Playing with Fire


**NOTE: Much as I appreciate the regular correspondence with people looking for skilled glass-blowers in the GTA… Ontario… Canada… I am NOT one of them.  I’m not sure why my blog has turned up so high on the google list.  If you are looking for someone, I recommend: 

Minna Koistinen from Playing With Fire. You can find her here:
http://www.playingwithfire.ca/ , and if the thing you’re looking for is relatively simple, she might even teach you how to make it yourself, which is a very cool experience.  ***

I recently went to a Glassblowing workshop at Playing with Fire in Toronto.  Glassblowing is terrifying, thrilling, and so much more stressful than a glass artist makes it look.  Given the opportunity, do it. 

Our instructors going through the process for making a paperweight

Our teacher, Minna Koistinen is a member of the Geisterblitz Glass Studio, an internationally renowned partnership of glass professionals, artists, and designers.  She has her own line of glass fine art, sold Canada-wide.  She makes glassblowing look effortless, like the most natural thing in the world is to swing a blowpipe just so to make that small lumpy piece of glass into a thin, elegant vase, all without setting anything on fire.

rolling our first blob of glass into coloured glass. Picking my colours was a huge decision!  Please don’t mix into each other and form some terrible shade of awful!  Luckily, Minna and Andrea were there to give suggestions

Her assistant, Andrea, is apprenticing in the art form.   There are very few trades (or so it seems to me) that still use this as a means of instruction, but most art forms seem to need that time observing and helping out to really learn the techniques.  Especially when it comes to things like glass-blowing, where learning to get a feel for the material is a big part of determining just what it is you will make.

Minna walked us through the equipment we would be using, and then ran through each exercise, while maintaining a steady stream of comments and instructions for us.  She and Andrea helped each of us through the exercises, which is good because the minute I got the rod in my hands, the only thing going through my mind was a kind of dull roar of “MAKING GLASS!!!”, mixed with paranoia at potential death by fire.  Step by step instructions were enormously helpful!

you then go to the bench with your piece and use tongs to twist the coloured-glass-ball like taffy, focusing on trying to get all the coloured glass off the rod, and getting some interesting twists and patterns.

When you’re dealing with a material whose temperature starts off at a molten yellow glow above 2000 degrees Celsius, safety is a very important feature.  Even after it is cooled to the point of solidifying, the glass is still hot enough to cause severe burns and nerve damage.  Throughout the entire process, all I kept thinking to myself was Don’t Touch the Glass!

Minna dipped the newly gnarled glass back into the molten glass to coat it, and then we balanced our pieces by rolling the rod and letting the glass sink slowly until the roll felt smooth.  Right hand under bum to resist the temptation to touch that half of the rod, or, worse, the glass itself.

I was a little bit concerned that I would do something that would cause shattering of glass, set something on fire, or just plain experience some of that terrifying nerve damage.  I am not exactly graceful.

Another distinct possibility was getting that oh-so embarrassing teacher feedback of “well, isn’t that… special.  I had no idea you could make that particular shade of brown out of such pretty starting colours of glass.”

tapping it off the end of the rod. Next step is to cool it very slowly in an oven, and then grind the jagged pieces where it was broken off the end of the pipe

We each made a clear-glass ornament by letting strings of glass slip off the pipe and swishing the stick around to create a pattern.  Next, we made paperweights (all the pictures show this), with coloured glass inside them.  All the movements that appear to come so naturally to Minna are considerably more difficult than they appear.   Focusing on not burning oneself while also keeping the rod turning to catch the molten glass that wants to slide to the floor, and following instructions – it’s all a bit stressful!  It’s also amazing.  As an art-form, I found glasswork to be a terrifying rush that I have never encountered while doing watercolours.  There’s the time-constraint of rapidly solidifying glass, the paranoia about catching things on fire* and the thrill of making something that will be completely individual to me, even if the next person makes the exact same moves as I do, uses the exact same colours.

All the coloured glass burnt red-orange when it was added to the original molten clear glass.  The art of glass blowing doesn’t end at the point of tapping off – the glass has to cool very slowly and evenly, or you risk it shattering, or, at the very least, cracking into pieces.  Yes, my other fear apart from fire was explosion.  The last I saw of our paperweights that day, they were orange-filled, despite the fact that only one of us actually put red and orange tones of glass into her piece.

A few days later when I went to pick them up… well… judge for yourself!

If you’re in the Toronto area, I highly recommend taking an afternoon to try Playing with Fire and make your own completely unique creations.  If you aren’t, but see something like it offered in your area, try it!

*the number of times I’ve mentioned it, you’d think I regularly accidentally set things on fire.  Not true, but the paranoia remains.  Also, word to the wise, do not put a muffin in the microwave for ten minutes.

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9 Comments

  1. I have always respected glass blowers. Even when they are highly experienced, it still looks hard!

    • I think anything involving skin-melting temperatures has that certain air of difficulty!

  2. You find the absolute neatest things to do!! That looks fun but I would be as frightened as you!!

    • It definitely is neat. I find the strange/wonderful things to do through groupon/other deal sites… makes life more interesting

  3. You do the most interesting things. And hey anything that involves a “glory hole” is OK with me. Bawhaha! The paperweights are especially pretty.

    • I know! inappropriate machine descriptions! Very hard to talk about in public 😛

  4. -_- << This is my "I'm so impressed you mentioned the ten-minute-muffin-issue" face…
    I'm so jealous! I can't wait to be able to hold these things and register that you made it and DIDN'T set anything on fire! 😛 This all looks intense, and I feel like I would probably have three reactions myself to doing these things… I think I'll make a post on how jealous I am of this 😀
    I honestly can't wait to see them… It's probably very different seeing and feeling them in real life than seeing and imagining what i feels like from a picture 🙂

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