the art of glass

a beginner’s guide to how art is created from glass

Glass works by Dale Chihuly at Chihuly Garden and Glass, Seattle
©Caroline Fraser

What do you know about the art of glass?

Do you know your hot from your cold?

Your fused from your blown?

Your slumped from your cast?

If you don’t, then please read on and I will try to enlighten you.

What is glass?

Glass has been made for thousands of years, and is made from silica sand together with a small amount of other ingredients, such as sodium bicarbonate, that lower the temperature at which the silica melts. Stabilisers, such as lime, are also added to prevent the glass dissolving in humid conditions.

Silica sand come from weathered quartz rock, and is found on many, but not all beaches. Florida beaches are rich in silica sand.

http://”View from Hill Inlet, Whitehaven Beach” by bobweasel is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

A silica sand beach

Types of glass work

Glass work is divided into three main types; hot, warm and cold.

Hot glass

a glass furnace in Murano
Wknight94 / CC BY-SA (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

Hot glass production involves working with molten glass at around 2000 degrees centigrade using a furnace.

As a child I remember many a visit to a Caithness Glass, in Crieff, Perthshire, watching paperweights being formed by craftsmen using a furnace.

After watching the paperweights being made I would search for fragments of the coloured glass canes used in making traditional millefiori paperweights to take home as treaure.

a traditional millefiori paperweight
Antique Baccarat Closepack Millefiori Paperweight with Animal Silhouette Canes,
Signed & Dated (internally) with a “B1848” Signature/Date Cane.

On my mantelpiece at home sits this sea themed Caithness paperweight, a reminder of those highland visits.

Spindthrift paperweight | Caithness Glass

There is something magical about the ‘hot‘ glass process , as it is known. The glare of the furnace, the glow of the molten glass on the end of a rod, and the skill of the craftsperson manipulating the glass to create pices of art.

Endless rolling, shaping and heating to produce a perfectly formed decorative piece.

This is probably the process of glass manufacture that we are most familiar with.

You can watch how a beautiful paperweight is made in the video below.

Hot glass blowing has been around since Roman times. The delicacy of the glass that was produced by ancient civilisations is quite astonishing.

Roman blown-glass cinerary urn, dated between 1st and 3rd centuries AD

The most famous hot glass artist today is Dale Chihuly. His sculptures formed the basis of a magnificent outdoor exhibition ‘Reflections on Nature’ at Kew Gardens last summer.

Dale Chihuly glass sculpture|Kew gardens|2019
©Caroline Fraser
Dale Chihuly glass sculpture|Kew gardens|2019
© Caroline Fraser

Cold glass

Working with cold coloured glass is a quieter, cooler affair. The world of stained glass lies within this category, but it also includes any works made without heat by methods that include grinding, polishing and engraving.

Artspring gallery’s Hildegard Pax works with dichroic glass and light in her delicate sculptures. Hildegard’s process includes bonding and polishing of fine slices of dichroic glass. Dichroic glass displays two different colours in different lighting conditions depending on whether light is passing through the glass at certain angles, or reflected off the glass at other angles.

The result is a mesmerising, ever changing light display.

Tumbling XV | Hildegard Pax | Dichroic glass sculpture

Another artist who incorporates cold techniques is Emma Rawson. Emma’s work (below) involves creating textures from household objects such as fabric onto sheets of glass, which are then bonded together into sculptural objects.

fused, layered glass by Emma Rawson

Warm glass

Warm glass methods involve melting and shaping glass in a kiln, at temperatures between 593 and 927 celcius. This is not as hot as a glass furnace used for the hot glass techniques.

Glass fusing

Glass fusing involves joining together pieces of glass by melting them in a kiln.

glass in kiln ready for fusing | Hilary Shields
Fused & Slumped Glass dish by Hilary Shields

This technique is also used by Artspring Gallery’s Paul Chave for his quirky and colourful bird sculptures.

Rare Bird No 32 | Paul Chave

Glass slumping

Glass slumping involves shaping glass by heating it over or into a mould in a kiln.

The video below shows how ArtSpring Gallery’s glass artist Hilary Shields creates a plant themed panel using a clay mould and then melting glass onto the plaster mould in a kiln.

This plant based work is made using a clay mould and kiln.

plants| glass formed in a mould| Hilary Shields

kiln casting

In kiln casting a mould containing glass pieces is heated inside a kiln to create a glass object shaped by the mould.

The many and varied ways in which a kiln can be used to make glass artworks is described in this video ‘The Art of Kiln Glass’ from Bullseye Glass, in Portland, US.

In truth, many artists will combine different methods in their work, but just a little better understanding of the processes involved has made me appreciate the work of our ArtSpring Gallery glass artists all the more.

I will leave you with a few more examples of their work.

Dichroic glass jewellery | Hildegard Pax
Blue Allium on edge in stand
Kilnformed glass and forged iron | Hilary Shields

Mo No.8
Kilnformed Glass | Paul Chave

If you made it this far, you deserve a medal!

Thanks so much for your interest, and if you have any questions, then please don’t hesitate to contact the gallery with your query.

Comments (2)

Jazz Dixon

Fascinating article, and goes to prove there is always something new to learn.
Thank you for sharing

1 year ago

    Thanks so much Jazz. I learned a lot too!
    Caroline Fraser

    1 year ago

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