The Profound Experience of Creativity: Sheila Mahut on Teaching and Making

June 15, 2013

By: Brad Copping

Sheila Mahut began teaching glass around the time I started as a student at Sheridan. She was part of a cadre of instructors who made the experience of falling in love with glass a pivotal time in my life.  Living near Haliburton, Ontario, I have had the good fortune to continue to connect with Sheila on a regular basis and as part of Contemporary Canadian Glass’s focus on education we recently took the opportunity to discuss her career as a teacher and a maker.

Contemporary Canadian Glass (CCG): I was thinking we could start with a bit of background for those you may not know you.  Where and when did you begin working with glass?

Sheila Mahut (SM): I started working with glass as a student at Sheridan College’s School of Craft and Design in 1980.  I was 19 years old.  After graduating from Sheridan I went on to get a BFA in Sculpture (Glass) from Illinois State University in 1987.  I worked as a self-employed glass artist full time until 1995 when the birth of my second child made family life a priority.  From 1995 to the present I have pursued a career in glass that has been more focused on teaching than making objects.

CCG: How did you get started in your teaching career? 

SM: I started teaching in the summer glass blowing courses offered at Sheridan in 1985.  After getting my degree I returned to Toronto and taught in the Glass Diploma Program at Sheridan from 1988 to 2003.  I was a glassblowing instructor for the first four years then became the kilncasting teacher after Peter Koegh left Sheridan.  I developed the kilncasting program for the remainder of my tenure.  I also taught three kilncasting courses at The Corning Studio.

Sheila Mahut assisting Loni Kimber at the bench at Haliburton Glass Program in 2013. Photo by Alex Raptis

Sheila Mahut assisting Loni Kimber at the bench at Haliburton Glass Program in 2013. Photo by Alex Raptis

The most recent long-term teaching I have done is in the certificate Glass Blowing Program at the Haliburton Campus of Sir Sandford Fleming College.  I was part of the committee that wrote the curriculum and developed the 15-week intensive certificate program in Haliburton.  The glassblowing class has been running for nine years and I have been teaching there since the beginning.

CCG: Was there someone or some event that was influential in your teaching and making?

SM: I got started in teaching by the good old “right place at the right time”.  Once I got started I was hooked.  I loved the excitement, the energy of people getting together, and making the creative process come alive.  Daniel Crichton, the Studio Master at Sheridan College, actually hired me in 1985 and I would like to thank him for giving me the latitude and time to grow as a teacher under his light touch.  He really let his teachers take the lead and find their own way.

So many people have influenced my teaching and making over the years.  Jeff Goodman, for his pursuit of excellence by taking risk and challenge to a level beyond my comfort zone.  Kevin Lockau, for his “don’t forget to throw your students or audience a curve ball”.  Laura Donefer, because of her infectious enthusiasm and let it all hang out style.  My husband, Larry Glatt, for endless hours of conversation about the fine art of really listening to someone.  Catherine Hibbits taught me about flexibility and the sheer delight of discovery and experimentation.  Every one of my students over the years, because they all have something unique to show me, whether it is about patience, an inspiring mistake, problem solving, or a different way of seeing.

In my glass making I have worked collaboratively with three different artists, Jeff Goodman, Deborah Cardinal-Ryason and Tanya Zaryski.  This aspect of making glass was one the most memorable for me.  I found combining two peoples views, styles and approaches to be so much greater a creative experience than working alone.

CCG: Has it always been glass-related or have you taught other things as well?

SM: It has primarily been glass-related.

CCG: How has your motivations to teach changed over the years?

SM: My motivation to teach has deepened over the years as I made the gradual shift from making work for the market place to primarily teaching.  I now look at teaching as an opportunity to share with others the profound experience of creativity; to mold and change a material with intention, inspiration and experimental abandon.  Yup, it doesn’t get much better than that!

Sheila instructing Alex Raptis on the pipe & Nina Stellmach on punty at Haliburton in 2013. Photo by Loni Kimber

Sheila instructing Alex Raptis on the pipe & Nina Stellmach on punty at Haliburton in 2013. Photo by Loni Kimber

CCG: In what ways has your teaching influenced your making?  Has your making influenced your teaching?

SM: My making has often been informed by my teaching.  In order to teach a certain technique or answer a technical question I would have to try all the ideas out myself first.  So I would learn many new things.  It is as if I have a box of infinite possibilities that I can extract from when I have an idea to make something.  The students also provide a constant stream of wonderful mistakes that inspire me.  I have a mercurial approach to making and this has been quite good for teaching.  I have worked collaboratively and as a production blower.  I cast glass in the kiln and in sand.  I’ve mold-blown pieces.  Shaped pieces that are symmetrical and others asymmetrically.  I am an experimentation junky.

