We’ve been experimenting with our own lampwork for the past two years, focused on traditional round, olive, and pendant beads. I just started sculpting glass – the classic nude. There are plenty of established experts whom you can take classes from, but it’s always necessary to just put the time in on the torch and practice. Practice with:
a) Heat control. Working colder gives you more control over the glass shape. Like most lampworkers, I use surface tension to my advantage, but I definitely have been working colder. But there’s a fine balance, and with soft glass you can never let it get too cold or it will crack, so I just built up the muscle memory to keep the piece warm as I work. Finally – working slightly larger helps because the volume of the glass can hold onto it’s heat longer, actually making it less susceptible to cracking.
b) Tool use. It’s easy to be intimidated by moving hot glass around. I was stuck in a mode where I would try and control the shape of the bead by adding glass where I wanted and melting it in. Simply building up the shape you want by adding glass is pretty limiting. Experienced lampworkers use picks, knives, rods and other tools to push glass around and how you use those tools depends on the temperature of the glass. For example, if a knife is very hot and the surface glass is hot, you can just spread it around and sculpt it like it was peanut butter (and like peanut butter, you’ll still have glass on the knife when you pull it away). If the glass is warm, and the tool is cold you can push it into the glass without sticking.
The first two images are of, what I consider, my best figure to date. I was working in opaque glass, and finally having some success. Of course, at AnglerFish we want to be able to illuminate pieces, so I started trying to work with transparent glass. This drove me nuts because I had been relying on the radiant illumination of the hot glass to see exactly what the surface shape was. With clear glass I had a hard time seeing the surface! I had to add a desk-lamp and illuminate the bead from the side to help me see what the surfaces were doing. The second two images are figures done with transparent glass (etched). I’ll continue working on these figures, honing my sculptural skills, and apply those skills to new interesting bead designs! Finally, I need to give credit to Joy Munshower for giving me free clues to improving my lampworking skills!