Lampwork vs fusing

Thomas bowls

“Sweet Desserts”, Niki Thomas

While I do a lot of lampwork or torchwork, my first classroom exposure to glass was fusing, in a week long class taught by Beverly Fuller at the John C. Campbell Folk School.  The casual observer might think “glass is glass”, but it’s an amazingly complex medium, and I’m confident that I could devote myself to it full time and still be learning decades from now.  I’ve taken a break from lampworking to catch up with logistical chores and do some glass fusing, so today I’ll talk a bit about the differences between fusing and lampworking.

The metaphor that first comes to mind is fusing is composing a symphony, and lampworking is improvisational jazz.  Both require knowledge, skill and experience, and both can be improved with practice, but with jazz, as with lampworking, timing is everything.  As I’ve described in previous posts, lampworking involves melting colored rods of glass and building beads or sculptures with the hot glass.  A simple bead can be made by wrapping a donut of glass around a stainless steel mandrel.  Creating sculptures like Wesley Fleming does involves building forms on the end of a metal or glass rod, and you may change the point of support (by melting another support on in a new spot and breaking off the original) as the work progresses.  And you’re doing all this with almost molten glass, at temps near or above 1000F.  You have to keep the glass hot, but not too hot, you don’t have time to rummage around for tools and supplies, and decisions you make in the moment can be impossible to reverse.  Like a live musical performance, once you head in a certain direction it’s hard to back out.  One of the things so enjoyable about lampworking is that it can be almost meditative: you are very much “in the moment”, focused on the activity at hand.  At least you’d better be…


Another characteristic of lampworking similar to jazz is that you can keep adding and building during the performance, and you decide when you’re done.  Lay down some lines of color, and then decide that contrasting dots would look great?  Add them.  The potential downside (like with some improv jazz performances) is that sometimes you make the wrong choice, or add too much.  Pieces get muddled, or too covered with discordant high notes, and you can lose your audience.

Fusing, like composing, is a more deliberate process, similar to making stained glass, but a bit less constrained.  In both fusing and stained glass you draw a design, cut out a pattern that consists of many pieces, cut out different types and colors of glass to fit the pieces of the pattern, and then assemble your design.  The wrinkle with fusing (a relatively new practice) is that instead of fitting the pieces of glass together with lead came or soldered copper foil, you put the assembly on a treated kiln shelf and fire it in the kiln.  The pieces melt together, creating a 2 dimensional pattern, or possibly creating new colors and textures where pieces overlap.  As with composing, (or writing a blog post) there’s plenty of time to adjust, evaluate and edit before you fire the work, and you may run several firings, depending upon your goal.  You can iterate through the process over and over again.  A parallel example is the frit ball bowl below:  that involved firing slices of Bullseye rod at 1500F so that they rounded up into balls (and I had to do that for three days to have enough little balls), then another firing to 1375F to tack them together (hot enough to fuse, but not so hot that the little balls lost their shape).  Then I finished up with a final firing to 1175F to slump the fused layer into a mold in the form of a bowl. It’s a deliberate, planned out process if you want it to be.


And it can be enormously technical.  More on that tomorrow, for now some more eye candy.

Moodie fish

Fish platter, Christie Moody