It must have been a day after her 30th birthday and we came to the conclusion that to really love and live means constant beautiful struggle. Rhosanna, perhaps the only female glasser in Portugal to date, welcomed us at her home and the Happy Chemicals Factory where her magic happens.
Located close to the Lagos Zoo, surrounded by screams of peacocks and monkeys, she mixes chemicals to glass sublime surfboards for the brand she created with her partner Matthew, Toxic Magic. Shining lights on her failures, laughing about coincidences in life, you can find all of us on the edge. Or sometimes in a tiny studio behind an old warehouse in the middle of nowhere.
Hi Rhosanna, how are you ?
I'm really well thank you.
Could you share a bit of your background and how you dived into surfboard glassing?
I’m from Wales and studied illustration. I was pretty committed to be a freelance designer and was living here doing that for a few years. Then Matthew started shaping surfboards and needed support for making a panel for fins. So I just helped out with a few things but was pretty reluctant to work for him, or with him initially, because I always worked for myself. But after the workload grew, it occurred to me «Oh, I could do this» like «glassing surfboards is a job!».
All I ever wanted is to have a creative job. Doing illustration and design for other people was a compromise that I’ve made with myself so I thought maybe that is good enough. But once I started working on surfboards I realized «this is creative, this is more than that compromise, it’s like a dream». So almost accidentally I found my creative thing, never expecting it would be in this industry. Then gradually I got more and more confidence turning down freelance jobs and putting all my time and effort into glassing. It’s now nearly two years ago.
So you started Toxic Magic together?
Well, kind of. Looking back we’re not sure who had the idea for our name. I think I came up with the name and he thinks he came up with the name - laughs - so we have to agree to disagree. Initially it was very much Mathew’s thing and I was just helping and learning from him and only over time it became more of a balanced partnership.
I mean in the end it’s more than just making surfboards, especially when you think of all the business stuff that comes with it : social media, marketing, accounting and usually that’s the thing people don’t see and where I do a lot. Little by little we became equal partners and have worked quite hard to make that clear.
“YOU KNOW GLASSING IS OFTEN
UNDER APPRECIATED OR OVERLOOKED, AND WE WANTED
TO FIND A WAY TO PRESENT ME AS AN EQUAL,
NOT AS HIS GIRLFRIEND”
In the beginning people weren't aware that we are both Toxic Magic. We have photographers we work with every month (Hugo and Deb) and a big part in our brief was about how we can make me more visible. Matthew is more experienced in surfing and the one really testing the shapes and coming up with the concepts for the boards. But you know glassing is often under appreciated or overlooked and we wanted to find a way to present me as an equal, not only his girlfriend.
What do you wish someone would have told you before starting Toxic Magic?
I guess one thing I kind of wish I had put more thoughts into is how toxic everything really is. It’s not only important to wear your mask but to constantly change the filters and have a clean space to take care of your health. In the last few months I learned a lot more about the danger of some materials by exchanging with other shapers and glassers in the factory.
We worked with an American shaper in France and he shared that many of his glassers who are constantly exposed to chemical gasses show symptoms of exhaustion and mood swings. Since then I’m more aware of what I have to do to look after myself.
Which secret and reality is not exposed in front of the camera?
People definitely see us, Matthew and I, as an ideal, you know : beautiful, romantic, engaged, working together on surfboards, living and surfing in Portugal and all these things are true and beautiful, I really love my life but it also can be incredibly difficult.
I think in the beginning I didn't even realize how challenging it would be to work with my partner. It’s not just for me a real challenge, it's a real challenge for him too !
We live together in a studio right behind the factory, so you’re in each other's space all the time. We both have different ways of working, dealing with problems, thinking so it can be difficult to manage our emotions or financial pressure. And we have a factory full of other people and don’t want others to feel tensions so we try to be honest with everyone and open.
But yeah it's not always beautiful. But to be honest I think even if someone would have told me before that it wouldn’t have changed anything. I still would have done it. We would have done it anyway. -big smile-
“I THINK THAT IT WOULD MAKE SENSE
TO HAVE MORE FEMALE GLASSERS BECAUSE
IT'S SO DETAIL-ORIENTED AND PRECISE”
So honestly, why do you believe there are not more female glassers in this world ?
I think it’s like in every industry, it’s taking a while for things to balance out and historically surfing is quite male-dominated. Although I think that it would make sense to have more female glassers because it’s so detail-oriented and precise. I just think that those things take time to change and in general, it’s not the easiest industry to get into.
With shaping or glassing you really have to put yourself out there and be highly proactive to get somewhere. If you’ve no experience at all, a shaper is not gonna hire you and often they even can’t afford to hire people. It also takes a long time to learn, lots of mistakes and wasted material. Plus I’ve never seen a job posting for someone to glass boards in Europe.
You are the only woman in the factory - is there one thing you never dared to tell the guys ?
I really like the glassing room to be a certain way so I have my own corner. Everyone, to a certain level, tries to understand how I like things. For instance Toby (Eternal Circle) is particularly sensitive and we’re working a lot of time together, so he knows.
There are some tiny things that the guys do that I struggle with. Nothing major… but when it comes to cleaning the brushes, nobody is doing it as precisely as I do !
-all of us laughing together-
The reason I’m quite strict with it is because they’re expensive and if you clean them well they last a long time. I’m quite passionate about cleaning my brushes, so I recently abandoned the communal cleaning area and I now have my own sink where I constantly change the acetone and making sure one brush will last many boards where I know for the boys, some of theirs are a bit more single-usage even though they try.
“WHEN I GET TOO COMFORTABLE,
I HAVE TO PUSH MYSELF TO TRY A LOT OF NEW THINGS
AND TO ACCEPT THAT I MIGHT FAIL”
Looking back, could you maybe share one of the most important feedback you’ve got regarding glassing ? What pushed you forward ?
Basically, working with your partner is like looking in a mirror constantly and seeing all your flaws. When we’re working on boards together and I’m glassing I face challenges or mistakes I’ve made. It puts you in a quite vulnerable position but the good thing is that with Matthew I feel safe, we mostly communicate well, we have a good relationship.
When I get too comfortable, I have to push myself to try a lot of new things and to accept that I might fail, you know, that the board might not look how I hoped. Meanwhile we are not beginners anymore and our standard is quite high so if I want to try something new it's scary and requires lots of preparation, research and attempts to really understand what I'm doing.
Out of the blue: what are your three favorite colors and why ?
My first favorite color is black which I guess is technically not a color but I love black, I always loved black and as a brand we love black. Black is timeless. That’s why my engagement ring is black.
I also love something between pink and lila, and I like dirty green, kind of olive green.
What do you think Matthew would say if he would describe your way of glassing in three words?
What would he say about me ? I really don’t know. I don’t know if I can answer...
-birds singing-dogs barking-
Maybe I know that he thinks that I’m good with colors which is true I'm enjoying mixing colors. Then maybe that I’m detail-oriented so I’m quite good with all the little details. I could imagine that he also says I’m not always great at solving problems when I’m confronted to deal with them because I can’t quite get my head around what the problem is or how to fix it while he has a more direct way of solving it.
We asked the same question to Matthew :
Rhosanna is meticulous, detail-oriented, elegant in the finishings and studious, because she will write in her notebook all the quantity of resin, catalyst, wax, everything is documented. Obviously she is learning and aware of the fact that she is in the process of learning, as everybody is, everybody who works in the surfboards factory is always learning.
Could you draw us your favorite part in the factory?
Obrigada forever, Rhosanna.
And even more because we love tiny women in big cars.