Friday, July 9, 2010

Guilt is only wasted energy.

My biggest concern when I started this blog was the sense of obligation I'd have to keep it current. I knew I'd feel guilty if I lapsed but the fact is I'd rather play with glass or dig in my garden or hang with my friends and family than sit at my computer (some of you are laughing because you know I actually do spent a lot of time at my computer).

But the "my blog" button on my tool bar glares at me every time I sit down to read emails or connect with folks via Facebook, so I've started to feel guilty. I no longer write "blog!" on my weekly calendar. Sigh. This was supposed to be fun! I mean, I love talking about glass! I continually bore my family with my ideas, experiments and glass-related activities.

So, excuses aside, I'm casting off any guilty feelings about my absence (life's too short for guilt; I'm declaring that right now), and attempting to bring you up to speed on where my glass exploration has been and is going.

Back in April I attended the Glass Craft & Bead Expo in Las Vegas for the first time. I was only able to take one class but it was a great one, with Gail Stouffer of Wired Designs Studios in Texas. We worked with powders (my most recent obsession) and explored the crackle technique and powder wafers invented by Bob Leatherbarrow. Here are a couple pieces I've made:

The class was fun but the trade show was thrilling. Here in Santa Rosa we don't have a large glass community. I fly to Bullseye Glass in Portland, Oregon when I need a serious glass shopping fix, so imagine my delight wandering through the exhibition hall full of vendors from all over the nation, offering wholesale pricing on their goodies!

I bought more dichro than I need (but like shoes or jewelry, can a girl really have too much?), a few interesting texture molds, and an all-fiber kiln for quicker fusing of some of my work.

A good lesson in networking came when Gail insisted on introducing me to some key people at Bullseye, who are in the marketing and sales department (people I wouldn't likely have contact with as a consumer). Gail surprised me by insisting that I should be teaching fused glass in my area, and the team at Bullseye agreed.

In May, I accepted an invitation from Bullseye to attend a week-long Dealer's Forum, which essentially trains you how to teach. I'm still amazed at all that was packed into that week. Nathan Sandberg was our instructor; he's extremely talented and very generous with his methods. I've been cutting glass since before Nathan was born (gasp!) but came home using a new method.

Some of the things we covered:
We did a Glass CSI exercise where there were dozens of samples of problematic fused pieces and we were given the firing schedule, lay-up, etc. and had to determine what went wrong. Truly invaluable and I was pleased that I knew more than I thought I did.

We dissected firing schedules, going over each segment so we would know exactly how and why to program our kiln for a specific project.

Next we experienced and made the projects that would be done in an Intro to Fusing and Slumping class. Of course, we fast-tracked it a little but doing the projects like a beginner helped prepare us to teach it ourselves.

We then made multiple teaching example pieces to use in our own classes. Examples illustrating volume control, intentional (and unintentional) bubbles, transparency and opalescence, and more. Here's a sample of how various accessory glasses (who knew it was called that? Not me!) behave when layered over white, black and clear:

After that, each of us gave a slide presentation of our body of work. We had three participants from Denmark, one from Alaska, two from Southern California, one from the bay area, and me. I'm continually amazed at how different everyone's approach is with the same glass!

Our next lesson was open kiln casting. I can already see that I'm going to have to rework my studio space to allow for some wet experimenting. We created a master and then a mold and chose either frit or billet to fill them. We even had the opportunity to preview some luscious new tints Bullseye just introduced. This photo was taken before any cold working was done but you'll get the idea. My pyramid is the pale yellow one:

Since those thick pieces take so long to fuse, we spent the next day touring Bullseye's gallery downtown and attending a marketing workshop (where I was reminded what a great tool a blog is). The highlight of the gallery tour was getting to view the basement, where past and future exhibit pieces are stored. I've posted many of the photos I took on my Facebook site but I'll put a favorite here:

Our next project was called Beyond 6mm. We made a half-inch thick piece and then spent several hours in the cold working shop. While we were able to use the wet belt sander and 24" lap wheel, I really appreciated Nathan showing us how to cold work like most people would: by hand. We used diamond hand pads and made a slurry of silicon carbide to get those half-inch edges nice and smooth. The other aspect of that project was working with Bullseye's line of pale tints. Here's a shot of those pieces:

From there we spent time with Bonnie Celeste, who's work with color reactions is so inspiring. I came home with plenty of new ideas and glass to do some tests of my own.

Nathan did a vitrograph demonstration and shared a new technique he's doing making thicker canes. I'll be getting my small kiln back onto its stand to make some for myself. We touched on kiln-forming with rod, which is just another fascinating technique to add to my must-do list.

One evening was spent at Lani McGregor's house (one of Bullseye's owners). Her husband Dan gave us an intimate tour of every room, where they take potential customers so they can see how you can live with glass in a home setting. It's one thing to drool over pieces in a gallery but knowing how to properly display and light them in your own setting is essential. That tour was one of the most memorable highlights.

Nathan wrapped up the week with a tour of the factory, followed by tips on structuring our classes and answered any questions we had. I'm thrilled to be supported by Bullseye in my efforts to bring new classes to my community. I'm researching locations now and collecting ideas about the classes I want to teach; stay tuned!

I took over 600 photos that week in Portland. See my Facebook page for a few albums.

In June I participated in Art at the Source, a juried two-weekend open studio event. I was hosted in a beautiful, light-filled Victorian home where I was able to spread out and display a large amount of inventory. Sales were much better than expected, despite a heat wave that sent many potential customers to the beach.

My family vacationed in Boston for a few days at the end of June and then traveled through Mystic, Connecticut for a night on our way to New York for the remainder of the trip. In Boston, we visited the Harvard Museum of Natural History where they were showcasing a vast collection of flame-worked glass flowers from the late 1800s. Even with my face pressed to the glass cabinets, I could hardly believe they were glass. Here's one:

In New York, I spent a day with my friend Nina Falk, who's art continues to be some of my favorite. We visited the Heller Gallery, which "has long been recognized for playing a seminal role in promoting contemporary sculpture that celebrates the use of glass as a fine art medium." Nina asked and we were granted a tour of their basement, which was every bit as wonderful as Bullseye's.

We wrapped up our trip with a day in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Even a full day isn't enough time to appreciate all that they have on display. I can sum up the tour by saying I was simply moved to tears by so much of what I saw. Truly overwhelming, humbling and invigorating. To see the pressure applied to a brushstroke painted in 2600 bc in a border design on a pottery urn just took my breath away. Living my life celebrating and exploring creative outlets is truly what feeds my soul. To see––in person––art that was created so long ago by someone who may have felt the same way, was so touching and something I'll never forget.

On a touristy note, my older son saw one of his favorite comedian/actors in Times Square, and this guy stopped me on the street, begging for a photo:

So now I'm home and just made a flight reservation to attend my second Professional Artist in Residency program at the Pilchuck Glass School at the end of August. I spent a week there last summer doing exercises to further the development of my art, participating in feedback discussions with 15 artists who are glass celebrities (in my opinion) and just rejoicing in one of the most spiritual, tucked-away art communities I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing.

October brings ARTrails, another two weekend open studio show, in which I open my studio to the public. Lots to do and lots to make; I've got to get off the computer and out to the studio!

Here's hoping your summer is spent doing everything you love, with people you love being with.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Tackling my kiln repair

Well one thing's for sure; if this was my only kiln, it would've been fixed a long time ago! As it is, this is my medium kiln so I've been working with my small and larger kilns while procrastinating about the repair.

A few weeks ago I carefully pushed all the elements back in place. Surprisingly, they fit back into the channels fairly easily. I still have to cement them in with some dabs of Pyrolite caulk but that's an easy job. I have a new lid for this kiln (a Paragon Fusion 10) but since none of the holes are drilled in the stainless housing and it would need to be wired to the elements and controller, I decided to see if the old top was serviceable for awhile.

I replaced the relay (the cause of all my angst!) and fired it up for a test run. Both side and top elements heated up, which is a good sign that there's no damage to them. So that just left the floor to deal with.

Mike and Eric up at Creative Ceramics and Glass (and Blue Fire Molds) in Larkfield recommended, rather than trying to fit new kiln brick into the irregular crater I had, it would be wiser to dig out the existing bricks in a squared-off shape, which made sense.

With my large kiln slumping a batch of trays and nothing for the baby kiln to fire, I decided to see how hard it would be to clean out that dang crater. (Did I mention I bought a new kiln at the Las Vegas Glass Expo last month? Since it arrived in a box that had obviously been dropped, I can't play with it either. The replacement is traveling from Florida now.)

I gathered a few tools and my camera and got busy. Here's how it went:

I marked my cut lines, attempting to create an easy-to-fill-in hole.

Chipping out the old brick was easier than I thought. I used my girlie hammer and putty knife for most of the outline and then picked away a bit with the screwdriver. By sliding the putty knife down into the groove I'd created and then using the screwdriver, I was able to protect the edges of the brick I didn't want to damage.

