Thursday, July 30, 2009

Making it Clean and Nice

One of the qualities of glass is that it is nice and shiny. Somethings this isn't what you want. You want a nice uniform matte surface. To me this is best achieved by sandblasting. However when you sandblast you get a nice surface, but one that is prone to showing fingerprints and other kinds of dirt quite easily. Cleaning is hard and tends to leave a lot of lint stuck in/on the glass regardless of the type of cloth you use to wash and/or dry it with. People have been trying all sorts of surface protectants for years with varying results. Some are pretty cheap and easy to find around the house. ArmorAll, Pledge, Rain-X, and other products have been used. None of these suited my tastes, but at least protected against some of the fingerprint oils. Liquid Lustre is another specialized one but is very, very expensive so I've only seen it used by others. I wasn't impressed.

At my recent workshop at Corning one of the participants in another session brought a product that we all were impressed with. Its called " Clean Shield® GEL - Shower, Tub & Tile Protectant" and is made by the Unelko Corporation. I couldn't find it in stores locally but is available for order on their website at $6.95 per tube, which should cover quite a few pieces. The shipping and handling for two tubes was over $9.00 so I wish I could find it locally.

Here is a picture of one of the pieces I made during the glass. It has been fused, cut and ground, and then sandblasted. Note the nice surface it leaves. You squeeze out a small pea-sized amount of the gel and work it in with the reusable lint-free cloth provided with the product. I suspect it will last for quite a while and a quick wipe with a cloth removes any dust without really disturbing the surface.

Monday, July 27, 2009

More Glowing in the Dark

I just returned from the workshop at The Studio at the Corning Museum of Glass. Refer to the post on "the class" below. I'll post more on that topic later. One of the side benefits of taking workshops at Corning is their wonderful photo studio. You can sign up for a one hour photo session with a very experienced glass photographer. If you've ever tried to photograph glass objects, you know its pretty hard. Glass is typically so shiny that there are reflections galore, hot spots, and other problems.

The photographer, Amy, is wonderful and can make your work beautiful. I threw her a real problem. I made some marbles that glow in the dark. Marbles are hard enough to photograph to begin with. They are smallish, round, shiny, and reflect distortions of everything. Then adding the "glow in the dark" part on top of it makes it more than I can do in my tabletop photo tent.

Here is a composite that we made - a "day and night" view. This really shows what can be done by a talented photographer.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Is it Art..and is it Fair?

I've lived in or nearby Ann Arbor, Michigan since 1974. One of the biggest attractions, besides the University of Michigan Wolverines football games in the fall, is the annual "Ann Arbor Art Fair". There isn't one fair, as I'll explain in a moment. However, most people see it as one thing and that's how I think of it as well. The art fair covers most of the streets downtown and around the main campus of the U of M. There are literally thousands of exhibitors showing all types of art and craft. Some areas are very upscale, and some are pretty mundane. There is something for everybody. And, this being Ann Arbor, there is a collection of a hundred or so "political" booths as well. This takes place the third week of July from Wednesday through Saturday. All in all, quite a nice way to spend a day.

I've been attending the event since the summer of 1974. In fact, I met my wife at the art fair on a Friday evening. We've been attending together on Friday every year since.

Now, for those who just drop in for the day, trying to figure out the scheme and where to go can be daunting. We see hundreds of people with their fold-out, color-coded, maps looking lost. There is a scheme. We've developed, over the years, sort of a walking tour that lets us take in all of the four main fairs, and the few off-shoot display areas that show up for a year or two, and then disappear. We try to find something unique each year to purchase during our annual trek through the fairs.

There are four main fairs. The "Ann Arbor Street Art Fair" is the original, so they claim, and held the first fair on one street in 1960. This year was the 50th fair. This part of the overall spectacle has, what I consider, the most "art". Along with art comes high prices, and in general this part seems to have the highest prices. I find the most inspiration in this section of the fairs, but haven't bought much here over the years.

My second most favorite part of the overall event is the "State Street Area Art Fair". This fair possibly covers the biggest physical area, at least that's what my feet say. Overall, we've probably bought more art from artists exhibiting in this fair than any other part of the overall event.

