Step By Step Design Of New Glass Work

Dichroic being sized and cut to be put into 980 degree pick up box kiln
Dichroic being sized and cut to be put into 980 degree pick up box kiln

I thought it might be a good idea to document a few of the steps involved in the design and making of a new glass piece in the studio to give you glass enthusiasts a rare look into the process.

All design begins with an idea.  That idea is then implemented using already existing knowledge about how the piece designed might be accomplished.  Often this works well, but sometimes new tools, materials, and skills have to be made or mastered in order to make new work possible.  In the case of the work I am showing you, a special kiln is needed to preheat the looked glass strips called dichroic (shown in the picture above) to be preheated.  2100 degree glass will not stick to room temperature glass, so it has to be brought halfway up to molten temperature.

In the case of the piece being made today, I am designing a new piece for a retailers association in our area for their grand prize winner.  This piece will wind up being a little over a foot tall and will be composed of solid glass with air traps, which are controlled air bubbles trapped in the glass as part of what will be an ethereal design.

Dichroic in the pick up box, ready to be preheated prior to pick up onto hot glass
Dichroic in the pick up box, ready to be preheated prior to pick up onto hot glass

People often wonder what dichroic glass is.  You can see some colored strips sitting in the pickup box kiln above.  Dichroic was originally developed for the Lunar Rover cameras to cut down on sunlight which was cooking the film when under full sunlight.  It is a very thin, translucent, even, metallized coating on glass.  High tech, dichroic is expensive at about 150 dollars per eighteen inch sheet.

I then go to the furnace where the clear molten glass is kept and get a “gather” of molten glass on the end of a metal rod.  This is turned constantly to keep it from dripping onto the floor.  The glass is about 2100 degrees when it exits the furnace, so it moves like honey.

The glass is shaped into a small cylinder and allowed to cool after which I get another gather of glass.  Depending on the size of the piece, I will add dichroic to the outside of a gather.  In this case, I will be getting a third gather of glass.  The volume of the glass in total will be the volume of between two to three softballs in size.  You can see the successful first pickup of color below on the outside of the glass.

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You can see some trails of bubbles in the glass which are part of the design.

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The glass is then twisted to get a spiral.
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The glass is then dimpled which will trap a veil of small bubbles once the next gather is put over the glass.

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This is piece shows the clear gather now over the glass.  This piece is being shaped into an egg shape, which is done with a wet carbon felt pad.  This is all by hand.image

This is a smaller piece.  You can see how ethereal the dichroic can be!

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Once the piece is heated and shaped a number of times, it is cooled and the base stressed with cold water which allows it to break off evenly from the rod.  It is placed in a kiln at annealing temperature, about 950 degrees, and will slowly cool over a period of days.  The picture above shows some of the effects that a glass piece like this has.

 

imageA piece of glass like this will last the ages.  Thick, glass is very durable.  The picture above is a closese-up of the dichroic with the bubbles.  Cool, huh?

That is how pieces like this are done.  One great advantage of being able to work with an artisan is that you get up-close involvement in the design and making of glass which you have commissioned and helped to design.  This process can be as involved or as “arm chair” as you, the customer, desires.  For creating one of a kind looks for everything for display pieces, drawer pulls, sun catchers, drinking glasses, and more, you can’t beat what your local artisan can make for you!

For more on commissioning your own work, read my post a few posts down the line on the steps most often involved in commissioning work by a local studio!

Until then, be happy, do good, and BE good!

~Parker

 

 

 

Thanksgiving Tiding…

Sun catcher by Ian, a grade school student from our area who blew this piece last weekend.
Sun catcher by Ian, a grade school student from our area who blew this piece last weekend.

THANK YOU!!!!!my followers, fans, friends, enthusiasts, dreamers and makers of glass!  Without your humor, engagement, enthusiasm, dreams and innate creativity, I could not do what has been achieved these last few months.  Without your desire to discover your own creative fire at the studio, I would not have had the support that made everything that came out of this season possible!  It was you who wished to come blow glass in great numbers with one person’s story inspiring still others who kept coming, inquiring, if it wasn’t too late to sneak into the studio to make your very own glass creation.  This, one of the most ancient of arts springs to new life with every eye that be holds it, with every hand that gives it breath and form.  The support your enthusiasm has given has made new wonderful creations possible.  I merely provided you the means, encouragement and what I myself have learned directly from this ancient material that transforms sand into light. Your own inspiration is breathed into my own as what you do brings life to what I CAN do or make possible within the timbers of this house of glass, this studio, this workshop, this haven for inspiration, hard work,discipline,discovery, and awe.  Only because of what is most native within yourselves has any of this happened.

