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by Jack Daniel
I’m not sure if it’s the strong military heritage in this city, or if it’s just the fact that when people visit they don’t want to leave, but San Diego is one of those places where a lot of the people from here, aren’t really from here. It’s often referred to as a ‘melting pot’, with so many different types of people converging, staying, and lending a bit of their past culture to their new one.
San Diego has also become a melting pot for some artists who know a thing or two about melting glass, and some of the finest and most sought after work in the arena of functional glass art comes straight out of “America’s Finest City”. The history is deep, but these days artists like Ryno and JAG, and companies like Health Stone Glass, Olympic Glassworks, and Stone Glassworks all call San Diego their home.
Opinicus9 Glassworks is another local company who represents the precision artistry that the names above have helped to create here, along with the laid back vibe and ‘melting pot’ mentality that SoCal is known for. They have been really mixing it up lately with their styles and it had been a while since my last visit, so I showed up last week to see what’s fresh out of the kiln, and to get their take on where the glass industry came from, where it is now, and where it is heading.
Another perfect day in San Diego, California – March 2014
JD: What is the name of your company and how did you come up with it?
OP9: The name of the company is Opinicus9, and as cheesy as it sounds, I literally opened one of those Webster’s 1500-page dictionaries to a random page, and I just started scanning down until I hit ‘opincus’, and it’s the oldest known mythical creature, and I thought ah yeah that sounds cool, you know what I mean?
JD: And the 9?
OP9:I’ve always related to the numbers 8, 9 & 10. And I was doin’ some…not really graffiti, I was doin’ some wheatpaste projects in like ’88 or ’89, going and hittin’ the power boxes and shit. Just small ones, but inspired by guys like Giant (Shepard Fairey), and Exist from Do The Math.
I probably put up five or six of them, but every one I did, I would do under a different name, and Opinicus9 was one of the names that I used, and it always kind of stuck with me. So when it came time for me to brand my glass, I was up in LA with a couple of friends and they’re like “what are you gonna call it?”, and I said I have this name Opinicus9 from back in the day that I used to do some artwork under, and everybody in the room was like “That’s it! That has to be it!” So that’s grown into what we have here.
JD: What about your logo?
OP9: That’s my buddy Kards1, he’s another incredible artist. He did the Grouch & Eligh “Livin Legends” cover, he’s worked with Carrie Underwood…Guerilla Union, he did all the artwork for the Paid Dues tours. So I’ve just been real fortunate to be around really talented people, by sheer coincidence, because of here where I grew up.
JD: How long has the company been around?
OP9: Since I started branding it, 5 years.
JD:And how many artists currently work here in the shop?
OP9: Besides me, we have two full time, OuterWombleTron and Y_Lee…
JD: Wait, Outerwhat?
OP9: Wom-ble-Tron hahaha…yeah and we have an apprentice, he goes by The Higher Class – he’s a really cool kid, and he’s learning the craft and making some really cool marbles and learning some tube-work as well. But for the most part, it’s the three of us.
JD: How long have you been blowing glass, personally, and how did you get your start?
OP9: Right around 2000, or 2001. I had transferred over from being a machinist, to graphic arts, and I was barely payin’ the bills, so I sat down with my son’s mom to figure out what I wanted to do. I said I wanted to blow glass, and she just so happened to know people who blew glass. It took maybe a year of begging on her part and my part to get me in the shop, but once I got in, on that first day, I knew this was what I was gonna do. I stayed there about a year, but then Operation Pipeworks came down and just shut the doors, people were just terrified to blow glass.
JD: Then what?
OP9: Well it forced me to get all my own tools, and my own place. I was stayin’ in OB and had my shop in my garage, it was like 16 square feet and I couldn’t even stand all the way up in it…OB garage, ya know?
JD: You were lucky to have a garage in OB.
OP9: Right! So I was mostly making jewelry at that point, I didn’t have the knowledge base yet to make pipes. I had spent that first year doing all just prep work, pulling cane, all the grimey shit…
JD: We know Grimey bro! Would you say that was when you first felt like you could pay the bills by blowing glass?
OP9: Yeah, and it came relatively quickly just because the OB community was really accepting. People were super supportive of somebody learning a craft. And some of it was good, but looking back, most of it was junk. But having that positive feedback really kept me going.
JD: Who have been some of the influences in your career, early on and even now?
OP9: You know Thaine from Olympic, and all of those Olympic guys. I moved into a shop by Sports Arena with Thaine, and Ryno was there for a while, and Zoltan who does a lot of work for Health Stone these days. So the four of us were in there and were all at that point where we were really starting to push, ya know?
