Sunday, June 29, 2008

Can't Keep a Good Grass Down

The gutter outside my house was recently re-paved.  A fresh new black swath of asphalt over everything.  Now, I'm not complaining -- it needed it!  The concrete gutter hadn't been tended to in .. well, decades, from the look of it.

This isn't your normal street-height gutter -- it's a paved channel, nominally a few inches lower than the road.  Big chunks of the bottom were missing, creating 10-inch-deep chasms which swallowed the ankles and tires of the unwary.  Parallel parkers frequently ended up with a wheel in the gutter.  A friend came to visit once, pulled too close to a particularly deep portion of the Grand Canyon, and couldn't get back out.  We tried to build a ramp, but I didn't have enough miscellaneous timber in my shed.  A passerby volunteered to help, and returned with lumber that he'd borrowed from a neighbor.  My favorite incident involved a tow truck which got stuck there for days after accidentally backing into the chasm.

So, at long last, a new gutter.  A wide, smooth dip at the side of the road, easy to walk through and to park next to without fear of maroonment.  Amusingly, though, only a cursory attempt to clear the area to be paved was made, and small clumps of grass were left.  Small clumps of grass tend to become large clumps of grass.  It is their wont.  As I walked home today, I noticed this idyllic urban watering hole.  I imagine weed whackers and skateboards congregating for a drink from the coursing water during a light rain.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The iMac Returns .. Sort of

The folks at the Apple Store apparently weren't able to rescue anything off of my old hard drive (despite the fact that they successfully accessed it while I was at the store dropping it off). I hadn't checked on my backup program in a while, and unfortunately, it appears that it hadn't been working. Most of the full size photos of my recent work ... gone. Many I can retrieve from Etsy, fortunately. I'm not sure when the backup stopped working. I'm afraid to open my mail program and to plug in my phone, which syncs with data that might not be there anymore. New daily task:  glare at the backup logs. Sigh. Maybe I should bite the Leopard bullet and hope Time Machine works better than this other apparently-questionable thing I was using.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

New Show!

I've just received my confirmation for a show in September. I'm trying a new venue, going relatively far afield, and a new market -- this will be the most expensive show I've done to date.

Third Annual Harford County Wine Festival

Festival Banner

I'm very excited about the show: it's a combination wine tasting and craft exhibition at a historic manor house north of Baltimore. Tickets are $25, and that gets you a number of wine tastings. There's also food and live music. You can buy tickets online now to secure your entry!

The festival is held outdoors, rain or shine, at Rockfield Manor on Churchville Road in Bel Air.

I'll be bringing plenty of wine bottle serving trays -- they'll make great gifts in combination with the wine available for purchase at the festival! I'll also have a selection of my fancier jewelry.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Cutting Glass with Scissors

I was just nosing around on the website of the Spectrum Glass company, and I ran across this gem: an article on cutting glass underwater -- with scissors! Good for a giggle.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

On with the Art

Yes, that's Art with a capital A! I made my first wire melt!

Wire melts, pot melts, and aperture pours are all names for a hot glass technique that produces fairly unpredictable but completely awesome results. Instead of arranging the glass in a flat stack exactly how you want it to come out, you suspend a bunch of glass in the air, crank the kiln up to 1700 degrees, and let it flow in a viscous liquid down onto your kiln shelf, where it spreads out like a vitreous ganache.

If you have a tall kiln, you do a pot melt or an aperture pour. You load a vessel with glass, prop it above the kiln shelf using refractory bricks, and the glass dribbles through a hole in the bottom of the vessel. The vessel is commonly a clay flower pot, and I've read that Italian flower pots are preferable.

If you have a short kiln, like me, you do a wire melt. Since there isn't enough vertical room in the kiln for a pot, you make a hammock out of high-temperature kiln and suspend it between two refractory bricks which you have raised above the kiln shelf. You can then place largish chunks of glass in the hammock, and as it liquefies, it simply goes around the wire.

To Battle

Armed with and inspired by Prizmatic's wire melt tutorial and a suggested firing schedule, I decided to make an 8-inch round melt, which would be a nice dessert plate. Liquid glass likes to be one-quarter of an inch thick, so I calculated how much glass I'd need, picked a nice complement of greens with a few black accents, and loaded up the kiln.

Liquid Runs

You know how water pools on the low portion of a non-level surface? Well, so does glass, and due to floors, kiln stands, and kiln posts, your average kiln shelf isn't level. Instead of an 8-inch circle, I have a sort of stunted semicircle with a definite slant to it.

Wire Melt

It's very pretty though, and I intend to chop it up and make pendants or insets for other works.

After much frowning, turning of shelves and swapping of kiln posts, and measuring with a wee short level, a calculated application of shims has brought the kiln shelf into a greater state of balance. It is ready for its next trial!

The Coaster of Rebirth

I go through cycles with which one of my creative outlets interests me the most. Back in the winter, it was earrings. I made big chunky earrings, and they made me very happy. In the early spring, I discovered chain maille techniques and had great fun incorporating my own hand-woven chains into my jewelry designs, and I made lots and lots of fused glass pendants. In the early summer, I lost my inspiration for earrings and concentrated on necklaces and bracelets. Now, I've swung back to glass again, but to bigger pieces of art.

