Fire Polish the Punty Mark: A Beginner’s Experience Learning to Blow Glass
I'm naturally very curious. It doesn't take much of an excuse for me to try something new. Earlier this year, I began working with Glasscraft to support its marketing and social media efforts. It was as if a little window opened onto a whole new world of this spectacular art and sub-culture of artists creating it.
But those artists have been practicing for years. I'm definitely not an artist (though I appreciate great art of all sorts). I have the patience of a goldfish and the attention span to match, so how painful would it be for me to try to learn to do any of that? And where would I start?
The glassblowing community in Eugene, Oregon has unparalleled depth and the access to phenomenal artists is remarkable - especially when you have Dave Winship to make the ask.
My teacher is Hugh Salkind. A veteran in the glassblowing community, particularly among pipemakers in this area. In addition to running his own studio, he teaches at the Corning Museum of Glass and was the flameshop director at Eugene Glass School for years.
He's a natural teacher who shares my interest in history and science. He shared his background and that of his mentor, Bob Snodgrass, who was a founder of the glass "scene" in Eugene. I learned about different types of glass and how the glass artists have used has changed over the years. He's quite a scholar of his craft.
Then we went to the torch.
(By the way, we also been using Glasscraft's new, amazing studio and classroom space in Eugene.)
Lesson 1: Clear Marble
Hugh explained that I was using a smaller torch that he often uses for newbies because it's simpler to use. That sounded completely reasonable to me. I honestly had no idea what to expect. I didn't watch any how-to videos or prep in any way for this lesson. But I felt very comfortable following Hugh's lead.
A play-by-play of clear-marble-making is probably not the most interesting read on the internet, so I'll sum up things I learned in the first lesson:
Fire is mesmerizing in a zen kind of way.
Keeping the right part of the glass in the right part of the flame is harder than it looks.
Timing is everything and it's not all that easy to figure out the right timing when you're brand new. Thank goodness for patient teachers.
I am not ambidextrous. Ever try to tweeze hot glass nubs off the end of a marble with your non-dominant hand? Hot mess takes on a whole new meaning in this scenario.
At the end of the day, though, I made this and I couldn't have been more proud. Definitely hooked.
Lesson 2: Colored Marbles
It was abundantly clear that one lesson wasn't going to be enough. I mean Hugh teased me with showing how to make a swirly marble at the very end of the lesson, so there was no question I was coming back for round 2.
I'll just note that in lesson two I got to use the "big" torch 'cause Hugh said I "could handle it." Uh-huh. That's right.
We started with color on the outside of the clear rod to make what I will call a "stripey marble" and a "polka-dotted marble." Hey, when it's your art, you can call it whatever you want.
We started with dots - or by "striking" color. Basically poking one hot piece of glass with another. Not easy. My dots were all different shapes and sizes, which would prove to be problematic later. My polka-dotted marble ended up being more of a spotted lumpy marble that will definitely not roll off my desk thanks to its less-than-even exterior. However the problem with putting it on my desk is that is people might actually see it. We'll just never speak of it again.
The second try was to put stripes of color on a clear rod. That meant learning a new skill, making "stringers" from the color rods. A pretty sparkly blue and a deep red made for a great combo. Stripes were easier for me for sure.
Without further ado… I present stripey marble.
Lesson three promises a new challenge, I'm sure, but I'm up for it. I'll report back with how my swirly marble turns out.
Interested in learning the basics (or even more than basics)? Get in touch! We're creating a great space in Eugene and will be hosting classes soon.
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