Imagine someone gives you eight 10×10-inch sheets of 3mm fusible glass and four bottles of glass enamel paint in the above colors and says, “Make something with this stuff. Let us know how you get on.”

What would you do?

I guess we’ll find out, ’cause Bullseye just did that with me.

By the way…my first, get-comfortable-with-enamels testing results are posted. There will be a gap of at least three weeks, possibly more, while I wait for the new kiln to arrive and go through a bit of testing.

They contacted me before the holidays, said they were starting up a beta test program for new products and would I be interested?

I’m an old hand at product testing; I think my very first experience was probably pacifier acceptance testing back in my mother’s-milk-and-onesie period. Even then, I understood that there are distinct advantages to participating in beta tests:

  • You discover new products and technologies before they hit the market
  • You get free stuff
  • Companies actually invite your opinion instead of rolling their eyes and saying “Oh boy. It’s HER. Again.”
  • You get free stuff
  • You can influence product direction in ways that benefit personkind (or at least yourself)
  • You get free stuff

So, after due consideration (about six seconds) I said, “Sure!”

Some time later, I received two incredibly well-packed boxes and a welcome letter, with instructions. The instructions say I’m to incorporate the contents of both boxes into my studio practice, take careful notes on what I’m doing and answer a few questions, then send my notes back to Bullseye, with photos, by March XX.

If I do, Bullseye will send me a $100 Bullseye gift card. Either way, I get to keep the free stuff.*

In the interests of full disclosure: Typically, I pay for everything I use in projects described in this blog, and I’m never paid for either doing the project or writing about it (unless you count ego boosts). Obviously that’s not the case here; I’m being compensated with free stuff and the promise of a gift card from Bullseye. I’m not letting that affect my opinion…but ultimately, whether Bullseye influenced my conclusions is something each reader must decide.

Now for Confession #1: I am a glassoholic. I have been known to buy so much glass it won’t all fit in the car. On top of that, I have been purchasing Bullseye glass since 1996.** That’s OMG 19 years and in that time I have explored just about every glass color Bullseye makes…except:

  • Mink
  • Driftwood Gray
  • Deco Gray
  • Elephant Gray
  • Slate Gray

There may be a few others but notice that these are greys. I don’t have anything against grey, I just don’t seem able to make art with it. Maybe it’s because I live in the Northwest and don’t crave even MORE grey. Maybe it’s because I’m the kind of person who regards orange as a neutral color. Dunno…but if you ask me to make something, don’t ask me to make it in grey.

So when I look inside Bullseye’s first beta box, I can’t help but laugh at the inventory:bebeta-inventory

carol-hottriptychConfession #2: Glass enamels and I are NOT FRIENDS. The whole rest of the glass art world uses enamels with absolutely gorgeous results.

shelby-plateMy friend Carol is a master. I DREAM about the stuff she makes with enamels, like this triptych (left) that I still haven’t forgiven her for not selling to me. It’s layers and layers of glass, frit and enamel, fired and carved and ground back and layered again until it glows with life.

I shot this picture just before its new owner came to claim it, then I went in the back and sobbed.

My friend Shelby made this plate (right) on her first try. She combined enamels and frit, used the natural edge of the hand-rolled glass, and made a plate that looks like a million bucks. My friend Brenda wrote a book about stuff like that.

humphrey-dancerMy friend Linda, well…she works enamels like I’ve never seen before.

Her dancer (left) is exactly one sheet of grey transparent glass, mostly frit and enamel decoration. The images are on both sides, reinforcing the great illusion of depth and position and dimension, and the expression on the girl’s face changes depending on your relationship to the piece and which side you’re viewing.

Every so often I just sit and marvel at it.

And then there’s my friend Valerie. Or Helen. Raphael. Rinee. Terry. Patricia. Alice. Kim. All of ’em make glass enamels get up and dance.

Me? I can’t even make them lie down and die. They go all flaky, they fade out and disappear, they turn barfy grey…anything but what the package says they ought.

So I open the other Bullseye box, and–naturally–find:

Four bottles of Color Line.
It’s European. It’s enamel. Glass enamel paint.

Please, please, PLEASE tell me you’re kidding. Bullseye couldn’t have picked products that are more NOT my usual line of work if they had sat me down and said, “Cynthia. Which of our products would you never ever ever ever EVER buy for yourself?”

“It’ll be GOOD for you,” says my friend Shelby, firmly, “It’ll get you out of your comfort zone. It’s something NEW.”

Grumble. Grumble.

“Oh, yeah, my FAVORITES!” says Carol.

She’s in on the beta testing, too, by the way. Carol could give Issey Miyake lessons in the use of grey and we already know how she uses enamels. She’ll probably win the world’s first Nobel Prize for Use of Glass Enamels on Grey Glass While Beta Testing.

“Thank you,” she’ll say modestly from the podium in Oslo, “I owe it all to those two beta test boxes I got from Bullseye.”

“I don’t know about that,” she texts, with a grinny face.

Grrrrrrrrrrr, says my inner artist, digging deeper into her hole.

 On the other hand…

What’s the fun in testing something I already know? Who better to test enamels than someone who consistently screws them up?

If I can make something decent out of this lot, isn’t that exactly the POINT of a beta test…to make sure it’s a good fit for the most inept customer (i.e., me)?

So…I’m giving myself an assignment: MAKE stuff with this stuff. Don’t just give in to temptation, i.e., slap some grey plates together and outline the edges with enamel.

DO NOT take the easy way out.

Stretch. Fail. Stretch again. Have fun.

See what happens.

OK. Here goes.

*Oh, and they also said I was more than free to write about what I was up to while I was playing around with their products. So I am.

**And no, Bullseye’s isn’t the ONLY glass I purchase. I also buy glass from Uroboros and Gaffer (primarily). Less often, I purchase from Reichenbach, Schott, PPG, and various antique stained glass manufacturers. I also purchase a fair amount of salvage float/tempered glass for a few cents per pound.

Right now probably 80% of my studio glass inventory is Bullseye. Now, I’ve nothing against Spectrum glass; I’ve used and liked it (very much, in fact) in other studios. I just don’t trust my studio practices enough to keep 90 and 96 sheet, rod, frit, stringer, or noodle inventories separate, so I only keep BE-compatible glasses in those forms. (Billet/cullet is a different matter, because I CAN keep that separated)

Why Bullseye instead of the more ubiquitous 96 (given its predominance in glassblowing and casting)? People ask me this a lot, so…since this is about a BE beta test, let’s get this out of the way as objectively as possible: 

Primarily, what sells me on Bullseye is the color palette. It’s unmatched, especially for the pate de verre artist working in ready-made fine/powder frit and most especially when you can add in the Uroboros frits (not all of them are compatible, and yes, I do test them individually).

No other palette even comes close, especially if you don’t want to crush the frit yourself. Since my primary work is done in pate de verre, I start my inventory with frit and expand to other glass forms as required…so Bullseye it is. 

There are secondary considerations, too: First, Bullseye has consistently offered me the best technical information and instruction since I started working with glass about 20 years ago, so I have the most knowledge about their glasses. Second, because of that, I’ve built up a considerable inventory of Bullseye glass over two decades. Switching to something else now would be too expensive.

Third, they’re in my town with a retail outlet and good discount program available seven days each week, which isn’t something I can say for most of their competitors…so it’s much easier to buy their products. Fourth, some small part of me does like to reward Bullseye’s support for artists with my own support (although I must admit that I haven’t been all THAT altruistic when a better product comes along).

Is Bullseye’s a perfect glass? Nope. It’s soda-lime, and soda-lime is more prone to devitrification than a leaded crystal glass. It’s harder and doesn’t take detail as well as lead crystal, either, and it’s much more of a pain in the neck to coldwork. It will never have the sheer, clear brilliance of my beloved Gaffer or Daum for transparent casting and it’s not as buttery-beautiful for pate de verre. But it’s still an amazingly flexible, wonderful glass with a lovely artistic range, and I know and love it like the back of my hand.

Except for those daggone greys.