Chris Heisinger knows a thing or two about the business of art.
Lured by the glitter of glass, she left the corporate world to give rein to her creativity. But she did not leave behind the skills she learned in the field of information technology when she turned to creating glass mosaics.
Despite the fragile medium in which she works, Ms. Heisinger’s business savvy has helped her establish an art career of substance in the two and a half years since quitting her job. Unlike the stereotypical artist, “I have no trouble doing business plans and budgets or sending postcards,” she says.
She uses communications and marketing tools from her background in computer training to spread the word about her colorful mosaic windows, which now hang in galleries from the Thompson Center and Homey Gallery in Chicago to Rubinkam Studio in New Buffalo, Mich., to Rend Lake in downstate Whittington, Ill.
Recently she has shown at two Evanston cafés — the Unicorn, 1723 Sherman Ave., in September, and Café Ambrosia, 1620 Orrington Ave., this month.
Even as a child, Ms. Heisinger says she “dabbled in art” of various kinds, though she chose communications as a college major. Her particular fascination with glass long predates her career change. “I was immersed in stained glass in the 80s,” she says. Passionate about its appeal, she says, “Every piece of glass has a yumminess – a sheen, a different look in the morning and afternoon.” She speaks of “colors that excite the senses,” adding, “I always choose those I want to eat.”
After graduating from Northwestern University’s School of Continuing Studies in 2002, she decided to return to art in her spare time. But enrolled in a mosaic class in Highland Park, she says she grew quickly bored with “lining up pieces of glass.”
Still employed in corporate America, she began giving her art as gifts and holding small shows. Realizing “something about glass excites people,” she says, “I took off from there. My objects became bigger, and I challenged myself.”
What she wanted to do was “push the materials to do something people wouldn’t think of,” she says. She began experimenting at home. “My husband was afraid I would mosaic all the heirlooms in the house,” she says.
Instead, she returned to the idea of stained glass windows but took it in a new direction. By combining mosaic and stained glass techniques, she created something all her own.
Each of Ms. Heisinger’s art works begins with a frame. Hers are recycled: kitchen cabinet doors she found on Craigslist, discarded windows from a Michigan cottage, doors from an old buffet.
She draws inspiration “from everywhere,” she says, including the artists with whom she interacts at the Chicago Mosaic School. Often she cuts out appealing images from magazines, combining them with sketches to create collages. These she uses to create a pattern, which she tapes to the back of the window glass.
She marks a sheet of colored glass and uses nippers to break it (“a controlled break,” she explains) into pieces of whatever size and shape her design requires. The different shapes can create patterns and “movement” in the works, she points out.
Using silicone glue, she affixes the pieces of glass to the background glass, then applies grout to the spaces. Unlike the lead or copper foil that holds pieces of stained glass together, the grout becomes part of the design, says Ms. Heisinger.
Though her style varies, rich color characterizes all her work. Many of the windows have an Arts and Crafts feeling — landscapes depicting a grove of birch trees that stand knee-deep in fallen leaves, a lake or brook with woods, a group of red poppies.
Her shows have begun to attract fans and with them, commissions. Among them is a six-foot mosaic panel she created for the fireplace of a Louis Sullivan residence in Madison, Wis., an oak branch with acorns reflecting the style of the Prairie-style house.
Her work is never static. Ms. Heisinger is currently taking a class in printmaking at the Evanston Art Center and has a few woodcuts at Ambrosia. She also has some mixed-media works on display, whimsical, bright-colored paintings embellished with glass. Not on exhibit is the first of a possible series of mosaics based on word plays: “Trophy Wife” is a mosaic-covered ceramic head mounted on a board.
She has begun to do “more creative things with fused glass,” she says, melting the glass in a 1,400-degree kiln (“an Easy-Bake oven on steroids,” she says) to build up layers for a three-dimensional effect. As she strives toward making what she calls “extraordinary pieces,” Ms. Heisinger seems compelled to create. “If I don’t create art, I get crabby,” she says.