CCG: I know that your husband Larry is also a teacher and his involvement in Waldorf Schools has lead you to live in upper New York State, and that both your sons have gone through this program.  Can you reflect on this school system and what it has meant to your own approaches to teaching or making?

Sheila’s home in Hudson Valley

Sheila’s home in Hudson Valley

SM: I moved to the upper Hudson Valley in 2004.  My husband took a job as the music teacher at the Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School.  Both my sons Ben and Ezra have gone through this alternative education from kindergarten to 12th grade. Waldorf education is about many things. It was the brainchild of Rudolf Steiner who created a school for the children of the workers of the Waldorf cigarette factory during post WW1 Germany.

Rudolf Steiner wanted to create an educational model that would help form a society in which World Wars would not happen. The Nazis eventually shut down his school, but his ideas had taken root and today Waldorf schools are the fastest growing private schools in the world.

Fundamentally Waldorf pedagogy is age-appropriate education delivered in a way that integrates the arts, the sciences, the heart and the intellect. The Association of Waldorf Schools of North America has a website you can visit if you want an official quote.

My approach to teaching has been informed by my children’s excellent education.  I see the way integrating the notion of educating the whole person is vital to communicating information and ideas.  Everybody receives different messages at different times.  Every teacher has experienced this in his or her classroom, where each student hears what you say so differently.  I see this as the first challenge to teaching.  I try to find out how a student learns then what they are ready to learn.  This is a big job especially in a one-week class.  Listening and watching with as much concentration as I can, helps.  But above all else a deep love of what you teach is what transmits the most to students.  If you are jazzed, excited, inspired and enthusiastic it is irresistibly infectious.

CCG: I also know that you have actually built the house that you and your family live in.  Has that experience impacted either your teaching or the work that you make?

Second view of home

Second view of home

SM: The house is a small one on a five-acre lot adjacent to a biodynamic/organic farm near Hudson, New York. It still needs finishing details but the building took about eight months to complete. I used the pine trees from the clearing of the property for the siding and the hard woods for flooring. The house is heated primarily with one wood stove in the basement.  We burn a little bit more than one bush cord a winter. I learned how much I didn’t know about building doing this project.  I know a lot more now.  The front stairs took three days!!  I figured it couldn’t possibly take more than one.  That was the story for just about everything, just like glass eh!

Glass House, Sheila Mahut, blown glass

Glass House, Sheila Mahut, blown glass

Using burning wood as a connecter here the glass houses with the glass smoke coming out of the chimneys are also in the photos.  They are 10 x 12 x 8″ for the house and the smokes are about 18″ long.  They are mold blown into a wood mold and the smokes are free blown.

Glass House, Sheila Mahut, blown glass

Glass House, Sheila Mahut, blown glass

I have been making houses in a variety of forms for a long time.  The shape and context is comforting and intriguing to me.  So much happens in the home of my family and the home of my psyche.  In these houses the wind is blowing hard and the smoke is as big as the house take what you will from that metaphor.

Glass Tiles, Sheila Mahut, fused glass

Glass Tiles, Sheila Mahut, fused glass

The other images are also recent from the last two years.  They are fused glass tiles that were made for two different bathrooms.  The dark amber tiles are from my bathroom and the blue ones are from a commission I did for a house in Massachusetts.  Teaching fusing at Haliburton inspired these tiles.  While the students work on their pieces I putter about trying stuff and voila a new way to make some stuff.

Glass Tiles, Sheila Mahut, fused glass

Glass Tiles, Sheila Mahut, fused glass


CCG: The commute to your teaching gig in Haliburton is a long one.  What is it about the program at Fleming College that keeps you going back?

SM: Haliburton is a touchstone for me as a teacher and a Canadian living in the states.  The Canadian Shield, the bedrock of Ontario is nourishment for me.  I get to reconnect with the land, my friends, family and I get to teach, all of which is very good.  Haliburton is a unique program.  It is a 15-week intensive studio based glassblowing education.  Each week consists of 24 to 30 hours of hands-on studio time. That is a lot of practice and demo time.  It’s an introduction to a large selection of glassblowing techniques, from paperweights to mold-making to colour applications to production work and everything in between.

CCG: Are you currently teaching elsewhere?  What are you working on these days?

SM: These days I am on a committee to build a new craft studio at Hawthorne Valley School.  The school wants to incorporate glassmaking in its curriculum.  They already do stained glass and last year I taught the Grade 11 class on fusing, which some students used in their stained glass windows.  Eventually the school would like to have hot glass. Yahoo for Sheila!!!

Sheila Mahut demoing the suck bowl at Haliburton.  Photo by Alex Raptis

Sheila Mahut demoing the suck bowl at Haliburton. Photo by Alex Raptis


Peter Ivy: When functional design meets art

February 15, 2013

By: Brad Copping

While many in the glass community were experiencing the ‘Day of the Dead’ at SOFA Chicago last November, those who stayed in Toronto had the rare opportunity to hear a truly enlightening lecture by an artist, designer and exquisite glass blower from Toyama, Japan.

Peter Ivy, who originally hails from Austin, Texas, has been living in Japan for more than a decade.  After studying glass at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), he made the pilgrimage to Seattle where he worked with many prominent glass artists and production shops.

Pursuing a personal career exhibiting sculpture, he found himself on the teaching path, returning to the east coast where he taught at Massachusetts College of Art and RISD and then to Aichi University of Education in Japan where he was Head of the Glass Program.

When the path lead to a family, Peter decided to build and open his own glass studio in Toyama, where he is currently concentrating on making wares for daily use.

Whether he is making thought-provoking sculpture or extremely refined functional glassware, he is highly sensitive to the material, the process, and the place in which he finds himself.  As he says, his “process of making is about making his decision-making conscious.”

Our thanks go to Peter, who has graciously allowed GAAC to reproduce that lecture and present it here.  Many thanks also to Harbourfront Centre, and in particular Melanie Egan, for hosting the lecture and accompanying workshop and for the use of the audio of Peter’s lecture, which was recorded November 1, 2012 at the Studio Theatre in the York Quay Centre.

if you don’t see the VIDEO below, click HERE


Marc Petrovic on Bullseye Bird Roll-ups: the how and the why

October 15, 2012

By Brad Copping

Marc Petrovic is proving himself to be one of the hottest sculptors of glass on the scene today.  He has been pioneering the integration of the flame-working torch in the hot shop since completing his BFA at the Cleveland Institute of Art in 1991, giving workshops across the continent and around the globe.   He has refined his skills over the past 21 years to a very high degree, creating a vast array of provokingly detailed glass objects, which have found their place in his narrative based sculpture.  His September 7th to October 6th, 2012 exhibition titled ‘Avians’ at Heller Gallery in New York City is the most recent example of the work he has been striving for, but also finds him grappling with abstraction for the first time.

glass/stainless steel
8 1/2 X 13 X 12 1/2 inches (21.59 x 33.02 x 31.75 cm)

Earlier this year Marc and I sat down and had a long conversation over Skype about the technical side of making the Avians and also about why he is making them.  That edited conversation is presented here in a Youtube, with working photographs taken by Kelly Tonks and images of the final pieces by Marc Petrovic.

Marc also sent his artist statement regarding the Avian series, which I include for the more text minded of our readers.

My Avian series has been germinating for sometime. I made my first effort at a murrini roll-up bird for a demonstration at the 2009 Glass Art Society conference in Corning NY.  During the summer of 2010, I completed two more while teaching at the Penland School of Crafts. It was not until January of 2011 that I began working on the Avians in earnest.

The blown and sculpted birds are physically formed much like we are metaphorically built; one piece or experience at a time. Brick by brick our experiences are assembled and our identity is formed.  In envisioning the pattern necessary for the tablets to be rolled up and sculpted into a dimensional bird, I picture the final form of the Avian, and then mentally deconstruct and flatten the three dimensional image into a two dimensional pattern.  This allows me to create flat two dimensional tablets with the coloration placed exactly where needed in order to hot sculpt the glass pattern into one of my three dimensional Avians. Conversely, in my mind, the abstracted tablets are fully realized birds… birds deconstructed.

I begin the process by choosing colored sheet glass and making patterns by stacking up sections of sheet glass. Much like the sketch lines in the beginning of a drawing, every line formed by a layer of sheet glass will be present and visible in the final piece. The stacks of colored sheet glass are fused, heated, and then pulled into lengths of 12 feet or more. After they cool, they are chopped into small slices called murrini. Compositions are made by placing the murrini one at a time with their interior design visible. Even the slightest change in the orientation of a murrini can make a dramatic difference in the final piece. These assemblages are then fused together into a single tablet. These tablets are the 2 dimensional deconstruction of the 3 dimensional forms. The flat tablets contain all of the color information for the final bird, with the exception of the beak and eyes.

19 3/4 X 19 1/4 X 5 in. (50.17 X 48.9 X 12.7 cm)

To help celebrate the opening of his recent exhibition, Heller Gallery and Brooklyn Glass organized a studio demonstration in support of Urban Glass, where Marc made one of his Bullseye glass birds.  That demonstration is linked here and is well worth watching after hearing him explain the process.  For more images of Marc’s work visit his website or check him out on Facebook.


