We've all seen fused glass art and jewellery but how do they get these beautiful and unique patterns on the beads and jewellery?
Simple – by ‘fusing’ 2 or more pieces of glass together. The Cambridge dictionary definition of fusion is:
to (cause to) melt (together) especially at a high temperature: The heat of the fire fused many of the machine's parts together
The different coloured glass is literally heated so that they melt together. Interesting effects can be achieved by using different materials and processes.
Different materials used in fused glass art give different effects. Some of the popular materials are:
Glass sheets or lenses
Thin glass sheet is cut to size and / or shape. The glass can be transparent, tinted, solid, opalescent (reflects light like an opal, ie, the colour changes depending on the position of the light), iridescent (contains many bright colours that change with movement) and many more effects. These effects are produced by the manufacturers of the glass.
Powder or Frits
Very small pieces of glass are called frits and they can be powder like. These come in a variety of colours.
Originally designed for NASA, this is a special layer on top of the glass. It is quite expensive but it achieves beautiful light effects. This is because the light that is transmitted and the light that is reflected behaves differently, often giving 2 completely different colour effects as the piece moves. Transmitted light is light that moves through the object – reflected light bounces back from the object.
Stringers / rods etc
To add effects, very thin pieces of glass or stringers can be added. Other items can be included in the overall mix of glass to provide patterns or interesting effects.
CoE stands for Coefficient of Expansion – this refers to the rate at which the glass melts at different temperatures. When fusing glass, it is best to use different glasses with the same CoE as they are more compatible. Eg, CoE 96 or CoE 104.
The glass is melted in a special kiln reaching temperatures of up to 925 deg C. Several pieces of glass can be fused in one go or it can be done in several stages to build the piece up. Some examples of processes are:
The glass is fully melted together so that they flow.
This is when the glass is joined together but the different pieces do not fully melt as in full fusing. In this way, the glass still resembles its appearance before the fuse. This is done at a lower temperature than the full process.
This is another common technique in fused glass art. This time the glass is shaped using either a mould or by bending the piece. Moulds can be bought commercially or made up by the artist. The use of moulds has obvious implications on mass producing the same shapes.
This is similar to slumping but the raw material is frit, or powder glass. Higher kiln temperatures are required for this.
This is where just the edges of the piece are melted so that they have a shiny appearance.
This is an effect made by drawing a tool across the surface of the molten glass, such as a rake. The glass keeps these ridges when it cools so it adds texture to the piece.
Most people would buy a finished piece from a craft retailer. However, making fused glass art pieces either as a hobby or to sell, requires some practice and knowledge. The best way to start is by going to an art class on fused glass. There are also a number of suppliers of the glass and equipment.