From lazy pandas to wide-eyed unicorns, Vawn and Mike Gray make recycled glass nightlights with endearing details and handcrafted charm. In their Cape Coral, Florida studio, they use recycled glass and an energy-efficient kiln to create colorful pieces they characterize as “a little light for the darkness.” Here, Vawn talks with us about smashing glass, finding inspiration in viral videos, and the eloquent life lessons of John Lennon.
What inspired you to start making nightlights? Are there any personal or family stories behind that part of your collection?
Yes! Our first kiln was very tiny: an 8-inch square. We did all our experimental firing on jewelry because that’s all we could fit in the kiln. Our sons-in-law were involved and complaining they wanted to make something other than “girlie jewelry.” That’s when I got the idea they had just enough room to make a couple of nightlights! The first two nightlights out of the kiln were so cool—everyone wanted one!
How do you decide what animals, characters, or scenes to add to that collection?
Since bottles really only come in clear, blues, greens, and browns, the palette really works well with nature of all kinds, and that is in step with the environmental side of our business. The Lazy Panda recently added to the UncommonGoods collection was inspired by a series of funny panda YouTube videos that went viral…we could watch pandas playing all day!
What’s your favorite part of the glassmaking process?
Figuring out a successful new design concept. We have to plan everything around the light source, which is both tricky and cool. Often, the hot spot created from the bulb will distort or dilute the final design. We like to treat it like the sun and use the light to its best advantage—to enhance and breathe life into the design…it’s always all about the light!
How did you learn your technique of fusing recycled glass?
We took a private class in art glass fusing with a world renowned artist many years ago to get a simple understanding, then we developed our own very unique process through diligent trial and error—literally conducting continual experiments and keeping notes with plenty of failures along the way.
You’ve been concerned about the wasteful, toxic nature of glass production. How do your materials and process address those concerns?
We use recycled bottle glass, a computer controlled energy efficient kiln, and pack every piece in 100% recycled material. Even our “Grand Smasher” [their glass crushing machine] was built from recycled steel.
What was the most exciting thing about becoming full-time artists/makers?
It’s really all we know, but freedom is the best part. I will say it’s not for the faint of heart: You really have to be able to go with the flow and be willing to work around the clock when necessary—so you better love what you’re doing!
Do you have any quotes of mantras that help motivate and inspire you?
We love this John Lennon story: “When I was five years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down happy. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”
Our Mantra is simple: “Be the Light”
What was the last thing that inspired your work?
We love to read through the UncommonGoods reviews of our nightlights—hearing how a child’s fears are eased at bedtime, or how a beloved pet is memorialized by the silhouette Cat Nightlight is just so heartwarming. There’s something very magical about creating a little light for the darkness.