Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas! New Fused Glass Ornaments

Merry Christmas! By now, I'm sure those who of you who put up a Christmas tree already have it decorated - mine's been up since just after Thanksgiving.  But, in the spirit of the holiday, I just wanted to share with you some of the new fused glass Christmas ornaments that I made this year.

Two of the new ornaments involve wire wrapping.  The first is a take off on my wire-wrapped Christmas tree pendants.

The base is made from bits of green glass and the balls are made from pieces of glass rod that have been fired at a high temperature to become round.  I played around with the wire wrapping a bit to get a design that I liked -- keeping in mind that the challenge with wire wrapping glass is how to get the wire to stay firmly in place.  Unlike the pendant, which has grooves around the outside, the ornament uses two holes at the top and the bottom to anchor the wire, while the wire embellishes the ornament as garland and decor at the top and bottom.

The next set of ornaments are two different versions of hearts - one wire wrapped and the other not.  Like with the tree, I needed to play around with the wire-wrapping of the curved heart.  I found that the hole at the top did the trick to help anchor the wire in place.  The base of the speckled heart is simply clear glass that's been sprinkled with red, pink and white frit to create a marbled effect.  This also helps keep the glass light enough to hang on a Christmas tree.

The second heart is also created to be light, using just a single strip of clear thin glass to fused the three different colors (red transparent, red opaque and red/green fracture streamer) together.

I've been making ornaments since 2008 and try to add a few new ones every year.  This year, I found that I have nearly one ornament for every branch (16) of my wire Christmas tree, even though I retired some of the ornaments over the year!  Looking forward to figuring out what the new ones will be for next year.  In the meantime, I'd like to wish you a Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Working with Powders to Make Fused Glass Votives

In my prior post, I shared how I made flower plates using clear glass and powders.  The process for making the votives is pretty similar with a couple of adjustments, the main one is that the technique calls for draping rather than slumping. 

As mentioned, I'm on a quest to use up my excess scrap glass.  As I have smaller pieces than what I used for the flower plates, I decided to make petal votives.  I cut out my leaf or petal pattern based on the size of the glass - for this project, I had 3 sizes of petals.  Then I applied the excess powder from the flower plates, which was really a blend of all the colors that I used previously grouped by primary color (e.g. red, green, blue).  After these are fired, instead of the colored dots, I used clear ones to create a design.

The dots are made from clear frit that I fused to 1500 with a 45 minute hold.  I picked out similar sized dots to create a design on the petal and put these back into the kiln to tack fuse before they were draped onto stainless steel votive cups that have been kilnwashed.  The kilnwash needs to be applied while the stainless steel is hot.  What I do is to heat them with a blow dryer but you can also heat them in the kiln to 500 degree and then apply the kilnwash.

The draping process takes a lot longer than slumping as you want to have a uniform drape.  I could have tried something faster as these are small and have open spaces but went with something conservative (100 degrees/hr to 1225) as I didn't want to use up kiln time to test out a different schedule.  And, when I opened the kiln, I was very happy with the outcome for the most part.  Some of them didn't drape evenly, which was probably a result of not paying more attention when I tack fused them together.  I really like the look of the clear dots.  Let me know what you think.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Working with Powders to Make Fused Glass Flower Plates

I mentioned that I'm working on using up my scrap glass.  Actually, anything less than a square foot is typically referred to as scrap, so the pieces can be either fairly large or small.  For me, I have a lot that are approximately the same size -- which is the result of making coaster sets.  As I just purchased a new box of bumpons, I figure that I've made over 175 coaster sets, which means a lot of excess scrap accumulated over time.  So, what I decided to do is to make flower plates.

To start, I gather my glass and cut a pattern of the a petal from a manila folder based on the size of the glass as well as the size of the mold that I plan to use.


As with cutting circles, the more excess you have between the size of the pattern and the total glass size, the cleaner the cut.  So, there's a balance between trying to use up as much of the glass as possible and the amount of extra work you want to do (e.g. using grosing pliers to pull off the excess and grinding the sides smooth).

Next I put down some paper to catch the powder and set up a little station to elevate the glass, which makes it easier to lift up the glass to transfer it to the kiln shelf.

After I'm done, I load the kiln and tack fuse to 1365 degrees.  And, I save the power to use in another project.  When the petals come out, I tack fuse the petals together and use the dots that I made earlier as the center.  I fire this to 1375 degrees but now because the entire piece is thicker, I need a longer annealing hold, which for this project was 2 hours.


