In the last installment of this little series, I mentioned that I had a standing order for a hundred bubblers to send within Mexico. I was only about halfway through it to be honest, and pretty frustrated at simple issues I was having due to my lack of skills and tools. I had taken on a huge order for even most glass artists and I had barely any time to do it. This was partially my fault, as I didn't work for the first few days for various reasons, like being out of gas. I was hampered by my lack of tools and hand eye coordination which made things difficult on me. Through this experience, I've learned a lot that I think is worth sharing about both business and glassblowing.
Many glass artists are really uncomfortable showing their weaknesses to the world. They don't want to show where they've made mistakes, only where they've had success. I've chosen to take the complete other route, total honesty and transparency. I want to show everyone the struggles I had regardless of how stupid they were. Many of these issues I face are issues that are exclusive to me, for one reason or another. I want to show that this stuff really isn't easy. In the last five years I've had to reprogram myself entirely, essentially starting from scratch as far as skills and learning are concerned. I've come a long way, but I've got a long way to go still. I show this for all the other people out there like me, to show that anyone can do what they set their mind to.
So I got this order and immediately got overwhelmed. I'd made less than 10 bubblers by that point and I was really only just then getting to the point where I was proud of what I was making. We were running low on both propane and oxygen and promptly ran out of both. I'm pretty sure I ended up wasting that gas as the pieces from it were not functional. I tried to make something work without giving it enough thought and ended up with funny looking pieces at best. They gave me lots of problems and were eventually deemed the bubblers from hell. Every part was a pain in the ass, which wasn't a good sign for this order.
This order had me upset, frustrated and motivated the whole way through. I was having a lot of simple issues with small things which was frustrating, as I was wasting time and energy. For example, in a bubbler there's a can which is the bottom. In that there's another piece referred to as the down stem, which needs to be prepped beforehand. All I needed to do was to flare a small sized tube open, then cut the tube to leave a short tube with a flared end.
Not nearly as easy as it sounds for me, apparently. Part of my issue is that I lack just about every tool that a glass worker will tell you is "essential". From diamond shears to marvers, I don't have them. The problem I was having was with cutting the stem from the tube without closing it. I don't have the tools most people use for this, so I was attempting to do it what's called the bubble trash method. I was just heating a pinpoint spot until molten and blowing it out to pop a hole. You flame cut and pull from there but it doesn't always go very well and it certainly doesn't produce a pretty result. At the end of the job, John concocted a makeshift v marver which did the trick. I'll write an article about that tool soon, as me posting it on facebook did some good and got a kind soul to offer to donate his extra.
Simply put, it's a tool that allows you to essentially crimp glass where it's molten. It cools the glass at the spot where its touched which helps me. After I crimp it by rolling it in the v marver where I heated it, I just use a pair of pliers to apply some tension and it breaks at the point where I marvered it. All that's left to do is polish the end, and to think I was brought to tears in frustration over these little pieces.
Among my other struggles were everything from faulty handles that sent pieces crashing to the floor to bottoms that weren't flattened enough for the piece to stand without wobbling. There were funny shaped necks and improperly sealed joints that I needed to fix. I tested every pipe by applying some tension to the neck. Sometimes it popped right off telling me what I already probably knew, it was a bad seal. I'd get cracking from carelessly heating glass that had cooled to much, only to spend a bit of time chasing it out of the piece with the flame.
I got about halfway done by the time the job was supposed to technically be finished. Our customer was about as ready as we were, as he didn't have payment. We both needed a few more days, so it worked out in the end. In the future, I don't want to make a habit of agreeing to orders and taking much longer than agreed on.
All things considered, I had a lot of fun. I got to experiment with fuming, making my technique both better and faster. I was using a stopwatch for the first time while working, in an attempt to get my production speeds faster. Right now I am what is considered a production artist, meaning I'm essentially a human pipe factory until further notice. This is something that many glass artists (who are interested in making a living at it) go through. With the help of the stopwatch, I cut my times and was able to get a really good idea of where I was wasting time when working.
I worked through many nights while John and Rebel slept in bed without me, filling the kiln with bubblers and emptying it onto the mattress shown in the above picture. To make counting easier, we kept them in rows as they came out of the kiln finished, one by one. There was almost always one to fix, either by reflattening the bottom or reattaching the mouthpiece.
I got into a good grove for making them pretty consistently decorated while not spending more than a minute or two decorating each part. I did it in threes, the neck, the bottom of the can and the top of the can.
I experimented and practiced design techniques like wrapping and dots. Wrapping is only half of a common technique known as the wrap and rake. For sake of time as well as to give me a chance to practice wrapping evenly, I didn't do any raking on these pieces. The trick with production work is to make it art, but make it quickly. Adding too many extra details can make a piece take twice as long.
I finally finished the order but our customer hadn't come through with payment. As rent was (and still is) drawing near, we needed to sell the pipes as soon as possible, so we took them to another distributer we know. He agreed to buy half of them and put some orders in for some sherlocks and more bubblers, just in time for our customer to call and say he sent the funds for the other fifty. Just like that, all the bubblers were sold. The pictures above are of the table with the pipes I sold to the distributer.
After doing a bit of quality control and making some extras, we packed up the order for the fifty pipes. We also included some of our other pipes as samples, to show what we can do and to get input on what people want. Yesterday I shipped that package, although I made my customer wait a few days, something I don't intend on doing again. I'll know in a few days if it makes it there safe and sound and if he's satisfied.
This was my reward for finishing the order, and man was it a pain in the ass. I encased blue fumed, decorated tube in clear and while the design turned out very cool, I had problems the whole way through. I had a lot of issues with large air bubbles trapped in the glass as well as cracks. I attempted to fix it once and honestly it still needs reworked again. The bottom isn't as flat as it should be, and it's got cracks through the whole can, something I'm not sure I'll be able to fix. It's a huge shame, as this was a really pretty piece.
So it was an adventure, a successful one at that. In the process I learned a lot about myself, glass and business. I was able to fix a previous mistake I had made with a customer just by bringing in new material of better quality, which will help us in the long run. It was a lot of work and there were definately points where I really wondered if this is what I'm supposed to be doing, as I was having a lot of difficulties with things that shouldn't have been difficult. This is partially due to my lack of tools and resources but also do to my impaired thinking abilities. Glassblowing is reminding me that I am still not very good at solving problems quickly, but I'm getting better at it.
So for now, there's the update. I finished the order and sold the pipes. I've got a lot of work to do on my next order, for 50 sherlock pipes. Time to blow!