An Argentine Artist Travels to PEI to Teach ‘The Shape Behind the Glass’

February 15, 2012

By: Rita Neumann

images are courtesy of Marcela Rosemberg

After returning to my home country of Argentina, I began thinking about the rich experiences that I had during the seminar that I taught in PEI at Marcela Rosemberg’s studio. The memories of the workshop were not only of the intense work, but also the climate that was generated with the group that I met.

My contribution to their experience was the one that allowed them to creatively shape a human figure in clay, to carry out the movement of a garment, the folds of the fabric, the inclination of the body, its proportion, the movement of the same one, etc., that then would be translated in the glass.

They learned simultaneously to make a matrix in latex to be able to repeat the mold in plaster and silica as many times as necessary

They selected the colors of the glass, using System 96, which was generously donated by Spectrum Glass, according to the character that they wanted to give to their clothing. They took the necessary measures so that the size of the glass was adjusted perfectly to the relief that carried out, and on the one that would go to the kiln.


I taught them to transfer the texture of a fabric to the glass through a direct mold, and achieved details that then were applied on the total surface of the glass that was used.

Finally, we saw the different possibilities that this technique allows, as for variations of colour, form, textures, etc. to be able to modify the character of the figure suggested through the clothing.

I cannot stop thanking Marcela for welcoming me to her beautiful studio to share my know-how, and to Spectrum Glass in regards to their generosity and to have trusted in me and my work.

I hope this is the beginning of more experiences together. I remember when, around 19 or 20 years ago, I began working with Spectrum and today System96 helps so much the task of the artist, that permits me to continue investigating and developing my creativity

I would like to write a special thank you to Jamie Gray, who has accompanied us since the beginning of this project. I don’t have the exact words to express my gratitude to you.


Knitting With Glass

August 1, 2011

By Carol Milne

(Reprinted with the kind permission of Fibrearts magazine, Summer 2011)

Knitting wasn’t yet “cool” when I was a kid. My grandmothers both knitted, but other knitters were few and far between. I distinctly remember entering a yarn shop at the age of eleven and being mesmerized by the circle of women knitting socks in a round on four tiny needles. I had to learn. Patterns, knitters, and fine yarns were hard to come by. Paton’s, Pingouin, Vogue Knitting, and later Threads magazine, along with knitting authors Barbara Walker and Deborah Newton, were my guides as I taught myself. But without an interest in fashion and clothing design, knitting wasn’t a vocation, it was clearly a hobby.

Fast forward many years . . . I’m now a sculptor working in cast glass and metal. One day I was adding sprues to a wax piece I was going to cast in bronze. I had lots of delicious-looking strands of red sprue wax (this is a fairly soft dimensional wax that comes in two-foot lengths) lying around my studio and I thought, “I wonder if I can knit with that?” It turns out I couldn’t knit it with needles, but the question started me down a road of trial and error and experimentation until I figured out how to make it work.

The basic process I use is the ancient art of lost-wax casting used by foundry workers, jewelers, and sculptors.

A. I knit something in wax.

B. I surround the wax with a heat-tolerant refractory or investment material.

C. The wax is melted out, leaving a shell of investment around the space that was the wax object.

D. The mold is placed in a kiln, and glass is melted into the empty space.

E. The mold is removed (and destroyed in the process) to reveal the knitted-glass piece within.

Wax strands are wrapped around a knitting needle or a jig, then opened into loopy zig-zags.

“Knitting” the pieces together by hand, twisting together the ends when adding a new strand.

Gradually, the knitted wax form takes on a sock-like shape.

The completed pair of wax socks.

A complex set of “sprues,” “gates,” and “vents” are soldered to the piece with wax to provide pathways for glass to enter and air to leave the piece. Photo: Steve Isaacson

The “sprued” sock sculpture is ready to be “invested” or surrounded with several coats of a “refractory” mold material that withstands high temperatures. Photo: Mara Isaacson

The first of several layers of mold material applied to one of the sock sculptures. The mold material is built up to a thickness of 1–2 inches.

The mold is placed in a kiln upside down and lead crystal “frit” or chunks are place in the mold or in a flowerpot above the mold. The kiln temperature of 1530˚F melts the glass into the mold.

After the mold has cooled, material is carefully removed to reveal the finished piece.

The “sprues” are cut off and polished using a diamond tool.

A final surface polish with pumice completes the pieces Salt and Pepper (2011).

Carol Milne holds the finished Salt and Pepper pieces in her Seattle studio Photo: Jasmine Isaacson

So why do I feel compelled to knit in glass? Knitted goods exude comfort: soft, cozy, intimate, and heartwarming. Once they are in glass, the result loses most of the qualities we associate with knitting and becomes something else entirely.  Where we once noticed the surface and feel of the material, our emphasis now shifts to the structure of the material itself.  We notice the twisting interconnection between the stitches, the deepening of color where the stitches overlap, and the spaces between the stitches. Where it was once a flexible fabric able to mold to our bodies, it is now rigid and fragile. It is nice to look at but totally impractical to wear.

