Molly Sotherden’s artwork is luminescent and captivating; captured digitally, it still shines in the depths. I am in love with her work after being introduced to it through a mutual artist friend, and wanted to give her a chance to share what she does and what her journey has been like. She is currently making a living as an artist whose medium can, as she puts it, “sever an artery faster than a run of the mill vampire.” To check out some more, keep reading!
Q (Infamous Scribbler): Tell me a bit about your area of expertise. What do you do? How long have you been doing it? Where do you share or publish your work?
A (Molly Sotherden): I’m a stained glass and etc artist. The “etc.” covers glass specialties not typically found in traditional art show stained glass, meaning I also work with fused, painted, and etched glass as well as the overlapping but not intrinsically “glass” things like basic wire wrapping, basic lamp wiring, and maker/hacker stuff. I started with stained glass when I was 17, my first semester in college… so that’s been at least 20 years ago. I worked for three different liturgical restoration firms after college, then hung out my own shingle around 2004 after being downsized twice in 3 years. (The first downsizing felt like my gender played into it. In defense of the second downsizing, the company I worked for was awesome and I knew when I was hired for it that the contract was finite.) But the effect those two events had on me very much influenced my choice to become a full time artist. I knew I wasn’t going to downsize myself, even though starving seemed like a close neighbor some days… I decided to quote Nike and “Just Do It”.
But that was years ago. I’m reasonably successful now, so if you’re looking for my work these days, I sell my actual items at 5 Renaissance Festivals a year. If sharing my journey as an artist is more your thing, that can be done in a “generic overview way” through either my business or personal page on Facebook, or via a more “backstage” or intimate way through a subscription site called “Patreon“.
Q: Can you share with me some of the story of your journey? What first interested you in what you do? What were some challenges along the way?
A: All three stained glass firms I worked for were mostly peopled by blue collar men, and in all three cases I was the only woman and (to my knowledge) college graduate in their employ on the shop floor. That was challenging on multiple levels, not least of which learning to voice boundaries when their -isms (sexism, racism, etc.) would inevitably creep into the work day. There aren’t a lot of job opportunities for a person with a degree in Fine Arts and a concentration in stained glass, so my years at those three shops were not only formative but necessary from a learning and skill-gathering perspective.
I actually started college envisioning myself as an art teacher and/or a glassblower. Teaching was the occupation of both parents and a grandparent as well, and it felt like a comfortable way to make a living, since you never really hear success stories about artists. But in my freshman year I realized I didn’t like glassblowing, and in my senior year I realized I didn’t like children in massive groups, so I dropped the teaching degree and decided to wing it with just the “stained glass fine arts thang”.
So much of my life now is what comprised my plan B when I was still trying to fit into the “normal job, normal person” modality of life (and I think that’s a really important lesson for people in general! Have a plan B, and don’t be scared if it’s not everyone’s plan B. It doesn’t have to work for everyone. It just has to work for you.) For example, I fell into stained glass accidentally – as I mentioned above, I thought I was going to be a glassblower, and when I had the opportunity in college to try glassblowing, I realized that I didn’t particularly like it. Glassblowing is a team sport, and I’m so very much a loner that I probably border on “closet misanthrope”. And then the teaching thing wasn’t my cup of tea, so I think the lesson I needed to learn was to realize how much my personality has to factor into my Plan A: I’m a textbook Virgo, and an INTJ, so I appreciate that my chosen medium has self-limiting factors and rules. It can also be a solitary medium, and doesn’t have 30 children involved, so I wandered back to stained glass, dove in, and never really surfaced after that.
Q: What in particular do you find most satisfying about your work?
A: When I make a point to dedicate time to play around with crazy stuff that may never sell because it’s too out there. (Check out the photo of my tattooed sea turtle, that’s the kind of weird shit – is it okay to say shit? Edit it out if it’s not – that I really like to do.) (IS Note: That’s not the worst thing anyone’s ever said on my blog! 😀 )
Q: What do you find most challenging?
A: I make my living from selling at 5 Renaissance Festivals a year (and then from sharing my weird life over on Patreon). So not only do I make the bulk of my income in half the year, but in essence, I have two very distinct and very different jobs: I spend six months of the year just making stuff and talking to my dog, and the other six face-to-face with the general public, talking them into giving me money for my art. Those two jobs require such different skill sets that the transition between them is always super challenging. Talking to people used to be the hardest thing, but I discovered I like eating, and talking to people is less hard than not eating, so you pick your battles really. I can pass as super extroverted, but that part of my job is nearly as challenging as the transition periods, but in a different way? I don’t know if I have good words to describe that innate difference in how they’re both very challenging, but not challenging in the same ways.
Q: What piece of advice would you offer someone interested in this field? What piece of advice do you find yourself giving over and over to people who are hoping to learn from you?
A: Keep learning, whether that’s taking business classes, or art classes or both, and the minute you think you know it all, hang up your brushes. Don’t be afraid of failure, because failure just means it’s an ordinary Tuesday. Imposter syndrome (wondering how in the heck you get away with being who you are and why you’re “allowed” to do what you do) is real, and the monsters get bigger and meaner the more successful you get. So make sure you have good people around to not only tell you when you’re being an asshole, but to give you targeted praise that is from people that really know you. Try not to personalize the way people interact with you if you start to become a public figure, cause those interactions are really more about what they might need on that day. As for the stained glass side of things? I don’t get many people asking about my medium as a career pursuit. That’s kind of a lonely field, honestly, which is why I answered more in a “generic art business” way, but if you’re into stained glass, and new at it, and reading this: your solder seams won’t look very good for 5-10 years, that’s normal. Keep trying, and buy a rheostat for your iron so you can fine tune it as you go.
Q: What work are you most proud of, and why?
A: You mean, other than playing with a medium on a daily basis that can sever an artery faster than a run of the mill vampire? Probably starting an art business in the middle of the worst recession since the Great Depression on record, and succeeding at it. The glass art is my full time job and has been for several years now. That’s not to say that I’m not immensely proud of some of the pieces I’ve made, but I know they’ll be around long after I’m dead and gone. My business exists only so long as I’m here to captain the ship – and while that’s as it should be for any artist – I guess I’m more cognizant of watching the business ebbs and flows from a front row seat? I don’t really get to see my pieces much after I sell them – or the joy they bring on a daily basis from the front row – although I do have excited customers tell me that they wash dishes while looking at my work everyday and whatnot so that’s a total win, it’s just not as present in my everyday life as, say, the business end of things.
Q: Anything to add?
A: Yes. We (meaning Americans) are not a culture that is in the habit of supporting visual artists. We can all name famous film stars and famous musicians, but we really cannot name even a handful of current and successful visual artists. I would ask anyone reading this to change that, even on a micro-level. The next time you buy something that will decorate your life, buy it from a self-supporting artist, or someone who is trying to be so. Like skip the coffee mug from some nationally recognized name brand of brightly colored and mass produced stuff, and buy an actual pottery mug from an actual potter. If we (as a culture) want people who “make stuff” to continue to make stuff, then the big-box store focus of this country needs to change.
And lastly, Rachel, thank you so much for your time and this opportunity to be interviewed.
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Check out more about Molly Sotherden online: