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Art and Design, glassblowing

Cold Work – The Other Side of Hot Work


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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.

 

process pieces sized

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.

Art and Design

Chihuly at VMFA


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Green Botanical sized

 

When we think glass, we tend to see in our minds eye objects of fragility that are precious, protected most often behind glassed enclosures.  In art, in every aspect of the field, the journey of innovation has been to question  boundaries. In the same way that Peter Voulkos took the ceramic vessel and turned it into sculpture, Dale Chihuly, a Seattle-based glass artist,  has taken the glass vessel form and transformed it into sculpture in his own unique way.  This was the movement that my ceramics professor from Berea College, Walter Hyleck, described as the “peaceful revolution” whereby artisans who made objects of use were turning their utilitarian objects on their heads by removing utility from the equation and thus turning  them into art.

Chihuly has certainly exploded what we thought we knew about glass by tackling scale as well as norms of vessel making and turning them on their heads.  Chihuly has helped to bring the American Studio Glass Movement into the collective awareness of the world and has thus raised all boats in this regard.

Born in 1941 in Tacoma, Washington, Dale Chihuly was introduced to glass while studying interior design at the University of Washington. After graduating in 1965, Chihuly enrolled in the first glass program in the country, at the University of Wisconsin. He continued his studies at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), where he later established the glass program and taught for more than a decade.

In 1968, after receiving a Fulbright Fellowship, he went to work at the Venini glass factory in Venice. There he observed the team approach to blowing glass, which is critical to the way he works today. In 1971, Chihuly cofounded Pilchuck Glass School in Washington State. With this international glass center, Chihuly has led the avant-garde in the development of glass as a fine art.

His work is included in more than 200 hundred museum collections worldwide. He has been the recipient of many awards, including eleven honorary doctorates and two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Source:  http://www.chihuly.com/biography.aspx

Chihuly achieves what he does by teams of some of the most gifted glassblowers alive today.  His method is often collaborative as he seeks to enliven his own ideas with the process that takes place so spontaneously in the hot glass studio.  After losing the vision in one eye in the 70’s, Chihuly was left with no other option but to use his team of glass artists to push his ideas beyond even what he alone was doing and into the stratosphere of the art world.  Many up and coming glass artists feel as though Chihuly is somehow unoriginal by having others making his work, but make no mistake; Chihuly’s work is unlike any other.  Just as his work is informed by the styles and techniques developed before him, Dale does something entirely his own in pushing the limits of glass. So as a glass artist, we may feel a touch jealous over his fame sometimes, but the truth is, those artists who have worked with him have benefited from the exposure to the connections made while working with Chihuly.  Billy Morris, a glass sculptor who is recently retired, worked for Dale for ten years without pay just to get the exposure and experience necessary to launch his own career.  While Morris worked on some of the most signature pieces Chuhuly is known for, Morris’s work is entirely unique to him and shows few, if any, nods to his mentor.

I saw Chihuly’s work for the first time while studying at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale for my M.F.A. in Sculpture.  I was just as involved in the Glass program there as well and jumped at the chance to go with the glass club Southern Glassworks to see an installation at the Laumier Museum of Art in St. Louis.  I have seen a few other exhibits of his work since then, and the mixture of scale, color and technique all have an arresting effect.  Perhaps in never having seen just so much glass in one tightly packed space, the senses don’t know what to do with it all.  I find my eyes seem to love the feast of color and light as I see what new things Chihuly is up to.  When I heard that Chihuly’s work would be at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond from October until February, I decided it was time to pay him a visit once more.  With camera in hand, I took some images of the show and I am including them here to help you get an idea as to what to expect.  There is a link at the bottom of the post for how to find the VMFA.

Float Soft Cylinder 2 Venetian Squid Venetian3 Boat Float Soft Cylinder 3

Link to the VMFA.

Art and Design

Classes At Stafford Art Glass – Two-Day Intensive


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This is what you came here for.  This is the one class that gives you the most bang for your buck and the most in-depth experience in blowing glass.  With two days available you have the opportunity not only to try certain objects for the first time, you get the opportunity to hone your skills and create work that any budding artisan would be proud to call their own.  I often explain to students that were you to buy the objects that you will make in this class, you would wind up spending almost the same amount without ever having gotten the experience of doing it yourself.  And it is true. A handblown ornament made by a U.S. artisan approximately 5 inches in diameter easily sells for $24.00 in most galleries and boutiques across the nation.  You will have the opportunity to make up to three of these during the class including a large suncatcher, which we were told were selling for $110.00 at a gift shop in North Carolina recently (these large suncatchers are slightly smaller than a soccer ball and work great in large sunlit windows and can be adapted during class to be used as a yard ornament on a copper holder).  Paperweights range from a low of $75.00 on up to $200.00, for example.  This is a great class for making truly one of a kind gifts as well as building skill in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

