From Glassblowing’s intense beginnings around the 1st century BC to hot shops worldwide and a hit competition show on Netflix, it’s an art form that’s left a curious aura around intrigued creatives. How does one shape glass, something so easily breakable and fragile? And how do you get different colors in a glass piece?
There are plenty of questions to be asked, and I shall do my best to fulfill them. Although I’m not an expert, I, too, am caught in a trance in the art of glassblowing (Thanks, Netflix!).
My Fiance and I became quickly obsessed with the glassblowing competition show ‘Blown Away’ when it first came out, and a few years later, as a Christmas present, he booked us a class. In this article, I’ll be touching base with what glassblowing is and some of its terminology and walking you through my experience in taking a class and what you can expect from it.
If you want to try something new or you’ve always wanted to blow some glass, you’ve come to the right place! Put glassblowing on your Vision Board, and let’s explore the depths of this amazing art form!
What is Glassblowing?
Alright, so you’ve probably seen cool pictures or videos of artists blowing glass, but what exactly is it? According to good old Webster, the definition of glassblowing is as follows:
The art of shaping a mass of glass that has been softened by heat by blowing air into it through a tube– Merriam-Webster
Why, thank you, Webster! Now, of course, there are a lot of technicalities that can’t be crammed into a short and sweet definition. But, it is a good start in understanding the very first basic of what glassblowing is. The main goal is to soften the glass, form it, soften it, add color, form it again, and let your piece cool down before visually enjoying it.
That’s a very choppy and crude way of breaking it down, and as I confessed, I’m no expert, but it’s a way to bring us all on the same page before getting into the nitty gritty of it.
Let’s give a big thanks first to Gray Art Class for providing these straightforward and well-written definitions of glassblowing terminology that you’ll be seeing in the section below, which is the experience of taking a class. Something lovely about this art form is definitely its community; glassblowers are some of the nicest artists I’ve met! And community means a lot to them.
These terms will be listed in the order that they first appear in the section below: happy learning!
- Frit: “Ground up pieces of colored glass varying in consistency from sand-like particles to course chunks. It’s often applied to a blob of molten glass as a decoration.”
- Annealer/Annealing: “The last oven required for glassblowing. It allows a finished glass piece to keep a similar temperature from the interior core to the surface while it cools, releasing strain caused in the formation process to prevent cracking and breaking. The process of cooling off in the annealer is called “annealing.”
- Blow Pipe: “A hollow steel rod with a mouth piece on one end that allows that glassblower to blow into an expanded bubble of hot glass.”
- Glory Hole: “The second furnace required in glassblowing. It is used to reheat a piece while it is still being formed.”
- Furnace: “The first furnace required for glassblowing. It contains a crucible of molten glass which the glassblower will gather from to start their piece.”
- Gather: “The act of collecting molten glass on the end of a punti or rod.”
- Blow Hose: “A neoprene tube attached to a swivel at one end and a mouthpiece at the other. It allows the flameworker to blow into the glass bubble while working it in the flame.”
- Mold: “A form made of clay, metal, or wood, that is used to shape hot glass.”
- Cracking Off: “The technique of breaking a glass piece off the punti or rod that was used as a handle while the glassblower was forming the piece.”
Our amazing experience with glass took place at the Hot Shop Glass stomping grounds. If you’re a Wisconsin resident, or even around the Chicago area, I can’t recommend this fantastic hot shop enough!
One thing I’d like to stress before getting started is that in my experience, and I am most positive about everyone’s beginner class experience, is that the instructors will be doing the heavy lifting. You won’t be doing anything too technical or dangerous, especially in your first class.
The instructor my fiance and I had was absolutely kind, knowledgeable, and took things slow. The instructor said before the intimate class started: “We’re going to do the hard stuff, and you’ll be doing the fun stuff!”
So, if that worry is holding you back, please know that you won’t be doing anything scary or too much your first time around.
After we were given a small presentation on safety and wearing eye protection, it was time to pick out our colors, also known as frit, for the ornaments we would create!
This hot shop had their frit neatly organized and even had sample pieces so you could see how the colors would look after they’ve cooled off in the annealer.
Once we got our frit picked out, it was time to start heating up our blow pipe in the glory hole before we can get some melted glass on it. The blow pipe is the main tool that we used in this experience; aside from those extremely hot furnaces, of course!
After the blow pipe is hot enough, our instructor took it over to the furnace where the molten glass is and got some attached to the end, also known as gathering.
Next up, our instructor gave us a mouthpiece attached to a blow hose which we then attached to the end of the blow pipe. This is used to blow air into the heated-up glass, and in the picture below, I’m blowing air to form an air bubble!
After getting the air bubble started, my instructor and I returned to the glory hole and heated the glass again (you don’t want it to get too cold while working with it, or it could break!). Once returned to a good heat (a few minutes at the glory hole), it was time to mold the hot glass piece to a round shape of our liking for the ornament-style piece we were making.
Now it’s time for some fun, adding the frit to the hot and soft glass! This took a little bit of wrist work; you gotta get all the angles, so the frit is applied around your entire piece.
Once our frit was applied and our glass was heated slightly, it was time to head back to the bench and do a little manipulation. Not psychological, don’t be silly! This manipulation involves pulling and twisting the hot glass to move the frit around.
This process creates those swirls and neat designs that you may have seen in other glass-blown pieces. And the tools for this process are pliers and a tool with a sharp point.
I’ve gotta warn you, this part was addicting to me; it’s so much fun! Below are two video examples of my Fiance manipulating his piece.
Once we did all the twists and pulls to our heart’s desire and reheated our glass, it was time to create a jack line where the cracking off takes place. Our instructor created the breaking-off point while she told us to blow through the pipe to create a larger sphere. Prepare your lungs for a workout!
Now it’s time to finish things off by taking the glass off the blow pipe so it can start annealing. It’s time for the cracking off! Below is a video showing the cracking off process.
Because ornaments are something you like to show off and hang up, our instructor created a little place on top where we could feed a hook through; she was the best! Check it out in the video below!
Ta-da! The picture below is my Fiance’s piece before its hook was added and put in the annealer. One thing about glassblowing is that you won’t be able to see your piece’s true colors until it has completely gone through the annealing process. But, this just makes it an extra surprise!
We thoroughly enjoyed taking this amazing glassblowing class through Hot Shop Glass, and I would highly encourage anyone who is interested in blowing glass to give it a whirl!
Glassblowing Near Me
Now that you’ve taken a virtual walk-through of a class in a sweet hot shop, you can take the leap yourself and find a Glassblowing class near me (Well, not me, but you, you get it)! Below is a list of hot shops with classes in each state in the US.
Tap into that pocket of courage and allow yourself to experience something new, fun, exciting, and totally fulfilling. Who knows, you may just fall in love with it as I did.
I hope you enjoyed learning about the fascinating, hardcore, yet peaceful art of glassblowing. May you always find time for yourself to get a little creative, and try something new!
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