The Michigan Guild of Artists and Artisans hosts the "Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair". This fair is for Michigan Guild member artists only. This is where I see a lot of people I know. I was a member of the Guild, and had hopes of exhibiting one day at the "art fair". However, after doing many one and two day shows, I think a four day event is just too much work.

The fourth official fair, is "Ann Arbor's South University Art Fair". This is where things get confusing for me. This fair is the newest, and it occupies the streets where the "original" art fair was held. Several years ago, the local merchants and the fair organizers had a falling out, over what else - money, and that's when the original fair moved onto the grounds of the U of M. We didn't see this fair this year. It is quite a distance away from everything else, and I never found anything I wanted to buy here, so we've stopped going over there.

Finally, there are a few nameless areas that sell very crafty items, or stuff that has been imported from China. Usually these are tucked away in parking lots, alleys, etc. We stroll through, but usually don't find anything we want to take home.

So after thirty five years - I've come away feeling kind of sad about the whole thing. We didn't buy anything last year, and nothing again this year. Everything is the same. Even the artists we like bring the same old things. I don't even see people carrying stuff away from booths anymore. It's more of an event to get out in the sun, take a stroll in a nice city, have some food and drink, and talk with friends. Not much art buying going on - from what I see. Another thing I miss is what used to be ubiquitous at the art fair - "Shit on a Stick". That's what I called the $20 items that people would sell for people to stick in their gardens. It really didn't matter what you made, you had a bucket of shit on a stick in your booth. And one of the best spectator sports was trying to avoid getting hit in the face with people wielding their shit sticks while talking, walking, and trying to chew gum at the same time.

My favorite thing from the art fairs, and I only saw them one year, was the guy who made $20 "chia pets" from old panty hose, potting soil, and some grass seed. He'd cut the panty hose off near the ankle, filled it full of potting soil, and put some grass seed in it. Finally, he painted simple faces on them. he must have watered them for a couple of months as the hair (the grass) was several inches long. A wonderful, clever, innnovative idea, and I saw them everywhere. Probably a college student who is now some doctor somewhere!

Also gone are the bird houses with the old license plate roofs. Some of these were quite clever. Maybe the license plates aren't available anymore, or everyone who would buy one has one. I don't know but these were usful shit on sticks.

So I'm left wondering, where are the new things?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Sandblasting - it's a BLAST!

One of the things that I learned in my glass travels is that there are many things that can be done to glass after it is blown. There are all sorts of surface embellishments that are done "cold" that significantly enhance the piece. One of those techniques is sandblasting. The picture here shows a fairly complex sandblast process. I did this piece at The Studio at Corning Museum of Glass during a workshop on Photographic Processes in Glass.

This is a several step process. First, an image is prepared in Photoshop or some similar program. A half-tone screen is applied in Photoshop to break the image up into little dots, much like how a newspaper is printed. The image is inverted - blacks become whites and vice versa. This is printed on transparency film with as dense black ink as your ink jet printer can produce. This "negative" is then exposed on a photographic resist and washed out. Washing out the areas that were exposed to the light.
Once dry, this resist mask is glued to the glass to be sandblasted. On this piece, this was harder than it seemed as there were subtle compound curves in the glass that I blew. The "blank" was a base glass of black with an overlay of white. The overlay was pretty thin. The sandblasting cut through the white layer and exposed the black. I really went deep
into the black to give texture. Note that there is one of the fish where the resist lifted and the sandblasting took out a portion of the white fish.

Sometimes "luck" happens. Once I got back from the workshop I started pricing out a good sandblast set up for use as home. This looked like it was going to be quite expensive. I then stumbled on an auction on eBay for a complete set up including the compressor (the most expensive part) that was fairly local. The seller was about 60 miles away and we could go pick it up - way too heavy to ship. I won the auction but had to go a little higher than I wanted - aren't auctions always that way? I now have a complete set up at home and have been learning to sandblast a little better.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Glowing in the Dark

Objects that glow in the dark have always fascinated me. There are some mysterious and magical qualities in the chemical and physical properties going on. For those of us who live in the 21st century where everything plugs in or runs on batteries, we expect to have to turn on a switch to have something light up.

