Most of us get into the art business because we love it…but it’s possible to love it to death. You can get so serious and self-critical about your art that you maybe forget why you’re doing it: Because it’s so much fun. I realized last weekend that I was headed that way, fast.
And so for the next 48 hours I stopped worrying about being a grownup, serious artist trying to find my voice and instead had fun. I made a couple of glass samplers, an old project I used to love doing. It used up a bunch of glass scrap, reintroduced me to my inner child and did some battery recharging.
I also played around with a favorite old powder sculpture style I call Zen gardens. I’m not going to pretend any of this stuff is Aaaaahrt, that’s not the point. They’re fun, and they’re a way of not taking myself so seriously while I loosen up creative muscles I hadn’t realized were kinked.
Ever seen the raked Japanese sand gardens? The first time I saw someone demonstrating glass powder painting, maybe ten years ago, she warned us to keep our layers thin or they wouldn’t fuse perfectly flat.
And I thought, well, what would happen if you DID go thicker? Could you sculpt the powder? Could you rake it and get something that looked like those beautiful, serene Japanese gardens?
So I went home and tried it.
My first effort, above left, was a mixture of dark earthtone powders on a sheet of 3mm clear, bordered by 3mm black strips, with a heavy tackfuse and some coarse clear frit for contrast.
There is probably a half-inch of powder with very deep combing and the final texture is extremely dimensional, about like 60-grit sandpaper.
The magical part, though, is when you backlight it, right. You get this really lovely glow that I’ve since exploited in light fixtures.
Reduce the thickness of the powder, and you move from a sculptural relief to more of a raised line drawing (below). You’ll get different effects from transparent colors versus opaques, mixing colors, varying the depth of your rake, pressing the powder or adding larger sizes of frit. Powder and fine frit can be sculpted dry and keep their shape quite well, which can make for very interesting effects.
Making one is pretty simple; I cut a sheet of thin clear glass and border it on at least two sides with thin strips or glass noodles, held in place by superglue. (The Uroboros black glass noodles may be the single most useful forms of glass ever invented–after years and years of using them I still come up with new things I absolutely need them for, but borders are definitely top of the list).
The raised border helps keep the powder from sliding off the glass, and it causes some trade-offs. If you want the border to be well-fused so that it appears to be a solid, continuous part of the frame, you need to give it a heavy tackfuse (especially if you don’t use noodles). That, however, will gloss up and partially fuse the frit, so sometimes it’s better to fuse the frame first, then go back and add the powders in a second firing.
Normally, though, I slightly round off the edges of both glass and noodles with a diamond pad, then start sifting powder. The amount of powder I lay down varies with the color and transparency–the darker and more opaque, the less required. Paler transparents and clears need a surprising amount or they’ll disappear even in a tackfuse.
The typical triangular powder comb (Bullseye sells it, I believe) works well for very thin powder applications, but it pushes away too much powder for thicker applications. I cut my own combs out of cardboard, or broken plastic haircombs. (If you can find the comb-barette things people used to use, they’re wonderful) The comb’s “teeth” need a clearance about a quarter-inch higher than the level of the powder to be effective.
If you cut your own combs, don’t think just about the height of the comb openings–you can also change the angle and shape of the “teeth” to produce different effects.
Rectangles give small, deep furrows that tend to collapse on themselves. Triangular teeth give the strongest effect, with the furrows getting darker in the center, where powder is thickest. A scalloped edge combines both, but is hard to comb evenly.
Usually it’s best to comb first in the center, and work your way out to the edges–you’ll be pushing a lot of powder ahead of your comb. The patterns can be random, as the light powder tray above, left, or you can work in more regular patterns.
One of my favorites is a checkerboard (above): Mark off squares with a ruler and a Sharpie pen, set the whole thing on a light table and sift on powder. Then comb into the squares in different directions.
Or you can try sifting down different colors of powder, combing through them to the clear glass and then sifting again to fill in the blanks, as in the dish at left.
If you make a mistake, don’t worry–either sift on more powder in that area and redraw, or blow the whole thing off (literally) and start over. You’ll get different effects if you leave the sifted powder fluffy, or if you press it down with a flat piece of glass.
You can also press the powder after sifting, which makes a very controlled and muted texture.
In fact, you can actually sculpt the powder, if you’re careful and don’t insist on a lot of detail. The powder pyramids in the picture above are about 2 inches high at the peak. It helps if you’re working in a wetter climate when you do this, but if you just can’t get the powder to stay in place you can schpritz a little water or even hairspray on the surface.
I usually use a pointed tool to clean out the troughs between the furrows and neaten up the lines. And it’s nice to vary the strokes and directions in different sections.
The firing schedule controls final appearance–the closer you are to a light tackfuse, the “sandier” the piece and the wider and higher the lines of powder. More heatwork, and the raked lines integrate more and more into the glass, until they can nearly vanish.