Connect
To Top

Life & Work with James A. Veenstra

Today we’d like to introduce you to James A. Veenstra. 

Hi James, so excited to have you on the platform. So, before we get into questions about your work-life, maybe you can bring our readers up to speed on your story and how you got to where you are today?
My story began when I was a kid running around and playing in the woods, fields, streams, and lakes of Michigan. I loved being outdoors and I loved nature. Soon I began taking pictures and drawing and coloring and painting. My parents must have recognized my creativity because they always bought me things that I could make and create with as well as things that helped me enjoy the outdoors. 

By the time I finished high school, I was headed to college to continue my education primarily in the environmental sciences. By now though I had created my first one-man company (Painted Pony Craft Company) and was making handmade leather goods including belts, purses, visors, wallets, etc. As a matter of choice, whenever I had an opportunity, I would take art classes as well as my required science curriculum. I discovered that I was really a right-brained left-brained person who used both sides equally. It was great to go from calculus class to art class and work a completely different section of my mind. I finally graduated with a BS and master’s degree in the earth sciences as well as an art minor. After college, I became employed as an environmental consultant and continued to take adult education art classes in various media. One of these classes was a cut and leaded stained-glass class where I developed an affinity for working with glass and its dynamic nature. I was soon doing little art fairs for fun and selling my work. 

After a number of years, I decided I needed to break out into specialty glass art niches other than “stained glass”. 

I studied under Norm Dobbins, a pioneer who transformed/modified industrial sandblasting equipment to be used in artistic sandblasting on glass. I also developed a technique by trial and error where I would sculpt molten metal directly onto art glass creating original design silhouette scenes on glass which simulated amazing sunrise and sunset scenes. The common united theme in my artwork always seems to be nature of some sort… wildlife, landscapes, mountains, lakes, trees, and plants, as these have always been near and dear to me both in learning about them and experiencing them. 

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
As I learned more and became better, my unique and original offerings sold reasonably well. During the early years of my marriage there really wasn’t much conflict for my time as my wife was also an adventurous nature-loving person and so we spent many hours in the great outdoors. All the while, I was shooting hundreds of photographs which could be used for future reference material. Once the kids came along though, it became a challenge to make time for creating as well as participating in weekend art shows (and work a full-time consulting job). It became apparent that something was going to have to change. 

A change in my consulting situation out west in Wyoming, along with a need to be closer to our Michigan families, led us to leave Wyoming after being fully assimilated into its western culture after living there for 12 years. This change coincided with my increased desire to spend more time and effort on art and so I negotiated a four-day work week consulting back in Michigan, leaving a full day for studio work. 

I continued down this path fully working both sides of my brain until I retired from consulting six years ago. I never would have made it through my dual vocational life without all the help and support of my wife of now 45 years. she picked up the slack in other areas of our family life while I was trying to develop an art career. She also taught school full-time and I cannot overestimate how big a factor this may be for someone trying to pull something like this off. 

So, after retiring from consulting, it seemed like we had a good plan of traveling the country with our camper, art trailer, and bikes and kayaks. We would do several art shows and play and explore and be gone for six weeks at a time. But alas, the pandemic rolled in, and shows shut down. By now social media had fully sprouted and grown strong so I learned how to utilize those tools. I also put more effort into participating with galleries and shops that would provide a good fit with my art and in locations that I would like to frequent. This seems to be a better business model considering the current state of affairs with Covid, gas prices (and my aging body). And so, for now, we continue along this path. 

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
I have dabbled with various artistic media over the course of my life, spending most of my time working with glass. My familiarity and exposure to metal smithing and painting, and my overall science curriculum prepared me for my two specialty niches of sandblast etching and carving glass, as well as sculpting molten metal on glass. Both these techniques have a high technical expertise requirement in that they deal with things such as pressure, shielding, and conflicting thermodynamic characteristics of materials (hot conductive molten metal directly on cool nonconductive glass). It seems to help to be a right-brained left-brained person to make it all work. 

My inspiration for my art comes directly from my experiences in the great outdoors and especially from those wild areas of creation where man has not yet spoiled it. I seek wilderness and wild places as often as I can because this is where my inspiration lies and it’s where I feel best. If I can capture that essence in my art and transport someone to that place through it, I will have succeeded. 

My work is available through all my websites including my Etsy site. People can contact me via my email or phone if they are interested in custom or commission work. A lot of my commission work is in a category I call functional art. This includes sandblast etching and carving on glass that will be used in doors, windows, fireplace and wood stove glass, room dividers and glass for port hole openings between rooms, as well as cabinet and shower glass. Some of the big commission work I have completed includes a series of panels that were edge-lit and used as barriers between areas of a casino restaurant. Another project consisted of completing an 8-foot high by 13-foot-wide sandblast etched window wall in an MRI room of a hospital. Custom glass projects can be insulated in a thermo-pained unit. Other projects can be done on tempered glass as well. 

Do you have any advice for those just starting out?
My advice to someone just starting out in the creative business is to follow your passion. Sometimes it takes a while to determine what your passion really is. Often it can start out as one thing but may meander and morph into something else. Keep your eyes open to what it is you really want to be doing and how can you make that pay the bills. This is where a support person such as a partner can help. Don’t take these people for granted because without them you may fail. 

You must also be aware that sometimes compromise is necessary. Always be on the lookout for different ways to move, market, or sell your product. If you have a bread-and-butter product but aren’t that passionate about it, you still may have to create that product to get you through hard times. 

There are many avenues and strategies to sell as a creative and I think I have tried them all. Some will work and some won’t and some things will change forcing you to change. Be adaptable but most of all be persistent and persevere. If you want it bad enough you may have to sacrifice something. 

In looking back over the last 50 Plus years that I have been working as a creative and artist I think that the biggest advance to selling as an individual has come about by the Internet and more recently in the last 5 to 10 years, the various social media platforms, such as Etsy that allow you to sell. 

It’s also important to remember to be as professional and businesslike as well as personable and likable as possible. When people buy your art, they are buying a little piece of you and I believe they would rather think you were a nice person and proud of that little piece of you that they just bought. I consider anyone who buys my art, my friend. And treat them like that even though I may never see or hear from them again. Also remember that repeat business is the best business and it usually just requires that you’re good at what you do and that you’re nice. That last part seems to be hard to find these days, yet it could give you a real advantage. 

Pricing:

  • $50-$20,000

Contact Info:


Image Credits

James a Veenstra

Suggest a Story: VoyageMichigan is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

More in Local Stories