These are beautiful objects, but they are also metaphors. They speak to the fragility of life and to the tendency to judge based on appearance versus practicality.

Perhaps most importantly, I see my knitted work as a metaphor for social structure. Individual strands are weak and brittle on their own but deceptively strong when bound together. You can crack or break single threads without the whole structure falling apart. And even when the structure is broken, pieces remain bound together. The connections are what keep it intact, bringing strength and integrity to the whole.

The artist’s website is  Milne’s work is included in Beyond Glass at Gallery IMA in Seattle, Washington (June 2–July 3),; and The Perfect Fit: Shoes tell Stories at the Boise Art Museum in Idaho (through July 31), Milne is also one of the winners of the 2011 Fiberarts Reader’s Choice Studio Contest.

Photos by the artist unless otherwise noted.

Copyright Fiberarts®  magazine, Interweave Press, LLC, Summer 2011. Not to be reprinted. All rights reserved.

Tricoter Du Verre

Par Carol Milne (réédité avec l’aimable autorisation du magazine Fibrearts, été 2011)

Le tricot n’était pas encore à la mode lorsque j’étais petite. Mes grands-mères tricotaient toutes les deux, mais les adeptes du tricot ne couraient pas vraiment les rues. Je me revois très bien entrer dans cette mercerie à l’âge de 11 ans et être fascinée par le cercle de femmes qui tricotaient des chaussettes sur 4 petites aiguilles en rond. Il fallait que j’apprenne. Les patrons, la tricoteuse et les pelotes de laine n’étaient pas évidents à se procurer. Patron’s, Pingouin; Vogue Tricot, et plus tard le magazine Threads ainsi que les auteurs en tricot Barbara Walker et Deborah Newton furent mes guides tandis que j’apprenais toute seule. Mais sans un intérêt quelconque pour la mode ou les styles vestimentaires, tricoter n’était pas tant une vocation en soi, c’était simplement un passe-temps.

Bien des années plus tard….  Je suis maintenant devenue sculpteuse, travaillant avec la pâte de verre et le métal. Un jour, alors que installais des jets sur une pièce de cire qui devait être coulée en bronze, je me suis retrouvée avec une multitude de filaments parfaits de cire rouge (c’est une cire de précision dimensionnelle relativement malléable mesurant 60cm) étalés dans mon atelier et je me suis dit, “je me demande si je peux tricoter avec ça?” Il s’avéra qu’il était impossible de les tricoter avec des aiguilles, mais l’idée fut le début d’un long parcours agrémenté de tentatives, d’erreurs et d’expérimentations jusqu’à ce que je trouve enfin un moyen d’y parvenir.

Le procédé de base que j’emploie est la méthode ancienne de la cire perdue, aussi utilisée par les travailleurs dans les fonderies, les orfèvres et les sculpteurs.

A. Je tricote quelque chose en cire.

B. J’entoure la cire d’un matériel réfractaire à la chaleur ou d’investissement.

C. Faisant fondre la cire, le matériel réfractaire reste tel une coquille vide autour de l’espace qu’occupait la cire.

D. Le moule est placé dans le four et du verre est coulé dans cet espace creux.

E. Le moule est retiré (et détruit dans le processus) pour dévoiler la pièce de verre tricotée qui se trouve à l’intérieur.

Les fils en cire sont enroulés autour d'une aiguille à tricoter ou d’une baguette, puis écartés pour créer des zigzags.

Les différents morceaux sont”tricotés” ensemble manuellement, et les extrémités entortillées au fil suivant.

Peu à peu, la cire tricotée prend la forme d'une chaussette.

La paire de chaussettes en cire une fois terminée.

Un jeu complexe de "filaments", de "jets" et d’"évents" en cire sont fixés à la pièce pour permettre au verre d’entrer et pouvoir laisser sortir l'air. Photo: Steve Isaacson

Les chaussettes sculptées jointes à leurs "filaments" sont prêtes à être investies en moule ou entourées de plusieurs couches de matériel réfractaire supportant une température élevée. Photo: Mara Isaacson

Première couche du matériel de moulage appliquée à l'une des chaussettes sculptées. Le moule atteint au fil des couches une épaisseur de 2-5cm.

Le moule est placé tête en bas dans le four et des fragments de Crystal y sont placés à l'intérieur ou dans un pot de fleurs posé au dessus du moule. La température du four atteignant les 830°C fait fondre le verre dans le moule.

Une fois le moule refroidi, le matériel est délicatement retiré, dévoilant la pièce achevée.

Les "filaments" sont coupés puis polis à l'aide d'un outil diamant.