A recent participant in our BYOB event in December making a suncatcher (hers is the red and pink piece directly above this image)
A recent participant in our BYOB event in December making a suncatcher

Yesterday, facing the last work to be done in the studio in who knows how long, I chatted with a friend about glass.  He asked if he could come sometime t blow glass with his wife.  I explained if he did, it would need to be in the next few days because I didn’t know what the weeks to come might bring.  Classes at the university that have been regular as the sunrise went unfolded and a key financial resource was, for the time, lost.  What was I going to do Without this buffer for keeping the studio running  when there were no orders to fill, but glass that still needs to be made for still newer opportunities for support, sales, and continued creative output? This man and his family loved what they did.  It was quite simply unlike anything they had ever experienced.  And here it was, just ten minutes drive from their home In the New River Valley.  Today as I delivered the pieces to him at his work, he excitedly asked me what my plans were for the next month.  He explained that he had been talking to people he met about his glass experience just last night and he had MANY people all wondering what they could do to make their own glass?  This man comes into contact with hundreds of people each and every morning shift as a Barista at one of our local coffee shops.  Chatting idly, he had created a mini flame if interest simply because he had come and had such fun.  It is people like this, just like you, who have held up their creations of glass and smiled while showing your friends what a great time you had…..and THIS has been the thing which does it.  This is the planting of seeds, of spreading the word and watching as the fresh rain of spirit nurtures all of this so naturally.

New pendant designs at the studio this Fall.
New pendant designs at the studio this Fall.

I get to live in a world flush with enthusiasm, passion, wonder, and awe.  THIS is what my clients bring to my studio, to my end of the world.  For this and more, I Am so very thankful.  Now I stand at a place where it feels as though the universe is opening the doors wide, perhaps uncomfortably at first, but it seems to be doing what it always does—asking what great things await ahead of me?  So with this I reflect on what even greater things might await that will continue to press the studio forward into a place of greater sufficiency? I am considering a crowd funding campaign in order to put the studio into the right resource territory it needs in order to run effectively.  While I have had a lot of people take workshops, these are all constrained by what people are able to pay, which is always much less than what can be produced by me as a production glassblower.  Consider that to make your own sun catcher ornament it costs $30.00 a piece.  Each takes half an hour to make with one on one instruction.  Now consider that in that same time I can make those same pieces at a rate of one per seven minutes.  This is the unrealized potential of the studio which is currently limited by not having the right resources to lift it into this next level of operation.  Whether blowing or not, it costs $60.00 a day to keep the glass hot in the furnace, ready to blow.  Turning a 2100 degree furnace off for the night is not an option in the glass world.  So what is needed? I will be describing what has been done this and last year to move Stafford Artglass into this new arena and I will explain what remains, which will form the basis of a possible crowd funding project.  For ten years the studio was self sufficient and I sold work to galleries, through art fairs and craft fairs as well as open studio events.  This activity needs support and prior to a move to a new studio and a subsequent injury, nothing has ever been the same because the level of support necessary was never where it needed to be in order to do it right.

"Journey Beads" designed and created for a client at the studio.
“Journey Beads” designed and created for a client at the studio.