The Two Day Intensive Class at Stafford Art Glass is a stellar opportunity to immerse yourself in the art of hot glass in a fun and supportive environment.  For beginners, there is no better way to satisfy your curiosity about this ancient craft that is part art and part alchemy!  I pride myself on taking people who do not believe they have a creative bone in their body and showing them the rich potential that glass has for expression and creativity.  When you consider that for a material that looks dazzling after it has been drizzled onto the floor, think what you can do when you apply some direction and burgeoning skill into the mix!  We guarantee that you will come away absolutely amazed by the beautiful things that you will get to make.  There is nothing in the world quite like glass for its color, brilliance, and expressive potential.  So far, we have a long list of believers that are growing by the day.  This makes glass an excellent material for teaching art and craft.   You owe it to yourself to catch the wave that is glass and find your own creative inspiration!

What’s Included

All materials, tools, and supplies are included for the making of the work you choose.  All color that is currently in stock is available to students to use during the class.  Shipping costs extra but is done so at cost.  No packing charges are made for our students (only costs for materials and actual shipping costs for the carrier of your choice – USPS, FedEx or UPS).

Lunch is provided by the studio both days. We make for our students a  large hero sub on freshly made bread sourced from our local artisan bakery made with fresh ingredients with condiments of your choice to add.  A variety of drinks are available from iced tea, water, juice, and soda from our local healthfood store.  Fresh fruit is served for desert.  Anyone who is vegan, vegetarian, or who has food allergies or sensitivities to certain food, should alert us  and we will accommodate your request with an option agreeable to your needs! All food needs require three days notice prior to the start of class so our staff can make sure all necessary menu items are on hand and prepped for the day in question.

The studio stocks a variety of healthy snacks for those who need an energy boost through any part of the day.  These vary but may include protein bars like Cliff bars, nuts, trail mix, and fruit.  The studio also has a shower for anyone who would like to dress out of sweaty clothes and get cleaned up.  Towels are available for your use as well as several types of shampoo, conditioner and soaps.

Classes at Stafford Art Glass begin at 9:30 and after introductions, the course begins with a review of safety guidelines and the tools and equipment used to make hot glass.  After this brief introduction, guests are taken right into the making of their first object; the ornament and sun catcher.

Each student learns how to gather glass from the furnace, shaping the “gather” and apply color to the clear glass coming from the furnace.  The glass is heated at the reheating furnace, and,  working together, the student and teacher work to blow the ornament or sun catcher ball.  A hanger is then put on with hot glass and the piece is put in an annealing oven where it will cool slowly.

The next piece is the paperweight, which will include all of the same color applications and shaping processes as the ornament but in a solid piece of glass.  A wide variety of shapes have been made during these classes from egg shaped, spheres, and disks.

There are a number of options available to students based on their interests. Normally we teach students how to make their own tumbler first in order to introduce them to the world of vessel making.  It is also pretty cool to have your own drinking glass.  It is after the drinking glass that we then focus on making bowls.  A variety of techniques will be covered from frit application, color wraps, as well as optic molding for unique ruffled shapes.  Normally all of this is accomplished the first day, although the course is paced to the students so sometimes we can move quicker or slower depending on how the day goes.

By the second day, we are working either on bowls or beginning to work on flowers.  We finish up the day with the option to repeat tumblers, bowls, suncatchers , paperweights, or to go on to make a small vase form.  If there is time available students will be shown how to make a special art glass pumpkin (with unique colors and metallics utilized in the design).  The class ends at approximately 5:00 p.m. each day.  I say “approximately” because if necessary, we can stay longer to complete an entire rotation if we are close to getting everyone finishing up tumblers or bowls on the first day, or getting all objects complete for everyone on the second day.  Me and my staff work hard to make sure that students who lose a piece on the pipe (rare but it can happen) get to make up the work so they get as many pieces completed as possible!

Students continue to come out for these classes because of the broad range of possibilities provided.  Students have a gallery and a working studio where work can be viewed in various stages of completion partly to see what is possible and to draw inspiration.  All participants also receive 30% off all glass made at the studio in the gallery or in the workshop during their visit to the studio for the class.

Cost

Regular retail cost:  $475.00 per person.

Bring a friend and get $55.00 off per person.  Bring three people and you will get your class at half price. Participants that you bring also get $50.00 off

See us on Facebook (stafford art glass) or contact us directly to learn more about current promotions that can save you 50% and more on this class!  All classes prepaid 14 days in advance receive a 4% discount.

Requirements

Requirements for classes are no open-toed shoes and all-cotton clothing.  No synthetics should be worn.  Wear comfortable clothes.  Ages 13 and up may participate in our classes. Work made must be annealed and also finished and can be either picked up three days after the class, or we can ship your items to you.  Each class requires a minimum of four students per class.  We require two week notice for the scheduling of the two day intensive class.

Registering

Purchase can be made with cash, check, or charge.  Stafford Art Glass accepts Visa and Mastercard.  Reservations for specific days can be made via email or phone by sending email to info@staffordartglass.com or text/call (540) 605-0034.  Hours of operation are Wednesday and Friday 10-2 and 3-5 p.m.  Saturday 10:00-6:00.  Other hours are available by appointment and while we do not post Sunday or Monday hours, both days are available for classes.  Normally the two day class is offered on a Saturday and Sunday unless otherwise scheduled. 

Hotel and Transportation

We can be your source for helping you find suitable lodging and if you are flying into the area.  We can provide you with transportation to and from the airport as well as your hotel for an additional fee.  There are a number of very nice local Bed and Breakfast opportunities in Giles County as well as franchise run hotels within half an hour drive of the studio.  The studio is  fifty minutes from the Roanoke Airport and twelve minutes from Blacksburg.

Art and Design

Classes At Stafford Art Glass – Daylong Intensive


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The Daylong Intensive Class at Stafford Art Glass is an opportunity to immerse yourself in the art of hot glass in a fun and supportive environment.  For beginners, there is no better way to satisfy your curiosity about this ancient craft that is part art and part alchemy!

What’s Included

The course begins with a review of safety guidelines and the tools and equipment used to make hot glass.  After a brief introduction, guests are taken right into the making of their first object; the ornament and sun catcher.  We work throughout the day on correct methods and techniques while also enjoying the process of creating beautiful objects in glass.
Each student learns how to gather glass from the furnace, shaping, as well as applying color to the clear glass coming from the furnace.  The glass is heated at the reheating furnace and working together, the student and teacher work to blow the ornament or sun catcher ball.  A hanger is then put on with hot glass and the piece is put in an annealing oven where it will cool slowly.

The next piece is the paperweight, which will include all of the same color applications and shaping processes as the ornament but in a solid piece of glass.  A wide variety of shapes have been made during these classes from egg shaped, spheres, and disks.  We include techniques that include solid jewel colors, powder applications, and even cane work.  There is a color palette available at the studio.

There are a number of options available to students based on their interests.  In some cases, flower have been made, in others we have worked on making tumblers.  While tumblers take more time, they also provide the student with the widest range of skills for glassblowing and helps to set the stage for then learning how to make vases.  Having your own drinking glass is also pretty cool.

NOTE:  Our weekend or two-day intensive includes these items while expanding the range of forms possible including sculptural glass, yard ornaments, bowls, flowers, as well as abstract sculptural pieces.

Discounts Available

Students continue to come out for these classes because of the broad range of possibilities provided.  Students have a gallery and a working studio where work can be viewed in various stages of completion.  All participants also receive 30% off all glass made at the studio in the gallery or in the workshop.

There are also discounts available to groups who help us to set up classes by bringing friends, coworkers, and family.  The cost for this class is $220.00 per person and has a four person minimum for forming a class.  If you bring friends or family with y0u, there is a $30.00 discount available per person that you bring.  You can keep this discount for your own or spread the discount to all other participants when coming as a group. Classes are considered a service and are not taxable, so you save an additional 5% when purchasing a class.  If you are a student with a valid student I.D. you can save an additional 10% after all discounts have been applied.

See us on Facebook (stafford art glass) or contact us directly for promotions for classes that can save you up to 50% off the regular list price for classes!

Requirements

Requirements for classes are no open-toed shoes and all-cotton clothing.  No synthetics should be worn.  Wear comfortable clothes.  A long sleeved shirt over a t-shirt is advisable for maximum comfort.  Ages 13 and up may participate in our daylong classes.  Work made must be annealed and also finished and can be either picked up three days after the class, or we can ship your items to you.  Stafford Art Glass provides bottled drinking water for all participants.

Registering

Purchase can be made with cash, check, or charge.  Stafford Art Glass accepts Visa and Mastercard.  Reservations for specific days can be made via email or phone by sending email to info@staffordartglass.com or text/call (540) 605-0034.