Get back to work

(petting crystal)

I’m SUPPOSED to be working. Instead, I’m petting crystal, which either means I’m a glassist who’s finally gone over the edge…or that the nice delivery man just dropped off a big honkin’ shipment of Gaffer lead crystal.

Lordee, these billets are gorgeous. How could you possibly chop them up?

I’m gearing up for two months of nearly constant firing in about three different kilns, probably 250 pounds of lead crystal and soda-lime glass. I’ll pick up the soda-lime locally, over the next week or so, but the Gaffer has to be flown in from New Zealand (via Seattle) so I ordered early to make sure it got here on time.

The day the Gaffer arrives is always a holiday. Since I’m human, I take an hour or three out to pet the glass, try it at different angles of light, and photograph it, endlessly.

I’m resisting getting out the big cameras and lenses and studio lights. I’ve got too much to do.

Now, I can get down on Gaffer for not providing enough technical information. I can fuss at them for not making paler tints of some absolutely stunning colors (Pale Lagoon and Pale Copper Blue, which get awfully dark at more than three or four inches thick, come to mind).

I can grit my teeth at trying to get the glass cutter to stay on track when I’m scoring the stuff. Growl when I have to deal with that damn slick-smooth roundness that slides all over the kiln when you’re loading the mold.

But boy, Gaffer knew what they were doing when they made cabochon billets. There’s a reason the first shaped gemstones were cabochons (besides the fact that nobody knew how to facet yet): Nothing, but nothing, shows off the beautiful transparency as well as a deeply, crystalline roundness.

You could stick Gaffer billets on a pedestal, call ’em art and they’d probably sell. I give them as presents and call ’em paperweights. People love them. I loaned (LOANED) a couple of Semillons to my mom, to stick in the sun and admire. She won’t give them back.

OTOH, paperweights are all I’ll have if I don’t get back down to the studio and finish up those mothermolds and waxes. They’re not going to make themselves, ya know…

I never get this worked up over raw materials for pate de verre; powdered glass just isn’t that arresting unless you’re a pastry chef or just deeply into powdered sugar. But transparent billets? The time I save dumping billets into a reservoir instead of carefully packing powder layers into the mold is probably lost with all this glasspetting. There must be a name for my fascination with this stuff.

Vitreophily, maybe?



  1. cynthia April 8, 2010 at 10:29 am - Reply

    Not a dumb question at all. They’re NOT compatible–for one thing, they each have a different coefficient of expansion and they would fight each other in the mold. The piece would almost certainly crack. So I don’t mix manufacturers’ casting glasses in the same mold; I only use one brand of glass in each piece.

    No single manufacturer has a complete color palette, however, and unlike frit or powdered glass, it’s difficult to mix your own colors. So when I’m choosing transparent casting billets, my decision is almost always based on which manufacturer has the color(s) I need. For this show I needed every blue, green or aqua I could find, so I worked with all three manufacturers.

  2. Ana Paula April 8, 2010 at 10:16 am - Reply

    Hi Cynthia,

    I have a probably very stupid question about your castings. In the end you talk about having Bulleyes, gaffer and Uroboros to use. Are they all compatible? Do you have to test them before each piece?

  3. Peter Cummings February 21, 2010 at 11:39 pm - Reply

    There’s some beatiful lead crystal made for casting here, Blackwood, and I met the maker a while ago. There’s no one blowing it, and I probably need to make something myself, and cold work it, because it would be so so good for intaglio engraving. I don’t have time to learn casting so I think I’ll end up using the cullet if I can get it, and as you drool over that raw material I’m day dreaming those sparkling crystals.

  4. cynthia February 22, 2010 at 12:12 am - Reply

    Yum, Peter. I keep wanting to try Blackwood, but as far as I know it’s not sold in the US. I just talked with a guy this weekend about Reichenbach; apparently they’ll make small lots of 45% lead crystal in custom colors, which may be exactly what I need for a project that’s been bugging me for awhile. He showed me a true purple they’d done for him, completely, utterly stunning grape juice color without a hint of grey or brown. I think what I could do with THAT color and…wow. I’ve heard nasty things about surprises you can get casting Reichenbach, though, so we’ll see.

    But yeah…for about 12 hours this week I had maybe 250 pounds of billets from Gaffer, Bullseye and Uroboros sitting on my office floor in the sun. Pretty glorious.

    Jerry, yeah…we’ll have to see what we come up with for water… I tend to just like warmer colors to begin with, I’m a sucker for oranges and bronzes (as you can see by this blog)…but these blues are converting me.

  5. Jerry Jensen February 19, 2010 at 11:09 am - Reply

    Its odd that blue should be so conrtaversial a gallery owner once told me that the mix of background color had too much blue and that would be harder to sell. I still don’t see the difficulty. Lately I have been focused on water patterns and the results are stunning. Color density can be a bit of a concern but that is just knowing the glass and working thick. We’ll have to share water ideas.

  6. cynthia February 18, 2010 at 1:51 pm - Reply

    Hey, Julia. You know what’s odd–I’ve sort of sneered at making a lot of stuff in blue, probably because my mom’s always told me about ceramic maxim: If you want to sell it, make it blue. A “serious” ceramic artist, therefore, NEVER uses blue.

    Never thought about it until this show, but it seems I use warm colors or neutrals most of the time. Of the 7K or so color test samples I have, only maybe 60 are blue or green (and since warm-colored glass is notoriously more difficult to use than cool colors, it figures). But the gallery owner specifically asked for “water” pieces like the only one I’ve done with blues in maybe the last six years. I’ve been having a ball having to actually THINK about water and its actions and colors and translate that into what I do. And now that I’m piling up all these sea-colored billets, I’m beginning to see why customers buy blue–you can’t take your eyes off the stuff.

  7. Julia February 18, 2010 at 10:44 am - Reply

    With these beautiful colors I can see why you would have a hard time getting back to work! After seeing the samples you have at your house I’ve been tempted to order some even though I haven’t yet gotten bitten by the casting bug.

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