Un polissage final à la pierre ponce est appliqué sur la surface des pièces Sel et Poivre (2011).

Carol Milne tenant son œuvre terminée Sel et Poivre dans son atelier de Seattle. Photo: Jasmine Isaacson

Qu’est ce qui me pousse donc à vouloir tricoter du verre? Les choses tricotées sont symboles de confort: douces, douillettes, intimes et réconfortantes. Une fois en verre, le résultat perd la majorité de ces qualités associées au tricot et devient quelque chose de tout autre. Alors que la surface et le toucher du matériau en étaient l’intérêt principal auparavant, notre attention se porte maintenant sur la structure du matériau en lui-même. On s’attarde sur le maillage sinueux entre les points, l’intensification des couleurs là où les mailles se superposent, et les espaces entre les mailles. Textile flexible et moulant auparavant, le voila à présent devenu rigide et fragile. C’est beau à regarder, mais totalement impossible à porter.

Cela donne de beaux objets mais aussi avant tout des métaphores. Ils représentent la fragilité de la vie et notre tendance à juger les choses sur leur apparence au lieu de leur aspect pratique.

Plus important encore probablement, je considère mes œuvres tricotées comme des métaphores de notre structure sociale. Faibles et cassants individuellement, les fils sont plus forts qu’ils n’y paraissent une fois reliés tous ensemble. On peut craquer ou casser des fils seuls sans que toute la structure n’en soit détruite. Et même lorsque la structure est atteinte, des morceaux restent encore attachés ensemble. Les connections sont ce qui les gardent intacts, apportant force et intégrité au tout.

Le site Internet de cette artiste est Le travail de Milne se retrouve dans Beyond Glass à la Galerie IMA de Seattle, Washington (2 juin – 3 juillet),; et The Perfect Fit: Shoes tell Stories (La bonne pointure: Les chaussures racontent une histoire) au Musée des Arts de Boise en Idaho (jusqu’au 31 juillet), Milne est aussi l’une des gagnantes du Concours d’Ateliers du Choix des Lecteurs Fiberarts.

Photos faites par l’artiste sauf si mentionné autrement.

Copyright Fiberarts® magazine, Interweaves Press, LLC, été 2011. Ne peut être réimprimé. Tous droits réservés.


Heat Mass Memory: Intensive Workshop with Randy Walker

December 1, 2010

By Jill Allan

Randy Walker demonstrating blocking technique while students Doug, Bruce and Sylvia look on.

Rogue Wave Glassworks in Chemainus, B.C. hosted an intensive workshop with Randy Walker November 12-14, 2010.  The workshop reviewed basic glass blowing skills, covered surface decoration techniques (powder applications and crackling) and also sculpting the hot bubble.  It was a lot of information to cover in three days but at the end of the session on Sunday everyone was feeling satisfied that they had learned some new techniques and broken old bad habits.

If you ever have the opportunity to take a class with Randy Walker, I highly recommend that you take advantage of that chance especially once you have developed some skills and confidence in the hot shop.  Randy teaches intermediate glass blowers and helps them to fine tune their skills.  In this article, I will describe what I learned about setting up basic blown forms, and in subsequent articles I will cover punties, surface decoration and hot sculpting.

The first two days of the workshop were dedicated to understanding how the glass behaves and how to use heat and mass to achieve the wall thickness and form that you are after.  We began at the beginning – gathering and starting the bubble – and worked on basic forms such as cylinders, cones and pulled bottle necks to manifest in tangible terms the effect of mass on heat.  Randy repeatedly pointed out that there is not one way to work with glass, no step-by-step approach; but that understanding the impact of mass on heat is the key to understanding how to control how the glass moves.  Every contact that we make with the glass is a part of its ‘memory’ or history — once it has a history it is no longer neutral; the heat is affected and various throughout the form.

Of course it is possible and often convenient to use torches to heat the glass but for this workshop we learned methods for blowing out our shapes without torches.  We reviewed posture and body movement; moving slowly when the glass is hottest (after gathering and when heating) to maintain the form, how and when to move quickly to preserve heat, keeping the pipe ‘neutral’ (parallel to the floor), how to anchor our bodies when marvering, bringing a hot bit or bracing the pipe for someone who is hot sculpting and how best to hold tools for the most power and for ergonomics.  We learned how to rotate the pipe with our left hand so that we use the whole bench rail smoothly, a method of hand movement that I will have to practice and practice and practice before I am able to perform it effectively.  This hand movement is hard to describe but we called it the crab walking method.   Randy used lecture time and illustrations to explore the concepts with us before heading into the hot shop for demonstrations and practice.

