There’s something uniquely special about light hitting the color panes on stain glass. It creates shapes + tones that are ever-changing, literally bringing the pieces to life. We recently had a chance to visit Janel Foo, a west elm LOCAL artist included in our Southern California locations, at her Los Angeles studio. Most notably, her quaint studio has a large picture window with views that overlook the Highland Park neighborhood. From mid-morning to late afternoon the space is flooded with natural light – a stained glass artists dream. Take a closer look as we tour this SoCal natives space and learn more about her vision + love of the craft.
Tell us a little about yourself + your work.
My name’s Janel Foo – born and raised in Huntington Beach, CA. I have a bachelor’s degree in Apparel Design and Merchandising from San Francisco State University. Los Angeles has been my home for the past 10 years. My first jobs were in retail and visual merchandising, then I worked as a wardrobe stylist for several years. I was introduced to stained glass while I was pursuing a degree in jewelry design. Its appeal to me was immediate – the ways I could mix colors + textures of glass and how light dances off its surface. And I became interested in some of the more modern aesthetics of stained glass informed by simple geometric forms and abstraction. I’ve been fortunate enough to make my living as an artist since 2015.
Tell us about your studio space.
I work from my house in Highland Park in a one-car detached garage that had been converted into a bedroom before I moved in. When I began to use it as a studio, I worked on furniture that I no longer had use for in my house. After a year, the set-up became insufficient for my needs so my father built me a workbench that wraps around half of the space. There’s a large window that provides a lot of natural light, which is obviously ideal for stained-glass making.
What does a typical work day look like for you?
I start my mornings going over emails and preparing the orders that need to be shipped that day. I’m usually in my studio by mid-morning and work until the evening. When I get really busy, it’s not unusual for me to be working until 10 or later. But no matter how busy I am, I always make time for my two cats throughout the day.
Tell us about your design and manufacturing process. Any special techniques you use?
While I usually start with an idea, I often just sit down with paper and pencil and allow my creativity to flow. Recently, after returning from my local glass shop, I began to cut the glass I purchased into parallelograms, intending to create a two-dimensional piece. I just played with the pieces the whole morning. It ended up being a hanging planter.
I put a lot of thought put into the color palette of a piece. I generally have an idea of which colors I want to use, but I nonetheless spend a lot of time playing with colors, as well as textures, of glass before I start cutting, then I test the cut pieces next to each other.
What (or who) inspires you the most?
Inspiration for my work starts with my interest in geometric forms and bold colors. I’m drawn to the hard-edge style with clean lines and bright fields of color. Some of the work that I’ve been inspired by are large-scale stained-glass installations in church buildings, such as Gethsemane Church in Seattle and St. Basil’s in Koreatown, that are defining features of the architecture.
How did you get into the stained-glass business?
When I was working as a wardrobe stylist, I had a rigorous and tiring schedule of early wake-ups and long hours. I worked with the Jonas Brothers, assisting their stylist for over five years and then went on to work on commercials. It was when I began to burn out that I realized it was time for me to follow my own passion. At the time, I was also operating an online boutique with a friend that featured handmade jewelry by independent designers. I became interested in learning the process myself so I enrolled in a jewelry design program. It was in one of my courses that I discovered a passion for working with stained glass. I continued to improve my skills in classes outside of the program. When I completed a commission for a friend, it gave me the confidence to dedicate myself completely to the craft. I established my business, Janel Foo Glassworks, shortly thereafter.
Looking back I can see that I’ve always been involved in creative endeavors, and while I didn’t have the cuts to prove it then as I do now, I’ve always worked with my hands.
What is it like being a maker in America right now?
With the rise of DIY craft and more interest in craft in general, it’s very exciting to be an artist now. I love seeing the reinvigoration of crafts such as macramé and cross stitch. Stained glass is becoming popular among young artists and it’s interesting to see what they’re doing. This naturally challenges me to be more creative. Unfortunately, it’s not rare at all to see artists copying my work. This reminds me of the importance of continuing to develop my own style.
Why do you love the Southern California / LA area?
Besides the weather and food? There are ample opportunities to participate in craft shows-some in my own neighborhood-where I’ve been able to meet a lot of talented makers. I love living in my particular corner of L.A. where I feel a part of a thriving creative community. Recently I was invited to tour Judson Studios, which is a world-renowned stained-glass studio based right here in Highland Park.
What’s next for you?
I’m looking forward to the next challenge. I hope to work on more large-scale projects and with fused glass. I also have exciting collaborations with artists who work in other mediums in the field.