I just loaded the mold of the sunflower center and am filled with uncertainty about whether the mold will fill properly. I chopped up two 8x4" billets of glass into 2-3 inch chunks so that the weight of the glass won't be too great in any particular spot to break the fine details in the plaster but also won't trap too many bubbles. It is now past midnight and the next thing I need to do is close the vents on the kiln at 11 am in the morning. The program is set so that the glass will get to melting temperature at about 12:30 tomorrow when I'll be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and hopefully can peek into the kiln and find the glass slowly seeping into the negative spaces around the perimeter of the casting without first deciding to pour over the sides of the mold! We'll see. But in the meantime I've got to get some sleep. Nighty night! (P.S The glass looks clear now, but after firing it should be a burnt red color!
Well, I DID have to add more glass to the hot mess of bubbly action in the kiln. After tending the kiln and adding time at 1525 degrees several times, I decided to don an old flannel shirt backwards, get out my long kevlar mitts and a face shield and get a scoop full of amber and clear class frit ready to sift over what will be the back of the sunflower centre. I shut off the power opened the lid and quickly poured the glass in then shut the lid, turned the kiln back on and waited for another 2 hours... The bubble seemed mostly to have cleared the surface so now the piece is annealing at 900 degrees ... won't be able to see it for another day or two until the temperature gradually steps down through the strain point.
In the meantime, we've been hammering copper leaves for another of my "take it easy" projects. Before I broke my hip in March, I had blown some glass heart centers for some more "Love Lillies" and last week I blew the actual lillies. Barry wanted to improve on the original leaf design with the curly-kews of metal and make more reallistic leaves. I had to agree (although real lillies have strappy leaves and the new copper ones are ovoid - I may have to change the name, but "Love Lillies" is otherwise so apt!). So now we've spent many hours tappity-tap-tapping texture onto the copper, to simulate veins and the interstitial areas and to get them to curl a bit. We are soldering the leaves to the stalks and all is going well. The lights have just arrived from Berkeley Point, so I figure tomorrow we can get the wiring done. That operation is as fiddly as can be though, because the stalks are fairly skinny and the wire has to get fished down through some lamp rod and then through at hole drilled near the base. So much for "easy."
Two and a half weeks to go until set up day and I just picked up the metal at Seaport Stainless. Made of 3/16” steel and Man is that thing heavy!!! I was going to have my friend Melissa Macdonald make an easel to hold the piece, but then Barry had the bright idea to order a ready-made easel. We found one on-line via US Art Supply and now we are wondering if it will be strong enough to hold 68 pounds of steel (yes, we brought out the scales!) plus about 15 pounds of glass. The easel arrives next week so we have some serous thinking to do… But the glass looks great on the steel backdrop!
In the meantime, I have worked on a center for the sunflower which I decided to cast in glass frit. Fibonnaci sequences conveniently set aside, I decided to approximate the amazing pattern of the sunflower seeds and not bother my pretty little head about sequences of 1,2,3,5,8,13 ad infinitum. Figuring out how to replicate spirals winding in opposite directions makes my head spin at this point.
I cast the clay center in a plaster-silica mould and have filled it with glass frit (small particles of glass so that the lighter amber frit will be in the center and the darker rose-brown frit will be at the outside. I used a dark brown powdered glass for the very back layer and then some clear frit to fill in the gaps. The mould is now in the kiln and has passed the drying stage at 200 degrees F for 5 hours. It is now melting temperature a 1525 F and holding until the bubbles clear the surface. This is taking longer than I expected and I think I’m going to have to add some more glass to fill in where the bubbles are popping. Fingers crossed…
This year, after having broken my hip in March, and just getting back to glass blowing at the end of August, I decided not to push things too hard and make a simple sunflower for the Autumn Lights Festival. How hard can it be to blow some large glass petals, affix them together with Magic Sculpt (my new favourite material and glass artist's helper) and mount them on a laser cut steel background? I envision it as a painting set on an easel on the hill in the Mediterranean garden. Simple, but with good visual impact.
I've also decided to make three new Love Lillies to replace some that were purchased by my choir buddies at Sacred and Profane to give as a wedding gift to Rebecca, the choir director and her new husband Pete last October. (Barry and I set them up while the newlyweds were on their honeymoon so they found them under the chupa in their garden on their return.)
But I digress... today, with the help of my friend, neighbour and car decal designer Terry Cullinane, I sent the .ai drawing for the sunflower's laser cut background to Seaport Stainless to be cut out of 3/16" mild steel while I work on putting the flower together. Still not sure how I'm going to handle the center... those sunflower seed patterns are crazy and geometrically challenging. I think I'll probably make a mould and fuse the center rather than over-simplifying it with a shallow inverted blown glass bowl which would probably always look like an inverted glass bowl...
Here is my first sketch for the metal, the final drawing (the lines are where the laser will cut to make negative shapes) and my layout of the flower on the living room floor with the black paper to represent the size of the background (although I've changed the proportions to be wider since the photo was taken ... nothing like a good maquette to check one's ideas). Complication factor 5/10... well maybe 6 because figuring out the negative spaces was a brain-twister. I'm not sure that two layers of petals will look good from the side. Still humming and hawing on that, but I've got a month to work at it and get it all just right...