During one of my courses at Corning, the instructor, James Nowak, made an off-hand comment about glow in the dark glass. We pressed for details and were treated to a wonderful demo. Sure enough, once the demo piece was complete and annealed, we took it out in the sunlight for a minute or two. Upon moving back inside, even though it was lighted and not really dark, it was clear that the piece was glowing a deep green color! Fantastic! Cool! And whatever other adjectives apply to this amazing idea.

This is actually a little harder than it sounds. First, you need some special "glow in the dark" power. This can be obtained from Glow, Inc. I got the
Ultra Green v10 Glow in the Dark Powder and the Ultra Blue Glow in the Dark Powder. Based on the rating system on the website, the "Ultra Green V10" is the brightest and longest lasting. The "Ultra Blue Glow" is the next brightest. The rest seemed pretty weak in comparison.

Most people would expect to just roll the hot glass in the powder to coat the glass. That doesn't work. The glow powder doesn't melt, even at the hot glass temperatures of over 2000 degrees Farenheit. It just rolls right off. Pretty tough stuff. The solution we used is to create a little cup, put a teaspoon or two of the powder in the cup, and seal the cup with hot glass.
This takes two people to do effectively. In order to spread the glow uniformly throughout a blown glass object, you need to gather over the cup a few times to get the mass of glass you want to use. Then repeated stretching, folding, twisting, and bending are needed to distribute the powder. Since the powder is melted, you are attempting to encapsulate a few grains of powder into little pockets all through the piece.

The picture above was taken indoors in a completely dark room and a photoflood spotlight used to "charge" the vase for about 10 minutes. The piece can be charged in sunlight, even an overcast day, in a few seconds, but a bright light takes a lot longer. My windows get bright sunlight but the glass panes must block out a lot of the UV spectrum as that is what is required to excite the glow powder. I need to create a simple base with a small UV black light as that works well to charge the glow particles.

Here is a picture of the vase in normal light. The glow glass is the base color and then coated in black. The black was sandblasted away to expose the glow layer.

I've made some great marbles with this technique, however I haven't got any pictures to post. See the "1000 Objects - More or Less" post for the reasons behind that sorry tale.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Workshop at CMOG (Corning Museum of Glass)

On a countdown until I leave for beautiful Corning, New York and another week long session at The Studio at the Corning Museum of Glass. My glassblowing friend and I try to attend one or two weeks of workshops a year. This year we are taking a class from world-renowned fusing artist Marty Kremer. Be sure to check out his website.

Martin Kremer

Here is the description of the class from the class catalog:

Within the Walls

This technique-intensive workshop will focus on the potential for expression and discovery between the inside and outside of a vessel. Working with the bowl form, the class will explore the intended and the unexpected in "windows" through the vessel wall. Students will learn how to make and use different types of pattern bars, torch-worked elements, and prepared glass (painted, fritted and powdered, and confettied) as inclusions. Various surface techniques also will be explored.

Martin Kremer has been working with glass for more than 30 years. His current work includes large sculptures, which have been featured in museum and gallery shows, and a wide range of glass bowls and platters, which are shown at galleries internationally. He has studied blown and fused glass at the Penland School of Crafts, Urban Glass, and The Studio.

I can't wait. I leave on Sunday morning a little over a week from now. The long eight hour drive is worth it. Although the one time I went in January and there was a foot and a half of blinding snow. Driving through the mountains wasn't very pleasant at all. A summer drive is much nicer.

I've been creating pattern bars, rollout blanks, and other stuff for use in the class. I don't know exactly what we'll end up doing in the class. Each time I come prepared, we end up doing something completely different - and very wonderful - than what I expected.

Stay tuned for updates - I'll try to post during the evenings after class, but usually only get about six hours of sleep during the session so who knows...

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Kindle-ing a New Flame

So my loving family gives me a Kindle 2 for Father's Day. I've been watching the Kindle since it first was announced, but was waiting until they got the kinks worked out, they dropped the price, or both. So being the proverbial "Person for Whom There is NOTHING TO BUY", they broke down and got me one.

