Where to start....
I guess that I should start with how I started making this type of work. While I was studying Glass at Sheridan College, I was learning how to make blown vessels like vases, glassware, etc. and eventually how to cover their surfaces with different forms of decoration. I started to make fused panels in a glass oven called a kiln to wrap around the face of a glass form. Although these decorated forms were interesting, I always felt that the panels were more interesting on their own. Somehow, the decoration became more important than the object. The flat panels were uncomplicated by the quality of the form and I found that I was experimenting more with the panels in the kiln than the blown glass 3D object. Naturally, I stopped wrapping them around a three-dimensional form and just focused on creating the flat panels.
I started to make more complicated panels and slowly gained the confidence to let them be pieces of art on their own. One day I noticed that one portion of a panel looked different than the rest of the panel. There was always some push and pull as the glass turned to a liquid but this panel had all the tube-like forms pointing in one direction. I ran many experiments to figure out why.
The panel that started it all...
In order to experiment with different variables of the creation process, I first needed to simplify the process itself. I removed all extraneous information in an attempt to create a control group to make the resulting variables easier to identify. I did this by first removing the distraction of colour, working only within the grey tones between black and clear glass. This quickly became the foundation of how I make my work and I still make panels that are mainly monotone.
The optimal thickness for my panels is actually quite thin. My panels are about 1/4" or 6mm thick despite looking much thicker. This 1/4" is actually dictated by the glass itself. The glass that I use has a viscosity that pools at about 1/4" at the high melt temperature of around 1,650° Fahrenheit (900° C). The trick is to create a lot of visual depth in a thin space.
How it's made
I make my panels of glass by melting together pieces of glass called murrini. Let's back up a bit and tell you how those are made.
I use the same tools as a typical glassblower would to blow a vessel like a vase, a bowl, or a goblet. I gather a large amount of hot, melted glass on the end of a rod and sift on crushed, coloured glass on the surface.
Sifting on coloured glass powder.
After the surface colour has been applied and melted, I add more glass to the outside. This encases the glass and makes the tube-like forms in the final pieces have a clear area between them.
Once the colour and clear encasement are added, I get the glass super hot and stretch it into a long rod that is anywhere from 20 to 60 feet long. This long rod is then broken into smaller, more manageable lengths (called cane for those who are trying to improve their glass lingo!). These rods are put into an oven-like box and slowly cooled to room temperature so that they do not crack.
Making cane, wearing grubby studio clothes.
Once I have the cane at room temperature, I break them up into smaller lengths of anywhere from 1/4" (6mm) to sometimes as long as 2" (24 mm) but, on average, they are roughly half an inch (1cm) in length. These pieces are called murrini (you are learning so fast, you are going to kill it at your next dinner party!).
I arrange these murrini into complex patterns and gradients from light to dark on a flat, ceramic shelf to go into the kiln (an oven-like box that can go to extremely hot temperatures). I often add a focal point of colour to break up the grey tones but also to capture the attention of a viewer from a far distance. I find it easy to hold attention when viewers are looking up close but I struggle to compete with mediums like painting from a distance.
Loading murrini into a large kiln. Also wearing grubby studio clothes.
Once the murrini is on a shelf and loaded into the kiln, I program the kiln to climb to temperatures of around 1,650° Fahrenheit (900° C) and then cool slowly to room temperature so that it doesn't crack.
I then make stands for the free-standing work, sign the glass and ship it out to a gallery. Simple, right?
Below is a simplified version of the process in photographs.
Use the arrows on the side to move along or click the image to open a larger view with brief explanations right in the window.