Bearing in mind that there isn’t one right way to blow glass, I will describe the way that we learned to start out most of the shapes that glass blowers use to make their work.  This procedure ensures that the shoulder of the piece is blown out on the pipe and eliminates frustrating and inefficient catch up work later (when your shoulder and neck are too thick and you are unable to penetrate that area with heat and still maintain control of the rest of the piece).  It also protects the bottom of the piece from blowing out too thin and too fast.

Randy Walker observes student Bruce at the marver while student Will heats his bubble and Rogue Wave’s Craig Hellemonde looks on.

It is important to be mindful of the heat and mass while gathering, making sure to gather an even moil and to consider the effect of the pipe’s temperature on the temperature of the fresh gather.  Once the initial gather of glass has been collected head to the bench but be careful to hold the pipe parallel to the ground so that the gather doesn’t lengthen or move back over the moil.  At the bench use the block to cool the outside of the gather, gently shaping the glass so that the centre of mass (the widest point) is just off the end of the pipe and the bottom of the shape is softly pointed to keep it from spinning outward in the glory hole with centrifugal force.  Then head to the glory hole to even out the heat of the gather.  Concentrate on your pipe rotation speed at the glory hole to preserve the tapered bottom and keep it from spinning outward.  Use your palms to turn the pipe.  Back at the bench, block the glass briefly before you blow and cap the pipe.  We practiced blowing and capping using our left hands so that we could be more efficient with our movements, preserving the heat and saving time.  The bubble forms quickly and the shoulder is thin because the centre of mass at the shoulder holds the most heat and draws the bubble to move there first. The walls are even and the bottom is slightly thicker; the taper has protected it from blowing out.

Randy drew attention to the way that we used tools such as the blocks and the newspaper and encouraged us to touch the glass as little and as gently as possible (try not to mash the glass with your block or paper; rather, let the glass fall into it) and to roll the pipe quickly and smoothly using the whole bench rail.  To prepare the bubble for subsequent gathers, pay attention to the centre of mass, making sure that it is just off the end of the pipe (shoulder).  Keep the bottom softly pointed so that you can protect it more easily from becoming thin (keeping the bubble from shooting out the end).  After gathering over the bubble return to the bench to block the fresh glass keeping the most mass at the shoulder and making sure that the glass does not fall to the bottom creating mass there that will collect heat and cause the bottom to become thin.

Keeping your pipe parallel with the floor as you move to the bench after gathering will help eliminate the problem of having too much mass at the bottom.  It is better to avoid this than to have to use a lot of tooling (and cooling) to repair it at the bench.  After blocking the new gather head to the glory hole to even out the heat then back to the bench to block and blow.  This inflation is short and sharp to puff up the shoulder and followed by immediate marvering and blowing.  At the marver, start at the tip of the bubble to protect the bottom from blowing out, make it pointy, rest the pipe off the back of the marver and blow short and sharp to puff up the shoulder.  Then marver the tip again, working your way up the side to the shoulder (the bubble should be cone shaped now) and, again off the back of the marver, blow short and sharp.  Keep the angle of your pipe shallow to prevent the bubble from stretching and the marvering brief, using three or four passes, moving quickly so that you don’t lose heat.  Do not marver the actual shoulder (keep it hot) but rather the sides just below it.

Student Bruce at bench starting to pull out the neck of his piece with helpers student Sarah and student Doug.

Randy stressed that the beauty of the bubble while you are marvering is not very important and spending a lot of time on the metal trying to correct an oval shaped bubble is counter-productive as it will just rob heat from the glass.  Your bubble will be too cold after marvering and blowing two or three times so re-heat it and do more marvering if you need to rather than trying to blow the shoulder all the way with a too-cold bubble.  Marver the tip a lot to cool it before you re-heat in the glory hole; the cold pointy angle of the bottom of the piece will keep the bubble from overheating there and allow you to get a lot of heat in the shoulder.  Plus this shape is easy to handle when you are re-heating.  After this step the bubble is cone shaped with a puffed out shoulder and it is time to set up the form at the bench.

For a cylinder, get an all-over heat in the glory hole, paper the shoulder to the width you desire, then paper the sides and get bench air to puff out the bottom so that the width at the bottom of the bubble is the same as the width at the shoulder.  This should result in an oval-shaped bubble with a thin shoulder and a thicker bottom.  Papering the sides keeps the walls from expanding where you don’t want them to.  Point up the very bottom of the oval to protect it from blowing out too quickly and reheat the bubble from the shoulder so that you can drop out the cylinder shape.  When you retreat from the glory hole, hang the bubble to let the shape fall out as you slowly rotate the pipe.  Start at a shallow angle so that the drop out is not more extreme than you want it to be, you can adjust this angle if you want the bubble to fall faster.  Swinging the glass is fun but risky to the integrity of the form and your control over it.

