Monday, October 29, 2012

Making Shards and Confetti!

CAUTION! This should not be attempted by a novice, minor, or someone without experience with a torch and lampworking. Please use care if you choose to attempt to blow shards. Your safety is your own concern. Do not blow too hard or too quickly as the glass may become thin and dangerous pieces will become airborne. Do not breathe these pieces. If the glass seems to be getting too thin, stop and put it in the metal can. Protect your eyes from breaking glass at all times. Follow all safety rules generally used in lampworking studios.

A fusing pal of mine likes using collage-style glass in some of his designs. You know- the kind with streamers and confetti all over it. The problem is that stuff can be a bit pricey. Since I had tried making glass shards once or twice with decent results, we decided to have a shard-making workshop. We ordered some blow tubes, had a nice stainless steel can at the ready, filled a little jar with some water, put on our safety glasses and went to town. I had looked up some shard-making instructions to refresh my memory.

If you've ever made a hollow bead, you pretty well know the drill. Heat the tube to a nice glow and add a wrap of glass near the end of the tube. Then start wrapping glass on top of that first wrap, making a nice disk and then slowly bending the disk into a globe shape and closing it off. Watch for any holes, close them up, heat the whole thing and then carefully blow out to a thin, but not too thin, thickness. Drop that bubble in the steel can and let it break apart, then clean any remaining glass off the tube by plunging in water if necessary. (One more caution- make sure any tube you are using for this is dry- steam is very hot).

Building a good disk can be a bit of a challenge if you've never done it before, and my friend hadn't. I had some problems with my second disk too. And it was a bit slow- so I started thinking outside the box. Why were we being told to build a hollow globe? What was the need for that when we were going to be blowing a bubble into it anyway. Glassblowers start out with a big molten blob at the end of their blowpipes- why couldn't I do the same thing? And besides, we're blowing shards- it doesn't really matter if they are the same thickness or not.

This morning, I went to the torch and tried out my revised version of shard blowing. I've got a few photos that I hope will help you through this. This was much easier and quicker for me.

1) Heat the end of a 1/4 inch diameter hollow tube to glowing and add a wrap of glass (I used black) about 1/8 inch from the end. Wrap around a couple of times to make a small disk- 1/4 inch high is enough.

step 2

2) Start building a tube onto the front of that disk- parallel to the blow tube. Build it fairly straight out until it is about 3/4 inches long.
step 2-3

3) Close off the end of the glass tube and round up in the flame. You may use a tool to help round up if desired. If there are any holes, close them with a blob of glass.

step 3
   4) You can give a tiny puff of air  into the tube at this point if you like. I don't actually know if this is necessary or not.
step 5

5) Wrap the entire globe with more glass- all the way from top to bottom two or three more times. You can begin adding some more colors if you would like at this point. You should not have any holes as you are adding several layers of glass.

6)  Heat globe and dip into frit if desired. I used raku frit. Give another small puff of air while the blob is hot. After adding air, hold your thumb over the hole for a minute, tilting the tube up slightly while turning.

step 6

7)  Heat, melting everything smooth. Use a tool to shape if needed. 

step 7

Step 8
8) Shape into even globe, making sure it is centered on the blow pipe. Turn the globe around and keep centered, making sure it is evenly heated- the best indicator of this is the color of the glass- it should be the same color all over; a nice glowing orange.

step 9

9)  Heat to a nice, even glow, remove from flame, and blow out carefully. If it collapses, let it melt together, heat and blow again. Rather than holding the tube straight, point it down slightly while blowing (remember, do this out of the flame). For me, one steady blow seemed to work best. Pay attention and don't let one portion blow out too thin and burst. The thin airborne shards this creates are dangerous to breathe. This one did blow out a bit as I was taking the photo.

10)  Carefully put the blown out globe into the steel container. You can tap it carefully inside the container (protecting your eyes), or just put it in the container and it will break on its own.

