Monday, April 27, 2015

THE mosaic school: Scula Mosaicisti del Fruili

Catalog cover 2012

Created in 1922 in the city of Spilimbergo, Italy, the Scula Mosaicisti del Fruili set the bar for professional mosaicists.  It is still the premier school for anyone serious about mosaic art and techniques. 

The original study periods were structured into three years. The curriculum included subjects of general study along with development of drawings, sketches and cartoons (a mosaic outline). Practical exercises in mosaic and terrazzo were taught in a lab. Shortly after its creation, the school was asked to complete the mosaic series for the Foro Italico sports complex in Rome. The series covers nearly 10,000 square feet.
Mosaic at Foro Italico

Today the school attracts people from all over the world, who come for their professional, short, or family programs. They have an objective to combine tradition and innovation. They continue traditional subjects such as mosaic and terrazzo, but also computer graphics, mosaic design and color theory. The current professional programs offer studies in architecture design and contemporary art restoration. 

This video is an interview with the president of the school, Alido Gerussi (in Italian, but with my rudimentary Spanish, I was able to understand most of it), and virtual tour of the school and its beautiful mosaics. There is also a demonstration of cutting smalti with a hammer and hardie and a fascinating look at how they store their glass. (The music is a little annoying, so either mute or turn it down.)

May all of your scores run true!

Monday, April 20, 2015

A New Mosaic Discovery

Picture by Jim Haberman

Last week I saw this article about a new mosaic discovery that archeology professor, Jodi Magness, from UNC-Chapel Hill recently made in Galilea. She and a group of students have been going to the site of an ancient Jewish synagog, Huqoqa, since 2011. The mosaics date back to the fifth century and depict scenes from the Bible. Another mosaic features an elephant and a military commander, possibly Alexander the Great.

Picture from Huqoqa excavation site from official webpage

Mosaics were a way of representing biblical stories to the illiterate public. However, since there are no elephants in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), the elephant mosaic is curious. Patching together the reason it is there and learning more from what other mosaics they may find will create a better understanding of what life was like at that time.

After reading about this find, I was reminded of a book that I read years ago. It's called Ancient Mosaics by Roger Ling. It is a comprehensive look at the mosaics of Greece, Rome, and Africa. For anyone who is interested in the history of mosaics, I would highly recommend this book. It is interesting to read and has enough pictures to keep you engaged.

One subject he covers is how mosaics changed over time. I think it's interesting that while mosaics started off as floor coverings, eventually they moved up onto the walls. There were trends of the type (marble, stone) and style of mosaics (geometric, bordered), in addition to the theme of the image (religious, depictions of hunts).

Most often the mosaics were designed by an artist and rendered by laborers. The way they were constructed required layers of prepared support. The following diagram is an illustration of those layers (page 8 of Ancient Mosaics).

The solid foundation is why these centuries old mosaics exist today. Some have even survived earthquakes. Who knows what the mosaics at Huqoqa have endured?

It will be interesting to keep up with the Huqoqa excavation and what new insights will be discovered there.

May all of your scores run true!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Always Do the Paperwork

Sample Firing Schedule Log

When I interviewed Jodi McRaney-Rusho, we had an email discussion about tracking firing schedules. I remembered this a little while ago while I was working through some Excel exercises. It reminded me of how important it is to keep good records. I'm not just talking about firing schedules, which are a MUST, but also your sketches and notes about products.

To start with, new kilns usually come with a sample log that you can copy and use. I use the form that came with my kiln and keep all of my schedules in a note book. There are also free downloadable sheets on the web. offers a fused glass calculator and free Excel spreadsheet. A step further (that I am definitely doing in the future) is to create a spreadsheet in Excel. This will allow you to get an at-a-glance view of your firing successes and failures and to organize your data by type in separate sheets. For example, if you do production jewelry work, you can keep exact firings for each product size and type of glass in it's own sheet. After years of keeping paper logs, I think a spreadsheet is a very efficient way to organize data.

My Firing Log

As important as firing logs, your own sketches and notes are valuable creative documents. It's easier to work out color combinations and palettes on paper before you ever commit to cutting any glass. Sample boards of tile and glass are indispensable for planning mosaic work. There are also sample grout color boards that save a lot of time and money for the artist by allowing you to see the colors side by side. As you plan your work, keep track of the order number (not just the name) for each color of glass, tile or grout. This will help you if you need to order more. Colors are discontinued from time to time. If you have a record of a color that you want to order, but the number isn't there, then you'll need to talk to a customer service representative to find a replacement.

For my custom client work, I kept a file folder of all of our emails, notes from meetings, sketches, material recommendations, estimates and invoices. This is also a good place to keep product notes. For instance, I did a mosaic shower inset for a client and I recommended epoxy grout. However, I had limited experience with epoxy grout. It is superior for water resistance, but a very difficult product to work with. After discussing the whole project with the client, I found out that they had a contractor who would grout the complete shower. I noted his name and contact information in the file for future reference.

There are many reasons and different methods to keep good records. Choose one that works for you and your needs. 

May all of your scores run true!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Glass Etching: Basics and More

Etched Casserole by Lauren at The Thinking Closet Blog

Glass etching is a great way to customize glass. You don't need to be a glass artist of any kind to do it, either. Any glass can be etched--wine glasses, plates, window panes, whatever. There are just a few things you'll need to know first.

Results may vary. 

An easy way to etch glass is to use an etching solution, such as Armor Etch. There are lots of tutorials on how to use these creams, so I won't go over the details. However, once again, PLEASE READ the caution information on the packaging. The chemicals that create the etching are hazardous to your health.

My experiences using Armor Etch are not all equally successful. The etching is often very light and doesn't show up well on colored glass. Clear glass seems to show the etching better. The pros of using an etching cream are that it is cheap and doesn't require a lot of extra equipment. Hand etching a special mug or glass makes a nice gift that anyone could do as a project. This would also make a nice parent-child project.

(An interesting tid-bit I came across online is that etching creams are illegal in Cook County, Illinois. Apparently some creative gang-types were using it to tag windows.)

Gravely engrave.

Another option for glass etching is to use an engraving tool. The cheapest, most manual engraving tool is a pen-type with a tungsten tip that scratches the surface of the glass ($9-12). This is easy to use and control the amount of pressure to change the results, but again don't forget that you are scratching glass and that particles will be floating around. Use your dust mask and have a damp cloth nearby to wipe the work surface when it gets dusty.

There are also motorized engraving tools, like Dremels. This is a little more tricky because you need to be VERY careful with the amount of pressure you apply to the glass, how thick the glass is, and to monitor the glass for signs of stress to prevent the glass from breaking while you are working. Another necessity is to keep the glass cool with water. This is really tricky. I've seen recommendations to work with a sponge to wet the glass as you work and also sophisticated drip systems that drip small amounts of water onto the glass surface while you work.

Blast it all!

Sand blasting glass is a fast technique that has great results. The downside? The equipment is more expensive, and for large work with professional results, you'll need studio space. (There is a mini-blaster set that uses compressed air from a can--$35-64.99. However, the canned air has bad reviews and the product cannot be shipped.) A beginner set from Delphi Glass $429.95, without shipping costs.

Practice, Practice, Practice.

As it is with any endeavor, you'll get better if you keep working at it.

I found this truly impressive post online about detailed, multi-technique glass engraving at Lesly Pyke Ltd Engraving. This is an example of fantastic craftsmanship. I hope it inspires you!

May all of your scores run true!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Ouch! Preventing Injuries in the Glass Studio

It doesn't matter what type of glass art you create, one fact is true:  You will get cut. And each type of glass work method comes with its own set of dangers. The first type of work that may pop into anyone's head when you think of glass and safety is glass blowing, but it is equally easy to suffer a severe injury or expose yourself to toxins practicing any glass technique.

