Lessons Learned From Hot Glass

in art •  3 years ago 

Putting it simply, glassblowing is one of the toughest things I've set out to learn.  I come at this from a point of view with very little hand eye coordination which somewhat handicaps me currently.  I'm also notoriously klutzy, making it somewhat ironic that I decided to take up one of the most fragile mediums of art.  All things considered, I've really enjoyed my journey so far with glass.  It's got a way of teaching tough life lessons repeatedly, in a way that keeps me going.  I've decided to share my list of 15 things hot glass has taught me here. 

1) Assume Everything is Hot

In a glass shop, it's best to assume everything is hot.  If you keep this mindset, easing into anything you touch, you don't get burned.  It's not so much to say to avoid approaching things, but to do so gradually so you don't get burned badly approaching a hot object too quickly.  Sometimes in life you've got to approach something, or someone, that could be "hot" in one way or another.  Take a bit to ease into it to determine if it's going to hurt you or not. In the shop, we do this by essentially tapping what we think might  be hot in lengthening intervals until we determine it's cool enough to touch or hold. The above photo is of a poor glassblower that forgot this rule and put his mouth on a hot tube... I did the same thing yesterday although it was much less severe.

2) Janky Joints Make for Broken Pieces

A "janky joint" is defined in the glass world as a joint between two pieces of glass that is poorly done.  It could have holes in it, be unevenly sealed or not really sealed at all.  This leads to a piece that's going to break, eventually.  If you make a janky joint when you attach a blowtube to a start, expect it to break sending your piece crashing to the floor at any second.  Same goes for real life, janky joints in the form of relationships lead to situations that leave people (and sometimes things) broken.

3) Shaky Hands Make for Wonky Pieces

I've always had shaky hands, but I wouldn't go as far to say that I have Parkinson's or something like that.  If anything, it's anxiety related and glass is teaching me to deal with that.  If you've got shaky hands as a glassblower you'll end up with weird, wonky pieces at the end.  Things never turn out how you expect them to and it's almost always a pain in the ass to get anything accomplished.  If you approach things in life with a lack of confidence, you'll end up with weird, wonky results.  Focus and take charge and the shakes will start to subside and your pieces will eventually look better.

4) Video Games are Good For Kids

I grew up in a household were videogames were considered bad.  My aunt always touted they taught you nothing and wasted too much time.  While I agree many spend to much time on videogames, I do think they are useful for teaching things like hand eye coordination.  I can't help but wonder if I had been allowed to play more games, would I have better coordination?  I know this has hindered me in glass, there's been many times where a piece has cooled down because I'm too uncoordinated with my hands to do what my mind is trying to do. Very frustrating.  So if you are against videogames, maybe consider this aspect of it.

5) The Best Tools for the Price Are Generally Homemade Or Improvised

Anyone that's into glass blowing will tell you that the tools are expensive, and many of them really only have one purpose.  Due to lack of funds, we've been forced to emprovise here and we've made it happen with what we've got despite everything.  I use hair cutting shears for glass shears, vice grips and a copper fitting for a bowl push.  I've been using a nice set of sharp tweezers as a reamer, although we splurged with 80 pesos and got some nice rounded needlenose pliers that'll serve the purpose better. When you don't have the funds for the 300 dollar tool, remember that tool was invented by some guy, somewhere and had to be manufactured by hand at least once.  Many of these tools can be recreated at home so long as you understand how they work.

6)Think Before You Turn On The Torch

I've had many situations where I've jumped on the torch to try something new, only to struggle because I didn't think about what I was doing. In glass, many things need to be done in a fairly strict order to make them happen well. If you forget a step, you generally make life a lot harder on yourself.  If you spend a few minutes to think through what you're doing, step by step, you'll have a better chance of success the first time.  Same ALWAYS holds true in every day life.

7) Do Research

The internet is there for a reason, use it! If you don't know how to do something, chances are there's at least one guy out there who's talking about how to do it online.  For glass, this is extremely true.  The glass movement in the states developed right as the internet really started to take off and the artists took advantage.  They spent time discussing techniques on forums, which are now still there available for any new person to read.  The more research I do about glass, the better I get.

