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Artists Challenge 2023 – How to create like a child

“Every child is an artist; the problem is staying an artist when you grow up.” – Pablo Picasso

In 2023 exhibiting artists were challenged to create a work which exemplified their quest to maintain a childlike approach to creativity.

The judges were impressed by a glass work by Kimberley Ivory titled Desert Dusk. Kimberley’s explanation of the way she set about creating her entry and the thorough documentation of her process secured her first prize…

I loved the idea of this challenge at first reading. I was especially taken by the line, “During play, creative juices are fully activated, and new ideas emerge (like bubbles to the surface).” I love creating bubbles in glass and this challenge encouraged me to try something I have always admired but never done: boiled glass!

Glass doesn’t boil like water. Boiling brings water to the temperature at which it bubbles and turns to vapour. To boil glass, much higher than usual temperatures are used to push pockets of air through layers of glass, carrying different colours with them. It plays with one of my favourite aspects of glass work: serendipity.

The top temperature used when boiling glass is around 925 degrees Celsius, compared to a usual temperature of 804 degrees. The glass is held at this high temperature for at least an hour, not the usual 10 or 15 minutes at 804 that is sufficient to completely fuse two sheets of glass. This high and long heat radically exceeds the parameters of Bullseye glass’ tests for compatibility, so you can’t be sure how the glass or the chemical composition of the colours will react, where the bubbles will land or what you will end up with. Kiln magic!

An inspiration:
Wurre, “Rainbow Valley Conservation Area”,
Imarnte country, NT.
11 July 2022

I am fascinated by the colours and geology of central Australia. These ancient formations tell a story of millennia. They are also the product of heat, time, and chemical reactions. These places are awesome, humbling, and sacred. These colours make my soul sing. They are home.

The process of creating a piece of art glass

Step 1:
Colour selection and consideration of possible reactions between the chemical composition of the colours. Sulphur based colours react with copper based colours.

Step 2:
Considering layout.
The colours below will rise through the colours above. The iridized glass on the right forms the base to reduce the risk of sticking at high temperatures.

Step 3:
Choosing the frit.
These pieces of crushed glass will go between the layers to create the air pockets needed to create the boiling effect.
Normally, clear frit would be sufficient, but I tried to add some transparent red, orange, and yellow to see if they would add pops of transparent colour to the final piece.

Step 4:
Starting to lay up the glass.
The iridized glass forms the base and a border to reduce sticking. The dams prevent the molten glass from flowing through the kiln at high temperatures.
The kiln shelf is also coated with a releasing compound to prevent sticking.
A mix of yellow, orange, red and clear frit (crushed glass) is arranged in ways that will (hopefully) influence the final colour of the top surface. There will be more bubbles where the frit is denser.

Step 5:
Lay up of first layer of solid colour.

Step 6:
Lay up of top layer.

The dams are weighted at the corners for extra support.

Step 7:
In the kiln,
dammed up and ready to fire. Fingers and toes crossed and a short prayer to the kiln fairies!

Step 8:
After more than 12 hours in the kiln, the first firing is complete.
Success! Lots of bubbles pretty much where I wanted them, though the coloured frit made minimal impact. The black colour in the blue is the anticipated reaction between the blue (copper) and yellow (sulphur) glass. The central brown colour is a reaction between the strip of white reactive glass and the dark red (lead).

Step 9:
Thinking and planning.

What to do with this lump of glass? I could slice it up and see what patterns I could create with the slices laid on their sides, revealing the movement of the glass through the layers. I could choose the pieces I liked best to make jewellery.

Ultimately, I decided to turn it into a free- standing block but it needed a backing colour. After trying just about every colour I had, I went for black.

The back view, showing the frit and the air pockets:

Step 10:
Firing Two
. The edges have been trimmed. A layer of thin black is added to the back and edges, a layer of clear on top, making the whole piece 13mm deep.
The dams are back in place so the block will hold its shape as a piece this thick, even at the normal full fusing temperatures of 805, will want to flow to reach a final thickness of 6mm.
Nothing is wasted in glass work. The trimmed edges are cut up and turned into some of the earrings you will see in your shop.

Step 11:
The edges of the piece are smoothed using diamond wheels and pads with water. This is the bit they never show you in the fancy glass shows like Blown Away. It’s tedious but meditative, and an essential part of finessing a piece of glass.

I would have liked to sand blast or diamond lathe this piece to carve in surface detail, but that equipment is in Canberra at the Glassworks and there simply wasn’t time. But coldworking is used to add all kinds of interest to kiln formed glass.

Step 12:
Slumping. Firing Three

The piece is now placed on a prepared stainless steel mould and fired again to about 640 degrees. At this temperature the glass will sag but not flow. The block will curve to take the form of the mould and hopefully create a free standing glass landscape.
Fingers crossed! At every stage of the process there is potential for disaster: thermal cracking, unwanted bubbles, slips off the mould. That’s why “glassies” always try to keep on side with the kiln fairies!

So, the kiln fairies were unhappy, and the kiln did something weird. This is an early firing thermal shock, meaning the glass got too hot, too fast and as you can see cracked…

Back to the kiln, dusted with clear powder for firing number four to hopefully heal the crack…

The crack healed well and after a little more coldworking we were ready for slump attempt number two.

The kiln fairies were definitely up to mischief with this piece! Slip number two, but luckily no cracking this time. In fact, this slip created a very interesting double curve that I think adds more interest to the landscape than a single curve would have.

The finished piece is a free standing 13 mm thick, double curved block of kiln-formed Bullseye art glass made by heating the glass beyond its usual limits.
But it also tells a story that resonates with the story of Wurre itself. It’s a story of constant change caused by elements like heat, wind, and pressure, and human intervention. But it’s also a story of persistence, resilience, healing and care-taking.

This piece was inspired by Imarnte country, created on Wiradjuri country, and is dedicated to all First Nation people of this amazing continent they welcome us to call home.

See more art glass here.

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