Glass Cleaning Tips

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I clean a lot of glass in my work, and whether it’s my blown glass that I’m getting spotless for a show, event, or customer, or whether it’s getting the shelves on which the work is to be displayed, getting glass clean has become both science and art. I thought I’d pass along a few tips for cleaning glass that I have found indispensable. 
First, forget glass cleaners. That’s right, forget them. I’m sorry to say that while the rest of the world is using Windex glass cleaner, I have long since given up on this product for a far superior product that is more effective and, gasp! Cheaper!
Glass cleaners do clean glass. The problem with cleaners like Windex is that they contain polish and this always leaves a film behind. If you want a cleaner that gets right to it and leaves no residue, buy a gallon of distilled white vinegar. It cuts grease and dirt and leaves no residue once all dirt and grease are dissolved. The nice thing is that vinegar is an excellent degreaser and I have been using it exclusively as a cleaner for my glass as well as my kitchen counter tops and surfaces. The advantage here is that there are no more chemicals or dyes and the cleaner is as hypoallergenic as you can get. 
Remember to get distilled white vinegar since this has no residue from the fruits used to make it (like Apple cider vinegar has).

A Magic Material

Next on the list is not even a cleaner per se, but a material that cuts down significantly on your use of vinegar in the first place. This wonder is called a microfiber cloth
Microfiber came into vogue over a decade ago, and once I was given one by an exhibitor with whom I shared some technical information with (as a kind thank-you), I became a believer in its ability to spit-shine my glass…..without the spit!  If you haven’t used microfiber yet, you should, because it can greatly reduce the need to use ANY cleaning fluids on mildly mussed glass. 
The fibers pick up dirt extremely well and lock the dirt in the fibers. Just remember to give your cloths a good cleaning with mild soap and a vinegar rinse every so often. It is good for dozens of cleanings of window panes, metal objects, or just about anything shiny (do be careful with plastics, love, as they can be mildly abrasive to them). Just bear in mind, microfiber will work only on dirt films on glass and is not designed to sop up big spills. For that, I offer the towel, be it paper or terry cloth.
If you bring these two simple ingredients into your arsenal of cleaning, you will find your world cleaner without the need of the expense of the vast cornucopia of chemistry now under your kitchen sink. 
I hope that you have had a marvelous holiday, and if things are in need of a little cleaning, I hope you will give my suggestions a try. My work here is done. Godspeed and good morrow, my dear glass enthusiasts!

Art and Design, glassblowing

Lighting Glass!

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There is lighting glass and then there is lighting glass.  You wouldn’t think it would be that much of a challenge; throw some light on it and there you go, right?  I suppose, for some things, a dash of light would be better than wasting away in a dull corner and getting no attention.  Yes.  I have been lighting glass in a variety of spaces over the years and there are some tips that I think will help when considering a new piece of glass or breathing new life into an older piece.

There are ways that you can approach lighting ANY object that can make all the difference in your home.  You can raise a piece from noticeable to an exquisite eye-catching centerpiece.  How?  Walk with me…

First, there are a range of different glass objects, all with different considerations.  How you light a large solid piece will be different from a transparent bowl or vase, and this will also be different from an opaque work.  The first consideration is where the object will be placed.  Will it be against the wall in the case of a hanging piece like a sculptural platter or a work on a pedestal up against the wall?  Will it be out in the middle of the room?  Will it get natural light?  Will it be high or low?

Pieces lighted for product photography are tricky to keep reflections from lights to a minimum
Pieces lighted for product photography are tricky to keep reflections from lights to a minimum

