“Things don’t always work like they do on TV”


Ichneumon wasp, Wesley Fleming

The title of this post is a quote from a local man my parents used to hire for yard work.  He was practically illiterate, but he uttered those words of wisdom once when he and Dad tried something according to the manufacturer’s instructions and it failed.

I’ve had the same trouble lately with sculptural work, in my feeble attempts to imitate Wes Fleming’s amazing insects.  I’ve written earlier about taking a class with Wes this summer, and I came away with an intellectual understanding of how he does what he does, but now I have a much better appreciation of how difficult it is to translate that knowledge into practice.  One of the first things Wes had us do was what I call a “practice spider”,  a simple squashed gather that you then add legs to.  You make the gather, press it thin (which makes it easier to reheat the spots you’ll attach legs to) and then you add legs by heating a gather on another rod, carefully heating the spot you want to attach to, and then touching down and drawing out the first segment of a leg.  Repeat that 7 times, getting them all evenly and appropriately spaced, and at similar angles to the “body”, so that the final leg placement will look good.  Then you go back and add second segments, and third, and so on.


That’s 3 days (a few hours here and there), trying to make practice spiders.  And this pile is deceptively small, because one of the beauties of this approach is you can just remelt a spider that cracks and start over, which I did at least 8 times in the span of this practice.  Right after the Penland class I was able to do this, but that ability seems to have evaporated in the last month.  I’ll keep at it, but it just drives home how much dedication and talent is required to do the kind of work that Wes does.  I keep telling myself that he’s had 10 years of practice to get this good, so I can’t compare my work to his.

I was finally able to get one practice “insect” (I can’t count it as a spider, since it only has 6 legs) to survive long enough to attach secondary and tertiary leg segments to, and I had a lot more fun with that.  The thin parts are very fragile looking, but they’re actually easier to do, since it’s easier to heat a thin attachment point and get a good weld.  So I went kind of crazy with this one, adding extra spines at the joints.

legsNote that two of the legs didn’t get firmly fused to the body–that’s probably why the body didn’t crack, I didn’t heat it enough to stress it.

Soft glass sculpture is a rewarding endeavor, but it’s not for the faint of heart or those looking for immediate gratification.  I’m going to be at this for a while.