos or shows.

“Being in a glass studio is such a unique experience for a lot of reasons,” she said.

“You don’t just get to see the art, but feel the heat and smell the beeswax and ash.”

But she does acknowledge the importance of accessibility and being able to reach wider audience.

As well as the usefulness of recorded footage to learn and improve.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, viewership number on Twitch have been at an all-time high.

According to a twitch analytics site; TwitchTracker, the average monthly concurrent viewer count hit 2.9 million so far in 2021.

Compared the 2.1 million peak the previous year.

While “art” has been a category on Twitch for many years, according to Roth it has seen a steady increase in recent times, but typically in the form of digital painting.

That put her in a unique position for showcasing glass art.