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Butt plugs tentacle nails Grace Wardlaw’s world of glass

Butt plugs and tentacle nails: inside Grace Wardlaw’s world of glass

From otherworldly manicures for Rosaliá and Hunter Schafer to eyelashes and sex toys, Grace Wardlaw is building an empire made of glass

It took Grace Wardlaw a year and a half to watch the music video for Lo Vas A Olvidar, the Euphoria-premiering collaboration between Rosalía and Billie Eilish. Eventually, Wardlaw added hers to the 68 million views on YouTube, seeing for the first time two of music’s most famous women adorned with her hand-blown glass creations on their fingertips. When I question her hesitance, the Canada-based artist says she’s not sure what held her back. “Maybe I have impostor syndrome. Like, that’s too much. That’s too crazy,” she posits. It wasn’t until she hit play that Wardlaw realised the pieces were essentially the star of the video. “It’s a black room and just these two bodies with these illuminated nails,” she says. “It’s really beautiful.” 

Glass is having a major moment in the fashion industry right now: New York-based designer Maryam Nassir Zadeh recently released a jewellery line dedicated to the material and over on TikTok the girlies have been sporting Y2K-inspired pendants by Brooke Callahan. Earlier this year, Coperni, in collaboration with New York-based glassware brand Heven, created a glass version of its original swipe handbag that, after being seen on the likes of Doja Cat and Kylie Jenner, quickly went viral.

Wardlaw’s introduction to glass came at an early age when her parents took her to “one of those weird pioneer villages” that happened to have a glass-blowing studio. There, she became mesmerised by the process. “I was very entranced by it. I remember watching the fire and the molten glass and thinking, “this is so beautiful.’” After her initial stint studying art at college, her practice fell by the wayside as she travelled. Eventually, Wardlaw made her way home, teaming up with her friend, artist Claire Anderson, to heal trauma by creating the glass sex toy business, Peace Lily Toys. Their pieces are so exquisite, they double as ornaments when not in use – and, though Instagram keeps removing the picture of this toy being demonstrated in its night mode, they’ve even made a range of butt plugs that double as flower vases. 

Since Wardlaw began collaborating with Los Angeles-based nail artist Sojin Oh, creating bespoke glass pieces that Oh will place on the fingers of Rosalía and Eilish and Lil Nas X, Grimes, Bjork, and Arca, her approach to her glass-blowing practice has expanded. She still creates with the same intention, but has begun focusing more on creating wearable sculptures, such as lashes, delicate face adornments, choker necklaces and thorn crowns inspired by Alexander McQueen’s Autumn/Winter 1996 runway. Mid-pandemic, long before Coperni’s handbags appeared on the red carpet, Wardlaw posted a photo of a mini chilli pepper heel that, when enlarged, wouldn’t be amiss on Jonathan Anderson’s Loewe runway. 

Below, we speak to Wardlaw about her creative process, her favourite things to make from glass, and the extreme way she proves that no, glass sex toys won’t break inside you.

You fell in love with glass from an early age, what was the process like of moving away from it and then coming back?

Grace Wardlaw: I was pretty young when I discovered glass as an art form. I did a few projects on it at high school, before realising there was a course at my city’s college. But after that, I kind of stopped for a while. Glass can be quite inaccessible as a medium and I was moving around a lot. I would still make work and used a lot of silicone and rubber during this time, which I would cut up and sew back together after shopping at toy stores and the toy district in downtown LA. Then in 2018, I got a residency at Sheridan College – where I originally studied glass – which reintroduced me to it. I devised a plan to go back to school to learn the newly introduced digitised elements, like 3D printing and 3D rendering, which is what I’m doing now. Currently, I’m learning how to render these orchid sculptures I’ve been working on.

In 2020, you began making glass sex toys with another artist, Claire Anderson. Can you tell me a bit about how this came about and what the process of making these pieces is like? 

