My Glassblowing Experience

I started off the summer in Atlanta and soon after arriving I discovered Dale Chihuly was there as well. Chihuly in the Garden features 19 blown glass installation sites throughout the Atlanta Botanical Garden. We went at about 7pm and got to the see the lovely glass pieces in the setting sun and illuminated in the dark, it was magical! Even a brief thunderstorm didn’t hamper the evening.


I returned home inspired and so excited to take my first glassblowing class. I’ve been a glass artist for a while now, but I’ve never tried glassblowing. Glass hobbies are expensive and blowing can be a respiratory irritant, something to which I’m particularly sensitive. I knew I shouldn’t fall in love with it, but I always wanted to give it a try so I signed up for a Floral Vase class at Slow Burn Glass in West Oakland.

I’ve seen video of Dale Chihuly blowing glass, as well as leading a team, and I’d seen artists working live in the Hot Shop at the Museum of Glass in Tacoma Washington. While I understood the principals of working with hot glass, I was still surprised by the feel of glassblowing. The experience was so much faster than I’d anticipated! The pros look like they’re in high speed, which I assumed was their skill, but it’s also a necessity. There is only so much time to work the glass before the temperature drops and it must be heated again. The molten glass on the end of the blowpipe has to be in constant rotation or it will run off the end into a puddle on the floor, so the artist must keep turning the pipe. Even the actual blowing was sped up! The Hot Shop has live streaming videos of the artists working all day and this clip features some very skilled teams including master glassblowers Dale Chihuly and Lino Tagliapietra.

I don’t have any photos of myself from the class (like I said, high speed glassworking!) but I am very happy with my vase! I was really surprised to find pieces like this are made of clear glass rolled in the same frit that I use in fusing. There are many other ways to layer and color glass before blowing, but there is only one crucible and furnace filled with clear molten glass. This video from the Chrysler Museum of Art explains glassblowing step by step.

To decorate my vase I first rolled the ball of clear glass in white frit, then this Mardi Gras mix of blues, purples, pinks, and ambers. Then I stuck my blowpipe into the gloryhole to melt the frit into the clear creating a smooth surface.

Much like in the video I created this shape using a marver, tweezers, block, jacks and blowing the piece into a mold. I’m very proud of my first vase and while working with glass at high temperatures might be intimidating, Bryan and Josh were really supportive and made the whole process approachable. If you’ve never tried but want to, I really encourage you to look up a studio and go! There are tons of beginners classes with offers on Verlocal, LivingSocial, or  Groupon and if you’re in the bay area Slow Burn offers many half price deals if you just call them.

I love the way that glassblowing is like a team sport and even the seasoned professionals work in finely tuned groups to create large-scale wondrous pieces. So few of my art experiences happen this way and it was a lovely collaboration. Walking among Chihuly’s giant colorful towers and dynamic starbursts makes me think of all kinds of big, beautiful public art pieces I hope to create someday.


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