Monday, December 30, 2013

An Interview With Our Glass Artisan

For this last blog post of 2013, Annake presents an interview with our very talented glass artisan...

How and when did you get started working with glass?
 I've been working with glass for about ten years. When I retired from the health care profession, I wanted to do something different -- something that was really fun to do. I'd always been fascinated with glass. As you can see, I have collected quite a bit of it over the years. I love the way the light moves through it.

You work with both stained glass and fused glass, don't you? 
 “Stained” glass is a misnomer. What I work with is art glass. It comes in sheets of various colors and textures. It can be cut to pattern shapes, which are then framed with metal strips that are soldered together.

Artisan cutting glass
Artisan cutting glass in her studio
How do you cut the glass?
I score it along the pattern lines. I try to make a deep, even cut in the surface of the glass. Putting pressure on both sides of the of the scored line causes a break to form and spread along the scoring. If I'm lucky, the glass breaks cleanly and I can proceed to the next step.

And if you're not lucky?
Then I have to try again. I have a whole drawer full of “bad breaks”, as well as of bad ideas that seemed fine in theory but didn't work out in practice. That drawer keeps me humble!

What is the hardest thing about working with art glass?
For me, probably the soldering. Soldering is not my greatest skill. Also, art glass is very hard to cut. I don't work as much with it lately because I have had some trouble with my hand strength. (She indicates a soft brace on her right hand.)
Artisan with art glass
Artisan with art glass
 What kinds of things do you make from art glass?
Pictures, suncatchers, lampshades, wind chimes. Right now I'm working on an abstract sculpture in red, white, and blue.

How does working with fused glass differ from working with art glass?
Fusing glass is much softer than art glass; therefore, it is much easier to cut. It is much less restrictive, too. I put the pieces of glass together the way I want them and let the kiln do the work. You can fire the glass over and over to add or change elements to get the effect you want. It is much more “forgiving” than art glass. I like working with crushed glass and ground glass, called fritt.  Fritt comes in many colors and in sizes all the way from powder to coarse chunks.

Designing a fused glass piece
Designing a fused glass piece
What kinds of things do you make from fusing glass?
Jewelry, all kinds of bowls and dishes, trays, coasters, Christmas ornaments.

Do you use moulds for some of the work?
Yes. You can use moulds made from any kind of ceramic (bisque-fired) clay. Commercial kitchen equipment suppliers are a good source of metal moulds. These moulds have to be sprayed with a releasing compound so that the glass separates cleanly from the mould. First you heat the glass to a very high temperature. Then you soften it just enough so that it sags (called “slumping”) into the mould. Even if you have fired a piece of glass before, however, you can't be sure how it will come out in the next firing. If I'm not satisfied with the piece, I would rather break it up, melt it, and use it in something new rather than trying to “fix” it.

Blue fused glass dish
Blue fused glass dish, available in our Etsy shop
Where do you get your materials?
I order a lot of it online. I also visit shops that sell glasswork and browse thrift stores and yard sales. I sometimes find pieces of beautiful antique glass that way. I may be called upon to repair a piece of heirloom glass, so I like to have a supply of antique glass on hand. That is not to say that some of those pieces don't become part of my collection. Interestingly, people often just give me glass items.

Is there a modern material that you particularly like?
Yes, dichroic glass. It was developed by the space program. It has both reflective and refractive properties at the same time.

Adjusting the fused glass design
Adjusting the fused glass design
How do you get the ideas and inspirations for your projects?
I have a lot of books and magazine articles on the subject. More and more, however, I prefer to create my own designs and get my ideas from my own observations and environment. If I don't have an idea in mind, I lay out pieces of glass on my workbench, including ones from my “humble” drawer. Working from the outside inward, I arrange and rearrange the pieces, until they begin to “speak” to me. The design evolves from the materials themselves.

That's very interesting. If you read the interviews with our natural-stone jeweler and our quilt-maker (July 1, 2013 and August 16, 2013) , you will find comments along those same lines.
Sometimes it seems that the glass has a mind of its own and simply decides what it wants to be.
I've learned the hard way that fighting it doesn't work.

What is the most satisfying thing about your work?
Teaching. I teach classes in both kinds of glass. A few months ago I taught a class of grandmothers and their grandchildren who were here visiting for the summer. It was fun to watch the two generations interacting with and inspiring each other. It was a delight to see their faces when they came to pick up their pieces that had come out of the kiln. They were so enthusiastic and happy about their work.

Orange fused glass dish
Orange swirl fused glass dish, from our Etsy shop
Is there anything you don't like about the work?
I don't like mass production. I want to make one-of-a-kind pieces or limited sets. Sometimes I have to do production work, but I'll tell you there is a lot of grumbling involved.

You can see some of our artisan's Christmas ornaments in our after-Christmas sale and her other pieces elsewhere in our Etsy shop.

