Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Making Sculptural Lampwork Beads- tips and tricks



OK, it's time for a few sculptural tips. I never thought for a minute, when I first started making lampwork beads, that I would make so many different kinds of animals out of glass, not to mention bottles and masks. Frankly, I thought they were kind of kitschy, and not my thing. It must have been when I made my first cat, or maybe my first fish, that I realized what fun it could be. And how much practice and skill it actually took. These days, I even take special requests, like the rhino and beagles. I'll find some pictures on the internet so I don't forget something useful, and get to work. Here are a few things I've learned over the years:

All of the beadmaking techniques you have learned can be used to make sculptural beads. The biggest challenge to making these beads is keeping your bead evenly heated, as the bead will not be the same thickness throughout. The designing of sculptural beads is limited only by your imagination.
  • Look at pictures to get a good idea of what you want to make. Pay attention to the details, like basic body shape, poses that are natural for the animal, coloration, etc.
  • You may want to draw the shape of the bead, analyzing the shape of the sculpture using bead shapes you are familiar with, like round beads, cone, or tubes. This will help you with making your first bead and with repeating the form in the future. I have to admit, I rarely do this, but it was pretty helpful in the beginning to break it down on paper.
  • Decide what you will do when. You don't want the smaller details to melt into the large bead while you're working on something else. Pay attention to where your heat is at all times! If I'm making a cat, for instance, I start with the body, and get it well formed before moving on to the head. Once I've got a nice round head attached, I move on to the tail and legs, and finally the smaller details like ears and face. The final step is to pull the tail and legs out a bit and into the position I want, then even out the heat before putting it away in the kiln.
  • Remember to think about the balance of the bead- how will it hang on a cord? The bead will need to have more weight on the bottom if it is to hang upright. If the bead is to be placed on a shelf, it will need to sit evenly.
  • When you are attaching glass to your bead, spot heat the attachment point. Push the glass you are adding gently onto the bead, pull back slightly, then wait for a slight skin to form before pulling the glass into the desired shape and size and burning it off the rod. If you don’t pause before pulling on the rod, you will probably end up with less glass attached than you wanted. You can always build the glass up a bit at a time, or build using dots of glass on top of one another, but this is slower, and therefore more risky. I rarely end up with the right amount of glass the first time, so I'm always adding a bit here and there!
  • Sculptural beads are, by nature, time consuming and therefore subject to breaking. Always remember to reheat often, and keep all the small attachments you add hot- without, of course, melting them into the rest of the bead. Remember that these small parts will cool fastest, so concentrate more of the heat there. Bring them to a slight glow from time to time- just below the point where they will begin to melt and distort.
  • If you are planning on flattening the bead, remember that the glass must be at least as thick on each side as the mandrel you are using.
  • If you are making a large sculptural bead, you may want to use some pre-made parts that you keep warm in the kiln. Think about what kinds of twisties, murrinis, etc. you may need, and make these in advance.
  • It is often useful to use a glass rod to manipulate the glass, rather than a tool. Though this may leave a bit of glass on the bead, there is the advantage that there will be no tool mark to melt out.
  • Heat resistant scissors are a useful tool for sculptural beads. They can be used to pinch, stretch or cut the glass instead of tweezers, which would leave a tool mark. Since all tools pull heat out of the glass, any areas where a tool is used must be reheated.
  • Remember that you can, as with any bead, adjust your torch flame while you work. If you need to melt out tools marks, or spot heat one area of the bead, you may need to reduce your flame to a point temporarily. Remember to return your flame to normal intensity and mix after only a short time, and reheat the whole bead.
  • When you have finished sculpting the bead, slow cool it in the flame, keeping the outside hot while heat from the center dissipates, before putting it in your annealer or vermiculite to cool. Due to the nature of these beads, I would recommend placing them in the kiln immediately rather than using vermiculite or batch annealing later.
I hope these tips are helpful!

3 comments:

Jennifer Cameron said...

Great tips! Thanks for taking the time to post them.

CreekHiker said...

Really great pointers!

I tagged you on my blog!

dogwood said...

I'm always so impressed with your work... and I always learn something new from your blog! Makes me wanna take a class and at least try it once.