Saturday, June 21, 2008

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!


Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

I didn't have a chance to read this before but now I'm glad I did. So fascinating to read about the process and that piece came out great!! Will you be creating and posting these on Etsy?? :)

Karen said...

Definitely! I've already created a plate (different design) and put it up for sale on my site and Etsy.