8) Ask Questions

Questions are important.  If you're facing a problem, ask yourself why.  If you can't figure it out, ask someone who knows or could know.  If no one knows, run experiments.  Science isn't just up to the scientists like teachers in school would have you believe!

9) Respect where you are, right now

Glass has a habit of regularly reminding me of my place as a glassblower and in life.  While I've got some skills and knowledge, I'm constantly reminded of exactly where I stand physically and mentally.  Everytime I try and attempt a piece outside of my boundaries, I face problems that tell me that I'm doing something I've not got the skill yet for.  A piece will crack or I'll heat it completely unevenly due to unfamiliar tube size or thickness. In life, it's important to own where you are right now, not always where you want to be.  People will always respect someone who can admit they can be foolish more than someone who believes they know everything.  The piece above is my sorry attempt at a tree...it isn't even functional.

10) Perseverance is key, and Passion Breeds Perseverance

No one has ever fought or toiled for anything they weren't passionate about.  People may work for these things, but working is a different matter from fighting.  I've never been the type of person to stay up all night, but glass makes me want to be that type of person.  I've faced lots of big challenges that should tell me to avoid glass, but my love for it is making me work on overcoming those challenges instead of running from them.  If you go for your dreams and face resistance, it's not a sign telling you to stop, its a test to see if you've got what it takes to make it.

11) Mistakes Often Breed New Techniques

I've always been one to look at mistakes like bad things.  They were another sign I wasn't where I wanted to be.  I just wanted to be to a point where I stop making mistakes.  I'm now to a point where I want to just make less mistakes, and that I want to focus on learning from them.  Not all mistakes are bad either, as Bob Snodgrass learned the first time he accidentally fumed silver.  Had he not made that mistake, there would be no color changing pipes.

12) Wonky Pieces Make Great Gifts

I used to get really upset everytime I'd pull a piece out of the kiln, noticing some fatal flaw that made it unsellable.  Everything from a bad joint to a crack to a large bowl hole will make it so a pipe just won't sell.  These mistakes are often functional, despite their mistakes and they make great gifts to good friends.  Its nice to have little things around to give to friends here and there.  I've never had anyone disappointed by one of these gifts, even if they eventually break.

13) Good Friends are Important

Good friends are a good source of motivation and often times inspiration.  They're there to enjoy the fruits of your labor while supporting you during hard times.  These are people who will loan or donate money when you need it.  They're the people who buy your product over someone else's, just because they know it helps.  They'll sing your praises to other people, generally bringing you new business and friendships in the process.  

14) The Best Things In Life Aren't Easy

Even if you know what you're passionate about, that's only half the battle.  Liking something doesn't mean you can do it and that definately holds true for glassblowing.  The key is finding something to do with your time that you like enough to keep working at. This is glass for me.  I like it enough that dropping my piece won't get me to stop.  Neither will a nasty burn or lack of sleep.  


15) Take Your Time, but Not Too Much

In glass, and in life, it's important to take your time.  If you provide an inferior product because you rushed, you'll lose out in the long run.  It's important to find a balance however, because if you take too much time you'll lose out just as much.  Speed is important, but quality is too.

So there you have it, my list of 15 life lessons I've learned from hot glass.  I've been amazed at how much the lessons I learn in glass have to do with my real life lessons.  The flaws I hold show themselves when I work glass, and it can get pretty uncomfortable at times.  I've found something worth trudging on with though.  In time, I'll be a better glassblower and be much closer to where I've always wanted to be.  For now, I'll work on being the best I can with the tools I have. 


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This is so interesting!! I was always curious about glass blowing but when I was younger a friend of mine who could afford the swanky art schools explained that one of his professors had an accident blowing glass which resulted in him putting his out eye out with molten glass. Scared the bejeezus out of me so I never ventured to even try. That and my middle name is clumsy, lol. Thank your for sharing your experience and perspective, I really enjoyed reading it!

Same here with the clumsy thing. Just consider, wood workers cut off fingers all the time, glass isn't the only highly dangerous craft!

Lol!! That is very true...good point!

Excellent excellent post. Breaking down all those pieces of wisdom is great for a fellow creative. I've never 'met' anyone that has taken up glass blowing.

Chances are you have, and you just didnt know it!