Sunday, July 24, 2011

Slow like Honey: Adventures in Molten Glass

I have long been fascinated by the art of glass blowing.  There is something completely mesmerizing about watching a clear, brittle substance morph into a glowing orange viscous mass that can be formed into fantastical shapes.  So when I recently spotted a groupon for a glassblowing lesson for two, I jumped on it.

I was slightly nervous as D and I arrived at the glass blowing studio.  For one, I had no idea what to expect, and for two - as I lack hand eye coordination - I was afraid I might make some spastic move and cause myself or someone else a serious injury, or at least cause some damage to my dignity by, say, dropping my masterwork just as it reaches completion.

But Corey, the owner of Portland Glass Blowers, put me right at ease.  Corey is a super cool dude, and as D is wont to say, "You know you're in good hands when you see a beard like that."

Rockin' the Specs
First, we got kitted up with some stylish purple goggles that shifted the visible spectrum and made it easier to see the flame.  The type of glassblowing we were doing didn't involve using a big furnace and putting glass in the "glory hole."  (I'm not kidding; that's what Corey called it, which made me inwardly giggle like a schoolchild.)   

No, we were using a propane torch that fired at upwards of 4000 degrees F.  Okay folks, that means I've got a stinking HOT flame mere inches from my hands.  Oh yes, and I have to keep the glass spinning evenly or I end up with a hot gooey mess dropping to the work bench.  Concentrate much?  You bet I did.

That set up affords some very cool pictures.  I was able to capture my favorite image while Corey set D up on his torch before I got started:

Our first task was to create a little paperweight by first heating a 1-in. rod of clear Pyrex until it forms a ball of molten glass at the end of the rod.  This takes some time, and you must keep the rod spinning slowly and evenly.  There is something almost meditative about the process.  When it is ready, you dip it into powdered colored glass and continue applying heat until it all melds together in a sort of lens shape.  This is an exercise in chaos theory.  The colored glass crystals often look nothing like the finished blown color, and you have no idea what shape is going to form inside the lens as you fuse the glass, but I'm pleased with this effort.  It brings to mind some kind of blooming coral on a reef.

Next up, making a stemless wine glass.  We heat a tube of pyrex glass and, when it reaches the desired consistency, blow slowly and evenly through the tube while spinning to keep the shape blown out symmetrically.  That's the idea anyway.  Here, D demonstrates the technique with his usual flair for doing things perfectly:

 I, on the other hand, managed to get a tendril of my hair in my mouth while trying to blow the bowl, which promptly spiraled around the tube and restricted the spinning motion.  In an effort to get that sorted out, I stopped blowing for a critical couple of seconds (as the glass cools very quickly) and ended up with a sad, oddly pregnant-looking shape.  Corey took over, put the piece back into the flame, and valiantly tried to rescue it, with decidedly mixed results:


So what have we learned here? 1) Glass blowing is as mesmerizing when I'm doing it myself as it is when I watch someone else; 2) I shouldn't quit my day job because it turns out I'm not going to be the next DaVinci of glass blowing; 3) Much like in life, it's about the journey, not the destination. (a.k.a. whatever, my glass looks like it was blown by a wonky troll, I still had a good time.)

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So tell me, what new thing have you tried out recently?  Did you surprise yourself with success?


  1. This is awesome! I have been wanting to take a class in something artistic but never seem to get around to it. You've inspired me to just sign up already.

    The paperweight you made is beautiful and I love that shot of the flame- very cool!

  2. Fantastic, K! Really.

  3. Krysta - Given what I've seen of your creative efforts lately, I think you would really enjoy taking a class. Go for it!

    Ironic Mom - Thanks very much, Leanne!

  4. Okay, super jealous. I want to play at a glass studio! So glad you were able to go and share this with me. I'm sure my wine glass would turn out...pretty much just like yours. Love the paperweight.

  5. Glass blowing is a pretty cool hobby. I don't know anybody else who does this.

  6. Nicki - It was great fun playing at a glass studio, though, given the danger of molten glass I had to concentrate an awful lot while I was playing.

    Gatsby - It's a good point; I don't know anyone who has a glass blowing "hobby" either. I would find myself soon drowning in the clutter of mediocre works of "art" if I decided to adopt it as an ongoing activity. I did admire Corey, the instructor, who has made himself a tidy little living out of his passion.

  7. Oh, my gosh, KB, this is so beautiful and just so amazing! I've wanted to try glass blowing as well, but have always been kind of chicken. So very pretty! Good for you!

  8. Lemon Gloria - I'm glad to know I'm not the only one nervous about these kind of things. But I really am an astounding klutz, and this is the sort of situation where that is most undesirable!

  9. That looks like so much fun! The paperweight is gorgeous, but I've got a soft spot for that adorably misshapen wine glass. I'd be drinking out of it all the time, defending it to the death: " don't care what it looks like! It's MINE and I LOVE IT!" ;)

    The only project I've done recently was to experiment in...uh...drywall patching...*cough cough* *shuffle feet* I did just find my father's soldering iron and kit, and I'm keeping them safe for the time I finally get around to learning how to make things with stained glass.

  10. Limr - What a delightful way to describe the wine glass: adorably misshapen. D encouraged me to adopt exactly the same attitude about it.

    Crafting stained glass has always appealed to me as well. Colored glass suspended in a window, casting rainbow shadows on the floor - absolutely lovely.

  11. Keenie I love your wine glass and yes you absolutely must use it and defend it, it is after all something lovingly crafted by your own hands, how many can say we drink from a glass that we made ourselves. I am always fascinated by glass blowing and would love to give it a try.
    The flame photo is excellent, fantastic shot.

  12. Go Betty - Thanks very much! Capturing that image was one of the coolest things about the lesson. If you ever get a chance to try glass-blowing I highly recommend it. The process is, as I already wrote, completely mesmerizing.

  13. haah, "You know you're in good hands when you see a beard like that" I just may have to borrow that phrase the next time I see radical facial growth.

    This looks really cool and I love your mishap! I made some wart looking glass stick in Chemistry class many moons ago. Once I grew more confident I even filled one with colored water. I think my family and I will add this to our list of activities to to find a pro so we don't injure or mame oursleves.

  14. Botut - You should definitely borrow the beard phrase. Once you work that into your lexicon, you will be surprised at how often it perfectly fits!