As with many young girls, I once wanted to be a ballerina. I even had the opportunity to take ballet lessons as a child. Thankfully, after a few short classes, I discovered a most important thing about ballet - that it was not for me! The strength and dedication (not to mention talent and natural grace) required to truly excel as a ballerina were beyond the scope of my interest and ability, but I WAS able to develop a better appreciation for those who have the necessary qualities and who have excelled at their craft.
In the years since that stunning realization, I've discovered that my talents lie in the realm of collecting crafts - learning new ways to play with colors and textures. My 'library' of techniques includes everything from paper making and bead work, to quilting and tie dying to, lately, fusing glass. As the library grows, I often find myself trying old techniques with new materials, in this case glass enamels which, when combined with home-decorating painting techniques, become a fun way to add depth and color to glass art.
Glass enamel works very much like paint, however when fired in a kiln, the enamel becomes part of the glass itself and is as durable as the glass (unlike glass paints which can be scrubbed off when washing a painted item). As with various paints, enamels have their own personalities and don't always play nice with one another - which can be helpful in certain cases. After a few months of trial and error I thought I'd share a relatively simple project using enamels (which I also call paint - because laziness).
As anyone who has ever painted a room knows, painter's tape is a girl's best friend. The first step in the project (after washing the glass of course) is to mask off the border.
Enamel can then be glopped on (yes, that IS the technical term), and spread using a highly advanced tool (just don't plan on using the spoon with food after this project). We're going to play with this even further so I'm not worried about getting an even coating.
We continue our 'decorative room painting' technique by wadding up a piece of plastic wrap (or a plastic shopping bag, or a sponge, or a wad of paper - practice with a few different things - they'll each add a different texture to the finished product) and dobbing around the border. I worked the lighter areas first, then switched the dobbing material and worked the darker areas - shading into the lighter areas last to give a graded effect. It's a gloriously messy process - so remember the paper towels!
Set the project aside to dry - which can take anywhere from an hour or so to better than a couple of days depending upon the enamel used. In this case Glassline "paints" are the choice of the day - they dry quickly and tend to stay where you put them (they don't blend and flow after application like Color Line enamels do), but often fire to a dull gloss - rather than a high sheen such as that of Color Line paints. Once (mostly) dry, remove the painters tape and clean up any stray bits of enamel.
Now for the hard part - painting something that has to look recognizable when I'm done. It frequently requires slapping a rough draft onto the background glass, then many laborious minutes, sometimes hours, spent doing 'cleanup'. In this case, the black Color Line enamel has a lovely sheen, and fires with that glossy, glassy look (compare it to the, now, matte-looking dried Glassline paint of the border), but it likes to spread out, and details have to be constantly refined until the edges quit 'moving' (which can be tedious - but results in fewer chipped nails and cuts than refining a piece on the glass grinder).
Painting is done, now they dry for a while...or longer. Color Line paints are really smooooth, and have a lovely, creamy texture to them but they do take (literally) days to dry when used straight out of the bottle in a fairly heavy application such as this. In the meantime that gives me time to play with the torch and make the pieces which will become the ballerinas' tutus. Poor ladies look a little hollow in the middle - I did that because I wasn't sure how see through the tutu pieces would be and didn't want the black outline of their bodies behind the tutus....
Finally dry! Now to dress the girls... each "petal" piece requires 2-3 minutes of work using the torch, a glass rod (the lighter pink) and some crushed glass (darker pink). Torchwork (even with a Hot Head - which any serious flamework artist would turn their nose up at) is super relaxing (mostly, as long as I don't shock the glass and end up chasing down burning bits of glass before they do too much damage to hearth and home) and somewhat addictive (my longest session so far is a 10-hour day...my husband is a patient man). With tutus in place (hint - unscented hair spray makes the best glue for holding things for the trip from the house to the kiln) and a few additional accents, the ladies are ready for their 'dry sauna'.
Some projects require multiple trips through the kiln, but in this case - as long as one is patient and can wait for the paints to dry - just one trip is needed. I sometimes will fire a piece to set the paint when I know that another layer needs to be added - or especially when I want to layer paints that don't play well together.
The above would be an example of the paints 'arguing' - the Color Line paint (black) loves to travel - and if you put if on (or even NEAR) a water-based paint (the pink Glassline paint), you'll get this (actually lovely, in the right application) 'river delta' effect as the paint travels across the water. It was an effect that I've seen before (and fought with), but was thinking might look good in this application. Alas, I wasn't happy with the effect and ended up starting over on the pink border - I'll keep working on a way to use the effect, but that's not what this project was about so onward we go.
A gentle tack fuse is enough to activate the enamels (they're so much richer once fired) and bring back the gloss. Fusing flattens the flameworked elements a bit but not so much that they lose their 3-D look.
A closer view so you can see the great texture that the sponging around the border gives to the piece - adding a bit of interest and color to what might otherwise be a bit plain (and very un-magpie-ish).
This was another piece that used the sponging technique, a few more flameworked elements and frit balls (I don't know why that's so much fun to say).
Now it's time to go experiment some more - what would you do with those fun little Color Line 'river deltas'?
(Friends, I'm trying something a bit different in this post, the photos illustrate the story, but each is its own 'journey' so, for ease of reading, the blog might be read through first, then one might wish to go back and study the photos and their links)
I have Mrs. Rachel Wright to thank for more than the title of this blog post. Her amazingly rich, beautifully detailed needlework was also part of the inspiration for its content. To see more of her pieces please click on her photo "Nanook King of the Ice" above. To learn more about "delighting the eye" continue on....
Growing up in Southeast Alaska, a physical environment rich in inspiration, we spent countless hours playing on beaches where tide pools became worlds in which ‘bullheads’ ruled over hermit crabs, seaweed was nature’s bubble wrap (and made for a musical, if slippery, walk down the strand) and the search for sea anemones was a never ending Easter egg hunt.