Well, I've always thought the most difficult thing about the Autumn Lights Festival (and don't get me wrong, I love this event and the Gardens at Lake Merritt which the Festival supports) was setting up the art - packing and unpacking the van, running miles of electrical cable and positioning all the glass - but this time it is the challenge of zooming in from the out-of-doors! Tonight Barry and I did a tech check with Tora Rocha the director of the Festival and her tech advisor Steve Tiffin. Originally we were going to use Barry's Lumix camera and connect it via wifi through a cell phone to the zoom call, but after half an hour of (to me) mind-boggling app downloads and bluetooth connection failures, we decided to simply do it on the cell phone! Barry will operate and I will try to tiptoe through the tulips (or shall we say peacocks, bleeding hearts and agaves) while talking about the work in the dark. Wish me luck! And be sure to tune in on October 18 at 7pm PST with a free link from Eventbrite.
I can hardly wait to show this to Robin. After the Autumn Lights Festival this weekend, I'll install it in her garden!
And now, just to show you where my idea came from, below is the image that inspired my glass fern (and the little blue flowers among the fern leaves). This is a photo we took in our Canadian garden over 20 years ago. I love how the forget-me-nots are encircled by the fern leaves - an image of spring that I've never forgotten!
We worked late into the night - Barry finishing Bumble Bird's eye sockets and me, grouting the base for the Fern - the last step in the process after sand-blasting all the blown glass leaves, setting the tiles on the base and preparing the wiring. I bought some green grout colorant on-line and mixed it in with the grout only to see an insipid mint green appear in the grout bucket. We tried adding some yellow and then some blue and then some more green... to no avail! I grouted it anyway and today I'm going to try staining the grout with a slurry of charcoal-colored grout that I had left from the peacock. Fingers crossed and latex gloves on... Set-up starts tomorrow with laying down all the electrical cables. And today I finish wiring the birdhouses - Alphabet Coup and Pear Palace. I hope bumble bird doesn't try to sit on these... Maybe next year I'll make him a bird-hive!
Still life with Neighbour's Fig. The fig was part of yesterday's lunch. Yummy!
Well, now the Bumble Bird is in my studio getting his skin on (and taking up its fair share of space, I might add - but I don't what to sound churlish!). Barry just stayed up half the night adding more sections of paper and he took this photo before he came to bed. Bumble Bird is going to be marvelous flying overhead in the garden - or at least rotating on a ball-bearing mechanism he has made!
As I write though, I just heard the saddest cry.... Barry punched a hole in Bumble Bird by mistake... The paper is so very fragile, even after several coats of "dope" to make it waterproof. Fortunately, Barry has time to do repairs! Poor guy.
But isn't it fabulous? Barry's English friend Dik Quarrell asked Barry this morning what the creature's name is. Barry replied, "It is Bumble Bird", to which Dik said, I know that! What's his first name?" And Barry replied, "Jolly." So "Jolly Bumble Bird" it is - except when he gets a hole!
A couple of months ago, Pamela Phippin invited me over to look at photos of my pieces and she decided to purchase the Pyro Plant for her second home in Tucson. I made a new lightweight mosaic base for the piece and as I packed up the glass, I felt like I was getting little Pyro ready to go to camp. Today amid the flurry of getting ready for the Autumn Lights Festival, I got these photos from Pamela. Pyro looks so happy!
One of the fabulous things about being married to another artist is that the fever to make things is shared... This summer, when we were up in Toronto, Barry and I were invited to a Fire Festival on Toronto Island where some 200 residents of the island put on a sweet night-time parade swinging home-made paper-coated willow lanterns on long poles to celebrate the height of summer. The parade ended with a lantern-lit shadow puppet show that explained the rebirth of the forest after a lightning storm caused the trees to burn and the animals to flee. Eventually the trees grow up and the birds and foxes reappear - such a hopeful message and a relief in its simplicity. The whole event was enchanting and Barry came away enthused about the idea of making a paper lantern for this year's Autumn Lights Festival here in Oakland.
Lacking a willow tree that he could raid for flexible shoots, Barry made a visit to the cane shop on Gilman Street in Berkeley and came away with some basic instructions from the owner, some spools of waxed thread about the size of thick dental floss and several coils of cane in different diameters. He's been beavering away in his little workshop at the front of our house ever since.
Well mostly... as do most of our projects, this one finds its way into the house a various points. I must say this species of Bumble Bird is quite invasive. There have been several evenings when I've gone to have a bath before bed, only to find my tub full of canes having a leisurely soak there instead! The soaking makes the canes flexible enough to bend around forms that Barry has made using sets of screws on a board. Periodically the "Bumble-Bird" appears in our living room while Barry meticulously binds and knots the thread around the canes while watching the A's or Saturday Night Live (while I knit or lately, stick vinyl on the fern leaves).
Here are a couple of progress shots. Lighting and "skin" yet to come. Hopefully Bumble-Bird will fly over to the Autumn Lights Festival and get out of my tub once and for all!
Kim is a glassblower, gardener and choral singer. She is a Canadian transplant, living happily in Oakland, CA with her husband Barry Stone.