I was telling a friend who owns a business how it took nearly $30,000.00 a year before I made my first dollar of profit in glass.  He turned to me and smiled, saying, he had to generate a million dollars, thereabouts, before he could Buy his first hamburger.  Now that sure put things into perspective!  And yet, the underlying reality is the cost of bringing all of our products to market.  It’s not cheap, and yet, this is the reality of business. What I will be doing is looking at a number of funding options, including local foundation grants for specific aspects of developing the studio operation while also developing a crowd funding strategy.  What you can do,quite easily, is to tell people, just that, to your friends, family, acquaintances, and perhaps even your clients.  In networking, you never know where a resource will emerge.  Like Doug, who unexpectedly spread the word to dozens of people all in one morning, you never know where a spark of interest might reside.  Show them the efforts and work on this blog.  Do you like what you see?  Do you think this type of creativity is worth supporting?  A thousand people giving less than ten dollars is enough to move mountains, and these people all come from spreading the word. So stay tuned, stay in tune and consider the possibilities, because so much has already been achieved and there is a little way yet to go.  And thank you for reading this, for wearing your interest and passion on your sleeve….evidence inspires us all!  It is through these simple acts that great things come into being!  Today, I give Thanksgiving for all that my supporters have mustered and look forward to what tomorrow will bring!

Journey Glass

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All of life is a journey.  We come, we grow, And we go.  In between is what we consider our life.  Many feel like when you are done, you are done.  This is it, there is no more.  Certainly our five sense, if we rely on them alone, would seem to suggest there is nothing more.  I am of a different sort because I have been fortunate in some ways to see with more than just my physical eyes.  For some of you, this will seem silly, but it is only silly until you have those brushes with something larger, something inexplicable, that your understanding can change.  The world was once flat, too!

Several years ago I had a family come to my studio who blew ornaments before Christmas.  Husband, wife, and two darling daughters, about ten and five years old.  They each blew glass.  It was fun.  The Dad looked like he wasn’t doing so well, like he had been sick.  But the glass, he really loved.  He in fact did the one thing many people do who fall in love with glass; they ask if they could come and sweep floors or help in exchange for more instruction and fun with the hot stuff.  He explained he wasn’t sure when he would get a ‘good day’ again but if he did, he would like to come again.  His daughters had just exclaimed in unison upon his completion of his piece, “that’s beautiful, Daddy!”

Rob never came back, though, and I wondered what happened.  His wife contacted me in the early Spring to explain that Rob had succumbed to cancer.  She was calling to see if I would be willing to make some pendants for her and her daughters as a way to keep him close during this hard time.  She explained that her husband Rob had enjoyed the glass so much and had talked at length about the experience to people afterward that she thought it would be a fitting way for all of them to remember him; doing something he always wanted to do and got to do!

I had never worked with crematory ash and explained I would have to run some tests to make sure I could do it in a way I felt good about.  In the end I made an Inscape Geode for each of them that had a river-like form running through the piece which was his ash.  I thought this was a fitting way to use the ash since our journey takes many dips and bends while we are here.  The pieces really looked great!  I made pendants, too, which were a first for me, but being able to provide a way for this family a way through their grieving process was itself an honor.

When the day came for the pieces to be picked up, I handed the pieces to her and her daughters to look at in the gallery and we talked about Rob and his life.  Being able to celebrate his life in this way felt so right.  The family has pieces of glass art that helped to keep the memory of a loved one close.

More recently, I was approached by two different people I know who  me asked if I could make glass beads and if I could create them, using ash.  The beads were to be a way to scatter ashes all around the world for their father who had passed.  I thought this was so novel that I instantly agreed.  Then not long after this, I was approached by an old college friend.  The order began with a pretty middle of the road series of colors and ended with a batch of some really cool works that are in the first photo on this post and are sprinkled throughout.  They turned out to be some of the coolest pieces of jewelry I have made thus far….cosmic, subtle, nuanced…and beautiful!  I was glad that his widow agreed to try a creative route and granted permission for me to use images of her pieces to show here.

I am now practiced at adding ash to glass.  Normally glass and ash do not play well together, but there are some instances where it works very well.  Using good old observation, testing, and common sense, I have developed a way to make this a good pairing.  This makes scattering ashes easy since you can carry the ashes in your neck until you reach that special spot (or spots).  It makes creating closure for family easier, a way to pay final respects, in a sense.  The beads I have decided to call Journey Beads.  It is a fitting name I think, and if you consider how the pendants turned out, perhaps also a cosmic journey for our loved ones.  So perhaps Cosmic Journey for the pendants?  I am mulling that one still.

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I will be straight with you.  I felt a little odd having Rob’s ash in the studio, at least initially.  This feeling, I realized, was part of our collective fear, even loathing, of death.  We feel this way because we are conditioned to think death is the end.  It is, I believe, a transition that most do not get to witness…..except when they themselves make their own exit  from this earthly stage. I have, however, found that each opportunity to help people in this transition had been in some way also an opportunity for me to help people through a challenging time in their lives.

When ash does come into the studio, it is carefully tracked throughout the entire process to ensure absolutely accuracy When using remains.  The amount of ash needed for a piece is very small, less than a teaspoon for a pendant.

So the work continues.  I am available for making glass to help memorialize your loved one.  I have found this to be an unexpectedly healing process!

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For those interested in having pendants made, most pendants are available starting at $85.00 piece And depends on color options and any necklaces that you may want shipped with the pendant.  Please contact me for details on these options.  Any ash remaining, no matter how small, is always returned to the customer.

This product is backed by a guarantee of your complete pleasure for up to thirty days from purchase.  Pendants are made from high quality American made borosilicate, a glass known for its toughness and resilience to scratching, changes in temperature, and chemicals.  This glass is so tough it is what lab ware is made from for chemistry laboratories!

Hotglass Weekend Wrap-Up

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Closeup of a suncatcher by Carolee J. Bondurant

The event has wound down and the studio was host to dozens of families and friends who came from near and far (one family from North Carolina up for the holidays) who took part in our multi-weekend glass blowing experience that included our BYOB (Blow Your Ornament Ball), and our Hotglass Weekend that was pulled together after many people began inquiring about times after the holidays when they could venture out and get their hands into the hot stuff and play with fire.

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A smiling Bob Grogan gets ready for his turn making glass
The previous day's haul warm from the kiln
The previous day’s haul warm from the kiln

This season was so incredibly encouraging on so many fronts.  It seemed that at every turn I kept meeting the most interesting and inspiring people all bent on helping support the studio in fascinating ways.  One customer showed her work to her co-workers after I met her during a break from her work.  In this case, she was a newscaster at a local television station, which garnered a short story about the studio on Christmas Eve telling about how we offer making your own ornament as a special during the holidays.  I was able to meet many other people who have in their own ways helped to spread the word and make a difference for  the studio.  And just so you know, this isn’t about me, but about all of the interesting and excited people who came to lend their smiles, their stories, and their time in helping make this event one of the single best events ever (and we have had many, so that is saying something!)

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Threading on cobalt glass to make a feather pattern

If you look back through the last few blog posts, you can begin to see some of the pieces that folks just like you, who have never blown glass before were able to make with a little help from a seasoned glass teacher and blower.  The results have all been fantastic!  Pictures from the weekend are sprinkled liberally throughout this latest edition of SAG on WordPress.  I have met inquisitive kids who talked about the chemistry of glass, who wondered about its long history, and who had interesting ideas about life, glass, and the pursuit of life’s simplest pleasures.  It has been a real interesting and rewarding time being able to share time with so many people who were all connected by their love or sheer curiosity about glass as an expressive medium.  When I think about the quality of experience, the caliber of people pulled in by the sheer gravity of glass and its beauty, I find myself hopeful about adding instruction at the studio as a key ingredient in just what it is that we do there.

The complete feathered piece up-close
The complete feathered piece up-close

We had a half price off sale where works went for a song and a second sale where pieces went for unheard of prices.  If you know what my seconds look like, you know that our seconds are first-rate pieces that maybe were a little too small or slightly off-center.  I talked to people about how they could design their own work for their homes, an opportunity that is unheard of in this age of the cheap mass-produced object.  Helping to bring the real back to life can also help to enliven the soul and stir the heart.  And THAT is not just a cheap throw-away but the honest truth.

John makes a paperweight at the reheating furnace
John makes a paperweight at the reheating furnace

For now, the pictures for this post are being worked on to ready them for the web.  In the days that follow you will begin to see images from this weekend that help to paint a picture of just what happened and what went on!  But to learn more check out this blogger who describes her experience in her recent post about her visit to the studio this weekend!

http://joansnaturejournal.blogspot.com/2014/01/stafford-art-glass-class.html?spref=fb

Closeup of sun catcher by Caroline Gaskins
Closeup of sun catcher by Caroline Gaskins