Monday, January 24, 2011

Teaching Weaving, Dripping, Pressing, Carving, Drawing, & Texturizing

This will be a multi-part post on what has turned into a marathon glass fusing class. I have to admit to an unorthodox approach to teaching. The basic approach is to give a broad overview of the technical basics, have them work small for a few weeks, then do a scaled down version of a final project, then finally do to the finale project. This might be doable in a six week course except that I also let them choose their own projects however grand or unassuming their aspirations may be. That's where the complications set in, and also I feel, where the most important learning occurs through encouraging and tempering as the case may be.

It is a challenge to say the least having a group of students all going their own direction on projects which vary from just a few dollars and one firing to several hundred dollars with complex techniques and multistage firings. I have to learn as much as they do - about their skill level, their ability to attend to detail, their ability to plan, and more important decipher what their sense of  aesthetics are and how I might help them express that in glass. All of that can't be done in six weeks. After 10 weeks you might if you're lucky begin to understand the student enough to help them take their first tentative steps on their glass journey.

The image above illustrates what is called kiln carving. Impressions are made in glass by cutting designs into ceramic fiber paper which can range in thickness depending on how deep of an impression you desire. Glass is laid on top of the cut outs, and as the kiln heats the glass flows like honey into and around the cut outs. In the example you can see both an impression into the glass on the right and a relief on the surface of the glass on the left. This is accomplished by using both the 'positive' cut out shape, and also saving the 'negative' space/hole left in the ceramic paper from the cut out. The glass flows down into the negative spaces while it also flows over and around the positive cut outs.

I typically include a glass weaving project (image above) early in the course, because glass cutting skills are exercised by cutting a lot of thin strips of glass. Bending glass is learned as well as seeing how molds are made and used. I also learn each student's color preferences, and I get a sense of their dexterity level. It also helps them over their fear of glass which everyone has initially. 

In my last class I had them create their own colored glass by sifting glass power onto clear glass. The idea is to get them use to taking full control over their color choices by creating their own color gradations and mixes. It is too easy and somewhat uncreative just to buy your glass, cut it up, and fuse it. I call this the 'cut and paste' approach which quite literally a child can do. Of course, cut and paste is ubiquitous in glass fusing and can lead to some very impressive results. However, realizing that you can and should attempt to control every element of design is one of the important steps leading from craft to art. As good as this idea might have been, their 'customized' glass was much harder to cut than the off-the-shelf stuff, and we had to start over.
I like to think of stock glass as simply the materials to build an image. Going beyond cut and paste is a key part of my personal aesthetic, and I think a teacher is always going to bias their students one way or another. The dripping project is a very good example of how to move well beyond cut and paste. The image to the left is a stack of cut up glass. It is setting on top of a stainless steel grate. When heated it flows through the grate forming a wholly new mix of glass. Any number of other techniques could then be applied to this mix as a starting point for other projects. I simply presented the idea to the class in an unbiased manner ( it is something I aways wanted to try) along with many other project options, and two students chose to explore dripping (to my pleasure).

A related technique to dripping would be raking. When the glass is still molten you can use a metal rake to drag through the glass forming color patterns in the glass with the rake's fingers. I'm glad that they didn't press me to do that technique. Reaching into a 1600 degree kiln is.... well, not really advisable, but people often do put their mark, so to speak, in glass by raking.

To end the first installment of this series of posts is an example of an exercise in texture and line. It takes several years, if not a lifetime, to explore the elements of design (line, shape, form, texture, color, pattern, etc). Eventually, an artist settles in on a certain style, and that style can be broken down and seen by how they use the elements of design in a composition adhering to sound design principles.

In the image below the exploration of line and texture was the focus of the project. The student was inspired by a picture of a glass project that had line drawings created by tracing through sifted glass powder. Several attempts were made to capture that style.. The bold red rings were created using glass paste, the blue line scribbles were done using a Sgraffito approach which is simply tracing lines through powder with a stick. The faint red circles on the left were created by pushing a round object into powder, creating impressions in the powder.

There are also three distinct textures of glossy, mat and sandy which adds a tactile dimension. As a line and texture study this piece was a huge learning adventure. It also helped the student realize the importance of working small so that ideas can be tested quickly at reduced cost. Glass is terribly expensive, in many ways unforgiving, and requires a capacity for delayed gratification. It can been weeks, and all too often months, before what seemed a simple technique is mastered. Projects often need multiple firings and you can't see the results for 24 hours or more. The learning feedback loop is sometimes extended beyond the student's capacity to wait for a result, and understandably so.

In my glass adventures I have to admit I've been frustrated more often than gratified, mostly because I wanted glass to do something that may be better approached in another medium. My goal as a teacher is to reduce the frustration level for students while at the same time not boring them with small exercises. This is one of many balancing acts that makes a good teacher, and the more I learn the easier the journey will be for all.

No comments:

Post a Comment