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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Glass Craft & Bead Expo 2011 Review


This was my first time attending the annual Glass and Bead Expo in Las Vegas.  Ever since I registered for classes in January, I had been excited about spending a few days learning more about glass.

I arrived Thursday afternoon and had time for a quick dip in the pool and relaxing in the sun. After an Italian dinner in one of South Point’s restaurants (that was surprisingly good) I attended a slide show presentation by Peter McGrain (http://petermcgrain.com). Peter briefly covered a history of stained glass, reviewed work of both amateur and professional artists that he appreciated, and ended the evening by showing some of his work. His technique of glass painting is a unique style that brings a vibrant feel to his pieces. His presentation was light-hearted and engaging, and a great way to ease into the conference. 

Friday morning was my first hands-on class. The class was entitled Mixed Metal Clay Bracelet and was taught by Arlene Mornick (http://lemordesigns.com). When I walked into the classroom, Arlene said, “Oh, you must be Dana!” 

“Wow, how did you guess?” I asked. Arlene responded that I was the only one who had signed up for the class. I offered to give her the day off (I would have understood if she had wanted to cancel), but Arlene said it would be fun and it would give her time to work on some pieces of her own. 

The class was called Mixed Metal Clay because Arlene was showing ways to combine copper and silver metal clay in a single piece of jewelry. Metal clays are typically 90-99% pure with clay filler that burns out during firing. The silver clay is very expensive, while the copper is comparatively inexpensive. There’s a challenge with combining them because the two clays are basically incompatible for firing – they will not sinter when fired and they are fired at significantly different temperatures (1200-1650 for the silver metal clay and 1778 for the copper). 

The assembled bracelet.
The construction of the bracelet consisted of five copper clay rectangles, two silver rectangles and a two-piece bar clasp. With each rectangle, Arlene encouraged the use of different textures. Some pieces had holes that were used for incorporating silver clay embellishments later. The copper pieces were formed first and then the silver – I’m sure this was not by accident.  The practice on the copper pieces was a good way to get the hang of it before starting on the more expensive silver. 

While pieces were drying or firing, Arlene talked about how to set firable stones (which I did in my bracelet), and other tips for metal clay. All told, it was a great day which left me thinking of many ideas for future jewelry pieces. For those who considered taking the class and didn’t – they missed out on a fun and informative class.

Dinner was a quick chocolate malt before running to my evening class, Impressions in Glass, taught by Nicole Lozano (http://www.glasstouch.net). Like most people I met during the weekend, Nicole is passionate about her work and her passion shined through as she presented her technique for “kiln carving” using fiber paper. Nicole discussed positive and negative space in design, and showed different completed pieces using the fiber paper technique. She then went over how to transfer a design idea onto fiber paper. With that information in mind, we were given two sheets of iridized glass and some fiber paper, and were set loose with our imagination.  It was an interesting and challenging exercise to create a design while considering the flow of glass into the empty, or cut-away, space and the recession of the glass in the fiber paper space. 

Mountains with sun. The fiber-side-down side.
Opposite side.
The pieces were fired overnight, and we picked them up the next morning. I had left the class excited about the possibilities of using this technique, but was disappointed in the results of my finished pieces. I was hoping for beautiful test pieces that were full of reflected light from the iridized glass. Obviously, these were not destined to be Chilhulys, but the glass ended up cloudy and I would consider the experiment less than successful.

The following day at the exhibit hall, I ran into Nicole. She asked for my honest opinion and so we talked about the results. There were many factors at play that may have affected the end result, including the fact that the kilns were just-out-of-the-box and had never been fired, we were packing the pieces into the kilns as closely as we could, and fiber paper and thin fire (used for covering the shelves) have filler that will burn out and cause fumes in the kiln. I will try the technique at home and hopefully achieve better results in a more controlled firing environment.

The class I took on Saturday was on mold making with Kaiser-Lee board (http://kaiserlee.com), taught by Petra Kaiser. The class was called “Two for One”. It was called this because we completed two projects – a jewelry pendant and a dimensional piece of choice (light screen, small dish or bowl, etc.). Also, the pendant was designed to be two-sided.

I found Petra to be delightful, if not feisty. Again, she is passionate about what she is doing. I was delighted to find that Petra was the author of the book “Introduction to Glass Fusing” that I used as my how-to guide when I started fusing. There were no fused glass classes in my area, and I found this book invaluable for providing easy-to-follow projects with good solid firing schedules. 

Notice the cracks on the left & right sides.
Kaiser-Lee board is a great medium to work with for creating molds. It’s easy to cut and carve with tools as simple as a putty knife and a spoon. As shown in another one of Petra’s books, “Glass Forming with the Mold Block System”, a few basic shapes can be combined in various ways to create different sizes and shapes of molds. The Kaiser-Lee board can also be used as a kiln shelf (at 1” thick it is lightweight yet sturdy). Since I was in the market for another kiln shelf and because the board offers so many possibilities for making molds, I left the class with a “six-pack” of 12x12” boards. Of course, the strength of this product – it’s “carvability” – is also its weakness. The molds are easily scratched so they have to be stored and handled carefully.

I’m still trying to figure out which of the glass gods I angered (perhaps it was my interest in metal clay), because the Kaiser-Lee board project was unsuccessful as well. When I arrived the next morning, again eager to pick up my treasure, I found that there had been a power outage the prior evening. Most of the pieces were fired only to a tack fuse, and a few of them – including mine – were not fired at all. While I was a little disappointed, I knew I could fire the piece at home. Unfortunately, when I pulled it out of the kiln today I found stress cracks. I assume they are the result of the aggressive firing schedule that Petra recommended. But, I’ll certainly give it another go (I have 6 pieces of expensive Kaiser Lee board!) and work with a more conservative schedule. And, I might sacrifice a chicken or something to the glass gods – or maybe my metal clay bracelet?

All-in-all it was a wonderful weekend that started my brain spinning in circles about the possibilities of new techniques for my glass and a new art form for jewelry. I only regret that I didn’t arrive earlier and take advantage of the full week of classes.  I’m starting now to save my pennies for next year!

Happy fusing,
Pendant: side touching KLB.
Dana (aka, the Jester)