For a cone shape, take the marvered pointy bubble with the puffed out shoulder to the glory hole and heat it in increments starting at the bottom (which you want to be the hottest) and moving up to the shoulder.  As you leave the glory hole, hang your bubble at a shallow angle (adjust the angle as required) and let the cone form fall out.  You can repeat this step until you have the length you are going for.  If you want the bubble to fall out into a straight sided cone (not convex) gently puff out the sides at the bench before you re-heat, making the bubble more of a bullet shape, and the sides will straighten out again as you drop the shape.  If you heat and drop a straight-sided bubble, the sides will curve inward creating a convex wall profile.

For a pulled bottle neck, set up a bubble as previously, making sure that the bottom is pointed and cold and that the shoulder is puffed out.  Get a lot of heat in the glory hole.  At the bench make a trough in the shoulder to make it easier to start the jack line then use the jacks to squeeze down to the diameter of neck that you want, starting to pull out as well when you have the right diameter.  Stop squeezing the neckline and start pulling your jacks outward (to the right) keeping them straight up and down.  Have your assistant puff gently to blow out the shoulder some more as you are pulling out the neck.  Be careful to keep the bubble below the shoulder on centre; one way to do this is to quickly paper (cool) the cone-shaped bottom before you apply the jacks to the neck.  You have to do it in one pull.  From this point on you are working below the shoulder because trying to heat above the shoulder and maintain control over the form is extremely difficult.  Make a crease for the jack line now.  The neck will hold heat for a surprisingly long time, so you might not need to flash the neck and moil until after your first heat and re-shape of the bubble below the shoulder.

Preheating and waxing your jacks is recommended so that the tool doesn’t rob heat and glides smoothly.  If you are making a piece with an abrupt shoulder, avoid hanging the pipe down as you walk to the bench to thin the shoulder in preparation for jacking.  Instead, create a ‘trough’ for your jack line by angling the top of your jacks outward (to the right) and gently sloping the bubble here.  This will make it easier to make the crease line in a large puffed up shoulder.  Once you have a trough, hold your jacks straight up and down to make the break off crease.  You can always use a torch to make this crease deeper when it is time to break the piece off the pipe so leave a wide enough jack line to have stability and control.

Not enough brain cells?  We drank gin to cope at this stage (the end of day two) and rested up for day three.

Student Bruce with finished piece. Victory!

I know that a lot of this information is common sense and basic to hot shop practice but I found myself surprised by how many inefficient habits I had formed by not analyzing my process.  I think the most important thing I learned is something I already knew but stubbornly ignored:  the concept of mass=heat.  In some ways, it is counter-intuitive – put the most glass where you want the blown form to be thin.  I have always had difficulty blowing out the shoulder so I am really grateful to have broken the bad habits I had around this concept.  I learned a lot about marvering (something I usually avoid because I am not good at it).  I made friends with the marver.  As for the left hand, I will have to practice my turning technique and build muscle for a long time before I see good results there.

For more information about Rogue Wave Glassworks and to find out about future classes, visit their website at

Jill Allan is one of the GAAC Regional Representatives for B.C.  She graduated from the Alberta College of Art + Design in Calgary in 1999.  She currently lives on Vancouver Island, travelling to Chemainus, Vancouver and Victoria to make her work.


Punty Talk

October 4, 2009

The egg punty.

The egg punty.

By Blaise Campbell

One of the first, big issues is making sure you have the right size punty for the right size piece. The most common problem people have when beginning is using a standard punty for really small pieces. It’s a good idea to have really small punties for really small, one or two gather pieces. A lot of people just starting out don’t have small enough punties, so it’s really good to have a little cup punty for doing tiny things. The same goes with bigger pieces. The standard pipe/punty combination found in most shops is good for medium range work. Every good glass blower has a whole range of punties and pipes to match the occasion, which not only depends on the size but also the weight of the work being attempted.

Ok, what’s next… gathering right. What I often do when teaching beginners is to emphasize really good gathering to make a punty, to barely, or if possible not, touch the glass. I like to call this the egg punty.  It’s a simple version of a standard punty also called a dome punty. You should be able to make a reasonably good punty just by gathering. Shaping, either at the marver or at the bench, can help you tailor the punty to specific kinds of needs.

Blaise Campbell is a self described “itinerant journeyman glassblower and raconteur”. His glassblowing journey began as a student at what was then called Sheridan College School of Craft and Design in 1987.  Between then and now he has travelled throughout North America and abroad as an instructor, visiting artist, or glassblower for hire. He has been a glass studio resident at the Harbourfront Center, a Fellow of the Creative Glass Center of America and an Emerging Artist in Residence at the Pilchuck Glass School and glass blowing instructor at Sheridan Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning.