The New


Large companies can pour millions into new products each year, hiring experts called consultants to help direct them in their dream of new products and new directions for their businesses.  In the world of the artist, this too also happens, but on a mini-micro scale.  You wake up one morning and you say to yourself that an old idea that has been rolling around in your head and heart needs to be embarked on.  For an artist, this means hundreds of hours  of learning this new kind of work and who knows how much money poured into the effort.  When it comes to something like this, there is absolutely no guarantee of any sort of return.  You go by your instinct, your gut, and your wits.  And you want to know something?  My experience has been that many of my most compelling and interesting designs that I personally love often find only a luke-warm reception at least in the beginning.  I have actually shelved what would later become one of my most popular pieces for over a year before returning to it.  When it hit the shelves people looked at it like it was something from another world.  That is to say, they didn’t see it as the unique thing that it was; they saw it as unrecognizable.  This is sometimes the problem with the new.

Before a line of new work is even hot off the presses, it comes under no scrutiny, no flag waving crowds or lines of adoring fans.  Unless you can do something that often strikes most artists as utterly distasteful: you hype the living shit out of it.  You hype it so that normal people who have never bought art before sit up and take notice.  They take notice because, well, they are so tuned into the hype.  I am not talking about what an artist normally does to promote themselves. I am talking about what some people will do in order to bring in the crowds, people who might not have come in the first place.  These people are more drawn by the interest of others, the crowd, the feeding frenzy.  To do this on a large scale means celebrity or the feeling of possible celebrity.  And who doesn’t love a celebrity?  A quiet unknown who is rising through the ranks?  Still, its hype most often, anew form of hype that doesn’t look like hype but still…it is.

The truth is, there is a very small number of people who don’t see the hype, don’t care about the hype and buy with their heart.  And these people are actually the visionaries, the people there when the work was not hyped, was actually affordable, and are often of modest means.  the people who come rushing for the hype are the folks who will put down $40,000.00 for the “next big thing” because, well, it looks good on them or in their house.  What we are talking about is status.  It is also worlds away from authentic art making (unless you create artifice  in order to pander to the rich).

Artists are often caught in this odd cross-fire of authenticity meeting popularity when things take off for them.  The desire to hype can get the better of some art dealers and gallery owners, and artists too.  Look, we all want to prosper, but at what price does this happen?  For those who “make it” there are now funds that allow a person to do so much more than wonder if they will make the bills this month or the next, whether the six thousand poured into the new line of work will yield anything of substance. The number of artists who were obscure in their time is right up there with the fervency of hype.  Renoir would say how he bought his villa with a painting of an empty vase sold ten years previously.  Picasso would sign checks knowing they would never be cashed because, well, his signature. It is indeed a strange world.

But look, the lifeblood of an artist isn’t the money.  It is the excitement over the next new thing, the new idea, the new process, the new way of saying perennial messages that have been born into each generation and recur in slightly different ways from one century to the next.  Our dreams are those of the Romans, the Greeks, the Pelleponesians, the Shakespeares, the kings and queens of Ur, all told now in a recognizable dialect.  Before it is a “thing” we are there in the innocence of the moment in the studio, scribbling on napkins, sending notes to friends, or making the discovery that could change a lifetime.  We were the true believers before anyone dared to even dream it.  It is this piece of our lives that the beloved collector wants a piece of…the early work, albeit a little rough around the edges, but is work that suggests that there are more pieces that will follow, and if the artist is lucky enough to sell enough to fund the next round of work, they do, and the work evolves.  And hopefully, the work evolves fast enough that it stays ahead of the curve so that the artist can turn enough of a profit so that s/he can make more….and survive to make for another day.  This is not an easy proposition because artists have to be both lovers and shrew business people.  I can tell you that it is hard to do both equally well, and as history shows us, artists tend to be lovers over the shrewd type.  This is so because it takes a huge amount of passion just to get your through the 80 hour days, weeks, months, that are required to become good at something.  And for an artist, this can mean remaking yourself with new techniques and ways of working every once in a while.  You don’t get there with shrewdness.  You don’t calculate passion or love.  You simply have to have it in you as a lover.  And like all great lovers, you can’t be thinking about dollar signs when you are throwing yourself into the next big thing.  To do this requires a singular sense of authenticity, passion, and love.  Anything else simply robs the work of the life that animates the work, that gives it that presence that is often unnoticed by the great unwashed but that the lovers of art pick up on and see.  It takes a lover to know a lover, even if one does not make art and the other does.

So it is that yesterday I had this “congealing moment.”  I know how that sounds, but I cannot think of a better term that feels so equal to what actually happens….The moment involved an idea I have had in my head literally for decades that involved a type of work that I have considered doing in glass.  I just wasn’t completely sure how I would do it.  My mind had been putting these pieces together off and on for a long time, but I just didn’t know exactly what the end result would be.  It was a bit like staring at Monet’s paintings of haystacks early in the morning…..they were images that had some shapes, yes, a suggestion of form, but were largely vivid blurs in my mind.  That really is how these kinds of pieces can be in our minds.  I know that other artists do the same thing because I see it in my art students.  They draw a quick sketch and then say, “I will “art it up” Mr. Stafford….you know, I will make it awesome!”

So really what is happening is there is something that is not completely fleshed out for the artist in their mental conception of the work that they just know they will get worked out in the final work. They just know, right? So sometimes that golden moment happens, that bit of genius that flows out into the work, and sometimes it doesn’t.  Sometimes we kind of waive our hands in the air, explaining a new idea without really knowing what it will be like.

(“Insert some kind of colorful awesomeness here _____”)

It isn’t that we are fooling ourselves as artists.  In fact, this sense we often have, that it will be awesome, is quite simply derring-do.  It is born out of confidence in ourselves, and it is ballsy.  As a result, I am loathe to be too critical of it. I was in fact in just such a place, parked with my idea for over a decade (at least) while this idea, apparently, gestated very slowly in my mind or creative spirit.  And then it happened.  It happened very quickly, almost too rapidly for me to even notice.  If I had been too distracted, it would have been gone and I might not have even noticed it.  Look, I have hundreds, thousands, of ideas a lot like this fleeting through me.  It is just how it is.  And most often, this happens in a state that is different form ordinary consciousness.  As a result, unless you sit with the idea and hold it there, it can literally just evaporate in exactly the same way that a dream you had last night is  nearly impossible to recall.  Steve Jobs once described all the things he “knew” when he was on LSD that he completely forgot when he came back down to ordinary consciousness….but he knew that it was something and he wanted to add a little piece of that in his work, which he did.  So, yeah.

I didn’t need LSD to get to that moment.  It was all there, fleshed out in the moment clear as day.  It was so complicated that I knew that in order to work it out, I would have to possibly spend months developing enough elements just in order to develop the work.  These pieces depart completely from everything I have done and dip into art.  How they are done is through a series of layers of imagery that are literally carved out of layers of glass at room temperature and then layered into the glass.  On the one hand, I could wind up with a cheap Venetian looking “fish bowl” (you know those….they look like fish in a bowl and are made by layering all these elements in them) or I could on the other, push the idea so far that I come up with the level of complexity I am looking for, which is not unlike a multidimensional “trip” through a dream world that actually is beginning to look a lot like how complex our lives have gotten today.  The trick, I know, as I waive my hands in the air, is to invest the “landscape” of these glass pieces with the level of complexity that keeps them from being cute or quaint and pushes them into new territory altogether.  And that, dear reader, is the hard part of art.  It separates the girls from the women and the boys from the men.  Hopefully in the end it serves to unite us all in a new kind of vision.  😉

So that is what is on the plate for now.  Naturally, I can’t say too much about it right now, not until I develop the work because until I do that it is much too easy for people to take an idea and run with it.  And that is the other side of the coin, but I will spare you that dimension of our work as artists.

The new work will mean that I will do something unusual, which is I will need to create photographs, images, and drawings, all of which will be put down on paper to form the basis of the imagery that will be cast into place with these pieces.  And to do them well will mean that the imagery remain crisp. That will mean selecting certain colors over others.  There will be choices that will have to be made that will be exacting, like building a three-layered canvas made of glass that you will be able to see through.  Some will seem like dreams, some like memories.  Perhaps some will fill the space with a sense of life.  Will they?  That will be up to all of the efforts made in the studio and out of it.  For now, there is a lot that needs to be done in the moment that will lead up to determining whether this work will be worth the time and trouble.  These are the untold hours, the invisible hours, that go to make a new line of work what it is. And this is the life of the artist.  More than money, more than anything else, this is what gets my blood pumping.

It Takes A Village

Ornaments@Matrix GalleryI am in the midst of a crowdfunding campaign to raise resources to make repairs and get my studio operational so that I can make and launch a new product, which is a fusion of art glass with lighting.  This is a grassroots effort with national reach.  The Gaia Lamp which this project funds will get works into the hands of galleries of fine craft all across the United States.  The campaign is a fixed campaign, which in crowdfunding lingo means that this is an “all or nothing” effort.  I have a goal of $5,600.00 for this project.  If I fall short, donations, which are being held by the campaign platform, will be returned. That means I am under the gun and on the clock.

Getting the word out is huge for campaigns like this.  I have tried to impress my family and friends with the thought that I am less concerned with donation and much more with their being willing to share updates of the campaign to friends.  When I have three friends that share my news on Facebook, for instance, the views of my posts will double and triple.  Imagine if I could get twenty people doing this on a regular basis!  This is something I have termed “Virality” and is what makes small things become big things.  And not a penny is spent; it is leveraging the power of the internet.  So to do that, let’s talk about what is so cool about all of this….

I am a maker of fine craft in the American Studio Glass Movement. This is one of the newest establish craft movements in the U.S. which began in 1965 when Harvey Littelton taught the first graduate program in glassblowing.  My teacher was one of Harvey’s students.  I was lucky to learn with Bill in the sunset of his career teaching at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.  This movement has brought new ideas, new forms, and new energy into the craft movement.  It continues to grow, too!  This is really something for a medium that is sooo ancient!  I am also part of the American Craft Movement, something built on small studios that are keeping the old traditions alive in a world soaked in machine made objects.  Cheap and useful, these objects lack the human touch, the sense of design and delight.  Have you ever felt what a blown tumbler feels like in your hand? Okay, you have never felt one of MY tumblers.  I make them ergonomic and intimate to the touch.  Everyone notices the difference.  Customers speak of my tumblers always sitting dirty in their sink; they are the go-to object.  It is easy to just say that American Craft is overpriced stuff, and it entirely misses the mark.  We have been dumbed down by cheap goods.

Lana & Parker 12:20014During my campaign I have partnered with a local gallery to help spread the word.  After a reporter had been to my studio last year to blow glass, she caught wind of the campaign and spread the word to one of the reporters where she works and I got a call about doing an interview for the campaign.  That interview happened yesterday and aired on the late news.  Being able to get this kind of coverage is big and has the potential to push the campaign forward.  Every eye, every voice, every heart who wishes to extend the reach is what is needed.



Right now the campaign is at 53%. THIS is very good!  I am very pleased with the progress so far.  Surprised, actually.  But this is also the point where many campaigns lag or slow.  We are also coming up against Christmas, too, which is probably going to be like a week-long dead spot.  And I anticipated this, which is why the campaign is going until January 7th.

The interview went pretty well, all in all.  I sought to emphasize the grass roots effort, howBrie & Lana 2 this campaign will happen by every person willing to share a status or reblog a post.  Perhaps in a bid to grab attention and raise awareness, the threat of a Grinch was added into the mix. Times have been hard this year, no doubt, but its not something that brightens hearts.  What does, is my willingness to be as resourceful as I can be and continue to move forward after difficulty.  Triumph of the human spirit.

So here I am and I am reaching out to let you know that this very cool thing is happening.  You can be a part of it.  If you want to share, that would be great!  If you want to write, I am all over it. If you want to give, I would point you toward the campaign site to decide if you would like a perk. There are lots of them!

Glass GuideI have an E-book I call “The Guide” which is a compilation of all of the tips and hints I have given my customers over the years about how to clean and care for glass. This includes things many people don’t know, like how glass cleaners aren’t even used by many glass workers.  Wanna know that secret mix?  Or how about a way to clean glass that uses NO cleaning compounds at all and is highly effective?  The Guide also shows you how best to light your artglass for a variety of situations.  I show how you can decide and size a room for your glass without having to plunk down the money for a contractor.  I show you ways that you can do this in an exact way, simply and with a minimum of expense.  I include historical facts about glass and I also go into the chemistry of glass in plain language in order to help you to better understand why blown glass IS different from other commercially made glass.  Includes diagrams and photos.  27 pages.  Available for a $2.00 donation.

There are many other perks that include glassblowing.  I had someone today asking if they could come blow glass for a day class.  I suggested we settle on a price for it and that he consider paying for it by donating to the campaign, explaining his  perk would be a class that he and three others would set up.  If the campaign made it, great.  We would look forward to a class sometime in the next two months.  If not, he would not be out anything.  In fact, giving to the campaign would move me ever closer to my goal.  This is how a crowdfund is a win-win.  It is the kind of thing that doesn’t just give for one person.  It can give a multitude of times.  I would urge anyone thinking about a day in the studio blowing as much glass as humanely possible and learning more stuff than you could ever believe, to contact me before donating so we can work out the details.  If you are out of state, I can also arrange to have you picked up from our local airport in Roanoke.  The possibilities are endless.  You can quite literally make your own perk; it is worth it to me, but let’s talk to make sure we are all on the same page.

So this is why the recent interview was a big deal in my area.  The local news did it, and I

Brie Jackson in Matrix Gallery taking an obvious selfie.
Brie Jackson in Matrix Gallery taking an obvious selfie.

am incredibly blessed that they did!  Newspapers have been contacted, press releases have been sent out.  For now I am relying on the power of the press and media to help me. So far, though, half of the effort has come directly through the internet and by sharing emails and links with friends and even family.

So if you would like to see the interview you can go HERE.  To go to the campaign itself you can go HERE. You can use indiegogo’s share tools to share the campaign.  You will discover and learn and find out if this is something that this is something you want to get behind.  It could be something that you could crow about; you got to be a part of it!

And whatever you DO decide to do, my thanks in advance!





The Challenge Of Crowd Funding

Owner and founder, Parker Stafford
Owner and founder, Parker Stafford

The Challenge of Crowdfunding is in building an expanded community of supporters all interested in your common goal of raising funds for a new project. If you are new to the concept of crowdfunding, the process is one where pledges are made by a large number of people in order to help fund a business or individual in a worthwhile cause. To date hundreds of billions of dollars have been raised using this model for businesses both big and small.

The idea of crowdfunding has its roots in individuals, such as musicians, who had fans willing to pledge support for making the next new CD when the musician did not have the funds for the project. Using word of mouth and via the internet, artists were able to leverage their base in order to make a new project a reality. Its an amazing development, and has been a way for cash strapped individuals to bring great ideas to the marketplace. It has opened up doors of possibility to millions of people to date.

A few months ago I began to get a stream of inquiries from people in and around my area asking me if I was going to offer the BYOB event that I normally hold each year. This moniker stand for “Blow Your Ornament Ball” and has been an exciting event held during the winter months that have allowed hundreds of people to come design and make their own ornament or suncatcher. For those who might not know, I am a glassblower.  I also teach glass a lot.  Its loads of fun! Anyway…. Spread entirely by word of mouth, this opportunity has really caught on. This year, however, the studio was shut down after a door on one of the furnaces came apart and there were not funds to make the fix. Then after classes I normally teach at the local university did not “make” due to unusually low enrollment, I was unable to afford keeping the studio open during this time. In the midst of this, I was working on making a new lamp for a client that has caused a stir and some excitement. People who saw my pictures of this piece were asking how they could get one. I had to explain that I didn’t have the studio running. How could I make more of these? The question became would people be willing to pledge their support and thus make opening the studio an option? The answer to this challenge was crowd funding.

By building a campaign with lots of goodies for those who pledge support, it will be possible to reopen the studio for people who want to blow glass but also to bring this next innovation in lighting to the market. It is a win-win! But to do this means I need to broaden my base of support, to get the word out to everyone who has participated in the past as well as those who have a vested interest in carrying the work in the future such as galleries of art and fine craft. I am appealing to all of these people and more to give this effort a run for its money!


What Will It Cost?


The budget for this effort is $5,600.00. Some of this goes to Indiegogo for administrative and marketing costs. The rest goes to the project itself which includes repairing the furnace door, buying propane, electricity, colored glass, base glass both for the lamp project as well as for anyone who pledges support and wants an ornament or suncatcher, a Gaia lamp, a Gaia Lamp Coffee Mug  and a few other “perks.”. It will also pay for a production run of the lamps that includes the lighting hardware which will all be compliant with U.S. electrical codes. It is a significant effort to be sure, but one with lots of rewards! The premiums like the mugs, ornaments, lamps, and others will begin once I reach the $5,600.00 goal.

I am here asking for your support.  Come be a part of an exciting process!  Share this, make it go viral and see goodness bloom!

What Goodies Are There To Pledge For?

There are a number of tasty premiums available for people interested in having their own glass creation, or to make one of their own that are part of the donation process!  Once I go live with the effort, I will share the link where you can see all of the perks


  • $26 pledge – get your very own limited edition blown ornament.  Signed, numbered and dated by the artist. Available for pick up from the studio.  Comes gift boxed. Unable to pick it up?  You can choose the same perk with shipping included (further down the list)! Once we launch, you will be able to see this new ornament unveiled on Indiegogo.  Check back here to learn more.  I am CLOSE!
  • $35.00 pledge – the official campaign mug.  Has a full color image of the vase tastefully designed with “I Helped Light The Lamp!” emblazoned across it.  Design is based on our poster for this effort.  15 o.z. ceramic, black background.  Available for shipping anywhere in the U.S. Make your donation go further and arrange to pick up locally.
  • $40.00 pledge – blow your own ornament/suncatcher in the studio. For local pickup.  Want to make two and send one as a gift anywhere in the U.S.?  See us for shipping.
  • $50.00 pledge – special limited edition blown ornament shipped anywhere in the Continental U.S. Signed and dated by the artist.
  • $95.00 pledge – Small Gaia Lamp standing approximately 8” tall, this is a scaled down version of the large lamp in our campaign ad. Call it the Gaia night light! Lit using a smaller 40 watt bulb. Available for pickup. Add $20.00 for shipping. For delivery to the address you choose anywhere in the Continental U.S. Signed and dated by the artist.
  • $195.00 pledge – Large Gaia lamp as shown in our campaign poster, standing approximately inches tall available for pickup from the studio, add $20.00 for shipping to send it to the address you choose anywhere within the Continental U.S.
  • $500.00 pledge – Glass blowing extravaganza! You and any number of friends you would like to invite gets one-on-one instruction in making as much glass as possible in a five hour period! Don’t want to blow glass? Come with your ideas and let us make the work under your direction as you help choreograph the show! The studio is your oyster! Work is available for pick up once it has been finished in the studio.
  • $1,000.00 pledge – Designers Delight! Bring your ideas for new glass forms and we make your pledge’s value in glass! Would you like a sink made? Done! Would you like to make your own set of custom made drinking glasses? Done! Would you like a centerpiece, suncatchers, ornaments, and a lighting fixture? Maybe a Gaia lamp while we are at it? Whatever you choose that we can make is possible as long as it adds up to your pledge amount! Don’t just order it, you can be actively involved! Unable to come to the studio? No problem! Lunch is on us when you come on the weekend! We can use a part of your pledge to ship the glass to you! Feel free to contact us to discuss the possibilities prior to donating! Includes free consultations to work out the details of your designing dream.


For larger pledges you can design your own glass creations and have us make them for you after we have discussed your projects with you. If you are local, you will be able to arrange a time to come to the studio to work with me to develop your ideas, enjoy lunch or dinner out at our local “green” restaurant, and make some cool stuff! You will have broad latitude in making as much work as your pledge offers. Would you like to make a sink for your home? Done! Maybe a center piece would be nice along with some matching drinking glasses. Would you like some large suncatchers for your bay window, or some gifts to give to a newly married couple? The possibilities are endless! Another pledge allows you to come and blow as much glass as can be made over a five hour period in the studio. Come alone or bring your friends, it is all good! Can’t afford a five hour block of time? No problem! We can break the sessions up over two weekends if you prefer! I will be on hand to assist you in making your own dreams a reality! Make them yourself, or direct me if you wish, the studio is your oyster! To learn about all of these exciting pledge opportunities, go to our campaign site on Indiegogo HERE!


What You Can Do


First, you can start by sharing news of the campaign with a simple click of the “share” button on Facebook. Find Stafford Art Glass and share the news with your friends. If you aren’t on Facebook, you can send an email to your friends telling them about the campaign and what it means to you to see a local business achieve this goal. This helps to inform people about what is going on in or world and gives them the opportunity to consider supporting a good cause that gives as much as it receives! I have a poster that is optimized for the web that is easy to share with your friends that gives your friends all the details. Go HERE for our campaign site on Indiegogo!

You are free to share any pictures of my work on Facebook and if you aren’t on Facebook, you can contact me directly and I will send you a collection of images that you have permission to share. I can also provide you with an informative email that gives all the details which you can forward to your friends if you would like. I have a twitter account where I will be posting updates as well as updates on this blog, facebook and my blogging account on tumblr at

What Happens If You Don’t Meet Your Goal?

Good question! The budget is arranged in a tiered system that takes the most important parts of the project first. That means that certain goals will be met before others. The furnace door will be repaired, propane will be purchased along with the electricity. The glass for the full project will be ordered and then printing and shipping come last. Let’s say that only enough funds are raised to pay for the repair, propane and electricity. What happens then? Currently I have supplies in the studio to blow ornaments and I can make a short run of Gaia lamps including samples, but not a full first production run of two dozen, which the budget is for. Even if we do not meet our full goal, the funds raised will go to the effort to get the studio operational and work made. If the campaign falls short of the full goal, what is raised will bring the studio that much closer to making this project a reality.

The truth is, each crowd funding effort is a journey to discovering what we are capable of. Each of us. That includes you, too! What I need more now than ever are people who are interested in helping make this effort a reality!

In the days to come I will be sending out press releases to newspapers and online news sources about my project. I will be contacting WDBJ in Roanoke who has shown a great deal of interest in my work and my efforts in the past.   Will be talking with radio show hosts about interviews and I will be putting up posters throughout our area and encouraging you and others to help make this effort go “viral” to get the support needed for a worthwhile cause. I wont be able to make it without you! For galleries who are interested in the work, you can get in on the action, too, by posting images and links to my effort and be the first in line to receive these works in your place of business for the 2015 buying season! This is a unique opportunity to give a new spin to helping artists you are interested in bring a new product to market. Have you ever, as a gallery owner, ever partnered with a glass artist or ANY artist in spreading the word in this way? Your customers will likely find this approach novel, engaging, and exciting! I urge you to consider the possibilities when it comes to your supporting the arts in this way and I look forward to speaking with you about any and all questions you might have.

For anyone with questions, you can contact me directly at or via my mobile at (540) 605-0034. Until then, I wish you the very best! ~Parker Stafford


The Inescapable Inscape!

The Inscape is the result of a discovery I made early in my glass career.  It was part experimentation and part discovery and part  happy mistake.  The glass was cut open to reveal something marvelous inside.  Who knows how many of these I had made with these same beautiful forms that had slipped inside the glass like that.  From that one point of discovery came a welter of ideas.  Inscape Geode, Inscape Egg, Andromeda Geode, Andromeda Egg, the Andromeda Monolith.  It cracked the sky of my world open creatively.  These pieces have been used for corporate jobs, trophies, sold in a catalog, online, and through countless galleries from New England to Seattle, and London England.

So today I honor that discovery with a picture I found of a piece I did about eight years ago that suggested yet another direction with my Inscapes.  The piece, shown below, is a special type of Inscape that I did so it had multiple facets.  It was different from all others like it.  One of a kind.  But here is where new ideas form, build, grow, and inspire.

What will inspire you today?

parker stafford

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!

Hotglass Weekend Wrap-Up

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.

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!)

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!

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

How We Are Different…

For those who are curious about blowing glass themselves at the studio, this will help you to understand a little more what to expect if you do blow glass for the first time.  I also suggest reading the BYOB post a few entries down the line as well.


Over the course of this past season when we had the bulk of the people coming out to blow glass I was told how I let people do more actual working of the glass than other studios do.  To put this into perspective, most studios when holding an event of this type do not allow their “students” do much more than pick the colors that will go into the piece and then blow into a hose at the end to inflate their ornament.  That in itself can be a real thrill for anyone who has never been involved in glassblowing, sure enough. Having worked with glass, knowing its secrets, knowing how amazing a material it is, I have to be honest and say this is not the best way to expose people to the wonders of glass. I know that some studio’s have concerns about liability, some wont let you onto the blowing floor without  a rope between you and the pad where glass blowers work.  On the one hand it is understandable, but on the other, its not something that a simple explanation about how to keep safe being in the mix wont correct.  At the end of the day we all know that hot glass is an extreme material.  It is one reason why people are drawn to it in the first place.  Children are carefully shown how important it is to stay in certain places while we are working and once you see what it is that we do on the blowing floor, it is easy to remain safe while being up close with this amazing material.  It is an opportunity most people do not get in their lifetimes.  
A student piece from our December BYOB at Stafford Artglass.

Yes, all you have to do is watch it being made to “get” how amazing this stuff is…..and yet, there is a significant leap that happens between observing and doing.  Glass is frustratingly difficult to master.  It literally takes years to learn well. The old masters all look forward to getting better with the next piece.  We are all pretty humble when it comes to glass (even those who don’t seem to be when you visit their studios or meet them in person at a gallery).  Having said this, my big challenge has been how to involve people more in actual glass making while not making it so hard that we can’t get an ornament made.
When I do ornaments with beginners off the street there are several steps that I have to do to ensure that the glass is made right.  This is only because some steps cannot be re-done if they are done incorrectly. Like putting on the hanger/eye that covers the hole where the ornament is knocked off the pipe.  That step has to be done flawlessly because you have to be able to use the heat in the bit of glass used to cover the hole and get it into perfect hanger shape or everything that you have done prior in making the piece is lost.  This step could easily take a day of drilling over and over before a person would get good enough to do it dependably.  I know some beginners years later who are still polishing their skills on making good hangers on ornaments!  And yet, even at the first go, there is so much a person can learn, and then build upon after that.

When you blow an ornament or suncatcher, you select the colors and I lay them out for you.  We talk about what kinds of effects you would like in the glass.  Would you like the color to cascade like a solid ribbon through the glass or would you like all colors to simply blow out straight?  Would you like anything to swirl together, etc.  Once that is determined, we have a basic game plan.  After that, I talk about the blow pipe and how to keep your hands safe from the heat by knowing how to use the blowpipe.  If the person wants to get the glass out of the furnace, they can. This is the most extreme part of the whole process and its not for everyone. It is akin to standing in front of a roaring bon-fire.  It is hot and sometimes the gloves you wear will smoke!  the glass is shaped quickly by me at the bench before the student heats it and rolls the glass in the bits of color.  depending on the intensity of color desired, the student may do this several times, going back from the reheating furnace to the table where the colored glass is kept.  Once this is done, I quickly shape the glass and we begin to initiate what is called a “starter” bubble.  Once this is done, I attach a flexible line to the end of the pipe and when signaled, the student begins to blow gently first into the hose, further inflating the ornament.

Once this has been done, and its most often done very quickly, the suncatcher or ornament is ready to be cooled and broken off the pipe by me.  I run quickly to get a bit of glass for the hanger and it is made and put away into a kiln where it must cool for about 12 hours.

Weekend and day-long classes are different.  While I may do the same steps as mentioned above in the first ornament for a day or weekend class, the point of these classes is to actually give you the skills to balance molten glass on the pipe while blowing/inflating the bubble.  Gradually as the steps are shown by doing pieces, the student is given more and more opportunity to repeat the same steps that were shown as we made an ornament for example. In the beginning I do more of the steps so students can observe and learn and then as we move along, the student does more and more of these steps as they are able.


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 (hers is the red and pink piece directly above this image)

If you want to do more in glass, being able to repeat the same form several times in order to build skill is what is necessary.  This past season I had two instances where the ornament that was made did not turn out.  The third time for two separate cases was the charm.  However, I and the student both noted just how much faster they were in the second go-round than they were on the first.  It took almost half the time, which speaks to how your own skill increases once you have repeated these forms a few times.  This is progress!  Once you can cut that same time in half again is where I work when doing production in the studio.  And speed is a very good indicator of skill because with hot glass it means that you are anticipating what the glass will do and you can then work with it to utilize the heat to build the form.  You don’t do this as much when you are simply learning what the glass does for the first time.  As a result of this, taking a class that builds on skill is what will actually show you how much you can improve and learn with glass….which is a lot!

For those who have not blown glass as the studio or have not been to the studio before, the following post is an informative way to become accustomed to what it is we offer, such as the Blow Your Ornament Ball (BYOB):

People have said I take a lot of time with my students.  I do.  What I want to be able to do is to expose them to glass and hope that the glass does the rest for them.  And I do have an ulterior motive in all of this; if people so enjoy their experience that they tell their friends about it, or show off their creations, they are helping me to get the word out about what it is that I offer.  In a world where we get less cereal in the box for the same size box, I want to continue offering something more than all the rest do.  The looks on the faces of the folks who took the last picture below tells the story better than I could ever do!


New Work

©Parker Stafford

If you are an artist then you know the importance of new work.  Developing new winning designs is a way to not only generate renewed interest in your brand, but it serves an integral effect of helping to keep you creatively vital.  I know that for me I get a big bump behind developing new work that helps to push production for a while.  I feel better.  Life just FEELS better to me and my mind is working in a much more fertile way as I wonder just what might be next on the creativity front.  Its as if the world moves from few options to one where options are just bursting at the seams.  Such is the effect that inspiration has on us.

The last four years have brought unprecedented change to my life.  From a severe shoulder injury, to a divorce, to managing an eight-entity partnership to being without a home and without income.  Being instantly disabled was no fun. The doctor explained I would not do anything except therapy with my shoulder for an entire year.   The combination of pain killers and discomfort and my inability to work was like a depth charge in my world.  It shook my confidence, it took me back to square one, and it also gave me a solid period of introspection into WHY I was doing what I was doing and caused me to step back and look—really look—at the who when where and why’s of all of this.. When the tree was shaken in this way I had to look long and hard and honestly at WHY I was motivated to do the things I was doing.  Why was I running a business in production glass?  It isn’t as simple an answer as you might at first expect.  Having a marriage break up during this time was itself a double-whammy and was made much more difficult by a spouse who sought to put children in the middle of it all while also limiting my exposure to them.  The economy was in the doldrums and I had few options available to me as I recovered just enough to wind up in another pot of soup.  And in the midst of all of this very terrible stuff was a center of clarity and purpose…..and even design.  I don’t believe in destiny.  I believe we create much of this.  A life can have a design that often escapes our notice but emerges in times when we allow ourselves to grow quiet.  If you step back and look at our culture and world as a whole, we really aren’t known as the species that quiets itself.  What we take as quieting the mind is akin to a brief distraction from the normal rush of inner dialog that goes along with our days.  You just never realize just how much you do it until you are suddenly without it.  Boom.  The sound goes off. The lights go out.  You are suddenly suspended within a deep blue buoyant ocean of a place.  What happens to you in places such as these?  In sensory deprivation tanks the mind is known to feed information out of itself for its own consumption just in order to keep the information loop it is so used to having supplied to it, going.  We never realize any of this until something comes along to put the brakes on things.  Its relative, so breaking the frame of reference just a little does a lot to begin to shift awareness, feeling, and being.

So, putting away the violins for a minute, I want to say that one of the few things that has helped me get through this period has been the ability to create.  During this time period I have had some of the biggest outputs of writing in my life.  I amassed a 700 page manuscript for a book, wrote several children’s stories and began developing new work and classes for my studio business.  I have written music, poetry, maintained up to three blogs and wrote an article for an online magazine on the subject of nonduality.  I was asked to teach at two colleges locally.  Now I teach at just one.  Part time and perfect.  It keeps me in the mix with young minds that want to be involved in new and different projects in a collaborative way, much as was done this past semester with my sculpture students in making blown glass sculptural forms for the Glass Garden project that I wrote about a few posts down the line.

Being able to have friends who serve as inspirational source-points can be incredibly important for turning the boat in your life around.  I know that for me, the creative was the one force that made the difference between madness and great joy.  It wasn’t a crutch; it was a means for changing how I thought, how I felt and how I reacted to the world around me.  A curious thing happens in the brain when we choose to feel differently; we do!  Our bodies stop pumping out things like adrenaline, which is a stress chemical and begins to pump out things like endorphins, dopamine, and other feel-good compounds.  The body is actually a loyal servant to our own minds and feelings and will most often mirror our thinking and feeling state as precisely as it can chemically. If you care to know just how fast this change can take place, observe as you allow your feelings to shift from one mood to the next. Our bodies can shift on a dime for us if we realize that it is we who control the boat and where its sailing!  Too often, though, we wind up being mastered by our feelings, and this can put people into quite dismal places indeed.  At the end of the day, though, until you understand that YOU are in control of all of this, even your own so very crazy emotions (that feel out of your control), you wont develop the sense of personal responsibility and self mastery that is necessary to have the confidence to take charge of your interior life and put it into a more positive direction.

Shell form 5 -b sizedSo art and creativity was a powerful way through all of this for me.  This was good, too, because I like simple and nondogmatic.  I happen to believe or feel that all of this here was not meant to be difficult but can actually be amazingly simple.  Like falling off a log.  Instead, though, we often set up barriers to our success.  I know I have.  Lots of them.  Why?  it all comes down to self love.  Not selfish narcisism, but rather a reverence for your own self as a gateway to worlds of wonder and boundless joy and love.  We tend to mess it up somehow, self-sabotaging most often.  Somewhere along the line we begin to feel that we aren’t good enough.  We are then on the lookout for any suggestion that we aren’t.  Our minds actually are on the lookout for ANYTHING that matches this pattern turning in our minds or hearts.  The thing about these patterns is that they are like plants; they will continue to self-propogate and can wind up getting worse.  You can also in that moment choose to go in the other direction and actively change the pattern into something different.  You can literally change your mind.  You can change how it operates, how it responds, how it chooses from a list of behaviors.  One of the most powerful ways to change these negative patterns is through creativity.  By being creative, you are granting yourself permission to be happy and to enjoy what it is you are doing as well as to begin to consider not just new ideas but also allowing yourself to enjoy something that you may have felt edgy or uncertain about (because maybe you felt like you just weren’t GOOD enough at it) for some time now. Sitting down with a guitar and playing music alone might at first seem like a lonely thing to do, but it can also be an incredibly nurturing thing too. Giving yourself the freedom to dream wildly and creatively is another way of honoring your own insides. It can be a game changer, it really can.  We now know that the very substance of our brains actually undergoes change as we begin to rewire the brain by developing different thought and feeling patterns.  We can see how different parts of the brain begin to light up when we move away from anxiety and uncertainty and allow ourselves to play and have fun. Play and fun are not mere idle activities; they are the very substance of what gives us long lives, healthy hearts, bodies and minds, and productive relationships.  When we are happy, when we are engaged, everything moves so much more smoothly.