  • If you're new to free form cutting, start with the larger size glass first, which makes for a cleaner break and less coldworking. You'll get better cutting the same pattern with practice, so cutting with less excess glass becomes easier.
  • Because the petals are symmetrical, I scored one half on one side and then flipped the glass to score the other half.  This allowed me to have nice score lines without crossing an existing score which can dull the cutter.
  • Wear latex gloves if you have them -- when I didn't, it still felt like I had powder on my hands no matter how much I washed them afterwards.
  • Wear a respirator - this is a must when dealing with powder.
  • Don't use hairspray to try to adhere the powder afterwards - it just clumps up and the truth is that you don't need it.
  • Do use hairspray to help the dots and petals stay in place as you transport the shelf to the kiln.
  • While I intended to make the flowers using the same colored petals, I found that I liked them better when there was a contrast between the top and bottom petals.
  • Take notes on how much powder you use -- for me, the right amount is 4 passes but it can vary based on how much powder you put on with each pass.
So far, I've made 16 of these, each with 14 petals, which means that I've used 224 pieces of scrap glass!  At the same time, I now have a bin with quite a bit of the excess glass from the sides.  So, I'm making progress but still have a way to go.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Scrap Challenge - Progress Report

Well, it's been 1 month that I've been working on using up my excess glass (as well as stocking up for the holidays).  Here's what I've made so far:
  • Patterned glass to be cut up and used in future work.  Examples here and here.
  • Pattern glass that will be the base for wire wrapped Christmas tree ornaments.  I'll post the finished photo of these as I've added some red balls but still need to wire wrap these.
  • Snowflake ornaments

  • Frit casting with prior made frit  
  • Frit (for wreath ornaments, heart ornaments and clear dots)
  • Dots (for use in plates and votives).  I'll post the finished product later next month.

Here's what I learned:

  • I haven't made a dent in the amount of scrap glass I have.  I think I'll still be using up my scrap at the beginning of next year.  I guess it took me a while to accumulate this, so I shouldn't think it will be gone overnight.
  • Dots are a great way to use up scraps of already fused glass, especially if you have a tile saw.
  • And, the dots I made with the clear frit turned out to be round even in instances where the frit didn't seem round or even square.  
  • When making dots, it's a much easier clean up when using Papyros shelf paper rather than Thinfire.
I still have a long way to go.  However, I should be able to post the results of a lot of this work within the next month.  And, if you have any suggestions for what to do with excess glass, please let me know!!

Monday, September 30, 2013

Scrap Glass Challenge

My summer shows are done and I don't have any other shows until the holidays. So, now is the time that I'll work using up my excess scrap glass. I have a lot of excess glass from all the bowls I made.  Here's just a sample of that glass.

I've already started cutting up this glass into 1" squares that I'll fuse together either as coasters, plates or design elements.  You can see the narrow borders of all the circles I already cut and some of the square from those circles.

In addition, I've also generated a lot of excess clear glass.  Almost everything I made involves at least two layers of glass, with one of them being clear.  As a result, I have built up a rather large pile of clear glass.

I have plans for all of this and I hope to share what I make with you over the upcoming months along with photos of what I've used up. I have much more excess glass in different colors, which I try to limit to one plastic bin.  So my challenge is to use up all of this glass.

I look forward to sharing with you all of my creations - some will be new and others will use techniques that I've shared already in this blog.  In the meantime, if you have any suggestions for what I might do, please feel free to share them.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Lessons Learned: Outdoor Show Challenges

This weekend, I'm participating in the King Mountain Art Fair in Woodside, CA.  It's a very nice wooded location but this means that there can be obstacles with trees and hills.  When I checked out the show, I was a little worried to see that some artists had their booths on plywood.  And, when I received my artist packet, I was a little concerned when the organizers suggested bringing a shovel, rake and pruning sheers as well as offered that you could purchase pine shavings as ground shavings.  So, I decided to check out the space, which is pictured below.

You can see the angle of the slop in the background.  Fortunately, we were able to set up early and thought we made progress until we actually set out the glass.  Here's a few lessons learned:
  • In a place like this, you can dig out the dirt to make the booth level rather than add shims (block of wood that raise up the tables).  I had tried using shims but it was really unstable.
  • Even though the tables "look" level, it helps to actually measure with a level.  There were some issues with the glass wanting to slide in the direction of the slope when we set out the glass, so my husband had to do some last minute digging and I had to prop up some of the glass.
  • It helps to put some sort of ground covering on top of the dirt.  I used folded tent sides under the table but I would consider getting a rug.  I would suggest Mad Mats, which are made from recycled plastic and can be washed off with a hose.
  • And, if you notice the photo above, there's not much sun in the booth location, so I rented lights to highlight the transparency of the glass.
  • We played around a bit with the lights and found that the best way to highlight the transparency is to aim it at the tent sides and let it bounce back. 
  • Finally, it's important to be flexible with your booth layout.  I had to rearrange my normal layout based on what I was able to do with the tables (and how slanted they were).
And, here's the set up booth with the lights and revised set-up.  I'm very happy with how it turned out as the glass really stands out.  The lights give it a nice sophisticated touch.