While the hole isn't perfect, I felt this was a good time to begin shaping my new fire bricks. This was the fun part! I felt like a stone mason, chipping, carving and sanding! Here's the first piece of brick, ready to place.

And here's the second one, fitting snugly. I had to do a little grinding in the hole to refine the shape but I expected that.

So with all three floor bricks in place, it was time to tackle the perpendicular thin bricks that support the elements. You can see a little chipped off area on the existing brick in the photo above but since I wanted to leave that full brick intact, I chose to ignore it, knowing that cement would fill it in.

These little bricks in the side were the biggest challenge. I didn't photograph them before placing but they're actually L-shaped to make a channel for the elements. I broke several while trying to carve out that 1/2" channel, which is why you see the tiny square in the left area. The brick to the far right is an original brick which I wanted to retain so I carved a little patch piece to help support it.

This is the messiest looking section of my repair but I know it'll be sturdy and functional.

This cement looks sloppy right now but as soon as it's dry I can sand off the excess, which should leave the floor looking pretty good. Even if I didn't sand it, it would be ok since it's under the kiln shelf but if you know me, you know I'll want it to look as perfect as possible. I debated grouting the side bricks but since the original ones aren't, I'm going to skip it. They're cemented in place against the side walls so unless they move, I think I'm done with the floor.

I'm pretty pleased with how far this kiln has come and I definitely gained a lot of confidence in my repair abilities!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Who needs kiln maintenance?

One of the best things about kilns is how maintenance-free they are. A quick vacuuming now and then to remove fiber powder or the odd piece of frit that slips away is really about all they need.

Oh yeah, and then there are the relays that control the click of the on-off-on-off electrical flow that's necessary to heat up and maintain the various temperatures we ask it to hold.

Eventually, relays fail. It's a known fact and an acceptable risk. Relays are easily replaceable, kinda' like a big fuse; I've done it myself when my last one died.

I'd heard that relays typically die in the "open"--or off--position, so you may find your kiln has shut off early. Now and then they'll die in the "closed"--on--position, which is what has happened to me both times I've experienced it. [Edit: a reader informed me after I posted this that I was misinformed; relays most often fail in the closed (on) position. Even more reason for me to adopt a replace-before-they-fail policy, in my opinion!]

The first time was no big deal. I programmed my kiln, left the studio and returned an hour later to find the controller displaying a temperature of over 1800°. Turning off the kiln didn't help (since the relay was stuck in the on position) so I had to unplug it from the wall. It wasn't a big deal, other than my glass art having giant bubbles blown through it. I purchased a new relay, read the instructions that came with my kiln, and replaced it. Plugged the kiln back in and everything was good to go.

Now, this is where I should've learned an important lesson. Relays aren't expensive; why wouldn't I simply put my kilns on a maintenance schedule and replace the relays annually or so, just in case? I'm still shaking my head over that one.

So the other day, I'm running both kilns nearly full time (because this kind of thing only happens when you have a show deadline) and since it's been about seven hours since I've been out to the studio, I decide to check that everything's powered down.

David walked out with me and said he smelled something burning but I'm familiar with the scent of burning Thinfire so I told him not to worry. That was until I saw the lid to my kiln warped with heat and showing a bright orange glow around the entire perimeter. The display was reading 2350° which is hundreds of degrees hotter than my kiln's 1700° rating. I felt quite calm, knowing what had happened, so I pulled the plug and let the kiln cool, sure in the morning I'd just replace the relay and get back to work.

Of course, the difference this time (and another good lesson to be learned) is that I don't know at what point in my firing the relay stuck on. It may have been at that temperature for almost seven hours...

Here's what it looked like when I opened it in the morning:

Those wires hanging down are the lid heating elements; that's not a good sign. The swirly muck on the shelf (which is ruined now) is my glass art. Looks like glass spin art or something.

Here's another view, looking down into the body:

Now you can see why two things are important; 1) level your kiln and 2) kiln-wash the bottom of your kiln in case glass ever runs off the shelf for some crazy reason.

This didn't seem that bad to me until I removed the shelf and realized that what I actually had was a giant crater where glass had pooled and boiled to the point where it completely eroded the firebrick:

That photo above is deceptive. It's about 2" deep and runs very close to the heating elements in the side of the kiln.

So after taking stock and realizing my only choices were to buy a new kiln or try to repair this one, I contacted Paragon and sent them the photos. It's going to be time consuming and still cost quite a bit but I'm feeling somewhat more confident today. 

Here's what I have to do; I'm so incredibly lucky that I already own a new lid with elements for this kiln. I had contacted Paragon a few years ago when I was unhappy that my elements were sagging a bit. They offered to ship me a new lid (with the elements encased in channels now) for the price of shipping. So I've saved about $300 there. I have to drill holes in the stainless steel lid to fit it to my kiln but I'll leave that to David. I've got to disconnect the control box and ship it to Paragon where it'll be retrofitted with two relays instead of one (this is something Paragon had offered on these kilns). I could just replace the single relay it has now and see if I'm ok but since I'm not using the kiln anyway it seems wiser to let Paragon do their thing. I have to get rid of all the melted glass because it would continue to heat and contract every time I use the kiln if I left it. So that's what I did today. I put on my safety equipment, grabbed a couple tools and excavated the floor:

The crater that's left is about 3" deep. I'm concerned about the elements being exposed. The next job will be to either flip the floor of the kiln (still waiting to hear from Paragon about how that's done) or carve out cleaner rectangle-shaped holes so I can cement in new fire bricks. Here's the garbage I pulled out of the hole:

It's going to be a lot of work but so far, so good. I'll be stocking up on relays and hopefully will never deal with another melt down! While this looks awful, the fortunate thing is that my kilns are all safely installed with plenty of space around them. They sit on metal kiln bases on cement cinder blocks on a cement floor. Stay tuned; I'll post photos as I continue attempting to rescue my little workhorse!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


With the holidays over and everyone back to work and school, I'm in a simplyfing mode; emptied out my makeup drawer and pared it down to the stuff I actually use. I'm eyeing my closet and remember reading that most people wear 20 percent of their clothing 80 percent of the time, so that's my next pruning project.

I probably get into this frame of mind every year but it's more noticeable to me as I look at a couple new sets of trays right out of the kiln. I often like to cut-once-and-make-two when I work, to maximize my glass usage as well as create pieces that complement each other. I had some patterned glass in my scrap pile and let them dictate these new designs.

It was only after firing the first two that I noticed I hadn't used any dichroic bits or frit or stringer. Strange for me, since I always tend to accessorize a piece just a little before closing the kiln. In fact, I often have to remove a few bits before firing, since I love adding details.

These pieces seem simpler, cleaner, dare I say, decluttered? Obviously the patterned glass adds detail, as well as the carving but they are much more restrained than what I usually make. Maybe my vacation from the studio uncluttered my mind a little, too!

Another interesting thing about these pieces (they measure 11" square and 12" round, by the way. I seldom photograph pieces before slumping but wanted to show how similar they are while flat.) is the amount of tiny bubbles.

For the green square and coral round, I used my standard fusing schedule. These pieces were both arranged on the kiln shelf and then capped with clear. Notice how many bubbles they have, which isn't always a bad thing, especially the way they've formed around the carving:

 For the next two, I incorporated a bubble squeeze of 50° per hour from 1150-1250°. I don't always use a bubble squeeze, mostly because I'm so impatient but also because I didn't really think I'd noticed much of a difference in the glass. But these two are much less bubble-cluttered:

So, better with lots of tiny bubbles or not? I'm still deciding but I'm finally convinced at what a difference moving slowly through that temperature range makes. I'll definitely move this schedule to the front of my kiln notes book.

Speaking of notes; I spent some time over the holidays with my glass sketches, notes and clippings. I have several Moleskin books full of ideas, as well as notepads, folders and tear-outs from magazines, catalogs, etc. As I was flipping through everything trying to decide which ideas deserved testing, it occurred to me that a better filing system would make my life a lot easier as well as give me better, more useful access to my notes.

I think a big index card box might be in my future. That way, I could record descriptions and concept sketches and then divide and file them by type or category. I could reorganize them easily and move more promising ideas to the front. I could take a card or cards out to the studio for reference. I love this idea! I can still use my Moleskins when I'm out and about (they're my favorite low-tech organizers) and when I decide an idea is worthy enough, I'll transfer it to an index card.

I might just get my desk decluttered yet!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Looking forward to 2010

Whew! My last show of the year was Saturday and it was such a nice end to the season. Due to slower sales at last year's San Francisco holiday shows, I decided to opt out this year (I've participated six years in a row) and concentrate on smaller venues closer to home.

For sales in this wonky economy I've worked to develop some lower price-point items especially for gifts. With the exception of two shows that were excruciatingly slow, I'm encouraged and excited that sales were strong. I said I'd never make coaster sets but hey, selling dozens of sets at $35 each is the equivalent to selling a few larger pieces, right?

While shows are always a lot of hard work, I get so much out of engaging with my customers. Talking with them about their likes, dislikes, needs and wants is so incredibly energizing. It's always hard not to want to run back to the studio in the middle of a show and get to work! A big thank you to everyone who took the time to share their opinions with me, purchase my work, and inspire me to stretch my creativity.

I keep my notebook handy and jot down comments and new ideas and sketches when time permits. I keep track of color schemes that sell best (and which don't)—often different from what I'd assumed would be popular (the reason I sometimes force myself to work outside my preferred color range). Contact with the public is vital to my art; seeing my work through my customers' fresh vision helps define my next approach.

I had almost decided to discontinue jewelry in 2010 but it's so fun to watch as shoppers choose that perfect piece, and my jewelry continues to sell well. I always offer a "buy five get one free" sale for pendants which is apparently hard to resist. I've sold hundreds of pendants over the years and  love hearing from repeat buyers that they get compliments every time they wear them. Hmmm, maybe jewelry will continue to be part of my inventory.

So for the rest of December, I've given myself the gift of time. I'm giving myself a few weeks to review my notes, refine and research the best ideas and do a few experiments. I need to finalize my indoor photography set up and take some new photos, since I usually rely on the sun for lighting. I've got a crate of "curious glass" (basically one-of-a-kind colors or swirled combinations) and intend to challenge myself with some different color palettes. I've got sheets of gold foil and fine silver so maybe I'll be tempted do make a little more jewelry. I'm still playing with the concept of thicker pieces which I tiptoed around during my residency at Pilchuck...

Our Christmas tree is already up (when I'm crazy-busy with shows it's usually much later) and the mantles are decorated. I'm going to collect the big glass vases my stringer tubes are stored in and bring them in for decorating (the vases, not the stringer!) I'm going to relax a bit, play a bit, bake a bit, be thankful and treasure these moments with my family.

But when I turn the calendar to January, it's time to get back to work (and the treadmill)! I wish you and yours a rejuvenating holiday season!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Blog, Facebook and Website, oh my!

I'm still new enough at promotion-through-the-internet to be feeling a bit overwhelmed with exactly what I should be doing!

I've had a website for several years; that makes sense to me. I need a place to showcase my work and point galleries to when they're wanting to see a current collection of my inventory. I've recently streamlined my site a bit by putting up a more concise group of photos in the hope that I'll be able to update more frequently.

Recently, I was introduced to blogging and told that since it's so quick and easy, it's the perfect way to let customers know what's newsworthy or what's inspiring me today (notice I said "today"; if you know me, you know how quickly I jump from one concept to another). Each week, I've got a notation on my desk calendar that says, "BLOG!" along with my list of potential subjects.

A few weeks ago I stumbled across a Facebook business page that I apparently created with the intention of interacting with my peers, customers and other interested folks. Imagine my embarrassment when I saw that I had a small following of "fans" but no content on my page! So now I've added that to my growing "to do" list. Facebook is sort of like instant promo; I can zip in from the studio and in just a few seconds knock out a post and upload a photo of a piece still warm from the kiln! I was honored recently to see that Lani MacGregor, the owner of Bullseye Glass (where I buy my sheet glass and supplies) likes one of my photos!
I've added my Facebook link to the list on the right.

I guess as an artist who primarily works alone with my ipod and five cats, these are the kinds of strokes that are hard to resist. These days, you can bet that if I'm not in the studio coaxing glass to be my friend, I'll probably be playing show and tell and trying not to ignore any of my internet obligations!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

I survived ARTrails!

In fact, I'd say I rocked it! Being a new artist in the catalog this year, I figured I'd get a decent share of interested visitors. I didn't expect sales to be so great in this economy. I had a steady stream of cars (with only a handful of drive-bys; what's up with that?) and customers were genuinely engaged and so complimentary.

One of the aspects of ARTrails is that it's an educational venue. So often at shows I find myself explaining over and over how I create my art. Many people assume I'm painting on clear glass. The concept of stringers and frit and inclusions are foreign to most, so seeing the step-by-step process is the key to understanding.

The beauty of setting up at home, aside from the obvious convenience, is that I had enough room for my sales display and everyone got to see my tools, various forms of glass and other materials I use, the kilns and even the 30 new solar panels we've installed to run them.

Before putting everything away, I took some photos of my step-by-step examples. I think I'll create a photo collage or small album to take with me to future shows.

I'd like to extend a very big thank you to everyone who came out and welcomed me to the program!