Back to the Beginning

When I decided to start working with fused glass, I wanted to make useful things. I'd been working in stained glass for a few years, and I found it unsatisfying for two reasons. First, it's enormously labor-intensive. You break, you grind, you wash, you dry, you hand-foil and burnish each wee bit of glass individually, you flux, you solder, you wash, you patina, you wash, you wax. If you're going to sell your work, you're hard put to convince most people that it's worth as much as you need to charge for the hours you poured into it. I was in a guild with some other local stained glass artists, and everyone agreed that you basically worked for free.

The second reason for my dissatisfaction with stained glass was that you can't use stained glass creations. You can hang them in windows. You can put candles in them. You can admire them. You can't eat off of them, which is one of the most common things we do, and one only has so many windows. You can make very nice lamps, which are useful, but then you're back to the problem of convincing anyone to buy them!

On the other hand, when forming your art from pure glass, you can use it for food. I found this thrilling. I can make useful things! Colorful, wonderful, usable everyday things!

Before I got my own kiln, I'd spent a month or two excitedly designing plates. When I started buying fusible glass, though, I found that it was quite expensive. The glass factories have to put a lot of R&D time into developing and testing dozens of colors of glasses that have the same coefficient of expansion. The coefficient of expansion (COE) is the rate at which the glass expands and contracts as it heats and cools. Glass, like water, changes in volume as it changes from a solid to a liquid. To add to the complexity, different types of glass need to be raised to different temperatures to cause them to soften and flow. If you're going to heat multiple glasses together, they must all heat and cool at the same rate so that they don't strain against each other and crack. All the testing that goes into the compatible glasses offered by manufacturers causes them to be quite pricey. Dismayed, and noticing that many other glass artists make almost exclusively jewelry and small candle holders, I tabled my dishware aspirations.

It always bothered me, though. I wanted to make plates, bowls, dishes. Neat plates. Awesome bowls. Not your average dishes. I'd never been content with your average stained glass, so why I was acquiescing now?


It started with a request for coasters. A good friend's partner saw some art glass coasters in a museum gift shop and thought, "Those are pretty awesome. I bet Karen can make better ones." Pictures were sent, favorite colors were issued, and expectations were high. With that proclamation to live up to, I dithered a bit, then dug into my stash of plate designs. I found one of my favorite geometrics, applied the designated colors (blue and orange), scaled it down to coaster size, and marched upstairs, carefully-measured bits of paper in hand.

Ta Da

I like it. They like it, although with the accent glass, it came out a bit bumpy for a coaster. I'm going to order some thin glass and try again, as the request has morphed into combination coaster/candle dishes. I think I'll make some plates!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Credit Where Credit is Due

For years, I've used Paint Shop Pro version 4 on any Windows computer I have to use. It was, in my opinion, the last good version of the program, before they started trying to be Photoshop back in 1997. It's a good program, but for art photography, it unfortunately sucks rocks, lacking any good white balancing or color correction features.

Since I'm now stuck with a Windows computer for who knows how long (see my previous post), I googled for Windows photo editors and ended up downloading Google's own Picasa. I must say that I'm extremely impressed. Not only does it white-balance (they call it the "I'm feeling lucky" button), but the highlight and fill light functions are very good at restoring true color to the photo. Not bad for a photo organizer! I wish they'd separate the photo editor from the photo library, which is an irritating piece of software, but I'm going to use it anyway.

Poor Dying Hard Drive

As my first foray into actual advertising, I purchased a spot in tomorrow's Etsy Travel Showcase where I planned to highlight vacation-themed jewelry. I have several pieces that I just photographed this morning and haven't posted yet, so I arrived home from my regular job with a mission! Process the rest of my photos, compose charming write-ups, and get those pieces into the public eye! Oh, and write a blog post for my friend Sharon of Mana Moon Studios, who is always pushing me gently to market myself. :) I've never met Sharon, but she's such a nurturing person that she makes you glow from afar.

After an hour's commute, I pranced in the door, was scolded by three felines for neglecting to bring home a swordfish steak again (honestly, how many times do I have to be told?), and woke my beloved iMac from its slumber. And .. it clonked. I walked around it and peered at the back, gave the cats the hairy eyeball, then walked around it a few more times, unable to believe that the source of this mechanical thwacking was my computer. Unfortunately, the frozen screen that greeted me confirmed that which I wished fervently to deny: my hard drive was clonking. I turned it off, turned it on, and glowered at it in dismay as it displayed a gray boot screen, clonked to itself, and did little else.

All is not lost -- I have the raw photos on the camera's flash card still, but .. argh! My good photo editing program is on that computer, and as any self-representing artist can tell you, a photo editor with a good white-balancing function is absolutely essential to correcting for the incandescent camera flash. I'd already put time into photos which I now must choose and process again before tomorrow's travel showcase with the inferior functions available to me on my laptop. Poor timing! Bad Mac!