First realize that glass eats light.  The more light you give many glass pieces, the more brilliant they are.  Mostly.  But not all.  There is such an incredible range of glass out there today and as a result a one-size fits all approach doesn’t always work.  But for the sake of simplicity I am going to cover some basic issues and try to hit this with scatter-shot.  I will say from the outset that, for me, there are two choices for lighting; halogen and daylight.  In some cases I have used LED’s with a specific color range that is balanced for daylight, but for the most part, all other lighting options offer less than acceptable qualities.  Incandescent floods often are very warm and this can shift blues and greens in slight ways to help keep them feeling quite as dreamy and brilliant.  Fluorescent is just difficult because it is so diffuse.  Good for fill, but bad for hitting glass with sharp points of light for great highlight effects.  Yes, LED’s are now being made to fit halogen gimbals.  I just don’t like them for most lighting due to its flicker rate and this also includes fluorescents.  When I say “flicker rate” I mean that all LED’s and fluorescents are powered by electronics that control power and thus pulses the electricity through them.  Wave your hand in front of a fluorescent or LED and you will know just what I mean.  All of these are good on the pocketbook and help to keep down energy use, but until they make an LED that produces the SAME light as a halogen, I remain very much a halogen man and feel that you should too (and if you are a lady, be a halogen gal, ok?)!  Having said that, LED’s CAN be a good light source for solid works lit from the bottom, such as how I light my Inscapes and Andromeda Geodes.

If you have work that is colored but transparent and will be near a wall, my number one suggestion is to consider having that wall be as neutral a color as possible and if white is an option or a very pale gray, this will show off colored transparents the best. The white wall will act as a giant bounce panel for you and you will be able to shoot light onto the wall all in an effort to bounce light back through your cherished piece.  If this is not an option, however, I suggest lighting directly from above or even from below (as in a lit pedestal–it’s actually a lot simpler than you might think; a tube with a sheet of frosted glass on top and an appropriately powered light kit in the base or just below the glass top).  In the work that I do I intensify the color of tranparents by putting them against white backgrounds as I blow the piece.  Without a bright background transparent colors will come across as dull and lifeless.  If you just read this and your wall as a nice terracotta and you are feeling that lurching feeling in your belly, consider before grabbing the whale gray, just hang a white sheet on the wall to see how the piece is changed.  You might then realize that the piece isn’t for THAT wall or space.  Sometimes, though, by lighting straight down on a transparent piece, you can mitigate some of the surrounding color influences somewhat, so give it a try before giving up.

Example of a backlit transparent piece.  In this case, the wall was white so as not to interfere with the coloring in the piece.
Example of a backlit transparent piece. In this case, the wall was white so as not to interfere with the coloring in the piece.

Opaques, by comparison, can most often be in almost any environment and show well.  They will, though, be a lot flatter in dimension and subtlety as a general rule.  In this case, it is more a consideration of placement and decor.  Will it look good on that terracotta room, or would it benefit from being closer to the windows and  a different color arrangement?  But remember; please never become a slave to matching colors.  Think coordinating and you will have just given yourself a lot more freedom and room to no longer match the sofa.  But that’s not really about lighting is it?  No.

In the case of very thick glass (half an inch in thickness and up) or solid work, this is a whole other animal.  Many pieces will be greatly enhanced by being lit from underneath, and the amount of light in a clear solid piece or a lightly colored work necessary to illuminate will likely surprise you.  Depending on how large the piece is, the lighting requirements will go up with size.  It is not at all unusual to need 200 watts of light to show off a very modestly size piece 6″ x 6″ in two dimensions.

Before going very far into this I also need to mention one very good tool for helping you light work, and that is the halogen track light.  These can be purchased at the hardware store with plugs and, with a couple of them, you can move them around to find the best arrangement for your piece.  This is especially good if you are sprucing up and considering putting in some track lighting but haven’t yet done so. The cost of a cord for a track is about $7.00 – $12.00 so it can be worth it in the long run to have the mobility to try many different things Before you attach the track to the ceiling and hard wire the electrical connection more permanently into your house’s electrical circuitry.

So what about  washing your glass treasure with light?  What are some other ways this can be done?  I am a believer in keeping the light source within a reasonable distance from your glass piece.  Trying to  wash a piece with light from six feet is going to be a lot more effective for modest pieces (under 2.5 feet in height or diameter) then it is from ten feet or further away.  However, if you absolutely want your glass piece far away from an available track and installing track lighting is not an option, I would direct you to consider spot lighting.  Normally these lights have a very focused beam, but the beam is also very intense and holds its illumination over distance.  By using both spots and a few floods, you can get a very good effect for glass lit from a distance.  All beams spread a certain degree and the further away, the more diffuse the beam will be. Spots close up, though, might not be useful for anything but small pieces.  In some cases, it can even make the piece seem over lit or with hotspots, so you have to adjust for your specific needs and likes.  See the first image at the top of the post for an example of hotspots from lighting.  They work when they help to add dimension, but they an also quickly become obtrusive, giving a harsh feeling to the work.