Booths are one of those things that are constantly evolving.  Mine has not changed that much but I have plans for a booth upgrade next year.  I'll post photos when I change it.  In the meantime, if you have any suggestions for improvement, let me know.

Monday, July 22, 2013

New Fused Glass Pattern Bar Bowls & Plates

I've been busy stocking up and trying to make larger pieces in preparation for the Association of Clay and Glass Artists (ACGA) show earlier this month (this was the show that I posted about earlier with the live jury).  Here's a few pieces that I made within the past month.

The first is a commission piece for a friend of mine:

I liked the look of the blue and green combination, so I decided to expand on it using both the progressive and bookend pattern bar techniques:

I also made another bowl using the black/grey/red combination.  I tried in the past to make a fused glass plate using black/white/red but found that a little challenging since the black and white combination make pattern bar work much more difficult (black fires softer, while white fires harder).

Keeping the black/red combination going, I made a fabulous 12" plate using the bookend pattern bars across and down.  It's difficult to see but there's a dark red strip about 2/3's of the way down.

This was also difficult to photograph.  If I put it against the light, the colors are a little too bright.  The following two photos give a sense of that (bright colors) but turned out much better than the photo above did when backlit.

The ACGA show turned out to be a great show, so all the trouble of the live jury was worth it.  The quality of the work was very impressive, especially considering that there were about 160 clay and glass artists only.  It was inspiring to see the breadth and variety of clay and glass work.

Now that it's over, I have three more pattern bar blocks that I'll be cutting up this week, so I'll be posting some new work in the upcoming months.  The color palate will be new for me - a little more muted or fall type colors - blues & grays and ambers & greens.

Let me know what you think and if there are any color combination or designs that particularly strike you.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Encouragement & Inspiration

Last week, I read about a studio downsizing in my area and decided to check it out to see if could pick up anything.  I wasn't really in the market for another kiln but there seemed a large variety of items - molds, frit, glass...etc.  It turned out to be the studio of the late Dan Fenton, one of the pioneers in fused glass.  I met a wonderful woman, Patti O'Doherty, who told me a lot about Dan and his industry contributions such as working with Bullseye on their glass and Phil Teefy to make Glass Glow kilns.  She also gave me a number of Glass Art magazines of which Dan was one of the editors.  It was great reading and seeing part of glass history.  Dan passed away from cancer but was working on glass right up until the end and even completed a gorgeous stained glass piece with limited vision.

Patti, like Dan, is one of those people who has worked in glass for 30+ years and is a wealth of information.  As a glass artist, she asked to see my work and was very encouraging, which was especially welcome coming from someone who had so much experience.  While I didn't purchase much, I did buy 4 sheets of glass from Dan Fenton's stock.  Patti encouraged me to make something and reference that it's made with Dan's glass.  But, what I plan to do is to create something solely from these 4 sheets as special tribute to Dan.  So, look for this sometime later this year.

In the meantime, I'm hoping to see Patti again soon when she holds the rest of her sale on molds, frit and other glass in about a month after the Jacoby stained glass window show at her studio finishes.  I feel privileged to have met her and to have heard about Dan's contributions.  It's not that often that you meet someone in your field with so much experience that encourages and inspires you.  And, for this, I am very thankful.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Making Fused Glass Pattern Bar Pendants & What I Learned

Since I'm making functional art glass (e.g. plates, bowls and platters) using pattern bars, I thought I would see try my hand at using pattern bars as pendants.  I decided to pursue two styles, the bookend pattern bar (where there's a mirror image) and the Roman pattern bar (which has a series of columns).  I also wanted to play around with shapes so that the design could be accentuated.  

For the bookend pattern bar, I decided on a fat triangle or fan shape as I liked seeing a wider portion of the glass to reflect the mirror image.  To help decide on the shape, I have a number of plastic templates like the kind you would use in drawing architecture plans. However, if you didn't have these, you could also cut shapes out of paper.  This gives you an idea of what the pendant will look like once it's cut.  For the Roman pattern bar, I decided on a trapezoid shape. I was a little limited on the width as it's only one bar (whereas the bookend is two).

