Friday, August 28, 2009

Marbles, Marbles, Everywhere

I got bit by the marble bug last year. I really am intrigued by these little, and not so little, spheres. I didn't really like playing with marbles as a kid - never saw the fun it it. I know that will cause issues with some serious marble collectors though. I find the very small "play" marbles to be throw-away stuff. Most are made overseas now anyway. But some people seriously collect them. There is another faction that collects larger, hand-made marbles. These are considered art. Most are in the 2" to 3" diameter size range. This is what I learned to make. I make these in the furnace rather than in torch flame. This is the basic difference in "off-hand" glassblowing versus flameworking.
I've made about 250 now. Here is a picture of one I made that I quite like. It's a little over 2" in diameter. I haven't weighed it, but I think it would be around one pound. Photographing marbles is hard. You need to get a good close up and the lighting tends to cause reflections everywhere. This could be touched up in Photoshop but I haven't bothered on these type of reference pictures.

This piece is a black core with the swirls of color in white, yellow, red, and a sparkly special glass called dichroic.

Not shown in the picture is the north pole of the marble. This one has all the colors swirling together to a single point - similar to a vortex. The south pole doesn't swirl, the colors do meet at the pole but without the vortex. All in all a very nice marble.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

New Work - Rothko-inspired Glass Vessels

A certain individual (OK, it's my wife) has been pestering me for several months now to post pictures of my newest work. I've been delaying for lots of reasons which I don't care to elaborate on right now. This is work I've been thinking about for a while, but has evolved to where I think the pieces are good enough to share.

I wish pictures could impart the textu
re of the pieces. Glass is normally pretty smooth and glossy. These aren't. They are actually pretty rough. The surface feels a lot like about 120-grit sandpaper. This is in stark contrast to the lips, or tops, of the pieces, which are ground to a very high polish. In this grouping, the silvery blue color on the top half of the piece is very reflective, but still exhibits the texture. When you look down the top you can see the yellow interior reflected and the look changes as you change your viewing angle. Neat.

This work doesn't yet have a title - one of the things I'm still searching for - but the working title is called "Rothko", after Mark Rothko, the abstract expressionist painter. I love Rothko's work - one example shown here. The texture and color and interplay really are wonderful. You really should check out the "Rothko Room" at the Tate Modern gallery in London.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Favorite Art Haunts

The Musée d'Orsay in Paris, France is perhaps my favorite art haunt that I've had the pleasure to visit. I go back there every time I get the chance. I've spent several afternoons enjoying the Impressionist art - both the paintings and the sculptures found within. The Orsay is built in the old train station which was first erected in 1900. It underwent significant transformations in the past century or so. I emerged as a wonderful place to display works of art as the building and the art within are from the same general period.

I often look for pieces that I can get inspiration from and embody the concepts into my glass art. The painting shown here is one such example. I'm not a good painter - I really can't draw at all, but that's another story. I really like the feel of color and the interplay of the patterns of the clouds. The piece is titled
"Crépuscule", which means "Evening" in English, painted by Charles Guilloux in 1892. The photo is © ADAGP, Paris - Photo RMN, Hervé Lewandowski.

The picture at the left is my current favorite from the Orsay collection. This picture cannot do it justice. The dot pattern of the painting is meant to be seen from several feet away, at least in my opinion. I bought a reproduction of this picture in about an 11" by 14" size to study. I plan on using this style in my glass using glass powders and frits to attempt to get a similar effect. I need a lot of practice but this is one of the journeys I'm on right now.

The painting is called "Plage à Heist" which in English is "Beach at Heist", painted by Georges Lemmen in 1891. The photo is © photo RMN, Gérard Blot.

Selling my Glass on eBay

With the decline in the number of art shows and fairs that we have in my local area, the number of pieces I've made started accumulating around the house. With the boss starting to make noises about how much stuff was on tables, shelves, and in boxes everywhere, I decided I needed to try some alternative selling techniques.

The first thought was that monster - eBay. I been registered for a long time but really didn't buy much. A lot of reading and research went into what I wanted to do. I decided to put a few pieces up for auction. I started with a nice piece to see what would happen. That is when I learned even more.

Shipping turns out to be the real issue. I know how to pack pieces for shipping and I've sent items all around the U.S., including Hawaii, and never had an issue. Of course I double box everything. That means that the piece is packed full of bubble wrap and/or newspaper if it is a hollow vessel. Then its wrapped heavily in bubble wrap and put in a tight fitting cardboard box. This box is then in turn put inside a larger box and "suspended" in two inches of styrofoam - either sheets or peanuts, or bubble wrap. This means the piece is pretty well protected. I think most pieces break from movement within the packaging. They are bound to be dropped or rough handled but if they are packed correctly they can't move and all the packaging absorbs the impact. I guess it's kinda like an airbag for the glass. It can take 20-30 minutes to properly package a piece and ready it for shipment.

The real surprise is that UPS turns out to be pretty expensive to ship packages. My father worked at UPS for 30+ years so I used them by default. In the first case, the shipping was more than what the final price of the piece was sold for!! I then went to the US Post Office, and with their priority mail one-price packaging, I can get a good deal on the shipping and you even get tracking numbers. PayPal makes it easy to print shipping labels and process payments as well.

Many people complain about adding a few bucks ($3 - $5) for packaging. I try to save every bit of bubble wrap, cardboard, and packing peanuts for reuse but I still end up buying stuff for packaging. When people see the piece arrive safe and sound, the remarks usually are "great packaging" or similar, but they balked at paying a packaging fee. I watch with interest people who have no issue with buying the latest infomercial product and then paying $7.95 for "S&H" when it clearly didn't cost that much for sending a small product or DVD, as compared to shipping a piece of glass.

I really didn't get a lot of bids on some of the pieces. I sold a couple for $10-$15 that would have been listed at $100 or so at an art fair.

So I have a few questions - What do you think of buying glass on eBay? What is a fair way to cover the packaging costs? I welcome your comments.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Photos on Glass - Something Old, Something New

When the first photographs were made in the 1840's and for quite some time thereafter, they were "printed" on pieces of glass. The first type, called daguerreotypes were actually done on a mirrored glass surface treated with a light sensitive chemical solution. Of course with the invention of printing on paper, photos on glass died out. Paper was cheaper, much more portable, and not as easily broken as the glass. Well, things old become new again in slightly different forms.

The image of a glass plate shown to the left here is one example of the old but new again idea of printing photos on glass. However here the photo is actually "in the glass". Gaffer Glass makes a photosensitive glass rod that can be blown into any shape and then exposed to a negative, developed, and set in a most unique way. For those interested in the deeper technical aspects of using this glass, refer to the link above to read the details on Gaffer's site.

The process is pretty straightforward. The hardest part is blowing the blank. The rod is picked up and then encased the usual way. Here I used an opaque amber color. The base photosensitive glass is transparent and has an interesting tonal range. You are never going to get "Kodachrome" quality, but the effects are interesting. Picking the right backing color is important. I also created on in a deep blue thinking the hues would be complimentary. In fact, you have to look very close to see anything in that piece.

I'm not great at blowing rondels, a large round flattish glass blank. This is the same process as very old window glass was made. This piece is actually quite round, a first I think for me, and about 16" in diameter. The only unfortunate part is there is a slight dip in the center making this more like a large plate than a nice flat rondel. While annealing the blank needs to be kept in the dark and well covered until ready for exposure. It is actually UV light that exposes the image so some light is OK, but not for very long.

I created a bunch of negatives in Photoshop and printed them out on transparency film. That is me on a camel in front of the great pyramid in Egypt (but that's another story). I cut these into pieces as it was hard to get perfectly flat due to the shape of the blank. This is done in a dark room with photographic safe light. I then put the blank in direct sunlight for 30 minutes. Then the exposed blank was put into a cold annealer and brought up to about 1000 degrees and held for about 4 hours. This develops the image. Of course then the piece has to be cooled and annealed so it doesn't break.

One cool thing is that the process is reversible. I don't think I'm going to do that with this piece. Better exposure control could be done with UV lights, but sun works, it just isn't as predictable.

This is a process that needs a lot of practice - both in the blowing and in the image exposure/development process.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Grinding Marbles into Submission

I make hand-blown glass marbles, which I've blogged a little bit about previously. I'm pretty good at it, but in order to be GREAT, you have to make quite a few. Unfortunately, I don't have the energy or time to practice enough to be great, so I'll settle for good enough. Sometimes I make a marble that is great in it's color, pattern, or something that says this one could have been great, but it isn't quite round or has some "skudge" on the surface. That's where cold working the marble comes into play.

A marble, to be great in my mind, not only has to have a great interior, but also be perfectly spherical. A marble is just a fancy name for glass sphere! I priced out sphere polishing machines that are normally used in lapidary (stone and gem) working. $2000 and up just isn't in my price range. Therefore I do what I usually do, figure that I can make one myself. How hard could it be? A few hours on the net and I saw that others had done similar things. I took the best of what I found, thought about it, and then proceeded to design my own. The video below shows the results.

I was absolutely astonished that it works. I really was a disbeliever in myself. This is less than $50 in parts. The only thing I bought were surplus gear motors at $7 each. The rest of the stuff I had around the workshop. I had the hinges, some extra T-Track, and the on/off switch. I've purchased a collection of pipe fittings and couplers from the big box hardware aisle. There is a whole story that can (and will) be written about what I've learned. The grit feed is absolutely genius. I didn't invent it, but think I've taken a couple of things I saw and incorporated it into a better approach. The grit is suspended in anti-freeze rather than water. This does two things, first it makes the solution more viscous and the grit doesn't come out of solution and sink to the bottom of the cup. Second, water would make parts rust, not good.

I've done a lot of testing, and the results are spectacular. The first marble I did was an early clear sphere that clearly wasn't a sphere. It was pretty squished. Ten minutes at 80 grit and the thing was perfectly round. Un-freaking-believable. It's pretty messy, but cold working glass usually is.

Someday I'll take a series of before, during, after pictures to post. If I could only remember to do it.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Cool Tools - Wet Saw

This post is about one of my favorite glass tools. Most glass blowers would talk about their hand tools from Jim Moore or Carlo Dona and argue over which is best. Warm glass artists talk about their cutters and their kilns. But for me, right now, my favorite tool is my DeWalt wet saw. Here is a link to it on Amazon. DeWalt Wet Saw . This thing rocks. I spent a lot of time researching wet saws and using ones I could beg or borrow.

The biggest fault with a wet saw, in my opinion, is that I GET WET. I hate it. I don't want to be wet and sloppy and have to drag out my apron just to make a cut. I don't want to have to build an enclosure just to use the bloody thing and keep the water in the frigging saw and not on me, everything around me, on the floor, and so forth.

After a lot of research I saw this. Now I must admit for woodworking I love my DeWalt tools, including my table saw. It is perfect for me. There are better more expensive options but I'm more than satisified. So when DeWalt announced a contractor-friendly wet saw I was excited. I read all the reviews - not just the fluff articles but ones from real contractors doing real work day in and day out. This one seemed like it would make the grade.

It went on my Christmas wish list. I got it and was really impressed as I opened the box. One of the things that DeWalt did is make it portable. Now at 70 pounds, the think isn't light, but they did an interesting thing. It comes apart without tools into five smaller pieces. The saw itself sits in a tray that holds the water. There are two wings that just snap in to catch the water. The picture doesn't show it, but these are angled up to catch the spray and direct it back into the main water tray. The sliding table even lifts off. There is a reviewer on Amazon who built some carrying cases which are pretty cool. Note the rubber flap at the back that catches the spray as well.

I don't want to sound like a DeWalt shill, but there are just so many features like the adjustable depth stops, the tilting saw head, the rubber covered sliding table that glides like its on butter, and on and on.