If you have a piece that is large and will be a centerpiece in a room, consider lighting this kind of piece from multiple directions and being careful to keep the angle of illumination close instead of far in order to eliminate long shadows.  In the case such as this, even one strong central light directly above could be just as effective as numerous lights four feet or more from the center of the piece.  The larger works such as glass sculpture will most often require lighting that is both directly above, several feet away and then at least ten to twelve feet away in order to get the right range of illumination.  Lighting that is above will provide a sense of the work being lit from within, but for sculptural work, you may want to be able to see the surface as well instead of just having a glowing sun of a piece in your large front foyer. Adjusting how much light hits the piece is important, so it may be that a few choice 50 watt lamps close by will do most of the lighting while several smaller lamps further away will help to light up the surface enough so it can be seen in a way that interior or close-up can’t do.

If you want to get into perfect lighting of a piece, pay attention to the lighting hot spots on the piece from your lighting.  Some of these are nice and helps to give the work dimension.  However, if you are lighting a large piece you can wind up in a situation where the piece looks marked by many lamps.  In fact, some pieces that have undulating surfaces can be lit rather modestly and yet have many hot spots on them or distracting reflections from the lighting simply due to the way the surfaces will pick up one light source many times.

Daylight can't be beat for a nice broad range of color and contrasts in this piece made last year at the studio/
Daylight can’t be beat for a nice broad range of color and contrasts in this piece made last year at the studio.

Sometimes, when you are limited in your capacity to put in track lighting for your piece, one thing you can consider is actually keeping the piece in a dimly lit room with one light source on it.  I light paperweights and solid work like this all the time, and the effect is remarkably dramatic and effective.  A vase on a light box shining light up into it in the right degree of spread, can be amazing.  Likewise, you can also light a vase from its center using something as simple as a candle.  During Christmas I often will take a large blown clear bowl, fill it with water and place a dozen candles made to float, in the water.  The effect?  Pure magic!

But how much light do you need to throw onto a piece, specifically?  Again, it is based on the piece itself and the environment that it is in.  You can shoot one spot straight down on the right piece in a dimly lit room and get amazing effects for that piece if it is appropriate, but you see, this is all subject to so many elements that have to all line up, like the planets.  But as a very general rule of thumb I find that any piece of glass worth its salt will need anywhere from at least 50 watts worth of light to an upper end of 200 watts.  Having said this, there are pieces I light that use seven watts.  My gallery at the studio, which is currently only about 300 square feet has over two thousand watts crammed into that room and to be honest, I could use another thousand watts easily.  I also have hundreds of pieces in that room, all screaming for light.  And yet, the gallery does not feel over-lit.  It is bright, yes, but over-lit?  Are you kidding?  Light is so good with glass.  So use these numbers only as a starting point.  And one option that I would consider if you want to go the track lighting route are dimmer switches, which will allow you to modulate how much light you put onto a piece as well as to give you options for creating a mood with a piece.

Hopefully, armed with these tips, you can make the best of your artglass.  If you run into challenges along the way, drop me a line, as I am always happy to lend insight if needed.  For those interested in light boxes, I am including a source that has been good for a variety of applications.  When searching, search using “LB” and “LBX” as the search term, as this will bring up all of their light boxes!  You can also click on “light bases and turntables” in the left hand column.  The smallest boxes are four inches in diameter and will have a seven watt bulb, which is good only for small pieces several inches in diameter.  However, you can outfit these with a ten watt bulb and this will greatly improve it’s lighting capabilities. Happy lighting!

Art and Design, glassblowing

Thanksgiving Tiding…

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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!

Art and Design, glassblowing

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