Scrambling on day six of the #YourTurnChallenge

I mentioned Seth Godin’s #YourTurnChallenge earlier in the week, and it’s obvious to the 3 people following my studio blog up to now that taking that challenge has jump started my writing this week.  Today I ran into a wall: I had few photos of my work (I did some dichroic fusing, more on that soon), and it’s hard to talk about visual arts without visual aids.

I’ve traded a few messages with another “challenger”, who admired my work and said that hearts are a natural for romance writers.  That started my gears turning, so yesterday and today I’ve been working on heart beads with quill pen murrine.  That sentence is going to require some explanation…

Murrine are patterns or images built into canes of glass, that are revealed when the cane is cut into cross section.  An excellent example of the insane level of detail that can be achieved is Loren Stump’s work at the Corning Museum of Glass, like these portraits of James Joyce and Walt Whitman:

I’m not an expert on murrine so I’m not going to go into too much detail, but one way of making murrine at a torch is to build up layers of different colored glass in a hot blob on the end of a glass rod.  For example, you can make a murrine rod of the letter O in black and white by building up an evenly round blob of white glass, coating it completely with a thin, even layer of black glass, and then surrounding that with another full layer of white.  When you attach puntils (handles) to each end, heat up the blob (it may be an inch thick at this point) and pull evenly, you get a cane of glass with your pattern inside.  Once the cane cools you can snip off slices of the cane, and the cross section will be a small black O inside a background of white.

After reading that description of a measly letter O, look again at Loren Stump’s work, and think for a moment about the amount of work and vision involved.

I’d admired a feather murrine that I’d seen instructions for on a lampworking forum, and it suddenly hit me when thinking about romance writers that a feather quill pen would be a perfect image.  So yesterday I spent an hour or so building a feather murrine cane.  I started by making a thin rectangular paddle of white, and then swiping on layers of medium amber, followed by more white.  I repeated that several times, until I had a big rectangular mass with stripes of white and amber.  You can see the mass in this video:


(I took that video with my iphone, and I apologize for the massive size and slow loading time.  If anyone has any tips for reducing the file size of videos I’d appreciate your advice.)

Once I pulled the cane and it cooled I was able to snip off slices.

Pulled cane--glass this thick stays hot for a long time!

Pulled cane–glass this thick stays hot for a long time!

A slice, showing the light and dark layers, with a cap of dark brown for the end of the feather.  Apologies for the really poor photo of the slice.


To use a slice of murrine, you build and shape your base bead, take up a slice with tweezers, and heat the area where you want to place the slice.  It’s also a good idea to simultaneously wave the slice in and out of the flame to preheat it–I had several shatter when the heat hit them.  Then you place the slice on the bead, press it down with your tweezers or a marver (things can get sort of frantic at this point), and gently heat.  You want to melt in the murrina (singular), but in this case you also need to use a sharp metal probe to gently drag down the middle of the murrina, to accentuate the feather’s appearance.  Then you lay a thin stringer of amber encased white (prepared ahead of time) down the center of the murrina, extending beyond the lower end, to form the quill of the feather.  I got a little crazy and tried to build a square murrina encased in clear, to represent an inkpot, and put a slice of that at the end of the quill.

I made a few of these hearts and several other beads, but I won’t have any photos until they come out of the kiln tomorrow.  I don’t think I’ve discussed annealing in this blog yet–melting and cooling glass introduces strain in the glass, and in order to relieve that stress you have to hold the glass at its annealing point (960F in the case of soft Italian glass) for an hour or so, and then cool it at a slow rate (I use 100F per hour until it reaches 700), and then allow it to cool naturally.  They’re cooling as I type: that’s all controlled by the digital controller that I built for my mailbox kiln.

Photos tomorrow!

One thought on “Scrambling on day six of the #YourTurnChallenge

  1. Pingback: Inspiration | sghilliard glass studio

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