Woods and salmonberry thickets provided forts and ‘provisions’ to be gathered-in “before the storms came” (a favorite game). When the creeks filled with salmon in the fall, we splashed and slid over rocks trying to catch the slippery critters bare handed. In this world there was not enough daylight (even in an Alaskan summer) to do all there was to do.
If you look carefully you can see that the areas of 'black water' are actually thousands of salmon waiting below the waterfall for the tide to come in far enough that they can get above the falls and into the fish ladder leading to the Burnett Inlet salmon hatchery. My first few summers out of high school were spent cooking for and, later, working on the "egg take crew". I figure I helped 'birth' hundreds of thousands of pink, dog, and coho salmon in those four years.
We had no internet, and very little contact (compared to present day) with the ‘outside world’ and, as such, were limited in our exposure to arts and crafts. Local artists - Tlingit bead workers and carvers who, at the time, were struggling to keep their arts alive - and the few library books and television shows (sent to the village by videotape and broadcast from the school to the community two weeks behind the rest of the country) were our richest sources of artistic examples.
This lamp was made by my father who, though not Tlingit, had great pride in his Athapascan (a more northerly Alaskan native tribe) roots. He loved being able to combine techniques and materials (the piece of wood held by the beaver was found near a beaver pond and had actual beaver teeth marks in it). He passed away shortly before kiln formed glass became the rage, but I often think he would have made spectacular 3-D creations combining fused and stained glass. I love that I can carry on his passion for glass - I just wish he'd shared his drawing and painting abilities as well!
Now, decades later, I can spend an eternity following one rabbit trail after another online and never see a fraction of the information, inspiration, and sheer genius that exists in the human family.
Ceramics and kiln glass have many commonalities, and yet are quite different. Ceramic artists have a much more pliable medium to work with but ceramic and glass artists both cry when things blow up in the kiln. Above is the marvelous work of Jennifer McCurdy who has pushed the limits of the porcelain she's come to know so well. For more of her airy, gravity-defying pieces please click on the photo above to visit her website.
Which leads me to an argument I’ve been having with myself, the answer to which was neatly summed up in a TED talk I stumbled across recently. The question of “at what point can one be considered an artist?” has been one I’ve struggled with for a lifetime. What many consider to be art – oil paintings, sculpture, and symphonic music come to mind – tends to leave out a gargantuan population of ‘craftsmen’ who’s creations are birthed from a place that demands no less discipline, joy, frustration, and compulsion as those more ‘formal’ arts.
This hot mess was created at the intersection of compulsion and inspiration - which resulted in no little amount of frustration. Sometimes a great idea (trying to capture "bubbles" in glass in a new way) turns into a not-so-lovely piece of scrap....though I do have an idea....(and so another experiment is born).
So, at what point does a hobbyist become a craftsman and a craftsman an artist? Jamie “Mr X” Chalmers summed it up nicely in his TED talk: “Why X Stitch is Important” (have a listen – it’s funny AND inspirational – and gave me even further insight into how my husband has the patience to cross stitch his way across YARDS of aida). In a nutshell Mr. X says a hobbyist buys the kit, the craftsman begins to tweak it to his own liking (and may perfect the mechanics of the medium as well), but the artist develops a new pattern – one that tells HIS (or her) own story and presents their view of the world. I was thrilled to realize that, in time, I could get to the ‘art’ end of the spectrum – even without writing an opera or sculpting another “David”!
Another, more important, piece of Mr. Chalmers’ talk was this idea that art (in his case, needlework) can make real, substantial changes in how the artist sees the world and their place in it (really, please, go listen to the talk!).
In poking around the MrXStitch website further I came across some really luscious, delightful needlework by Rachel Wright (remember Nanook - the polar bear - at the top of the page?) who I then followed over to her website. She’s summed up beautifully the “why” that I’ve been struggling to describe about my own work with glass…"to delight the eye”. How perfect is that?
Rachel Wright's beautiful needlework is the product of patience and determination. Her account of creating this marvelous view of the 'streets' of Venice can be found by clicking on the photo above. Venice is, of course, a dangerous place for a Magpie to visit - so many sparkling colors and rich textures - which Mrs. Wright has captured here so perfectly!
It may come from growing up in a more innocent age, in a place where life was fairly simple and at times achingly beautiful - but after all is said and done the greatest source of joy when presenting my work to others is to see their face light up, to know that I have ‘delighted the eye’ of the viewer, and perhaps brought a little lift to their heart as well.
"Borrowing" from ancient artists, I make a clay cast of a local petroglyph. The clay was bisque fired and coated with a release. I added subtle 'embossed' details including cedar, dogwood and seaweed to a sheet of iridescent glass, then the whole piece was fired over the clay form resulting in this glass version of the petroglyph.
In a sometimes heavy world, isn’t it nice to know that we can all be artists in our own right and bring a little beauty, inspiration and delight to those around us (and those – thanks to the webs – half a world away!)?
I'm Kris Reed, the Magpie, a lifelong Alaskan, lover of all things sparkly and giddy about glass,
Favorite Resources & Inspirations
WHERE TO FIND SUPPLIES
Slumpy's (forms, tools)
Bullseye (glass, fusing supplies)
D&L Art Glass (ALL the glass stuff)
Mulberry Paper (YES, paper!)
Goulet Pens (It's not glass, but it IS glass pens - and ink)
INSPIRE ME! colors, textures
Judy Clement Wall - Art
Evgeny Hontor Figurines
Hitomo Hosono Ceramics
Jennifer McCurdy Ceramics
MrXStitch ALL Needlecrafts
Rachel Wright Needlework