For those that don't know what a Kindle is - it's a new way of reading books from Amazon. This amazing device stores thousands of books and has some sort of magic electronic ink which requires very little power. The thing reminds me of the old Etch-A-Sketch toys. It is just fantastic. Amazon did a great job on this device and the packaging, form factor, operations, and usability are very close to an Apple product. Glad they made it almost idiot-proof. The only area that could be improved is the user site at Amazon itself where you purchase books and manage your items - iTunes it ain't.

Here is a picture - notice the high quality that can be read, even in bright sunlight. I can sit on the patio in the evening and read just fine. I love the ability to change the font size. I can make it big enough to read without "cheaters" (a.k.a. reading glasses).

Another feature is that you can add free books that are available on the internet for downloading to your computer. Mostly these are older, out of copyright, works but I've found a few good ones. Transferring to the Kindle is pretty easy. Plugging the Kindle into your computer turns your Kindle into just another removable drive - much like the ubiquitous USB thumb drives. Just copy files to or from the Kindle using a file explorer and you are in business.

Another picture that really makes it clear how nice this little device is. Pretty easy to hold in one hand - much easier in some ways than a "physical" book.

The WhisperNet function which is the built in wireless connection back to Amazon works flawlessly, as long as you can get a signal. I haven't had an issue connecting yet and downloads are extremely fast. I usually turn the wireless off to save battery life when I'm just reading. I know that the first battery charge lasted over 15 hours so that is great for long distance plane rides.

Note - I got a nice leather cover as a gift as well. I wouldn't want to use the Kindle without some sort of cover as I'm afraid I'd scratch the screen. I can just look at the abuse my video iPod recieved and know what this thing would look like in a month.

I've got a lot to learn about sending documents and what the limits are for pictures, but I'm very satisfied - now I have to get back to my latest book.

Losing My Marbles

I'm fascinated by how easily "non-techie" types can create and post videos on YouTube. They make it sound so easy. Thus was born a goal to create and post my very own video and become famous on YouTube. Now, I'm a fairly techie type. I know computers, I know cameras, I know video editing and producing. After all, I was the "Producer of the Year" back in 1996 at our local cable broadcast station. I produced, directed, or otherwise assisted in creating about 100 hours of live programs that year. So I figured it would be a no-brainer for me.

First up, I had the computer and the software, but I needed a digital camera. When I buy something, I want the best - but spending a $1000 on a new HD camera just for a whim didn't make much sense. And settling for something less wouldn't make me happy. Then I remembered, we gave our daughter and son-in-law a digital camera for Christmas about three years ago. I had a plan. I'd borrow the camera and all would be just dandy.

Camera in hand, I started playing with it. That is when the first issue occurred. Even though it was an auto-focus camera, everything seemed blurry except a certain zoom setting. Hmm. So I do what I never do, read the frickin' manual (RTFM)! That didn't help. It said the auto-focus should actually focus on the subject. After about two hours of futzing, I came to the realization that the focusing mechanism didn't work any more. A call to my daughter confirmed my suspicion. Oh well, I have a massive tripod from my photography days. I'll just set it up and keep the camera locked in one position. Not the best, but it would work.

Now I decided I wanted to make a short video about my marbles. I really hadn't taken any photographs of them - see previous posting on that long, sorid tale. I filmed (oops I can't say filmed, or even taped any more as these are obsolete technologies, guess its "videoed") about 15 minutes of stuff. I even tried some movement trying to keep the focus in check. All those years of handholding a camera paid off as I think I had usable footage.

Next hurdle was moving the video from the camera to the computer. Did I mention that this camera is "only" three years old? Again, I was faced with obsolescence. It uses a small re-recordable DVD to store the video. I had to download drivers for the computer to actually read that disk. Another hour wasted - but had the files onto my computer.

And then the next hurdle - I have to convert the file to a recognized format. Back to the 'net to find a suitable converter. Oh crap, all of them cost $. Look for another hour before I find one that works, doesn't have a watermark, and is free, at least for the time being. Looks like this Saturday is getting taken up on this adventure.

