The following is a guest blog by painter Jacquelyn Gleisner, about her first experience in glass fusing:
Last January I participated in a glass-fusing workshop at the Bullseye Glass Resource Center New York in Mamaroneck. As an artist with a background in painting, I like to seek out new avenues for creative expression. And sometimes, I crave a break from my studio practice. Trying out a new medium can add spice. A few years ago I learned firsthand that experimenting in a new field helped light the fuse within my wavering practice as an artist.
When I visited the Bullseye Glass Resource Center about an hour outside New York City in early January, James O’Neil gave me a tour. Walking past row upon row of gleaming glass rods, powders and sheets, the glass appeared glimmering and more beautiful to me than I remembered. For over a year I’ve been dabbling in ceramics, a muddy, earthy process rooted in a craft history like glass. There are overlaps between glass and ceramics, though they are distinct. Glass seemed to be ceramic’s mystical cousin, bedazzling in its range of sexy surfaces and rainbow waves of color.
I started working with ceramics during a dark chapter of my art-making career. Suffering from the artist’s equivalent of writer’s block, I tried and tried but couldn’t complete a painting to my liking for many years after I got my MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art in 2010. On a whim I signed up for a ceramics class in the fall of 2013 in Manhattan at La Mano Pottery. As a complete beginner my expectations were rightfully non-existent. Once a week I would wedge and plunge my hands into the cold clay, hoping for a cylinder to rise from a blob. After a few weeks I had made a set of bowls. My humble bowls were horribly misshapen and unbalanced, but I was very pleased. Soon after those bowls were painted, fired and finished, I started painting again. Ceramics not only helped me start working again in the studio, but it also challenged the new work that I made.
Before I started working with clay, I was not making much of anything, much less objects. In fact, I had not made very many objects before those bowls. Paintings are by nature two-dimensional. My flat paintings lived on walls, observed from a distance. I started to think about how I could make paintings that could be wild in the world. I wanted to think about my paintings as objects, too.
Moreover, ceramics felt intimate to me. Functional objects forge a special bond between the bowl or mug, for instance, and the user. When I made my first mug, I imagined how that object would be held in a person’s hand. That mug might touch a person’s lips. To the best of my knowledge, no lips have touched any of my paintings. Not yet, at least.
Glass also lends itself to intimacy. Jewelry, for example, can be created out of glass and worn in a person’s ear or on a finger. At the Bullseye Glass Resource Center, I saw examples of functional glass plates and bowls, too. When James showed me an example of a psychedelic plate that was made in the glass-patterning workshop, I knew that I could easily meld glass into my practice as an artist, which investigates the aesthetic, psychological, and social spaces of pattern and ornamentation. I signed up for the First Glass Fusing workshop the next week.
A few weeks later I donned my safety goggles and nametag in a back room lined with different types of kilns for the glass-fusing workshop. I listened as James, who had coincidentally been my helpful host, primed about fifteen students on the fundamental properties of glass. James also told us the rules for working with glass. With good humor, he showed us where the Band-Aids were.
Next James gave a demo on cutting glass. Many years ago I worked in a frame shop, where I had learned to cut glass using a diamond cutter, a tool with a tip that is actually a tiny diamond. Because of my history with carbon crystals, I was feeling confident. I was humbled when my first attempts to cut the glass were not a screaming success. So I slowed down and focused, as James and another instructor, Jamie, offered words of encouragement to the class.
After we had practiced cutting, James showed us various fused plates for inspiration. Then we were invited to feast upon what James called “the glass buffet”, a table with various sizes, colors and opacities of glass. Each person selected items from the table, which would be cut, arranged and later fused together in the kiln to create an 8″ x 8″ plate. I chose opaque black, transparent gray and a few “art glass” pieces as accents. I brought them back to my workstation and began to design my plate.
By the end of the two and a half hour workshop, my ability to cut had improved. I even completed a few cuts using my hands to break the scored pieces apart. I cut several small triangles and used pre-cut squares, which I arranged in a pinwheel design. I cleaned each piece of glass and carefully laid them on the pink pre-treated shelf for the kiln. I wrote my name on a Post-it and placed it beside my glass creation.
Before class was dismissed, James explained to us that our plates would be fired in the kiln twice. The first firing melts the glass pieces together. Then the plates are fired again in a slump mold to create the elegant, slightly curled edges. After the plates have cooled, our works of glass-fused magic are complete. I look forward to picking my plate next week and continuing to explore the world of glass. This class was my first experience working with glass, but it won’t be my last.
Editor’s Note: Jacquelyn Gleisner is a visual artist, writer, and adjunct professor who splits her time between New York and New Hampshire. Since 2011, Gleisner has been a regular contributor for three ART21 columns: “Open Enrollment,” “Praxis Makes Perfect,” and “New Kids on the Block.” She currently teaches at the New Hampshire Institute of Art. View her work at http://blog.art21.org/author/jacquelyn-gleisner/.