It’s been a while since I wrote a blog so I thought I’d invite you into my studio. I live on a hill and my studio is located under the main part of the house, with two large windows that provide ample light. It’s only on the darkest of days that I need any lights on. I had to work inside a dark cold garage at a previous house so this is a luxury.
My studio is divided into two sections: my fused glass area and my lampworking area. With my fusing area, I have two work benches where I cut glass and lay it out into patterns straight onto a moveable kiln shelf.
There’s storage under each bench, as well as the kiln table. I also have a rack behind one of the benches which holds my molds and lots of jars of frit (crushed glass) in different colours and sizes. It doesn’t matter how much storage I have, I still seem to need more.
My benches tend towards very messy. Occasionally I’ll clean up my benches, taking off all the scrap glass etc, which isn’t easy or enjoyable. Despite my efforts, the benches don’t stay clean for long. Someone once told me that a messy work area is a sign of a messy mind. I disagree. I think a messy bench is a sign of a creative mind. Often it is the scraps of glass laying around that trigger ideas for new projects.
Here’s my kiln. It sits in the corner on a metal table. I’ve just finished a slumping cycle and the pieces are ready to be taken out of the kiln to be cleaned. I actually slumped two items at the same time. There is the large bowl that you can see clearly. Below it, there’s a small square plate. The largest item I can make is 40cm square and I can load two kiln shelves in there when I’m fusing pieces (the step you do before slumping where all the glass is melting into one piece).
Whilst there are many larger kilns available, this one suits my needs. I did have to get an electrician to install a special powerpoint for the kiln. I’m thankful that I don’t need three phase power. The bottom shelf of my kiln actually pulls out a fair bit so I can load the kiln quite easily without anything getting in the way. This is the first kiln I bought and I’ve had it for over 10 years. I did buy myself another kiln last year but that one is specifically for lampworking.
The other part of my studio is my lampworking area where I make glass beads. Everything I need to work with is within arms length. I deliberately placed the bench away from direct sunlight as sometimes when light streams in a window, I can’t see the flame. If I can’t see the flame, then I don’t know where to work. Where I hold the glass and mandrel (metal rod on which the bead is made) in the flame is very important. Depending on what type of detail I’m adding to a bead will determine the position within the flame. If I hold the bead directly in the centre of the flame when I’m adding fine detail, the glass will melt too quickly and ruin the design.
You can see my blue lampworking kiln in the foreground of the above photo with mandrels poking out of the kiln. There are two little flaps on this type of kiln. When I finish making a bead, the hot bead goes straight into the kiln. The flap is quickly lifted and I then place the hot bead into the hot kiln to anneal (strengthen) it.
I love my studio and have spent many hours there.
Over the Queen’s Birthday Weekend, Woodend holds its annual Winter Arts Festival. As part of the festival, The Gallery Mt Macedon (an arts collective of which I’m a member) has a pop up gallery in the Neighbourhood House at Woodend. Artists from the collective demonstrate their craft during the weekend. I always take my lampwork equipment along to demonstrate how glass beads are made.
People are fascinated by the flame. Some stand and watch for ages. I explain the basic process of making a bead whilst they watch. I’m asked lots of questions including:
Do you ever get burnt? – yes, I occasionally burn myself though usually not my fingers. Most burns happen when you introduce a rod of glass into the heat and it sometimes shatters, hurling bits of hot glass all over the place, including onto me
How long does it take to make a bead? – That really depends on how big and complicated the bead is. Small simple beads take minutes. Large sculptural beads take a lot longer, sometimes as long as an hour. I don’t really time how long a bead takes.
How hot is the flame? – I’m really not sure but would hazard a guess at around 800-900 degrees Celsius.
Are you melting plastic knitting needles? – No, I’m melting rods of glass. If I was melting plastic knitting needles, the smell would be horrendous
What are you making the beads on? – The beads are made on a mandrel which is a stainless steel welding rod. The end of it has been dipped in bead release. If I added the glass straight onto the mandrel where it hadn’t been dipped in bead release, it would stick and I wouldn’t be able to remove the bead. Once the bead is cold, I’ll remove it from the mandrel which creates the hole in the bead. The hole is then cleaned to remove residual bead release
Where do you get your glass from? – I primarily use two brands of glass. One of them is Effetre (sometimes called Moretti) and this glass is made in Murano. The other glass I use is called CIM (stands for Creation is Messy – just love that name) and it’s made in China. The two brands of glass offer different colour palettes.