I’d have someone tell me about a disc-perc or a “sideways bubbler”…
“A sideways bubbler? Why would you make a sideways bubbler?”, I was thinking…
“So you can get the whole downstem in” oooh, so I’d make a sideways bubbler, I didn’t even know it was called an inline. Then I’d make a sideways bubbler, with another bubbler going up. I would never make the same thing twice back then. Now I know that Hops was the first one making those inlines.
And Crondo619 was the first person to ever come in the shop and challenge me like, “We’re gonna do this”, and I’d say no I can’t do that, and he’d just be like, “No we’re doing it.” And it was that experience that really sparked my interest in the scientific side.
JD: Talk a little bit about finding your own style.
OP9: One idea sparks another, which sparks another, and you finally end up with something like my penetrated disc. I wasn’t the first to make a disc perc, but I had never seen anyone do a downstem down through it, and I was trying to figure out how to get the air to start below the disc without having to come off the stemless, and I built it in my mind a hundred times, and a hundred times I convinced myself it wasn’t gonna work. But one day I walked out into the shop and said, “I’m gonna make something that ain’t gonna work cuz I gotta get it outta my head.” I made it and I put it in the kiln for about 20 minutes, then put it out on the desk to cool, and figured, if it cracks, it cracks. But it didn’t, and I put water in it and pulled it the first time, and thought…ohhhh, I am on to something here. It felt original, but with giving elements to influences…influences from guys I had met and guys I hadn’t. We started another shop, the same four, but we had JOP in there, and Betelzeus, it was amazing.
JD: Bunch of all-stars. What about working with Ryno? He’s been killing it lately, was he always that good?
OP9: Yeah he’s my favorite glassblower out there right now. Back then he was getting exposed to a lot of different guys – man he was an intelligent, crazy-talented artist, cool guy, smart kid. Well he brought back a tree-tool, like how they used to make those tree percs everybody wanted. Like, they have a tool for that! So that’s what I mean about being influenced by guys I maybe never even met, and then I’d go to the shop every day and see magic.
JD: How important is it to stay original, even with so many influences?
OP9:My whole thing has always been like, every piece that everybody makes is paying homage to something else. I truly believe that there is no original idea, but what you can do is craft something that when you make it, it looks like it’s yours. So I hope that what I’ve done is that I’ve crafted something out of all these influences, all the trial and errors, that I can call my own. The years that I have worked by myself feel like baby-steps compared to my years of working around other people. I’d like to think that I wasn’t always just following, but that I had some influence on them as well. It’s a give and take.
JD: Is that how it works here in the shop now, with everyone sharing their knowledge and experience?
OP9: Oh yeah, we’re a team, we’re a unit here, you know? We are really a family here. I’ve known this dude right here since he was born, we grew up together. We’d like to add more people, but it has to fit. I’m not just in this to make money, man, I’m in this for my life. I’m in this because it’s what I’m compelled to do and this shop right here is my dream, it’s my dream incarnate. I get here in the morning, and these guys are already here, torches blazing, grinding away. It’s a place we all want to be.
“I’m not just in this to make money, man, I’m in this for my life. I’m in this because it’s what I’m compelled to do and this shop right here is my dream, it’s my dream incarnate.”
JD: After all these years, do you still have those “A-ha!” moments, like the penetrated disc?
OP9: Shit, man, glass is the most humbling thing I’ve ever come across in my entire life. But yeah, I don’t know if maybe I’m just dumb, and I forget a lot of things, and then re-remember them – that’s a possibility! But I have just as many “A-ha!” moments in life…like last night, I was here at like 9 o’clock, grinding away on production and thinking I don’t wanna be here. But then, it clicked and I realized, where else would you rather be than here making glass and making a living…it gives me chills just thinking about it. In one second, that thought changed my outlook on the rest of the night.
JD: With the popularity of glassblowing and glass art on the rise, do you think that there is room for the increasing number of glassblowers getting into the industry?
OP9: It takes a special kind of person to sit, fail, get burnt, get cut, waste money, and the rest of the humbling process that not everyone will get through. So the people who make it through that are only gonna make the art better. There are billions of people in this world, a million glassblowers can only make it better. This era of glassblowing and lampworking will be marked, it will be marked in history like the Venetians, like the…
JD: Man, I hope so…
OP9: No, there’s no “hope” about it, just look at the progression in the past – I could say 3 or 4 years – but in the last 15 years. Shit that motherfuckers back in the day would think you’re a sorcerer if you showed up saying you made. I mean, I work in the medium and some of the absolute perfection I see from others shocks me still. I’m really proud to be a part of it, it’s fun to watch. I mean, a guy like Eusheen…the guy’s a wizard. I met him one time, for four hours, and he had an impact on my life. That’s a cool dude right there.
