The San Jose Glass Institute offers a “Glass Artist for a Day” workshop which I took with my mom a little over a month ago. It’s an introduction to three kinds of glasswork: glass fusing, stained glass, and torchwork.
The process is simple: cut & assemble pieces of glass, fire it once to fuse them together, and fire it again to shape it. The glass is specially made for fusing to ensure that the pieces will all melt at the same temperature; otherwise the pieces might not fuse correctly, or worse, crack or explode during the firing. Cutting the glass involves etching a guideline and then snapping or tapping against the glass to break it along that line. It takes patience, and makes me think there must be additional ways to cut the glass that must be more precise. The glass pre-firing also can look quite different than the fired look, and can turn from near-transparent to a bright solid color. I picked green & blue colors and made this little curved dish (5″x5″). The lime green parts were a bit of a surprise, but I like the result.
This was a straightforward technique for small pieces: line the edges of the glass with a special copper tape, and solder the edges together. The diamond shapes were pre-cut (the hard part!) and I picked some that would look like an optical illusion of two cubes side by side. Soldering is extremely forgiving as the flux is extremely cohesive, and mistakes laying down the flux can be corrected by reheating it.
By far the most challenging! It’s a process of slowly melting the ends of glass rods over a torch. This one was built up by melting one end into a ball, pressing it into a disc while it’s still pliable, and then attaching another rod to the end and slowly stretching and twisting it into a spiral. Imagine holding a pencil and spinning it steadily in one direction, twisting at just the right speed (not too fast, not too slow) to keep the ball from collapsing to one side and keeping it at the right distance from an open flame. And then holding a pencil in each hand and joining them into one even line (also over flame). And then twisting each end at different rates (again: over flame). Tricky! I have newfound respect for people that work with glass and torches.