“I’ve been dreaming about this at night,” Shelby told me excitedly, as we tripped down the stairs to my studio, “This is gonna be soooo coool!”

Right then, the joy part of making glass hit me–whap–right in the head. If you want to renew your own sense of joy and discovery in art (or probably anything else), just teach someone else to love it, too.

I’d agreed to teach an impromptu Fusing 101 class for colleagues Shelby and Carla. I do this every once in awhile, when someone in my professional life asks about my artlife, and it’s always a lot of fun. (Glassists are worse than drug pushers–five minutes around us and we’re offering you dabs of glass, getting you hooked).

Preclass, I’d pointed them to online glass catalogs and loaned them a couple of books to show them the possibilities. (Brenda Griffith and Brad Walker both have written excellent beginning kilnforming books. And, BTW, Brenda’s is on sale at Amazon for an amazing ten bucks or thereabouts–a steal.)

By the time the class rolled around last Sunday, they were eager to begin.* I explained basic glass chemistry and showed samples over lunch, and then we hit the studio.

They were new to glass, so we took it slow: LOTS of discussions on safety and studio rules (stuff like, “If the glass falls, DO NOT try to catch it”) and we practiced cutting until they were confidently scoring and breaking 2- and 3-mm sheets.

The goal for the day was simple: Make a small plate. I’d picked an 8-inch square dish, large enough to give them some design room, shallow enough to keep the pattern from distorting too much when it slumped into the mold. I gave them some basic parameters and showed them how different glass choices would affect the result.

I’d debated driving us all down to the Bullseye Resource Center and letting them buy their own glass but decided against it. I didn’t want to lock them into one or two colors before they’d had a chance to play, and the gazillions of choices might just paralyze instead of inspire.

Instead, I simply opened my glass bins and gave them carte blanche. It was the right decision (thank you, Bullseye, Uroboros, for all those “any glass you need, you can use” classes and events).

Big bonus: Letting them dig through the bins gave me a wonderful lesson in design approaches and user behavior….and gave me some ideas for color combinations I might not have picked on my own.

Interestingly, they wound up with almost exactly the same color palettes, although their design approaches were radically different. Shelby interpreted the colors she’d seen in her favorite photo of Giverny (where Monet painted all those water lilies).

Carla experimented with combining shapes and types of glass, almost like making a sampler. She dove into the dichroic and irid with abandon, while Shelby returned again and again to her inspiration photograph and carefully matched colors.

And I found myself sucked into the joy of their discovery. I think sometimes that we forget how wonderful it is to find a new artform, and how thrilling it can be when we don’t know what to expect. The lack of experience is curiously freeing.

Of course, my beloved casting is about as far from that kind of spontaneity as you can get. If you don’t want exploded molds, you test and experiment, build a color palette, try and fail and sample and remake. Actually finishing a sculpture is almost an anticlimax.

It’s absolutely necessary if I want successful outcomes…but maybe I’m going too far, being TOO careful. Maybe I need to regain some of the playful spontaneity I saw in Shelby and Carla.

And you know what? My most successful sculptures, i.e., the ones that seem to make an emotional connection that sticks in the mind, were the least planned and generally the fastest out the door. The self-portrait that, start to finish, took less than a week. The swirling crystal mass which went from unformed clay to cooking in the kiln in less than six hours.

I didn’t think about making those, I didn’t build a test plan, I didn’t revise and rebuild and refine. I just…did it.

The stuff that took months of planning, testing and building? Impressive, certainly better technically, but to be honest, even I don’t have the same emotional connection to those pieces that I do to the quick ones.

I’m not quite sure why that is–maybe it’s as simple as I don’t let the left side of my brain get in the way when I’m working fast. “Write fast, edit slow” has been hugely successful for me as a writer, so maybe the same thing applies with sculpture.

Hmmm. Teaching newcomers appears to have a side benefit I hadn’t counted on: It’s reminding me that playing, joyful discovery, and spontaneity are critical to successful making.

Carla and Shelby finished their plates; they look good. I’ll fuse them, do a little coldworking and hopefully get the plates slumped and finished by the weekend. And my pupils eagerly asked when we could have the NEXT class.

Anytime, guys. It seems I have a LOT to learn.


*Plus, spurred by the desire not to look like a COMPLETE SLOB in front of business colleagues, I actually CLEANED MY STUDIO!!!** Finally. Amazing how much easier it is to work when you don’t need crampons and a rope to find your worktable.

**Actually, I only cleaned up the little studio and the adjacent laundry room. The big studio (i.e., the garage where I do my casting), still looks like a hurricane dancing with an earthquake. If I can get a couple of people over for a Casting 101 class, maybe I’ll clean that, too.