JD: How has social media changed the glass game?
OP9: Before, you had to hope you had 15 shops in your town buying, or you had a car to get you to LA for the day to sell your stuff. How could a kid in Nebraska make it? Today everyone has an opportunity.
JD: What about collaborating with other artists? Are you down?
OP9: I would love to start doing more collabs. I’m not the most social guy, and I don’t really know a lot of people but it’s something I would really like to do in the future. I like to stay away from the egos, and stick with the love. It seems like a large portion of the industry is really getting along right now, and I think it’s awesome, it’s great. I’ve done some collabs with some non-glass-artists like Exist and my buddy KarateXplosion.
JD: All of your bongs, bubblers, and rigs are functionally flawless, and aesthetically appealing, but tell us about this new line of Opinicus9 spoon pipes. Every time I bust mine out, somebody wants to know where to get one just like it.
OP9:I am super proud of these spoons man. It’s very difficult for an American glass artist to make a profit on spoon pipes these days. If you knew how much work goes into those…the patterns are all hand-laid.. .so Y_Lee busts them out every day by hand, then we have this station over here with all the pieces and parts laid out, then we apply the vinyl, and sandblast them, then scrub them. These are very labor-intensive pieces, and I feel like we kind of carved back a piece of the market.
When I first started blowing glass, everybody who wanted to could make a living off of making spoon pipes. A glassblower could get maybe $17-$25 dollars for one, which was a living wage. China glass came and, bang, killed that shit. Mass-marketed factory glass, killed that shit. I know this sounds like a big victory that means nothing to anybody but us, but to us, that captures back a bit of that market, putting American glassblowers back to work.
JD:You have two stickers that I see all over the place. One says “Support Small Shops”, and the other says “Fuck Factory Glass”. What’s up with those?
OP9: What I would love to see is if you make your glass, you put your name on it. If you don’t make the glass, and just put your name on it…it bums me out man. It bums me out that there is a portion of this industry that customers don’t know about, and shops don’t talk about because they are moving product fast, but it’s all marketing behind it, there’s no heart and soul.
When I see 50 of one somethin’-or-other in one store, then 50 of the same somethin’-or-other in another store, and 50 more over here, I’m reminded of a feeling I got one day when I was blowing glass in that little garage in Ocean Beach. I’m out there makin’ my little pieces, and my buddy cruises by and pulls out a ziplock gallon bag full of inside out spoons, that looked pretty darn good. He said he got them all for $2 apiece, and I went, “Daaamn. It’s over.”
So now I see that second wave of people who know they can’t go to China, that gig is up, because the market got smart. I see that whole wave coming, but this time from “American-made” factory glassblowers and it offends me personally because it damages the market and it damages the industry. And again, I don’t want anybody to “go away”, I just want there to be context. We are 3 or 4 guys here doing what we love to do, but we have to compete with the whole sweatshop mentality.
To a lot of people that can sound like sour grapes, ya know, but I understand capitalism, man, I could take that model. I know I could go to a bank and take out a loan and show them a design, tell them I can make it for $40 and sell it for $100, and completely undercut the market and the original artist, I could do all that. But I don’t want to live that way, and I don’t want to fuck the industry that way, and I enjoy being able to box something up that we made. That’s got us all over it, we are all up in that shit, and when we send it out, that’s love that we are sending out. I want the people who receive it to know that, to know that it’s three guys in a shop doin’ what they love.
JD: It shows. What else ya got for us?
OP9: Man, this industry has supported glass, has supported artists in a way that is hard to even explain. Without the customers and the stores who are willing to risk their livelihoods and risk their incomes, none of this happens, and I appreciate them every step of the way.
JD: Will you still be doing this in 20 years? 30 years?
OP9: Hell yeah, if I’m alive – you can’t stop me!
You can find Opinicus9 on Instagram at @opinicus9 and on Facebook at /opinicus9.
Wholesalers can contact them directly or contact
Retail customers can also check in at MasterMinded Distribution or hound your local head shop to carry Opinicus9!
Cheers, my #GGFam – I hope you enjoyed an old school perspective on one of the nation’s hottest industries. One that is finally beginning to get the recognition it deserves. The vibe at the Opinicus9 shop is always positive, and it is highlighted in their one-of-a-kind GrimeyGatsby-approved line of amazing art.
It’s your boy Jack Daniel scouring the streets of San Diego, bringing you SoCal’s style and culture, Grimey style. Stay cool, friends!