Late summer’s monsoon rains transform the arid landscape of New Mexico into a riot of wildflowers. Billows of golden chamisa make a perfect complement to purple asters, and everywhere there are sunflowers. This year’s display has been particularly rich, as the desert received record-breaking rainfall over the last few weeks. I was inspired to use the palette of this early autumn show in my newest glass project. Using the Make It: Inline Plate project, I interpreted this glorious landscape into something that would be around well after the flowers all faded.
My Paragon Benchtop 16 Kiln kit came with several tubes of Bullseye stringer for the Inline Plate project, and one of those tubes contained 0337 Butterscotch Opal, which happens to match the sunflowers that cover the fields right now. I then spent a little time at Bullseye’s Santa Fe Resource Center peering into the ends of a bunch of mixed stringer tubes until I found a blend of colors that would work for my idea.
The directions for this Make It project are very clear and understandable. Never one to miss the chance to over-complicate a project, I chose to deviate from the basic guide. After all, somebody had already made the plate on the sheet, so why not take it further?
“What would happen if I…” those five words have gotten me into more trouble over the years than I care to admit. Far more often, fortunately, they have led me to new creative adventures that I might otherwise have missed.
Setting up the 2 mm stringer rods in a pleasing pattern and then cutting them all down to size to fit my 9″ x 9″ 6 mm Tekta square was tedious but easy. (I had a nice piece of 6 mm Tekta in the studio, and wanted to have minimal bubbles, so I decided to use it instead of two sheets of 3 mm.) Since I didn’t have the Neo GC Cutter recommended in the “tools” section of the sheet, I resorted to good old wire cutters, and they worked fine. I expect the Neo would give better control of the nipping, but since I planned to coldwork the finished edges anyway, I wasn’t worried.
The plate came together nicely, and I decided to try layering some narrow strips of 3 mm Tekta on top of the stringer layer to see what would happen. My idea was to emulate the image of flowing water from the rainstorms that had made this season’s flowers so abundant. I cut the strips freehand using a pistol-grip cutter; it took several tries before I got the gentle curves I was after.
Since I wanted my plate to have a high-gloss upper surface, I skipped the harrowing step of flipping the plate over so it was positioned with the stringer layer down against the kiln shelf. Since I now had glass totaling a thickness of 11 mm in the places where I had placed the Tekta strips, I decided to dam the piece with mullite blocks and fiber paper during the fuse firing. I wanted to err on the side of too much flow control during firing, since I didn’t really know what the result would be of having those 3 mm clear strips over the stringer layer. Fortunately, the end result was fabulous! The Tekta strips actually sank down into the stringers, deforming them and adding an interesting dimension of depth to the piece.
Now that I had my inline plate, it was off to the Bullseye Resource Center Santa Fe for a few hours of coldworking fun. First, I wanted to sandcarve some texture into the surface of the plate to reinforce the look of flowing water. Using some adhesive-backed vinyl (the same kind sign companies use to make vinyl banners), I cut out the water pattern I wanted with an X-acto knife, removing the vinyl where I wanted to carve into the glass. Since I had taken a three-day coldworking class a while back, I was familiar with the machines. And of course the Resource Center staff are always around to help with questions (for instance, if one forgets where the air valve for the sandblaster is located).
After finishing the sandcarving and peeling away the vinyl stencil, I cleaned the glass thoroughly and headed for the lap wheel. This is one of my favorite coldworking tools, next to the wet belt sander. Knowing that I basically wanted to grind down the edges of my plate until the ends of the stringer strips were all uniform, I set to work using the coarse, 60-grit lap wheel disc, gradually working my way through the various discs until I finished with the finest disc, which is almost smooth. It left the edges with a very nice buffed sheen, though it wasn’t as transparent as you’d get with cerium paste. Still, I was very satisfied with the end result. An extra perk was the great upper-body isometric workout I always get in the coldworking shop. No trip to the gym required today.
The final step was slumping the plate in a 10-inch slump mold. The next day, I was thrilled to see the finished piece: the sandcarved effect over the areas where I had placed the 3 mm Tekta strips gave that feeling of flowing water that I hoped for and broke up the uniformly glossy surface. The blend of stringers captured the vibrant colors of wildflowers and the New Mexico sky, and I particularly liked the way the stringers were a mixture of opal and transparent glass, so light shines through the plate and casts linear color bands on the surface below.
The Make It series of projects are a great jumping-off point for a beginning glass artist like myself. It gives you the basic tools to create a project that is pretty much guaranteed to look good, and also sets the stage for experimentation. What more could you ask?
Editor’s note: Guest blogger Lois Manno is a New Mexico-based writer, artist, and illustrator. She’s also a newcomer to kiln-glass who’s agreed share some of her adventures in her new medium here. She blogs about her art and other adventures – including cave exploration – at loismanno.com.
For more information on stringer, see our video lesson Working with Stringer (subscription required).