The next consideration was what type of bail to use.  I had planned on cutting a donut hole on the trapezoid shape but once I received the drill bit, I realized it wouldn't work on my Dremel.  Note: I guess a new drill is on the "to buy" list sometime in the future.  Also, since each of the pendants have transparency built in, I didn't want to use a standard bail.  So, I decided to try using pinch bails.  To use a pinch bail, you need to drill a hole in the glass and then "pinch" the bail closed through the holes.

Lessons learned:
  • Buy a lot of drill bits.  One bit can drill one pendant or it can drill several.  On my first round, I went through a pack of 6 in no time and had more left to drill. Next time, I ordered a pack of 25.
  • Don't try to stretch the drill bits - as soon as it looks like the diamond coating is worn off, toss it.  Otherwise, you will end up cracking the glass. You'll know the diamond coating is gone when you see the hole is black or the drilled run-off is black or the bit doesn't seem to make a much of an impression.
  • Drill from both sides rather than trying to make it through on one.  This gives a cleaner hole and you're less likely to have a larger puncture mark.  To help identify where to drill on the back side if you're drilling through opaque glass, I put a pin in one side and view from the side, so I can determine where to mark on the back side to line up the hole.
  • Buy large bails.  Since I knew the glass would be 6mm or so, I needed to get a wide bail.  However, in addition to being wide, having long bails also helps as you need the length plus width to help get the bail closed around thick piece of glass.  I originally purchased a shorter bail for the above pendant but it wouldn't close.  Note: with larger bails, you may need to cut the prong length.
  • Use jewelry pliers, if you have them, to close the bails - I have chain nose pliers that helped pinch the bails shut.
It certainly was a learning experience making these but I'm glad that I tried it.  I like the look much better than the standard bails, although one of these days, I still need to try making donut pendants.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

What's New: Fused Glass Leather Bracelet

Typically at the beginning of the year before my show schedule starts, I like to experiment with new designs.  In fact, this is my favorite part of making glass (in addition to learning new techniques).  I've been toying around with incorporating fused glass into a leather bracelet since last year and decided now was the time.  However, I didn't really know how I would go about this as I've never worked with leather before.  So, I did a search online and found a leather company, Tandy Leather Factory, in the area and stopped in.

There, I found a kindred spirit, Jim, who also likes to jump into projects.  He was quite helpful and gave me a few ideas of how I could attach the glass to the leather, most of them involving riveting.  So, I left the store with some leather pieces, a rivet set, mallet, and hole punch and went home to figure out how I might design the bracelet with the glass attaching to the leather.

I sketched out a few design options and settled on the method straight away.  I would fused wire onto the sides of a fused glass strip that would be the center of the bracelet and attach the leather through the wire loops.  So, I fused a prototype, cut the strips of leather with a razor blade and practiced my riveting.  Note: the success of the riveting is more of a function of having the right sized rivet more than anything else, although being able to set the rivet straight (i.e. pound straight) does help.  From the prototype, I could see that the design would work, so I fused a number of glass centers and gave them a gentle slump using a bracelet mold.

Last week, I went back to see Jim and we figured out how the rest of the bracelet would come together.  I also needed Jim to give me a lesson on setting snaps. Now, I have a leather strip cutter, snap/rivet setter, leather scissors, an end punch, leather dye, applicator, and everything else I need to make a set of bracelets.

The bracelet was relatively easy to make, especially when you have someone who's willing to help you. I'm very happy with how it turned out and look forward to making more in the near future.  Let me know what you think of it.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Fused Glass Pattern Bar Bowl: Lessons Learned

In my last post, I wrote about how I was able to save some of the glass that failed and showed a picture of the blank before it was slumped.  Well here's the final product:

I am thrilled with the result and it's been sitting on my kitchen table since I finished it.  This is also my first bowl as I was space constrained in my old kiln and in general I hate the idea of creating excess glass from cutting out circles (all circles are made from squares).  Although now, I'm planning to make more and have my sights on another larger bowl mold.

