By: Danielle Kearns
Let's talk about glass, baby! A few weeks back, we did a blog on bottle slumping -- an option that is available for glass fusing here in the studio. You can read all about that here. But there's a lot more available in terms of glass. Most notably, draping and slumping. Both options will allow the glass creation to take on a shape that will slowly melt in the kiln to create a fold or curve to the edges. But before I go there, let me break down where it all begins.
Glass fusing might be a term that confuses some. It most often get confused for glass blowing or stained glass, but glass fusing is a little bit different. It is an art form that basically means you do the arrangement of glass and the kiln does the fusing for you. We teach you how to (safely) cut and assemble glass in the forms of scrap, pebbles, frit, or rods. These will all go on a base tile, which will ultimately determine the final piece's shape. Your job is to create a visual you like by arranging the glass fragments and keeping them attached to the glass base using either hair spray or school glue, believe it or not.
The glass will then go into the kiln for its first load. This round will actually be the fusing step where the top layers will melt and adhere to the bottom base, ultimately "fusing" your piece as one. For many, this may create the final project. This is perfect for sun catchers, wall hangings, night lights, coasters -- or really anything that can be flat. But if you want to make things a little more interesting, you can opt to have your glass shaped. This requires a second go around in the kiln where a mold will be used to achieve that shape.
A slump is the most basic. It uses a mold in where the glass will be laid and the kiln will do all the work. The temperature is the perfect rate where the glass will take the shape of the mold, creating subtle, smooth curved edges. This allows the piece to be slightly more functional in your house -- this a soap dish, appetizer dish, or even a catch all. The "slump" technique is also how we achieve those bottle slumps everyone loves.
A drape makes for a more exaggerated shape. In this process, the glass is put on a mold that resembles an upside down tumbler. The glass will then melt down in the kiln, creating more dramatic edges. This sort of piece is most often used to create a candle holder. The final form will never be exactly the same every time and the weight of the piece will play a part. Check out the rainbow glass in the photos below to see the crazy curves that came from this drape.
Want to know more about glass fusing? Send your questions to us in the comments section below and we'll be sure to answer them. Glass workshops are live on our website. Register for them here.
You heard it here first! Glass fusing will only be available at our West Hartford location for a couple more months. During the holiday season, glass fusing will move to The Firestone, our new sister studio in Manchester and will no longer be available on a walk-in basis at The Claypen.
By: Danielle Kearns
It's not always just mugs though...
Videos By: Sophia Dzialo
By: Danielle Kearns
So now it’s time to actually load the kiln. Good thing I had a hankering for Tetris in college. Those skills are definitely coming through for me now. In order to keep up with the many events, classes, workshops, and painters we get on a daily basis, we are almost always running a kiln in the back of the studio. We have 2 on site, which is why it's always so warm and cozy. Items take priority based on due date, since we give a one week turn around time. We also have to take size into consideration, though, because like-size pieces fit better together on the same shelves. Here's a little more about how all that works.
The largest pieces go in first. It is always easiest to put the tallest, bulkiest pieces at the bottom of the kiln and work around them. You can't just put them straight down, mind you. You need to put them on stilts to ensure they will not stick to the shelf. This is a whole bunch of terminology that probably makes no sense to someone who hasn't seen it before, but it goes something like this. Stilts come in all different sizes, but are made out a combination of ceramic and metal prongs. Not only do they avoid the piece to stick, but they allow air to circulate around and up the piece so both the inside and outside will be fired evenly, including the interiors. That is immensely important when it comes to something you'll be using day in and day out in your kitchen. Each and every item is positioned on a stilt that is size appropriate.
Step Two: Wiggle Test
You read that right. Once the pieces are stilted, you must make sure they are stable. We tap and wiggle each piece to make sure they are firmly on the stilt and not in danger of touching any other pieces. Items will shake and rattle in the kiln naturally due to the extreme temperatures, so we do our best to ensure they all have room to groove. Should the items tap or touch, that could result in them fusing together, which is a problem we try to avoid at all costs.
Step Three: Building Up
We utilize every space, nook, and cranny we can on each level, but we also get to determine how tall each level can be by building them to our needs. We do this by adding kiln posts around the edges at varying heights. Posts range from 1 to 12 inches long and can be stacked to make unique heights. A shelf balances on these posts to create the levels. We then start the Tetris game again on this next level and do it all again, building as high as we can towards the lid without touching it.
Step Four: Close Her Up
The top comes down, latched, and plugs put in. The plugs will fit into the peepholes that run down the middle of the kiln. These need to be filled during the firing process to trap the heat and ensure even heating throughout the cylinder. We make sure all the levels are set for firing and hit Start. We have an electric kiln, so the rest is mostly a waiting game. We have a digital read of the inner temperature, which peaks at around 1800 degrees.