Grace Wardlaw: I had just moved back from New York and Claire and I had both just gone through big breakups. For me, Peace Lily Toys has this layer of healing together because it was really a hard time for us both. We chose the peace lily and flowers in general as a concept and a jump-off for inspiration and we went from there, developing products and designs. I was really interested in collaborations with artists, so I began reaching out to people I admire. We’ve since worked with the likes of Sacred Sadism, who’s really amazing, and Sua Yoo, another incredible artist. We’re trying to keep it open as an art project and a business, but also this thing that brings us joy and keeps our creativity alive.

I looked at your frequently asked questions on the site and the top one is will it break… 

Grace Wardlaw: ...We get that a lot. But our punchline basically is making these videos where we run them over with cars and they survive. So we’re like your body, your soft tissue, you’re not going to break this toy.

Can you tell me a bit about the large glass disco penis you made as your first piece out of glass-blowing college? 

Grace Wardlaw: Oh my god, yeah. It’s here now in my house. That was the first thing that I made after I left school. And I don’t know, I just was like, ‘I don’t know if this is art or not,’ but I didn’t care at all. I shipped it off to a sex store in Vancouver where it lived for a while and it actually fell from the ceiling and cracked in half. It’s now back here and has sort of become the showpiece for Peace Lily Toys. We brought it to this sex expo in Toronto and it was a hit.

What’s your creative process like? 

Grace Wardlaw: Even though I might categorise certain pieces of it, a lot of my work overlaps and most of it starts from nature. Even the sex toy business, which is centred around the peace lily flower: flowers visually represent both genitalia and reproductive systems. They’re literally sex organs. I also like to embed human qualities into flowers and plants as a way to look at life and death, which is a philosophy I’ve been living by for a long time now. 

You work a lot with Sojin Oh. How does that collaboration work? 

Grace Wardlaw: Sojin and I are friends from when I lived in L.A. and as soon as she started making nails, I knew we should collaborate. It might have taken a minute before that actually started, but once it did, it was really easy. Sojin has a similar creative process and in a sense, working together has deepened that connection for me in terms of starting from nature as inspiration. She will send me images of things she thinks are fascinating and beautiful, like fungi and sea creatures, and then I might try to replicate it with glass on this tiny scale. Batch by batch, we’ve grown together and have become more intentional. We’re doing full sets now, like, okay Grimes wants a dagger set, so we go off and make that. Sojin obviously just smashes it. It’s like magic. I sit in my little country studio in Canada and make things and then they end up in LA on these people. It’s pretty overwhelming.

What are your favourite things to make with glass? 

Grace Wardlaw: Some of my favourite days right now are when I decide I’m going to do a look and sit with my glass torch in front of a mirror and play. These pieces are so thin that they cool down really fast, so I can bend a shape and fit it to my face along a certain area. And if it doesn't work, just re-bend it. I’m at school right now, so there are huge facilities at my disposal and I get to play a lot. I’ve been making these puddle pieces where I literally just put glass in a kiln and let it melt out into a puddle. Those are pretty satisfying.

What piece or project are you most proud of?

Grace Wardlaw: I’ve made a lot of things, but I love pieces that are random and just come to me. The disco ball is a great example of that. Or my sphynx cat mask, which I made when I was trying to build a kind of weird fetish character. The piece with Sua [Yoo], which is a black claw dildo, is definitely one of my favourites in recent years.

What’s next?

Grace Wardlaw: Right now, I’m creating a body of work that’s inspired by orchids. I’m also working more with wearables. I’d done wearable things before with silicone, but my collaboration with Sojin opened my mind to being able to do that sort of thing with confidence and feel like it’s art, too. It took me a second, but when I brought glass to my face, that was kind of a moment for me. I’m experimenting now with making the glass the element that’s allowed to just sit on the skin, or making it look as though it’s coming out of the skin. The key when I think about fashion or style pieces is that they’re these extensions of the body or this tech that you wear that is a part of you. I have visions for much more of that.