Fresh-from-the-kiln color samples (well, I coldworked them a bit) These are mostly earthtone pate de verre shades I’m testing for a client.

The reward for patiently, carefully weighing and mixing and packing frit into little plaster cells, then documenting the result? You get to play with blocks (right).

Those of you who’ve been to the studio know my obsession with color tests and frit mixtures. I have LOTS of these little things.

The cool thing about frit is that it can hide or show the true nature of the glass. In sheet or rod or cast form, black glass looks, well, black. Stretch it thiiiiiiiiin, though, or cut it with enough clear…and you get dark violet.

Baby-poop brown (NOT my term, a friend calls it that) makes one of the most beautiful clear saffrons, dark blues dilute to periwinkle, etc. And the only way you’re gonna know this stuff is to test it.

20090831-rcc134 of the samples in the above picture were made with about eight colors of frit. (The 35th, the little blue tile at bottom left, is a Gaffer lead crystal sample I needed to test for another project.)

I once tried to build a full catalog of readily available tints but it seemed to be a never-ending battle, and after awhile I just gave up.

It seemed as though every time I’d think I’d nailed one color of glass another permutation would pop into my brain. At 7K plus samples, I hadn’t even started the blues yet.

Finally, one day I sat down and figured out how many combinations I should test:

  • Total number of Bullseye glass frit colors: 109
  • Total number of Bullseye frit sizes available: 109 x 4 + 1 (Extra coarse clear) = 437
  • Standard frit tint test panel: 10 tints (0%, 1%, 5%, 10%, 15%, 20%, 25%, 50%, 75%, 100%)
  • Total number of standard BE single color frit tints possible: (437 X 10) ^ 108 = 1.5e+285

20090831-ncc5Uhm, that’s a really big number.

Bigger even than the US deficit. Add in all the possibilities from an additional 241 Uroboros 90 frits, and the calculators stop giving me numbers.

Let’s just call it “a whole bunch.”

Realistically, of course, not all these combinations will produce tints that can be distinguished by the human eye. Some of them will be splotch-on-splotch instead of true frit tints. Many will react with each other to produce the same sludgy brown, grey or black.

Too many involve opal on opal, which cuts translucency to zero in pate de verre and makes the piece look painted. Or the resulting colors are just frankly ugly or really, really blah.*

20090831-ncc2In fact, maybe less than a tenth are what I’d call “practical tints,” i.e., combinations worth pursuing for my pate de verre.

A tenth of “a whole bunch” is still a lot. And that’s only for single-color tints.

Now add in tints that involve three or more colors of frit, which is mostly what I use, and the possibility count becomes “a whole bunch plus a whole bunch more plus a whole bunch more than THAT.” Worse, whenever I have a solid color field I tend to “drift” the color, i.e., combine lashings of pure color with frit tints in layers, to add depth and interest.

So if I do nothing but make color tests constantly, keep four kilns going without stopping, until I’m 98…I probably STILL won’t get to the blues.

Well, at least now I don’t feel like such a slacker.

20090831-ect1samplemonumentI have modified my sample shape, at least. A year or so ago I abandoned the classic wedges and ice cubes that most casters use for samples and instead have opted to make flat tiles with texture like the ones shown here.

I find they’re better for visualizing how the color will look in a real piece, and the changes in thickness give you an idea of what some depth will do to the shading. They also let you play with surface finishes–firepolish gloss on the smooth back, coldworked, velvety smooth fronts.

The results are infinitely more satisfying on many, many levels. I like looking at them, handling them, arranging and rearranging them, checking the way the light passes (or doesn’t pass) through them. I’ve also noticed other people enjoy playing with them, too–one neighbor plunged up to her elbows in color samples last week, saying “They just feel so good.” (One tried stringing the Warm Peach sample on a chain as a pendant. It was way too big and heavy but I got the impulse.)

So…I’m working on ways to exploit that. In the meantime, I need to get these things up on the wall because honestly, I think they look good just massed like that. I’m gonna get them mounted, maybe even make up sets for sale. We’ll see.


*I was politely chastised for accusing Dense White of producing tints that were “nasty” and “dead-looking.” It does that for me, despite the rest of the world’s ability to use it to make ethereally dreamy pieces I love.

Of course, in my youth I was also clobbered for telling a doting mother that I wanted to photograph her toddler because he was so ugly he was adorable. I have since developed slightly more tact, but apparently only for people’s children, homes and small animals. When it comes to peoples’ glass, I’m apparently as brutally honest as ever.