Have a great New Year!

fused glass Christmas ornaments
Fused glass gingerbread Christmas ornaments

  Creative Commons LicenseThis post by Annake's Garden is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Perky 'Possum Puppet

Little Pink Pig Puppet
Annake with the Little Pink Pig Puppet
'Tis the season ... for craft shows and Christmas bazaars. We have been doing our share of them. The hand puppets are always a popular item. I've been pleased with the number of people who have come up to me to say they enjoyed the story behind the little pink pig. If you have read that blog, (April 17, 2013), you know how I got into making puppets in the first place. I'd always done realistic art work, so making the caricatures that were necessary for a child's puppets was hard for me at first. I wanted to put in too much detail. My class members, who were making most of the puppets, soon convinced me that this was both unnecessary and undesirable!

Fox Puppet, Front View
Red Fox Puppet, Front View
The more I worked with the designs, however, the more I enjoyed the cartooning process. Now I design and make puppets for my own enjoyment as much as for that of the children who will eventually receive them. I especially enjoy making animal puppets and giving them “personalities” of their own. They're one of the few items I make more than once. Even then, no two versions of an animal turn out to be exactly alike. For some time I've wanted to make a perky 'possum puppet. (Say that out loud five times quickly!) Let me share the process with you.

Fox Puppet, Back View
Fox Puppet, Back View, showing tail
The most important part of a hand puppet's design is the face. The bodies are pretty standard for animals with paws or hooves, but need to be modified for ones with wings or flippers. I try to make the backs of the puppets interesting, paying particular attention to their tails. The first thing I do is cut out two stock bodies, a front and a back., from the appropriate color of felt --- gray, in this case. The back of the 'possum's body is medium gray and the front is light gray. These pieces have a “wrong” and a “right” side since I adjust the patterns for the fact that a hand's thumb and little finger are joined to the hand at slightly different levels. I have small hands, so a puppet that fits me will work for most children, although it is sometimes necessary to pad the tips of the puppet's “arms” with cotton or fiberfill for very small hands.

Possum Face Sketch
Possum Face Sketch
I make a cartoon sketch of the animal's head, using colored pencils that approximate the colors of felt that I plan to use. Once I have the basic features and have captured the expression that I want, I trace the outline of the head, cut it out, and place it over the front of the body. Sometimes the sketch is too large or too small and has to be adjusted for size. Or I may have to make some small changes so that the left and right sides match. When I'm satisfied with the head shape, I make a new pattern out of a heavier, more durable paper and cut one out of felt. I place one on the front of the body to decide how far it should overlap the “neck” of the puppet, pinning the head in place. I make a second paper pattern for the back of the head, leaving off the “chin” or “muzzle” and rounding off the back of the head where it will overlap the neck in a gentle curve. I cut out the felt for the back of the head and turn it and the back of the body over.

Possum Body and Head Pieces
Possum Body and Head Pieces
I match the front and back, wrong sides together, adjusting until they fit exactly. The back is now ready to be sewn together. I mark the position of the head on the front of the body with a couple of small pins. Then I remove the head so that I can put on all the facial features. Some of these are sewn on in layers, while others are drawn with permanent markers.

I wanted my puppet to be a mother opossum with some babies. When I was in college, someone brought our biology class a female opossum that had been hit by a car. There was nothing we could do to save her life, but six of the babies in her pouch were alive and apparently unharmed. Working in shifts around the clock, we fed them with doll's bottles and carried them in our pockets to keep them warm. They gripped our fingers with their tough little tails and dangled underneath our hands. Eventually they were weaned onto solid food and we were able to release them into the wild.

Possum Puppet Pouch Detail
Possum Puppet Pouch Detail
A mother opossum's pouch is a slit that runs along her belly from front to back, with babies tucked in on both sides. If I were making a stuffed animal, I would make it that way, put in a zipper, and stuff it with babies. This wouldn't work for my 'possum puppet, however. So I made a side-to-side pouch like that of a mother kangaroo (another marsupial). When making puppets, I sometimes have to take liberties with Nature.

Possum Puppet Tail Detail
Possum Puppet Tail Detail
I try to avoid having loose parts on my puppets that a small child might pull off and swallow. That's why I don't use buttons, beads, ball fringe, sequins, etc. Therefore, I chose to applique the “babies” to the mother's body rather than having them loose in her pocket. On the back, I added a long tail for the mother and appliqued a single baby hanging from it. Up to this point, all sewing was done by hand. The two halves of the puppet were sewn together by machine and the head was stuffed lightly with fiberfill.

Opossums are not particularly intelligent, or even attractive, but they are survivors. They have been around much longer than we have, spreading from their original home in South America throughout the United States and well into Canada by now. As scavengers, they are a part of Nature's clean-up crew. I hope this new puppet will help children learn to respect them as much as they do the more “cuddly” creatures. They all have their parts to play in the great scheme of things.

Season's Greetings,


Finished Possum Puppet
Finished Possum Puppet, Front and Back Views

 Creative Commons LicenseThis post by Annake's Garden is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.