In the process of making this, I learned a couple of things that I thought I would pass along:

  • As the rim shows, you can no longer have a layer of clear and a layer of color, which is the normal fusing process.  The deeper the slump, the more the rim will show.  In the future, I might reverse the color (e.g. white on one side, black on the other) or have two layers of the same color.
  • I incorporated the pattern bars right into the fused blank and ended up using my tile saw to cut off the excess and grinder to neaten up the edges.  This process worked pretty well and saved me from a lot of grinding!  To determine where to cut, I used a protractor and drew a circle with a white DecoColor pen (this is what many manufacturers use to mark glass as it doesn't come off easily).
  • I needed to use a level to make sure the mold and glass was sitting evenly before I slumped it.  The mold I used is a ball shaped mold but when you put it on posts, it can shift depending upon where you have the posts.  Fortunately, it didn't look right in the kiln so I was able to adjust it before I slumped it.
As I live in the Bay Area, we just got a Bullseye Resource Center here.  One of the benefits of the Resource Center is that Bullseye has all of their molds on display with a sample of what the slumped glass looks like.  This is so helpful as the slumped glass looks differently in person than it does on their website (this is because you have the scale and depth that you don't have in photographs).  Based on looking at the bowls, I've returned two unused bowl molds and am purchasing another one that I most likely would not have purchased based on what I saw online.

Looking forward to making more of these!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Fused Glass Trial and Error

"Trial and error" and "test and learn" are used a lot in business and imply that one is optimizing or improving upon a process or product.  I've used these terms in product marketing and research, especially.  However, when they apply to fused glass, it's a different story.

Most people who see my work don't see behind the scenes.  When I venture into a new area, there's always a learning process.  Most of the time, it means failure.  Repeated failure until I get the firing schedule right.  And here, failure means cracked glass and lost time.

Part of the problem in the past has been my kiln, which I corrected by getting a new kiln.  Part of the problem is that the new work I'm doing is more complex, using multiple colors at higher temperatures with longer hold times (which can change the property of the glass).  And, part of the problem is that I'm firing multiple times and working on larger pieces.  My new work with pattern bars is particularly susceptible to breakage, typically along the seam where two bars are joined. Even though I have learned to fire very conservatively that doesn't always guarantee success.

Fortunately, glass can be repurposed so not all is lost.  I try to retain the design elements to use in new work.  Having a tile saw can be a real asset to cut up the glass and use it again.  Here's a picture of a piece that will be used to make a bowl.

Although glass failures are not ideal, there are still some lessons that I can pass on, so hopefully you won't have the same issues.

  • Check your kiln elements relative to the size of the piece.  I was having problems in my old kiln as I was pushing the size limit with 12" squares (kiln interior was 14.5") and elements that were circular, making it difficult to heat the corners (notice the crack line in earlier photo above).
  • Fix any sagging elements.  My "new" kiln was used and had one sagging element (hanging down about 2" from one end of the kiln to the other) which created uneven heating, especially on large pieces.
  • Keep good records of your firing schedules so that you can make adjustments on future firings.  When in doubt, slower is better.  You'll want to make sure to have a long enough annealing hold based on the size and thickness of your glass piece.  And, if you notice that the glass is cracking on the way up, you'll want to increase your annealing and/or ramp up slower to 480-600 degrees.   The more important the piece, the slower I go.
  • Don't coldwork the piece until the glass is cool.  This can add to its stress.
  • Test your kiln to see how the heat is being distributed. Bullseye Glass has a good tutorial on this here
  • Consider making a "test" piece first.  I typically don't do this but recently I've had a problem slumping a piece in my new kiln.  Before I make another attempt on a real project, I am going to make a test blank to make sure I have the right set-up and schedule.  After going through 3 firings and coldworking, I don't want to lose all that work on the last firing.
  • Consider varying thicknesses of glass and anneal for the thickest part, especially if you are tack fusing or have varying layers and are not full fusing.  This hasn't been an issue for me as I don't tend to create work that is tack fused but I thought I would pass it along.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Fused Glass Success! Persistence with Live Jury Pays Off

In a previous post, I mentioned that I participated in a live jury (without success) to become an exhibiting member of the Association of Clay and Glass Artists (ACGA).  Well, a few months ago, I juried for the second time and got in!  I'm thrilled - partially because it is not easy to jury in and partially because of the quality of the other exhibiting members.

Much of my exhibit remained the same as before but I also added in a few new pieces (below), substituting for smaller pieces.

I've been a little kiln challenged making larger pieces and I'm in the process of addressing this - step 1: buy larger kiln - done!  Step 2: adjust firing schedule - still working on this part but I think I'm there :)

I have a few more pattern bar projects in process and will hopefully post photos once they're done.  In the meantime, persistence is a good thing when venturing into new glass work although I am beginning to dislike the term "trial and error".