Step Five: Firing
It takes a few hours for the kiln to reach its highest temperature. That is also dependent on how packed the kiln is. The more crowded it is, the longer it will take to get to temp. A lighter kiln might finish quicker. On average, the kiln will be closed and do its thing for 12-18 hours. We sometimes get calls asking if we can take a peak inside and see if someone's piece is in there, but by cracking the lid open prematurely, not only could you burn yourself, but you risk cracking and ruining all of the other pieces int here. During our peak season, that could be over 100 different holiday gifts that all crack down the middle, so we never open the kiln before it's time. (We know, it'd be a lot easier if you could open it like an oven door, but that's just not how the technology works.)
Step Six: Cool Down
It will take many hours for the kiln to come down in temperature so that we can unload it. We do our part to further this process naturally, but only once it's to a manageable temperature. We open the kiln's lid at 150 degrees, so it's still plenty hot in there, but cool enough to take out with heat resistant gloves. We go layer by layer, taking the stilts off each individual item, and put them on our work shelves to cool at room temperature.
Step Seven: Dremel + Spot Check
The unfortunate, but unavoidable, side effect of stilts are sometimes sharp indentations on the bottom of the piece. We dremel these down by hand for any piece that might have them. During this process, we also evaluate the piece for imperfections from the firing process. For instance -- cracks, blemishes, fusing, crawling, or shivering. If the piece is to our satisfaction, it travels to our pick-up shelves, which are organized by style and type. If they are from a party, they'll be individually wrapped for your convenience.
There are always parts moving in the front, as well as the back of the house to get things out to you on time and without imperfections. We do our best, and we hope you see the time and attention we put into your items.
By: Danielle Kearns
I am fairly new to the pottery world, so learning the ins and outs of the clay business was a total learning curve for me. We get asked all the time, “Why does it take a week to get my pottery back?” I wouldn’t have really understood myself if I hadn’t just recently been trained in it. So I figured I could give a little step-by-step tutorial of how it all works and the TLC each piece receives right here, in house, from our Studio Associates and Custom Artists.
Step One: You paint!
Obviously, each piece is painted to be uniquely your own. When visiting us, you pick and paint your piece in our cozy studio. Most people paint using our “Fun Strokes!” undercoat glazes. These are our solid colors, of which we have over 70! We also offer specialty glazes, which will fire in the kiln differently from the Fun Strokes, and will create a more complex, multi-layered color scheme. Some folk choose to have extra details or wording added to their piece, which can only be done by our talented Custom Artists, so those will wait on special shelves for their expertise hands.
Step Two: Drying
Each piece painted gets organized on the back shelves by day. These items need to dry for a full 24 hours to allow the paint to dry fully and set.
Step Three: Glaze Prep
We glaze on an almost daily basis. Each of our Studio Associates are trained in the process, which is an art form in and of itself. We use a clear glaze, which is combined with distilled water in a large tub. The mixture is blended (thoroughly) with a power drill and the largest whisk you’ve ever seen. The glaze’s viscosity is then tested using a special viscosity cup. At this point, we make sure our glaze is primed for the best results possible.
Step Four: Time to Glaze
The majority of our items are hand dipped into this mixture… twice! We attempt to coat as much surface area as possible the first go around. The items are then shaken vigorously to allow the excess glaze to drip off and create a smooth layer. We also use synthetic sponges and fan brushes to dab at the glaze to ensure it doesn’t pool or drip in any one area. It is a long process, and one that requires a lot of patience and focus to detail. After all of the shelves have been half dipped and partially dried, we go back to the beginning and do it all over again, this time dipping the other end of the piece and ensuring the names on each piece are preserved. This is so important to make sure you get your same piece back later.
Step Five: Spot Check
Now, everything should have a complete layer of glaze on it. It almost looks like everything on the shelf is mummified and there is no more color visible. Everything has turned a chalky white color, and the original colors are now seemingly hidden. At this point, we check each item to make sure there are no lumps, bumps, or imperfections. If we see any blemishes, like glaze drying in a funky way or drip marks, we go back and finger sand each item to make them as smooth as possible. Any items that were painted with speciality glaze are "tagged," as those are not glazed in the same way.
Step Six: More Drying
That’s right! Even the glaze needs 24 hours to dry. The shelves will be filled with these items that are prepped and awaiting the kiln, still organized by day, and now also organized by sizes to make the loading process more efficient.
Why Do We Glaze?
Think of glaze like the clear nail polish for your pottery. It is the finishing touch to make everything shiny, special, and bright. It allows anything left unpainted to become a natural white. It is also the thing that makes your piece food-grade safe at the end of the day! One of our biggest sellers at the claypen is kitchenware. It would really be a shame if you made these awesome creations and couldn’t actually use them!
Stay tuned for next week to learn a little more about how we load the kiln and bring these pieces to the finish line. There's a lot more to it than just paint and pick up.
Danielle is a CT native, She started at the claypen in 2018 as a Studio Associate and quickly became a Team Lead and our resident blogger on staff. Her previous experience includes teaching, writing, and photography. You can find her on Instagram and LinkedIn or reach out with questions via email.