Why are you putting the beads in a slow cooker? – Normally a hot bead goes into a hot kiln to anneal the bead (strengthen it) but as I don’t have a kiln where I’m demonstrating, I use a slow cooker filled with vermiculite to cool the bead down slowly. If I just left the hot bead on my bench, it would shatter due to thermal shock. Later, when I’m at home, I’ll put all the cold beads into a cold kiln and take them up to annealing temperature, this is also known as batch annealing.
And the list goes on. A lot of people have never heard of lampworking before so I’m doing my little bit in educating them. At the end of the weekend, I’m all talked out.
These are the beads I made during demonstrations. They have been annealed and the holes cleaned out and ready to find new homes.
The Festival of Glass in Drysdale is one of my favourite events of the year.
Although the Festival is held on a Sunday and is a long drive from home, I prefer to make two trips to the venue and set up my stall on the Saturday. Not only does it mean that I don’t have to wake up ridiculously early on the Sunday (being ever watchful for kangaroos on the road) but I can take my time and put care and thought into the best way to showcase my art. There is something almost magical about starting with empty tables and ending with a beautiful display filled with vibrant colours.
The day is not only about selling my work but also about the people. I love to see the newest pieces made by my fellow artists and friends as well as looking at all the beautiful entries in the Glass Art Awards competition. They are truly creative and inspiring. I also love to meet and talk to lots of people, hoping to impart a little of my love of glass. There are also my regular customers who buy beads from me both here and at the Bead Expo, in particular Fiona and Angela.
I’d like to thank all the organisers for the great effort they put in to making the festival happen. They’re all volunteers. And I’d also like to thank everyone who visited my stall on the day. I had a wonderful time and am already looking forward to next year!
One of my favourite events of the year is the Festival of Glass, held in Drysdale, Victoria on the third Sunday of February. This year the Festival has started a new event that involves lots of local businesses – the Festival of Glass Treasure Hunt.
Businesses in Drysdale and surrounding areas commissioned glass artists to make works of art, ranging from $10 to several hundred dollars. All of the commissioned pieces are currently on display in each of the participating businesses and can be won by anyone participating in the Treasure Hunt. You can view the prizes here – there’s certainly a variety to be won. Along with these major works of art, there are also 21 small glass treasures hidden in each business.
To enter the competition, you can either pick up an entry form from a participating business or download one here. You need to visit at least 10 of the businesses, find the hidden little treasure and then have your entry form stamped. In some businesses, you also need to make a small purchase or be a regular customer. The entry form then needs to be submitted to the FoG table during the Festival of Glass Expo on February 21st before 2pm. While you’re there you can also look out for my stall and come visit :)
I was lucky enough to be commissioned to make two pieces of art. For my pieces, I could design anything I liked as long as it was within a certain price range. After much consideration, I decided to use the Festival of Glass colours of black, ivory, yellow, orange and red to create my pieces. My round bowl is at the Drysdale Physio and Sports Clinic and my square platter is at the Bellarine Veterinary Practice.
Not only am I looking forward to participating in the Festival of Glass this year, I can’t wait to find out who wins my pieces.
There’s no two ways about it, art glass is expensive. Some glass colours are more expensive that others due to the different metal oxides added. Pink is extremely expensive as it has gold in it. After a recent glass shopping experience, I had a bit of a shock when I saw a 51cm x 44cm piece of deep pink cost over $170. I use pink fairly sparingly because of the cost, mainly using it for petals or accents. Any scrap pieces are made into dots then used as design elements.
For fusing, I use Bullseye glass. It’s taken awhile but I’ve built up a good colour palette and there are certain colours I like to use. As this glass is made in the USA (no coloured glass is made in Australia), I also face the added cost of bringing the glass into Australia and our ever fluctuating exchange rate.
As well as purchasing glass, other expenses need to be taken into consideration. A kiln is vital for working with warm glass. Kilns can cost a lot of money for the initial purchase. With my particular kiln, I needed an electrician to fit in a special power point. Plus there is the cost of running a kiln. Then you also need tools such as a glass cutter, circle cutter, groziers, a grinder etc.
Cutting glass can be labour intensive. This beautiful featured plate (containing my expensive deep pink glass) involved a lot of time spent cutting and cleaning glass. On top of a base layer of clear glass, I placed 31 individual pieces of pink, lilac, french vanilla and clear pieces. Once they were laid to my satisfaction, I decorated each piece with either dots or stringer (thin spaghetti like pieces of glass). All this took significant time. The piece then went into my kiln to be fused overnight into one piece. Once fused, the piece was washed and then returned to my kiln to be slumped overnight into a mold.
Next time you’re looking at a handmade glass creation, please take a moment to consider the cost of the glass, the equipment required and the time taken to make a unique piece. It’s money well spent.