The art director shook her head.”These aren’t glassy enough.”

I’d brought photos of some of the most wonderful “kilnformed” glass art in the world to illustrate her brochure on glassmaking. “These could be stone or paper or ceramic,” she said, “We need glass that looks like glass.”

Which–with a few notable exceptions–is exactly the opposite of what kilnformers do in the fine art space these days. There are many artistic reasons for it. dogwoodman500The ten-ton gorilla on the sofa, however, is this idea that transparent glass is just too pretty to be art. If you want your glass to be taken as serious art, I guess you make it look like not-glass.

Transparency is seductive. It’s why we prefer diamonds to coal, windows to walls. It’s why we save the best onomatopoeia for glassy substances: Shimmer. Crystal. Glitter. Glisten. Shine. Clarity.

Case in point: I’m preparing a lecture/demo on controlling translucency and color in glass sculpture and want to illustrate a simple concept: The viewer’s eye can be controlled by the amount of light that gets through the piece.

This is something that takes ages to explain but is visually apparent in a heartbeat, so I decide to make six identical small sculptures,* change the transparency or color in each and let them do the talking.

I’m using good ol’ DogwoodMan (for those of you who haven’t seen too much of him already, he currently lives at Guardino’s Gallery):

DogwoodMan is from my Emergents series. He has a LOT of detail, hidden features (there’s part of a face on the left), undercuts and a wide variance in thickness, perfect for this example (and other parts of that lecture).

He’s cast with a 50-50 mix of BE Light Peach Cream and BE Crystal Clear, which combine to make a lovely whipped honey color. He’ll be my balanced, mid-range example. Then I’ll cast one in solid light peach cream–which will have no light bouncing around inside and so look a bit dead.

I’ll go progressively more transparent with the next three (plus my existing guy, above) until the fifth piece is crystal clear. On that one, I’m counting on extreme loss of detail, since the eye travels out of the glass and doesn’t stick much on the surface. On the sixth, I’ll add a color variable to make the detail jump.

So….first batch out of the kiln and they’re working according to plan. I cast the crystal clear piece, pull it out of the investment and…damn.

I’m a two-year-old again, mesmerized by the pretty crystal. I want to hold it, stroke it, play with it in the light and get lost in it.

dogwoodmancrystalWith perfect transparency something primitive takes over in me and all I’m seeing is the glass. And I’m reminded that I fell in love with glass in the first place because it looks like …glass. Transparent, with a voice that overwhelms.


Not that the crystal piece doesn’t make my point–for all its gorgeosity you don’t really see the subject in that piece. I left these pieces with the photographer, who shrugged over the others but stopped and ooooooohed at the crystal clear version. Then he correctly photographed all the others but shot the crystal version sideways, with the face on top. (below) He was so busy looking through the piece that he couldn’t see it.

But who cares? As a friend said, “Yeah, I get all that, but I’d still want the clear version. I don’t care about the detail, I just like that one best.” And I’m thinking this is exactly what the audience will say–yeah, yeah we get the point…but we want the clear one.

Dumping crystal billets into a mold would be infinitely easier than carefully building layer after layer of powdered glass in a pate de verre mold. On days like this I wonder why I don’t.


*This is why the good lord invented silicone molds, because I can pop these babies out like clockwork. Of course, it’s a pretty slow clock, since I spend a few hours refining each wax after it leaves the mold, but…  😉