That's it! You can put the blow tube into water to try and pop off the little bit that may stick, or just heat slowly and build your next shard bubble right onto it.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Inspiration, Big Hole Beads

Isn't it nice when something inspiring just pops into your inbox! The November issue of the Soda Lime Times just came out yesterday and it was all about big hole beads. How to make 'em, how to core 'em and all the eye candy a girl could wish for! The big hole bead category covers anything from a bead with 5 or 6mm hole that will fit on a European style charm bracelet to sliders and dread beads with 1/4 or 1/2 inch holes- or more! I've been making mandala or kaleidoscope beads for years- but never very many at a time, because they take me so darn long and I end up feeling just a wee bit incompetent. But with a few words of encouragement from the folks at Soda Lime (and did I mention a lot of eye candy???), I thought it was time to give it all a bit of a go. Fun stuff, even though these babies took me about 40 minutes each- and these are actually a bit on the small side.

One of the interesting thing about BHBs is that they are often used so that the flatter side faces out. When I make these, I am constantly looking down the mandrel to see if they are fairly round, and how the design is coming together. But round is not the only shape a BHB can be- far from it! One of my own Icarus Wing Beads was featured in the gallery. This is a fairly new style for me with a bit of a wing shape on one side and lots of twirls and curls on the other.

Big Hole Beads do present the small problem of getting that large hole to look good on the inside. Sludging the mandrel the night before and letting it air dry will help ensure a good bond between glass and mandrel. Use the sludged mandrel within a day or two to prevent rust from forming on the mandrel- rust stains are quite hard to remove from inside the bead. At The Gathering, I was instructed to sand the inside of these beads with wet/dry sandpaper in ever increasing grits to make them nice and smooth. For more tips and a fun tut, I'd advise you to get your own copy of the November 2012 Soda Lime Times-it's great fun, and a tremendous value too!

Monday, October 8, 2012

I'm always so excited when one of my beads is featured anywhere. One of my masks was chosen for the 'Show Me Sunday' Art Bead Scene.

You can sign up to receive their daily blog posts- lots of fun ideas, mini tuts and a monthly challenge. So go check it out to keep abreast of things in the world of art beads!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Keep the Customer Satisfied, Satisfied...

I had a rather bizarre conversation the other day with the owner of a fairly new online business. He was interested in having a few of my items available through his site. Seemed like a nice guy, we had a good talk, and then I went home, looked at the site and started thinking... Hmmmm...

One thing he mentioned was a current customer who was giving him a bit of trouble about some slow shipping. He apparently had his hands full, and had to hold off on sending out their order. I mentioned that I always send shipping notification out when I ship something. Etsy has made that so simple now- a pre-written note I can just punch a button and send, and I can even add a clickable tracking number. He said he just didn't have time to send out shipping notification. Really?  Well...

A couple of days later I placed an order with a company I'd never done business with before. And guess what- no shipping notification. So what happened? Well, I waited 6 days and emailed to ask the status. No reply. The next day I waited for the mail to arrive- still nothing, so I called. Of course it was on the way. But I don't think this was much of a time-saver for them since they had to go back and look it up and talk to me on the phone.

In the meantime I was getting a bit peeved. I find I am not very patient when I order online. I send the $$ in good faith, and then I really want to know when it's on the way. After all, I have no idea who you are or what your policies are. An automatic message only goes so far- I still want to know when MY package is on the way- and how it's being shipped so I know who to look out for.

So back to the new online company. Another thing he mentioned was that his customer could not possibly be in a rush to get his product as they couldn't use it for months. Second guessing the customer never seems like the best business plan to me. What if they are doing this as a test- they want to find out how quickly you ship and what kind of customer service you give- well, you've just failed miserably.

I work hard on customer service, always trying to give a bit more than expected- a little note on one of my own special cards, an extra 'lucky' bead, careful packaging. I find communication is key, especially if there is any problem with an order. Yes, we all make mistakes from time to time. I always apologize, offer to cancel the order, and offer a bit of something extra- whether it's free shipping, a discount or a freebie if there is any type of problem whatsoever. Why? Because repeat customers are my favorite kind!

Alright- this has been a bit of a rant! In conclusion, I think the best policy is to treat the customer as you would like to be treated!