As a result of all of this I remind myself that I need to stop what I am doing periodically and design new work.  Already I have begun some very different things.  Who knows if they will be of any interest.  When it comes to developing new work you do what you like and what winds up selling helps to support the business and more innovation.  Its not unlike a publishing company or movie producer that has blockbusters that help subsidize the less successful but just as worthy lesser known movies or books. I can remember making some of the ugliest suncatchers ever.  They were an experiment that went wrong.  I took them to a show and placed them in a basket on the floor.  They were the first things to sell and were gone within the first hour of the show.  So there is no way to gauge popularity; do what you like, make what you love and leave the rest to the fates.  Really.  If this is about pleasing other people, you are going to spend many sleepless hours trying to do just that when the only thing that ever made any sense or works is pleasing yourself.  I know maybe that sounds self centered, but you know, I have noticed that when I am happy, those around me feel that happiness and respond to it.  If I am not right then those around me are most certainly affected.  Instead of seeking to fill your cup from others, fill it yourself so that you are overflowing.  If we each did this we would each be in a lot better shape emotionally, and socially as a species.

This year I have embarked on some very divergent ideas creatively.  I wanted to do fish for my home.  I made some out of ceramic.  I wanted a garden because of how being amidst living things make me feel.  Last week I had a hummingbird buzz around my head as I stood stock still watching it move through the garden.  Bees and butterflies by the dozen are zooming in and out of this garden and it just lights me up to watch.  It lights me up to watch people enjoy making art, enjoying what they are doing.  I am making new work in glass, more different than anything I have ever done and yet its also some of the most satisfying so far.  I am breaking away from the vessel more and pushing blown forms into sculpture.  I am beginning to make water fountains; this was something I had NEVER considered but once I saw the results of what I and my students had created, I was hooked.  I wanted one in my yard, too. I wanted TWO.  One in the front, one in the back yard!  Here is glass and color and water all in one place creating sound and movement. Maybe its not highbrow, but I am a simple man.  Sometimes the sublime speaks to us through the ray of light peeking through the trees, or in the particular pthalo green we have on our pallet for the day.  In each moment, tucked between the obvious and the esoteric there is something and it is waiting quietly for us to recognize it.  When we do, it doesn’t require grandiose visions.  Its as simple as a smile, as grand as a waterfall.  It is in both, and it waits for all of us.  The gateway is in allowing ourselves, which is so very much like what making great art and invention is all about.

Cold Work – The Other Side of Hot Work

When you have guests everyone notices how pretty the table looks once its been set.  Rarely do we want to see how the table looks once all the plates and serving dishes are put away in the kitchen as piles of plates and bowls and cups and platters add up.  Everyone wants to enjoy the evening, but who wants to have to do the dishes?

In everything we do there is the less interesting yet necessary things that go into making the day, the experience, the object or artwork or craft object. In glass, most often you will see artisans simply blowing. its exciting, sexy.  So why NOT show this side of the industry to would-be customers?  You wind up seeing JUST the blowing end of things.  We all use the exciting ends of things to sell people on it. Its pretty rare to see the finishing end of glass work simply because its not the hot part, the fiery end of things.  Some assume it mustn’t be interesting to people because its not very interesting to THEM.

To do the work I need to do, I have to do finishing work, something we collectively call “cold work” which is when glass that has been blown has bottoms ground flat and brought to a fine degree of finish or polish.  This is slow, wet work with grinding or abrasive tools that  are lubricated  by a steady flow of water to slowly wear away layers of glass for the finishing work to be complete.  In principle it is the same as sanding or finishing a piece of wooden furniture or finishing an automotive panel.  You go from coarse to fine grit.  But that is where the similarities end.

What I am going to show you is a insiders look into the process of glass finishing.  It isn’t meant to be an exhaustive review of all the processes or tools possible in the process because there are many.  For our quick jaunt I am going to keep things limited to a horizontal flat mill that I use for grinding smaller things.  Cold work doesn’t get much press simply because its not as exciting or maybe as sexy as hot work.  It is, however, an essentially portion of the larger whole.

Cold work, as it is called, is the abrading of the glass surface in order to grind away sharp edges created from cracking off glass either from the blow pipe or from the punty ( a solid metal rod used to hold a blown piece of glass after it has been broken off the blowpipe in order to finish it). Cold work can be very direct in its method; grind away any sharp parts of glass so the glass is smooth and finished looking.  However, cold work can also be used to be an end in an of itself for creative expression.  Glass can be faceted or engraved as in the case of copper wheel engraving which produces colorful prismatic effects with clear glass and the presence of light. This is a tedious and time consuming process but it can also bring a glass object to a level of fire and sparkle that a smooth uncut surface does not have.  Facets might be cut or abraded into the surface of glass.  Imagery might also be ground into the glass, perhaps in reverse.  In some cases, cold work might be used to rind through color layers in the glass to reveal certain colors in the same way that South American Mola’s are made by laying down many colors of textile thread only to go back through and remove  layers of certain colors  to reveal the layers beneath them. Using this technique, one could blow a multicolored ball of glass with many colored layers, and upon cooling, take the ball and cut it apart and sandblast the colored layers away to create the appearance of, say, an animal or bird.  This technique is called Graal (pronounced “grawl”) and is effectively a way to create shards of glass which are then picked back up onto a hot gather of glass and reincorporated into a new piece where the shards are now hidden beneath a layer of clear crystal for all to see and wonder just how the designs got inside the glass.  So while cold work is itself very practical, it has an expressive side as well.  Having been an artisan who used cold work to create the only curved lenses that I know of in my paperweights and sculptures, I can attest to grinding being an expressive medium, albeit a time consuming and wet one.

grinding check sized

Grinding is done most often on a horizontal flat mill.  This mill could be an iron disc with loose grit dripping across its surface to create the abrasion, or more recently we also have diamond embedded grinding discs that keep the grit in one place and can be used over and over for many years before they wear out.  Grinding can be done with small handheld devices like angle grinders with diamond blades or discs with a water feed attachment as well as devices that look very much like bench grinders and also belt sanders.  The grit on these devices goes from coarse to extremely fine as the piece is worked at each grit until it achieves a fine level of finish. If you look at the grinder I am using in the photo above, you can see a flat disc that is turning with a hose that is feeding water to the center of the disc to help lubricate it. The grinder is basically a plastic housing that catches most of the water spray (but not all) with a powerful motor that turns the spindle that in turn spins the diamond discs which are all attached by way of a powerful magnet holding the abrasive disc in place.

