First Fusing

The Studio and the Man

This was my first visit to Rainbow Glass Studios, run by Richard Paton. It is essentially located in a shipping container in a cul-de-sac just past St Mary’s church in Stoke Newington. You know you are getting close as all the local businesses have beautiful glass trading signs swinging in the breeze on the high street leading towards it.

I can’t quite describe how pleasing the inside of the studio is. It is tiny and chock full with stuff, from samples of Richard’s work, to boxes of glass/glazes/stains/soldering/cutting tools, to student projects, to books, to shelves of slumping moulds. There are huge work benches and a variety of kilns, electric and gas, including a huge table-top style electric kiln for bulk firings or large pieces. Everything is so neat and orderly and thematically arranged it made by toes tingle a little bit my looking at it. It was like workshop Mecca. Here are a couple of pictures to give you the idea, poached from Richard’s website (his copyright).

enamel-jewellery15 workshop2 workshop4

Richard is a commerical glass artist and his studio facilities enables hims to fuse glass, paint, stain & enamel, acid etch, sandblast, engrave, brilliant cut and lead work using the traditional methods. He also has a restoration workstream.

Richard himself is a consumate artist and craftsman. He does everything with practiced ease and clearly has an absolute vocation. He is also an excellent teacher, patient, knowledgable and very supportive. His portfolio is also hugely impressive with large scale installations to commissions from the likes of Damien Hirst with the gorgeous butterfly and crystal skull pieces.

DH20 DH33

[Don’t own; see artist’s website/Rainbow Glass Studios for more information]

In short, cannot recommend enough.


Fusing

Glass fusing is a fairly ancient process, pretty much coexistent with the ability to melt metals. Some of the earliest examples are from ancient Egyptian, known as faience ware (c. 6 and 7 thousand years ago).

Ancient Egypt, Dish, ca. 1390–1353 BCE. Mosaic glass, width: 4 1/8" (10.5 cm). © Brooklyn Museum. (BMA-5261)

Ancient Egypt, Dish, ca. 1390–1353 BCE. Mosaic glass, width: 4 1/8″ (10.5 cm). © Brooklyn Museum. (BMA-5261)

Originally the glass was used as a glaze, but as time progressed it became a free-form medium.  Fusing was rediscovered as a technique in the ’60s when glass was mass-produced with homogenous/compatible expansion and shrinkage rates at the same firing temperature to ensure the glass would melt and re-solidify at exactly the same rate in the kiln, bonding it together.

In modern times fusing glass was rediscovered in the USA  in the 1960′s where developments led to compatible glass sheets being mass produced enabling small stained glass studios to make artistic decorative fused glass. The principal modern manufacturers of fusible glass are Spectrum and Bullseye, which can be purchased in a variety of colours from online retailers.


When fusing you think of the process like a sandwich. Assuming all glass ‘wishes’ to be c.6mm thick (two sheets of glass) and will expand or contract in the kiln to achieve this thickness, you can estimate what your finished piece will look like.

– Layering

Essentially you want to layer two pieces of glass, perhaps one clear and one coloured and that will be roughly your finished product.

Top

The top layer, however, does not have to be continous and can be an amalgam of different shapes and colours.

You can also play around with transparencies, layering opaques and transcluscents.  You can put stringers and frit (rods or shards of glass) onto the surface in patterns which will sink into the top layer and form part of your surface design.

Bottom

You can also make impressions on the bottom using fibre mat or fibre paper. This is a fibre cloth of varting thickness which burns away and leaves an impression in the base of your piece, which will catch and refract the light in such away as to reveal the hidden impression below. This technique is more effective with paler/more transparent colours.

Inclusions

This can be anything you insert between the two layers of glass, which will become trapped in the middle once the top layer melts. Inclusions can be metal strips, gold flakes, glass pen drawings, frit, oxides to produces washes and bubble effects.


I decided to make a large circular shallow bowl and some coasters. The bottom layer is a large clear glass circle, with a deep red identical circle on top.

On top of this, I cut out a variety of white opaque petals by cutting rectangles and then using grozing pliers to nip them into petal-like shapes. I then used the same method on some bottle green to make leaves. However, layering the dark green and red essentially cause these to look black from any distances. Lastly, I used some opaque yellow frit to fill in the centre of the flowers and sprinkled some extra around the design, held loosely in place with some glass glue.

The petals were pretty fiddly to cut out, but turns out the kiln is forgiving. Apparently you are meant to do everything manually and the use of a grinder only leaves a “muddy” discoloured result unless you are very careful to clean the glass.

Richard’s rule of thumb was that if you squint at the piece at arms’ length that will be the effect/shape of it post fusing.

After aranging the flat pieces for the first firing, I selected a slump mould for the second firing (at a lower temperature) which allows the sheet of fused glass to slowly sag into the desired shape and re-cool there.

So, tadda: a red bowl and matching orange coasters.

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