I cut a lot of pattern bars and this thing is solid. The 1.5HP motor doesn't even slow down for 2" thick stuff. The water is fed by adjustable tubes on either side of the blade so the water coolant is directed right at the cut, not flying off and getting me wet.

This thing is obviously designed for professionals by people who actually use tools.
This is certainly my current "COOL TOOL" for the moment.

Most Popular Piece That Never Sold

This year has been bad in Michigan for the economy - unemployment is over 17% and people just don't have a lot of spending money these days. For me this downward spiral started last summer about twelve or even fourteen months ago. I usually do a few art fairs a year where I do some pretty strong sales. I stay away from the big one here in the area - the collection of independent fairs collectively called the Ann Arbor art fair. I blogged on this previously. However the fairs that I've had the most success have been cancelled, at least for the time being.

So I'm left with a lot of pieces that I've made and they haven't yet been sold. I've had to pack, and repack them, several times as I look for a specific piece for someone. It's good that I have pictures of everything, but my anal-compulsiveness hasn't gotten so far as to actually track which pieces are in which blue tub. I love blue tubs. I have more than fifty of them. But that's another topic for another day.

I came across this piece packed away. It has a long history. I made it several years ago, and I really liked what happened with the colors. There is an interesting reaction with the "veins" that wrap the piece. They are a gold based color, but reflect several different shades of gold, silver, and blue, depending on the light. At outdoor shows, I made sure to put this piece in a sunny spot, which usually meant it moved throughout the day. I can't even begin to count the number of people that have ooh-ed and ahh-ed over the piece. Everyone loves it. Or at least, that is what they've said. But nobody ever bought it. It wasn't expensive - in fact I had it listed for about $95. Maybe it was too little. Other pieces, that didn't get as much attention went flying off the shelves.

At this point, the piece is occupying one of the coveted prime display locations in my house where the best glass pieces get some time on display. I'll create something else that is new, and therefore "better", and this piece will get packed away for a while. Maybe the next art fair will change things and it will find a home.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Cracked Ice

I promised to write about each of my favorite pieces. I've already written about the "Bird" earlier. Here is another one. I call this one "Cracked Ice". Old paintings have a nice texture that is not done on purpose, rather it results from the cracking of the paint over a long period of time. We see the results after sometimes centuries and feel that look is what was intended. We also see this same effect on old houses and furniture where the paint is cracking and peeling. Crafts people go to great lengths to reproduce this effect in their "antique replicas".

In glass, this effect can be created, but the results are not always predictable. This piece is a good example of crackled glass. The base color is a deep cobalt blue, which certainly is reminiscent of cold, snowy climates. Before the piece is fully blown, it is covered in several layers of white powdered glass. This is similar to a nice snowfall building up depth on the ground. Once a sufficient quantity of "snow" is collected on the piece, it is reheated to a very hot temperature and the plunged in a bucket of cold water for several seconds.

That is when the magic happens. If there is the right heat, and the right length of time in the water, and then the piece is blown out just right, you'll get the crackle effect pictured here. The picture doesn't show it, but the cracks are quite deep, and there is a very tactile sensation when you touch the surface. You only get a short period to form the vessel as the white tends to melt into the blue and lose the nice crackled texture on the surface.

The way that the white fades out on the rim is quite interesting. Again, it is all chance in how the final piece will turn out given all the variables of depth of powdered glass, heat, cooling, and shaping that go into making the piece.

Sunday, August 9, 2009


I am always thinking about my favorite pieces that I've made. That list changes on a frequent basis. Everyone asks to see some examples of my work. I need to update my website, which is really, really old. I think I last updated it in about 2004! I've been thinking that the blog is an easier way to display my work, my thoughts about it, and have an ever-changing view into my glass work.

As a way to get started I've added a gadget on the left side of this blog which shows some of my favorite pieces. I intend to write a little about each piece in an entry here over the coming weeks and months, and if all goes well, years.

I've uploaded about 20 images to Google Picassa. What would we do without Google? It's "free". I wonder what they are doing with this information, but I can't beat the price. If you click on one of the small thumbnail pictures, you'll be taken to Picassa to view the pictures full size.