Monday, July 19, 2010

Glass four ways

Last summer I took a break from my usual pottery class and enjoyed having a more flexible schedule and a bit more free time... and I also took the opportunity to explore some new crafts that I hadn't tried before.  One great thing I tried was a beginner glass lover's weekend class at the washington glass school.  I had done stained glass before, but I had never tried any other glass techniques so it was fun to get to try out a variety of things.

My favorite was fusing and slumping.  You use a piece of glass as a base (we used clear glass) and then cut out shapes out of special "bullseye" glass (which melts well) and arrange them on top of the base in a pattern of your choice.  Then they are fired in a kiln and melt together (fusing) and you can either keep it as a flat piece or fire it again over a mold to give it a shape (slumping).  Here is the piece I made:

We also did some kiln casting - we made a shape out of wet clay, and then poured a plaster mold around it.  The next day after the plaster had hardened, we pulled out all the pieces of clay and then filled it up with glass shards.  They fired it in a kiln and then broke apart the plaster, revealing the shape we had molded.  I made a fairly intricate christmas tree (I had tried to think what figural glass object I might want to have around the house and that was what I came up with... although it has been sitting out year round since then which is a little strange now that I think of it).  It was hard to get all the plaster picked out of the nooks and crannies of this shape so I don't totally love how it turned out, but it was fun to learn the technique.

Finally, we learned another technique that they actually invented at the Washington Glass Studio (the studio affiliated with the school), dry plaster casting.  They have a kiln where the bottom is covered in fine dry plaster (kind of a dust), with bricks dividing it into tile sized areas.  You press objects into the plaster to make an indentation, and then put two pieces of glass on top stacked on each other; when they fire the kiln, the glass melts into the indentations and takes on the shapes you created with really a lot of detail.  One of the glass artists there had some neat 3-D leaf shapes she had made which I really liked (given my affinity to all things leaf-shaped or themed), that she was nice enough to let me use.  I used my fingertip to make a dot border around the edge.

All in all it was a great class!  Of all the techniques I learned I am most interested in doing more fusing.  It reminded me of stained glass but without having to be so precise (in stained glass the pieces really have to fit together exactly) and without all the soldering.

I also took a glass-blowing class last summer at Glen Echo which was something I had always wanted to try.  It was really hard!  The hardest part for me was the heat, especially when you were working in the "glory hole" but even when you had the glass out in the open, it radiated a lot of heat just from the glass.  It was also really physical and required a lot of lifting and constant movement... and a lot of coordination.  I was glad I tried it but don't think it is something I will probably do again.  I made a tumbler but actually never went to pick it up (it is pretty far away from our house).

Finally, another glass project from last summer was that I made another stained glass window.  This is the fifth or sixth one I have made I think - all using the lead technique.  Sometime I would like to learn the copper foil technique which allows you to make more intricate designs.  This is the first window I have made where I drew the design myself!  I am really happy with how it turned out although I definitely learned a few things about how to draw stained glass window patterns to make them easier (or harder) to make.

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