The file is now recognized by the sofware I plan to use - Camtasia. Maybe not the best, but I own it, I know it, and it should do the job. This turns out to be the easiest step by far. Drag a few clips, edit them down, find a suitable royaltee-free piece of muzak on the web, create some titles, and transitions, blah blah blah. This is where all that TV production experience comes into play. Piece of cake. Gee, I can have some fun doing this.

I log on to YouTube, create an ID, upload the file, and I have a VIDEO ON YOUTUBE!!! Eight or nine hours later, but I've done it. I didn't spend any money in the process either. Nor did I have any trips to the big box stores (Lowes, Home Depot, Meijer, ...) which is my usual Saturday morning conversation - "I'm off to Lowes".

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

1000 Objects - More or Less

I keep track of things.
It's in my nature. So when I started blowing glass it was only natural that I keep track of my progress by numbering each and every piece that I created. Since my first class in late 1999 or early 2000, I've made just over 1000 pieces - more or less.

And the "more or less" part is the interesting thing. For the better part of this decade of creating glass objects, I've made two or three per week. I rent time in a public studio at the Toledo Museum of Art and share a blow slot with a friend. Therefore making a couple of nice objects is about all the allotted time allows. Every few months, I'd collect up all the pieces, photograph them, and engrave my initials, the year, and the object's number on the bottom of the piece. Any piece I brought home followed this process. Those that were "floor models" or otherwise didn't survive were not included. This gave me a record of the piece after it was sold, and gave some provenance to the buy of the piece.

After taking a marble making class with Mark Matthews a year ago that all changed. I was making five or six marbles per session, sometimes more. Although they took up a lot less space, the numbers grew quicker. I started with marbles around piece number 777. I have pictures up through 776. Although I keep track of the items in my blowing notebook, I never got around to taking pictures. I hadn't figured out how to label the marbles with my initials, date, and serial number. Still haven't. So I figured it was easier to figure that out before taking the pictures.

So about a month ago, I realized that I was nearing 1000. Wow! Now I didn't make just marbles during this time, but I know I made less than fifty blown vessels. Hard to believe. Now I'm faced with the daunting problem of trying to sort out a couple of hundred objects and then photographing and marking them.

And the story gets a little more convoluted. For some strange reason, I haven't been including objects that I make in classes and workshops in the count. I don't know why. This probably adds another fifty or so to the count. And to make matters even worse, I haven't included those objects that I make in the kiln. I have a small kiln at home for warm glass work (kilnforming) as I can't afford the utilities it takes to keep a glass blowing studio running at home. I've made probably another fifty or sixty objects in the kiln at home.

I think that I'll have to create a new numbering scheme for these objects - yeah that's the ticket. Thus I don't really have a picture of the lucky object with number 1000. It could be anything at this point. So the picture shown in this post MAY include the 1000th object - or it may not.

Sunday, July 5, 2009


This sculpture is one of my favorites - I call it "Bird".

Of course, each time I create a new work, I'm tempted to call that new piece "my favorite". This is a cold-worked piece. It is made from optical crystal glass and heavily cold worked to bring it to a full polish. The blue is a single line of of special glue called "Hxtal" with a blue dye in the glue. Two pyramids of glass are cut and polished along one face. This forms the glue line. The glue takes a few days to cure under a warm lamp. I kept this for two days in a cabinet with a strong light bulb which kept the temperature about 105 degrees.

Once the glue was cured, and the glass cooled down to room temperature, it was cut with diamond saws, ground with various grits and diamond wheels, and then fully polished to a high sheen.

Even though there is just one small plane of the blue, it reflects internally creating really nice reflections. The piece sits on one of the two compound curves and rocks if given a slight push with your fingertips.

I call this one "Bird" for what I hope are obvious reasons. It weighs about 8 pounds. Optical glass is fairly heavy. Bird measures about 9" along the longest diagonal.

It was fairly scary as I got closer and closer to finishing it as the two points are quite fragile and could have easily been damaged by the grinding and polishing wheels.