So with that in mind, here are some general "must do/no exceptions" glass studio rules:

  1. Keep a first aid kit in the studio. Be sure that there are always bandages and treatment for burns in the kit.
  2. Wear safety glasses! Wear them when you are cutting glass and not just when you are using grinders or saws. Prescription eyewear doesn't count, either. Regular glasses do not protect your eyes from glass that may fly up under or through the side of the glasses. 
  3. Wear a dust mask when working with any material that contains silica. This includes kiln wash, fire paper, fiber board, grout, thin set, cement, enamels and mold hardeners. Silicosis is a lung disease caused by inhaling silica particles, and there is no cure. Silicosis causes fluid build up and scar tissue in the lungs and makes it difficult to breathe. 
  4. Never eat or drink in the studio. This shouldn't need explanation, but the bottom line is that glass and dust don't enhance flavors.
  5. Never go barefoot in the studio. Wear closed toed shoes, not sandals or flip flops, and check the bottom of your shoes before you leave the studio. Glass can be embedded in the tread or soft sole of your shoes. 
  6. Have proper ventilation! This isn't just a precaution for hot techniques (fused glass, soldering, glass blowing), but remember that any solvents or adhesives you use may require extra ventilation or even a respirator. ALWAYS read product instructions and precautions.
Photo by

Additional protections that you should consider are to wear cotton/denim clothing that does not hang too loose, and consider wearing a durable apron. This prevents accidents caused by clothing getting caught into equipment (saws, drills, torches etc.) or trailing into hot soldering irons or other dangers. An apron works well because it catches pieces of glass or other particles and can be easily dumped from the apron into the trash. 

If you have long hair, tie it back. This is especially important when working with anything hot or power equipment.

Have a fire extinguisher nearby, and store flammables correctly, away from kilns and other hot equipment.

Check your power equipment before plugging it in. Check blades, wires, tanks and attachments for wear or cracks that may break during use and replace. Additionally, only use power strips, not extension cords, and never use an extension cord for kilns.

Consider using ear protection when using loud equipment like tile/glass saws or rotary tools (Dremel).

Don't take routine tasks for granted. It's easiest to make a mistake when you are acting thoughtlessly. I know some groups like to get together and have art and wine parties, but alcohol in the glass studio is not a good idea, even in a sippy cup. Don't ask.

That might seem like a long list of "DO this, DON'T do that", but working safely is the only smart way to work.

May all of your scores run true!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Before I start this post, I'd like to note that I made a mistake in the last post. The Chicago artist who mosaics potholes is Jim Bachor, not Jon. I've updated the post, but I wanted to make sure that I posted the error. My apologies to Jim.

For this post, I want to talk about a hot glass technique called murrini pulls. I had the opportunity some years ago to take a class where we made murrini pulls, and it was really exciting. I found a video of a professional studio making murrini pulls, Jonathan Cohn Glass. I think it shows how interesting and exciting hot glass can be.

So here are a couple of pictures of my own murrini pull--

I should start by saying that I have sliced off about 5 or so inches to use in projects. At one time it was longer and you could see the impression at the end where I used pliers to pull the glass while it was hot. It should be easy to see that the shape of the glass shows how it got thinner as it elongated. The dark color in the second photo is the color of the design within the white glass. 

Getting to the point where the glass could be stretched was a multi-step process. We began with creating our own design of stacks of 1/2" x 4" strips of glass. The result was a 4" x 4" cube that was then fired just so that the pieces were stuck together. 

Then using a punty stick (the steel stick used to move hot glass in the video), we began the process of heating the cube evenly in a forge. This required rotating the punty stick so that the glass starts to move, then when it begins to droop, it is pulled out and reshaped. In the video they used steel paddles, but in the workshop I took, we used cherry wood paddles that had been soaked in water overnight. The result was a very hot room that smelled strongly of singed wood. When I left, I smelled like I'd been to a bonfire. 

The most exciting part is when the glass has reached a little more than a foot, one person stands on a step stool and heats the glass with a torch, while someone else pulls the glass even further with pliers.  After that, the pull is cut from the stick and put into a kiln to anneal. 

My murrini pull is no where as elaborate as the work created at Jonathan Cohn Glass, but I had a great time making it and appreciate the discipline much more deeply.

So, one thing I have been in total awe of ever since then is that, hot glass requires coordinated assistance and can not be done alone. It's hot and dangerous, and (one more time) exciting!

May all of your scores run true!