Thursday, March 1, 2018

Spirit Tablets - A Glasshoppa Patron Exclusive

It was never my intention to combine these two very different, but apparently compatible techniques into a single project, but the idea evolved of its own energy and well, here we are.

Fossil Vitra and Kiln Carving … both deep with design possibilities and both popular misnomers. I believe the former originated at Helios Glass (Austin, TX) and the name must derive from the ancient appearance that the technique tends to impart. And the latter? Another curious moniker from the creative minds at Bullseye. We could call them “Organic Burnoff” and “Fiber Forming” respectively, but that would just be rowing upstream, so again, here we are.
The Project PDF that accompanies the video includes two time-honored Chinese symbols that are simple to produce in fiber and should be appealing to buyers. Hundreds of others are easy to find online. It’s a little flimsy to use these characters cut from manila folder stock, the medium I’ve always used for making templates, and that led me find to a new and much superior material:  clear polypropylene sheet. It’s strong but flexible, cuts easily with scissors, will stand up to hundreds of uses and it’s cheap. I got mine at:

Tap Plastics  -- 20+ west coast stores and a fine website:

Don’t feel like these techniques have to be used in combination. They will each stand alone and usually do.  I’m sure we’ll employ them again in future Glasshoppa projects. Meanwhile, enjoy making and selling these venerable Spirit Tablets

Unlimited access to this and many more Patron-exclusive video tutorials is available for a $3 pledge of support: 

Friday, December 15, 2017

Holiday Trees & Wreath

There’s still time!!

Yes you can crank out fused glass holiday gifts with only 10 days to go ...

The first of these sparkling keepsakes may take you an hour, start to finish. Subsequent versions — and they'll all be delightfully different —will take half that.  And if you really want to speed things up, just nip up your scrap without the attention to detail that I demonstrate in the video, and place them without such meticulous fuss. 

In my experience, fused glass tree ornaments look great, until you hang them on a tree. Even well-lit, a holiday tree (mine, anyway) never seems to show glass well. So I prefer these projects backlit on stands (night light hardware works) or hung in a window. 

I hope you make a few and enjoy doing so, and if you give them to friends or family, be sure to drop by every year during the holidays to make sure they're out and prominently displayed!

’Tis the season … I wish you all a life of peace and love.                         Project PDF

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Sea Turtle Wall Art

In a yoga class, in an awkward position (downward facing duck, I think), I noticed this sea turtle design on the back of a fellow practitioner. A few days later my own glass facsimile was cooling in the kiln. To simulate the shell, I used Vanilla Cream opal coated with transparent Sea Green powder. The ensuing reaction was just enough to make it interesting, but I was never completely satisfied with the project on the whole.

So … things got considerably more elaborate. I went swimming with the sea turtles on Google — saw hundreds of them — and decided to use a technique I call “powder plowing” to create an organic looking pattern that could be repeated in each segment of the shell. By powdering each segment individually and low-firing them before project assembly, the “rolled edges” became a design feature that outlined each segment.
first effort

The appendages are formed with a “stepped volume” approach that contribute to their sculpted shape, and their embellishments are frit pieces, screened to two rough sizes and individually placed.

For hanging, I used the homemade offset mounting technique described in the “Hanging Glass on Walls” video. The end result is 11 x 13 inches in size and weighs 1 Lb 10 oz (28 x 33 cm, 740g).

This project is more involved than most of those featured on Glasshoppa’s Video Glass Projects, but it’s not difficult — just a few extra steps. The components are twenty-one cut pieces of glass, frits and powders, but it requires only two firings and no molds. My favorite part is the pattern itself; the subject matter is a trendy eco-conscious one, and turtle shells make a great canvas for all kinds of creative fill.

The Sea Turtle Wall Art project video is currently available to Glasshoppa patrons on the community’s Patreon web page. A $3 pledge of support earns access to this and many more video glass projects (complete with patterns and firing guides) that are available exclusively to program patrons. You can see their descriptions HERE, and learn more about Patreon HERE. Enjoy!

Friday, August 18, 2017

Revealing Images

Sounds intriguing, doesn't it?

Here, by “revealing” I’m referring to the use of negative space between glass pieces to create the focal imagery. It calls for simple designs and therefore simple construction, but adds a certain elegance to an image that might otherwise seem unimaginative. 

These are reflective pieces that use opaque glass and therefore call for an extra step -- creating a paper pattern. I use manila folder stock for this. With a light table I can trace from my printed pattern onto the folder stock, and the material is sturdy enough to draw around when transferring the images onto glass. Then the pattern pieces can be stored in an envelope and labeled for future use.

If you find yourself wondering why, in this video, the adjacent seams healed and disappeared so nicely in the “blue bamboo” example, but remained visible in the others, the answer is edge-roll (or edge scarring) in the variegated glasses. Review the “Upscale Switch Plates” video for a detailed explanation (Glasshoppa Video Directory).

I have used some unique materials for the framing -- the frames themselves and the double-sided adhesive strips used for mounting the glass. Details on both of those can be found on the Project PDF.

Have fun with these! Maybe you'll find yourself looking at pictures differently in the future, wondering if they could be rendered “from the outside in!”

Friday, July 14, 2017

Choosing Your First Kiln

Surprisingly, one of the questions I get asked most often is some version of this:  “I am shopping for my first kiln … What would you recommend?”

To answer that, I need to make a few assumptions. Since this is a first kiln and they're asking the Glasshoppa, I have to assume the question is coming from a relative beginner. But who knows what their fusing future might hold? In five years they could be a high-production glass artist or a highly-stressed parent with a barely-used kiln.  I also assume that if this beginner had some vision of where they wanted to go with glass they would be clearer on their needs in a kiln. That said, here is how I respond:

I recommend they start with a small (but not tiny) kiln that plugs into any household outlet and comes with a programmable controller. This class of kiln usually accommodates a thirteen to fifteen inch (33-38 cm) shelf and at least a twelve inch (30.5) square or circle of glass.  They are usually top-fired (heating elements in the lid only), with a chamber depth of around 6 inches (15cm), and they and max out at about 1700 degrees F (925 C)

Here is my reasoning:

1. The size accommodates a large majority of the projects most of us enjoy making.
2. There is no need for new wiring or circuitry or even a house call from the electrician. Just plug it in.
3. It is easy to relocate.
4. It is less expensive to purchase and to operate.
5. In the future, if interest wanes, this is probably the easiest class of kiln to resell.
6. If the fuser's needs “outgrow” this kiln, they will probably choose to keep it even after investing in a larger one.
In my experience, there is always a place for a small kiln. The larger the kiln the more costly it is to operate and the longer it takes to cool down after firing. Firings are not always full loads or large projects. For making components (pebbles, puddles, frit lace, etc.), for trying new ideas on a small scale, or for running “small loads” of anything, a small kiln is as handy in the studio as a microwave is in the kitchen. 

Other than the obvious, here’s what you sacrifice when you choose one of these small kilns:

1. Depth. Six inches is great for fusing and slumping almost every glass project you're likely to make. But certain designs and techniques require (or benefit from) greater vertical space: drapes over molds taller than about 4 inches (10 cm), pot or screen melts, and drop-slumps.
2. Multiple shelves. With heating elements only in the lid, stacking shelves to add capacity will result in uneven heating.
3. “Touchpad” controller. Most of these small kilns come equipped with 3-button controllers — that is, you have to scroll through the digits to reach your settings rather than just enter them. It’s an inconvenience, and frustrating when you're in a hurry or your mind is wandering, but that's all. Of course you can upgrade to a more full-featured controller, but that's a big expense.

Other considerations:

Digital controller:  You may be attracted to a kiln equipped with only an infinity switch (off-low-med-hi settings) because of the price, but believe me, you want the digital controller. This technology is arguably the tool that made fusing accessible to the common crafter like you and me. Without it you're a slave to your project. Don't get me wrong, it is perfectly possible to be a successful fuser with an infinity-switch equipped kiln, it just requires a lot more time and effort.
Lid construction:  a ceramic fiber lid is preferable to a brick one, though this feature is not commonly available in the smaller, less expensive kilns. Firebrick is very soft and heating elements expand and contract during firing. It is not unusual for bits of brick to loosen and fall from the kiln ceiling during firing, usually onto your work! Those of us with top-firing brick-lidded kilns are accustomed to using a shop-vac on the lid element channels periodically to keep it clean.
Element mounting: look for a kiln whose elements do not require steel pins to be held in place. 
Solid State relay: mechanical relays are usually the first thing to go. Choose solid state.

If you've watched many Glasshoppa videos, you know I use Skutt kilns. I am a critical consumer and when I find something excellent, I stick with it. I have also had very good experience with Paragon and Evenheat products.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Splash Art!

Sometime way back, I accidentally created something that looked like a splash, and thought it genuinely cool. There are vague memories of trying to recreate it, failing on the first attempt, and then moving on to some other glassy attraction. Now, years later, I got to fooling around with it again and the results are here for the whole world to roll their eyes at. 

Besides the wall splashes and bowl splashes that are covered in the video, I also made a couple dozen Fridge-a-mator Splats. They only bear mentioning because I took them to a recent craft fair and sold out in no time. Go figure!

Fridge-a-mator Splats
If you create your own instead of using the patterns on the Project PDF, here are a few pointers that seem to matter:

- Vary the leg length:  short, medium, long.
- Vary the leg shape: curved and not so curved.
- Don't place every curve curving in the same direction; (decidedly unsplashlike).
- Split two opposing curves with a not-so-curved.

Go ahead float a few of these fluid forms in front of the pool-party-public and see how they fly. You might be surprised!                              PROJECT PDF

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Crater Creations

This technique needs a catchier name … something exotic and alien. It's related to frit lace, which I prefer to call frit fungus, but they are distant relatives at best. Regardless, I had a lot of fun with it and would enjoy pursuing it further. Wouldn't it look good as a floral-form drape? I can see votive holders, too, white with clear and just a little color … translucent enough to gather and magnify the candlelight.  

One suggestion:  when you go to play with this, make a small one first.  It will give a chance to become familiar with the depths, test the forming temperatures in your kiln and evaluate color combinations. This is also a technique that might behave differently depending on the shelf separator. I used Papyros paper for these. If you use Thinfire, shelf primer, or something else entirely — there’s another reason to experiment on a sm
all scale first.

In the video I confidently state that the reason the Whirlpool project had no needling (stick marks) was that opalescent glass is “stickier” than transparent. This is true and you'll periodically encounter evidence of it. But it was pointed out by one of my sharper Patrons (whose name shall remain Marcia Zajac), that the added thickness in the center would have reduced or eliminated the contraction, thus minimizing the needling. Nice. Thank you, Marcia. 
Next time I will go even deeper with the center area frit than I did in the video. I'd go a full quarter-inch (6mm), maybe even a bit more. This is for structural bulk. Mine is plenty strong but I think it would benefit by feeling more substantial in the bowl section. The firing schedules I used and other details are available on the Project PDF, link below the video.

So go forth and fuse! Good luck, and have fun --                          PROJECT PDF