This grinder spins at about 1400 r.p.m.’s and the diamond grit I use varies from a very coarse 45 mesh grit to an extremely fine prepolish disc that is in the area of 1200 mesh.  Final polish is accomplished with a felt pad that has a polishing compound embedded in it.  All of this is accomplished wet and makes observing the progress of the grind and finish a little tricky. But before I get ahead of myself, let me show you the grinding discs….

grinding discs cart viewWhat you see in the photo with all the discs arranged in a series of slots is a caddy I built years ago to keep my grinding discs for finishing glass organized..  I set it up near my grinder for ease of access to all of the different grits I might need during the course of a grinding session.

grinding discs closeupThis is a closeup view of the grinding discs.  You can see that some of the discs have a dot pattern across their surface.  These are clusters of diamonds that have been sintered into a nickle mini-disc that is then attached to a plastic substrate.  This plastic is then attached to a metal disc and the metal disc is then held to the spindle or wheel head of the grinder.

The dark brown discs are prepolish discs, the step necessary before final polish is done.  The rust colored disc is the final polish disc.

For the purposes of this post I ground some pieces without the usual protective equipment.  Normally I will use eye, ear and face protection when grinding.  The grinder creates a lot of noise for example, and sometimes glass can chip off from the work so safety glasses are useful at certain stages of the process.  As you might be able to guess, just holding on to the glass as the water used to lubricate the diamond and the glass is filled with small glass particles, it gets harder to keep a firm grasp on the glass.

grinding closeup sized
the bottom of a vase is examined for scratches as it is being ground

During the course of the grinding and finishing of a piece of glass, the object being finished will be taken through a series of different grit sizes in order to progressively create a finer and finer ground surface until the surface is so finely ground that upon being turned on a polish wheel, the glass is brought to a high level of polish.

cup grinding sizedThe tumbler that is being ground in the pictures that follow shows how the bottoms of pieces have to be examined to make sure that all scratches from the previous grit are worn away before moving to the next grit size.  If this is not done properly, the scratches from coarser grits can remain in the piece and wind up becoming polished scratches which appear as polished shiny grooves on the surface of the glass being worked. The purpose of fine glass finishing is to render the glass as looking like the rest of the glass around it so that one never knew that the facet or surface had ever been in such a coarse or rough state. When done properly, people do not notice the ground or finished surface except that it is part of a consistent whole.

cup check sizedIn some cases, surfaces are not brought to a high level of polish.  In my case, there are several very specific reasons for not bringing a surface to full polish.  I might want the bottom of a piece to be opaque to the rest of the world. I might want light to enter, but I might not want people to be able to view through the glass completely as is the case with highly polished glass.  In some cases I create diffusion filters in my paperweights so that when light is shot up from underneath them from light boxes, the light is softened and scattered,cup check 2sized creating a pleasing and soft diffuse light.  On some light boxes I note that the makers have done the same thing by providing covers for the lights that have sandblasted discs which are called diffusion filters. This achieves the same result and is sometimes necessary or wanted.  In some cases I may be making a piece where I have very specific color effects playing on the surface of a vase and I may not want the bottom of the piece to be ground so that other colors can be seen through the bottom of the piece so I might leave the bottom ground but only to a 600 grit, for example, which is a soft enough surface that it does not mar fine furniture.  IN another case I might have a tumbler or other object that I know will get a level of high use and instead of bringing the bottoms to a level of high polish, I might keep it matte in order to help hide any scratches or wear that might build up across the surface over time. I have observed that the scratched on a polished surface always look ten times worse than the same scratch on a matte or not fully polished surface.  The final reason for not bringing a piece to full polish is simple economics. If I am making an inexpensive item and want to keep the costs associated with those pieces down, I might, if the situation warranted it, choose not to bring some part of a ground surface to full polish.

When grinding I keep a circulating loop of water going in my grinder.  This recycles the water I use and has resulted in the savings of thousands of gallons of water over a ten year period. I do a LOT of cold work in my solid pieces and I was finding that I was going through twenty gallons of water every hour when I was doing my grinding.  By placing a small pump in the bucket I was able to reuse the water many times and I also was able to  capture the fine glass particles so they settled into the bottom of the bucket.  These fine particles actually get saved, dried, and then are put back into the furnace in order to re-vitrify them into solid glass again prior to land-filling them. What is important about the process that I employ is that when glass is ground as finely as I do in my finishing process, the chemistry of the glass becomes much more porous to the environment.  Doing this is my way of keeping the impact of what I do to a minimum for the environment and does keep leaching of heavy metals down to zero this way.


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The result of all of this is a double-win; I keep heavy metals out of the environment and I am able to save significantly on my water usage when grinding.  Doing this does mean that my grinding is more of a dusty affair for the simple fact that there is more glass particulate in the water since its being recirculated.  It does make the water feel more slippery or even soapy feeling, but it also means that I am keeping the glass out of the septic system.

When done with an eye towards detail, cold work can be used to enhance glass work.  It can be used to cut bevels into glass, it can be used to create interesting lines and other surface effects.  IN its least noticeable form, it is used to give the work a look of finish and to keep a rough area on glass from being noticed by completely removing it and returning the glass to a polished, sparkling pristine state.

Cold work isn’t the most glamorous part of glass making.  Its the part of the work that most people aren’t even supposed to notice.   In the same way that you would not consider having your guests stay and help clean the dishes after having had a fine meal at your home, so too you would not consider leaving a sharp hard surface for your customers to see without first grinding it away or giving it a look of finish.