Hakan Öcal makes his jewelry in a modest room on Kadıköy’s Sanatçılar Street. In a building leaning up against the Nazım Hikmet Cultural Center he creates, as he puts it, dances between glass and fire, with a glass rod in one hand and fire in the other.
While the wind blows outside, the glass in his hand melts into unique pieces of jewelry incorporating elements of ebru, or marbling, a Turkish art form where pigment is manipulated on the surface of a liquid before being carefully transferred onto paper.
After about 20 years of working in a pharmaceuticals firm Öcal retired and decided to devote himself to art. Actually, it might be more accurate to say that he retired so that he could throw himself into art. His interest in glass and fire began before he was retired. In fact, his fascination with fire goes back to when he was a child. On school picnics he would spend his time collecting leaves to ignite then sit and watch his fire production for hours. When he graduated from high school and university, he decided to go into medicine.
In the 1980s, he attended a course in ebru. He later attended a glass course. He recently got tired of the turmoil and stress of his job and, leaving it, began to focus on realizing his dreams. He did not want to rent a shop immediately; he first had to become an expert at his work. However, you cannot easily practice glass shaping in your own home, you need an atelier, especially since there are sparks to be dealt with, broken glass to watch out for and other details. And so, his solution was to make an atelier in the bottom floor of a friend’s empty house.
With the advice of a teacher from a previous glass course, Öcal bought some equipment and began to work. Keep in mind his previous glass course was not extensive -- it lasted for just one month – so he taught himself through trial and error. After seven months in this homemade atelier, he rented a small room in Kadıköy and called it Camist.
“Fire gives me serenity,” Öcal says. In front of him stand hundreds of glass rods and beads. The rods Öcal uses are imported from the city of Murano in Italy. He says that there is no one else on earth who does work like his. Describing his process for combining glass and ebru, Öcal explains: “I melt the glass rods at 1,200 degrees Celsius, and there is not usually a specific shape I have in mind. The process itself is what decides the shape of the glass. As the glass melts, I drop different colors of paint into it. I stir up the color with another glass rod, making sure the melted glass does not take in any air. I use volcanic sand to cool it. After it cools for a while, it begins to take its final shape. All sorts of ebru designed rings, necklaces and bracelets emerge in the end.
Of course, there are some downsides to Öcal’s work. In cold weather, working with fire can be great, but what about the summer months? And dealing with sparks and flames can be dangerous. As for the upsides, working with glass takes so much concentration that a person has no time to worry about rent, other work or inflation. As the glass melts, so do all your problems! Öcal, who opened up his new workplace in September, is very modest about what he does: “It’s not difficult work. But it’s always very important to love what you do. Really anyone who can use a knife and fork could do what I do.” Öcal also teaches those who are interested in learning this art. As for the profits? Well, he says he sells about 10 pieces of jewelry a week.