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.
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.
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.
You can see some trails of bubbles in the glass which are part of the design.
The glass is then twisted to get a spiral.
The glass is then dimpled which will trap a veil of small bubbles once the next gather is put over the glass.
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.
This is a smaller piece. You can see how ethereal the dichroic can be!
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.
A 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!
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
Please contact me directly for studio hours: our work is seasonal and sometimes the studio can be down for repairs, for example. Some days we are blowing glass while other days we are running errands or away at a show. Let us know when you are free to come see us and we can work something out that works for you.