For this edition of First-Person Shooter, we sent a disposable camera to Josh Opdenaker, a.k.a. JOP!, a seriously skilled glass pipe artist based out of Philadelphia. Josh has been blowing glass for 15 years and runs a studio called Jop Glass. While he was the first in Philly's Fishtown area to make a name for himself in the field, today there are five glass studios and 18 glass blowers on his block alone. "I was there when there was no money in the scene," he says, "and I'll be there if the money runs out."
Josh snapped a few pics of a glass pipe he's working on that's shaped like a large cassette (complete with badass flames coming out of its sides), gave us a tour of his studio, and also showed us the most expensive tool for smoking we've ever seen: "The Baby Mecha Ganesh," which is valued at over $100,000. Here's what else the glass guru had to say about his niche, incredible craft.
VICE: What'd you get up to during your day?
Josh Opdenaker: To start my day, I bike to the studio almost immediately after getting ready in the morning. The first hours I'm awake are my most productive, so I skip breakfast and usually lunch. I get to the studio, spark the kiln, then spark some weed. I use weed like a tool on my bench—it helps me work and get inspired, and I don't usually smoke when I'm not working. After I get to the studio, I work at minimum 10-12 hours straight until I'm spabbled from no food, too many cigarettes, and being in the same room for too long. If I'm fully immersed in a piece (which is always), food and resting come second—if at all. After that, I crush a few specials (a cheap beer-and-shot combo) from the El Bar across the street and call it a day.
How'd you get into the craft?
After hand-carving stone sculptures for a few years, I was sick of being broke. My buddy JAG was making pipes in another homie's kitchen (not recommended), and he definitely was making some money. He let me play around with it one day and after just 15 minutes of trying the medium I knew it was what I would do for the rest of my life.
I took whatever little money I had and bought my first torch and small kiln. Then, I rented a garage and worked trial-and-error style for the first few years. Techniques weren't shared so frequently back then, and there was certainly no information on the internet. If you thought of something, you had to just go for it. And fuck up. And then go again for it. And fuck up. And repeat.
If somebody wanted to learn how to get into making glass pipes like you what would be some good first steps?
If someone wanted to learn to make pipes I'd say take a class—they're all over America and easy to find these days. But make sure the instructor is reputable. Too often, unskilled and unqualified people teach and spread some ill habits. Back in the day, techniques weren't shared and secrecy was prevalent. You had to do it apprentice-style, much like a tattoo artist.
Do you do commissions?
I used to do commissions when I had no rep and no voice. Now I make whatever I want. This is both good and bad: On one hand, I'm following my own unique voice, but a piece may sit in my studio for a little before it's finally sold.
What kind of customers usually buy your glass?
The type of person that buys from me varies greatly, as I make pieces that range from $90 to $100,000. With that great of a range, there is everyone from Johnny-Smokes-a-Lot who lives in his mom's basement to very well-known rappers and hip-hop artists.
What's the piece you're most proud of?
The piece I am most proud of is the 'Baby-Mecha-Ganesh' I made last year. It's a three-foot-tall mechanical baby with six arms—not including the stand. The head is removable and so is the pipe. The process of making it completely consumed me for two months, to the point where I neglected many aspects of life like food, water, sleep, socializing... I look back at the Baby Ganesh and realize all the stars were aligned when I made it. It's a once in a lifetime piece.