Based in Denver, Colorado, fused glass artist Helen Rudy creates vibrant decorative and functional art pieces. We asked her to tell us about fused glass, and her creative process.
What exactly is fused glass, and how is it made?
When exhibiting my fused glass art, I am often asked “Is it blown?” or “Are the colors painted on?”
The answer to both questions is no.
Fused glass is the process of taking glass, in the form of a sheet, powder, granules, or even thick billets, and placing them in a kiln until liquid. You then bring it back to room temperature and voila – a new, solid piece of glass is produced.
Kiln forming, or fusing glass, can be just as versatile as blown glass. It is, in many ways, more controlled than blown glass. The fused glass artist is mostly working with the glass when it is cold, not steaming hot on the end of a punty rod. Fused glass is often handled or manipulated by hand in the kiln to shape, rake, and create patterns. When fusing glass, the final piece will often wind up going into a kiln one or more times.
For example, the Carnival Panel shown below required only one firing. With careful layering of the glass, uniform sides can be maintained. With the Wave (shown above) it was fired in the kiln two times; the first to make the pattern, and then a second time to shape it.
In this instance the shaping was achieved by what is known as “slumping”. The Carnival patterned glass was placed over a mold and melted, like chocolate over hot water. As the glass becomes soft, gravity pulls it down onto the mold into the shaped form. A quick cool and that arrests the downward pull and the final wave form is created. I slump all of the glass bowls, plates, and platters.
With care and understanding of the stages of glass when it is melting, it’s possible to create different textures and effects. The glass becomes shiny. It can be transparent or opaque, or even have precious metals sandwiched or applied in layers. Glass can be stacked horizontally or vertically, like dominoes on their edge.
How do you get the piece to conform to a particular shape?
All liquids have a natural height based on their surface tension. For liquid glass this is about one-quarter of an inch. Therefore, if your thickness or volume is going to be greater than this, you need to place a dam around the piece to stop it crawling over your kiln shelf.
Table tops are typically dammed to enable me to maintain the crisp design pattern throughout the firing process. The edges are rough after damming and need to be diamond-polished smooth by hand to finish.
What attracted you to to this medium?
Fused glass is very versatile and, with a lot of experimentation, enables me to create glass decorative panels, functional pieces, light fixtures, tables, and large vessels.
So, the next time you see a fused glass piece, you will appreciate that the piece has been hand cut and been in a kiln for a minimum of 24 hours. Several hours to many days of work will have gone into each and every piece.