Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Weaves, Tiles, and Painting


There are all kinds of glass working, and many types I thought I would never do. However, now that I'm making a living at it I'm finding  reasons to do things that I would have never pursued before. Glass weaving isn't something I would choose to do for myself. It is a technical trick and one of those gee-wiz techniques that makes you ask 'how was that done'.  It impresses people and can be fun to do, but unless I get the inspiration to push it in new directions I'll just be teaching the technique to students.

Glass tiles on the other hand I'm doing as part of my attempt to break into the commercial area of art glass. I hope to work with a couple of local interior designers as part of their design team where I produce custom glass as kitchen accents and other home decor uses. Any color combination is possible and on top of that I have the whole arsenal of design techniques that go far beyond the commercial looking tiles here.You can see a whole set of more artsy tiles on my main web site
The glass powder painting below is a finished product. I showed a study for it in a prior post. I intend to pursue large scale powder painting in the future at the Chicago Avenue Fire Arts Center. I will also be teaching the technique there.

The glass powder painting below took three firings and was my first attempt at layering the powder on over one inch thick to achieve the mountainous look. Brushes, sifters, and mostly my fingers are used to create the design. I call it painting, but it really is more like creating sand art images where by you manipulate the powders in powder form. One of the main challenges to keep in mind as you put the powders on is what the they will look like after being fired. Their prefired color is usually a lot lighter than after firing. It can be tricky, and you seldom get it right in the first firing. Because the base glass is 1/4 inch thick and is 20x29 inches the glass had to fire for nearly a day. In the mean time you hold your breath until you can peak into the kiln to see what the finished piece will look like.

This is a fairly indirect way to produce art, unlike painting where you just put the paint on and what you see is what you get. One reason I like it though (beside the fact that I'm a glass artist) is that it is a seldom used medium. It's exciting to be working in a way that is fairly unique. It is somewhat related to enameling in that you start with a powder, but that's about the only relation. The thickness, the powdery texture, the high relief, and the scale of the work are a few of the characteristics that make it a relatively new way of working in glass.
I'm very excited to be forging this new direction and have only begun the journey.

Little is new however in glass working since periods of exploration have come and gone dating back to ancient Egypt. On the technical side what is intriguing to me about this approach is that I'm only using 90 COE glass powder, and not enamels, paints, stains or any other media but pure glass powder. This restriction is an arbitrary choice, and I intend to experiment with low-fire enamels as a finale stage in the painting process. The reason for this restriction comes from a long standing decision that I only use 90 COE glass, which is a technical category of art glass, in all of my work. You have to create boundaries in order to focus your efforts. Once the basics are understood of a technique then it makes sense to expand the horizons with new materials.

However because of this restriction for many years I was totally frustrated with glass. I wanted it to behave like paint, but the chemical makeup of glass prevents you from thinking like a painter, and glass ultimately restricts your color choices if you can't mix colors at will... unless you like a collection of very different browns.

As many glass artists know, if you mix glass powder and fire it from its powder form back into solid glass the mixed colors will not result in what you expect. For example, yellow and green do not yield a yellow-green hue. Instead the mix gives you brown. This is true for may color combinations.

The magic of glass powder painting is that you do not allow the powders to chemically interact. When firing the glass you stop before the powders liquefy to glass preventing them from chemically interacting. The trick is to fire the powder only to the point that the particles of glass tack fuse together, remaining sand-like, but do not physically meld into one another resulting in chemical interactions.

You have to keep in mind that all glass is basically made of sand AKA silica. Metal oxides are added to silica to give it color. For example, blue is derived from cobalt, red is from gold, and yellows from silver.It is the metal content of glass that interacts when you allow powders to return to their glass state. When firing the powder only to the state that the granules are attached to each other and to the base sheet you then allow the powders to be permanently fixed, but not chemically  intermixed.

You can mix powder colors in tints, shades and across hues, and you get the color you mixed and not brown.

I think that is this aspect of glass powder painting that has not been explored thoroughly and what excites me to prob deeper. It is not a new media, and not a totally new technique. Glass powder painting uses a very old media (glass) with a very deliberate desire to expand the scale of work and to move glass further into the territory of classical art forms.

I hope what I have done so far is just the tip of the mountain.