Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Michelle Levy, but everyone (including my mama) calls me Twiggy. I’m a 31-year-old woman residing in Brooklyn who happens to make stained glass. I spent years touring for a living and would tell anyone who would listen that someday I would set up my own shop. Finally, at the ripe age of 29, I decided to go ahead and do just that. I found myself a little studio in the Williamsburg area of Brooklyn and got to work. It’s been a real eye-opener watching myself evolve with the store. Initially, I had some ideas, but I really had no clue which direction this would head. Over time, I realized I could combine my love of plants and glass in really unique and beautiful ways. Eventually, I realized I enjoyed making 3D pieces the most — even my “flat” pieces almost always consist of bevels, which add depth.
Apart from creating things, what do you do?
I run a side business with my best friend Amanda called LYLAS leather .We turn iconic images into pyrography on leather. It’s nice to be able to do something with the images I love that I can’t make in glass. Eventually we’ll get our shop up and running on Etsy, but for now it’s a friends-only kind of deal. Besides that, I mainly hang out with my animals – two parakeets (Johnny and June) and two cats (Lint and Tbone). I also garden, latch hook (I’m a freak when it comes to latch-hooking) and try to sneak a few hours of sleep in there every so often. I’m in my studio about 14 hours a day, so that doesn’t leave time for much else, but I couldn’t be happier. My studio is where I’m the happiest, so I lucked out that I have to spend so much time there.
What would be the title of your memoir?
25 Minutes To Go. I think the most important thing to remember is that our time is limited here: make the most of it! I spent a long time being afraid of death, and the moment I realized I could, in fact, die was mind-blowing. A long conversation with an older gentleman in the desert finally snapped me out of it. Moving forward has been the best awakening anyone could hope for. It’s scary to accept that you will be gone, but more important to leave your mark. Live your life the way that makes you happy and damn everyone else.
Where does your inspiration come from?
Where doesn’t it come from would be easier to answer. Math, nature, friends, corners – anywhere you look, really.
What does handmade mean to you?
Handmade is an entire process where one person’s individual ideas are given the chance to come true. That’s pretty special. You take an idea, inspiration, or thought and turn it into an actual item. There is no better feeling. It doesn’t always turn out the way you expected or wanted, but just knowing you made that, created and shaped it from nothing but your mind, is amazing. Mass corporations may start from an idea, but the idea is changed and whittled down to be made by machines, in a cost-efficient manner, quickly and in bulk. You lose the original concept when making those sort of concessions.
Very few craft workers I know will cut corners to make something easier if it’ll change the end result. When you buy something that’s handmade you’re buying the blood, sweat and tears that come with it. I’ve cried over quite a few projects, bled more than is appropriate, and still managed to finish each piece. There is no greater feeling than being beaten down by a piece only to buff that polish off, step back and look at it. A lot of people forget that while you’re making these items, every little detail is done by hand – there are small things you’d never think of until you have to make the piece. Then you realize an item you thought would have four steps really has about 20. Still, there’s nothing better than handcrafted items. So much love has to be put in to make them.
Who has been most influential in your craft?
My mother, Nancy Boevingloh. She has led a life of crafting, which started at a young age when the doctors told my grandmother to “keep her hands busy.” She’s an expert at just about every craft, but she always told me the moment she picked up her glass cutter she knew she had found her passion. No matter what pitfalls she encounters, she just pushes forward and does her glass. She finds inspiration in the most amazing places and keeps the most upbeat attitude. She’s my biggest supporter and the only person I try to impress. She’s completely self-taught and can appreciate my unconventional ways without trying to correct them. I can call her day and night, crying about a piece and she’ll know exactly what I’m going through and how to fix it. If she can’t fix it she’ll make me laugh, which is just as important. Sorry to gush, but she’s pretty amazing. (Nicholas Cage follows her on Twitter, no big deal.)
When did you know you were an artist/maker?
I’m really happy this question is in here, because truthfully, I fought it tooth and nail. I didn’t want to be that image of an artist that I had in my head – the snobby, condescending art critic. I just wanted to make glass and live a simple life. I refused to call myself a stained glass artist, instead opting for stained glass worker. After playing with shapes and angles, one day I made a terrarium from miscellaneous triangles. The moment I tacked the solder lines and stood it up, I knew I had found what I wanted to do. I was an artist, and it had nothing to do with any of my previous conceptions of artists. I had to take credit for my ideas and accept that I had, in fact, created art. I tattooed those triangles on the palm of my hand as a daily reminder of that feeling. Since then, I’ve grown in leaps and bounds. I think self-appreciation is incredibly important, but we’re all taught that it’s a bad thing from a young age. If you don’t take the credit for your work, someone else will.
How would you describe your creative process?
Constantly evolving. Initially, I couldn’t make the ideas come out of my head and on to paper, so I relied on pattern books. Over time, I learned the tricks and rules of glass and started to branch out. Often I have a great idea, finish it, and then think of a totally different way to do it, or style. I have a problem with drawing it out on paper, so often I make the piece horribly wrong and structurally unsound and then learn from mistakes as I go. It’s not the most cost efficient method, but unfortunately it’s how my brain works. My friends and apartment get a lot of screwed up pieces.
If you could peek inside the studio of any artist, designer or craftsman (dead or alive), who would it be?
Hands down, Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright combined so many qualities: new technologies; new styles; maximum expressive effects. He also had a grammatical consistency in all his work all while managing to keep the designs fresh and fun. All the biographies I’ve read on him describe him as a competitive man who strived to be the best but never lost the joy in his work. That’s a work ethic I can subscribe to. His glass work was true art. Each piece can be described and seen uniquely without being given the title or explanation. To me that is important. When someone looks at my work, they see an arrow tail because I call it an arrow tail. But who’s to say the diamonds don’t represent the petals of a flower? I like that pieces have all manners of interpretation, and that allows the collector to see what they’d like without my point of view shoved down their throats. Frank Lloyd Wright was a master at that.
What handmade possession do you most cherish?
I’m blessed with having many friends who are craftsmen and supply me with the most amazing gifts, but I’d have to go with these shelves that my friend Texas made me. They’re the center of my studio and just the most amazing shelves. He made them with his own two hands out of barn wood he got from upstate New York. They really are just stunning. You can see them as the display stands in my pictures.
How do you get out of your creative ruts?
I know it’s cliché to say, but take a walk. I walk around the neighborhood with my headphones on and find inspiration in the oddest places. The triangle wall planters came to me when I noticed a wooden triangle shelf in the trash. The diamonds came from the neon lights of the pawn stores. Walking around — especially in NYC — throws so many things your way. You just have to keep your eyes open. If that doesn’t work, go back and look at everything you’ve made. You’ll be sure to look at a piece and realize a different way to do it.
Where would you like to be in ten years?
In 10 years, I’d like to be settled back in the Midwest with my own store and family. I’d like my most stressful question of the day to be “What should I make for dinner?” Hopefully I’ll have found my ma’s confidence in her work and her sense of peace in her shop. Basically, I’d like to be my mama.