Thursday, April 28, 2011

Scale and Scalability

A couple of weeks ago, I got an email asking about a coldworking job. An artist had a large belljar blown for him and needed a punty removed. Not a problem. I wrote back I would be happy to help and asked how large the bell-jar was. His reply was VERY large: 36”x36”x36”

I thought to myself, “yeah right” (big fish), but the next week when I saw the crate in the back of his pick-up, was like “right on”. I didn’t measure it, but it was just about 30x”30”x32”, which in terms of blown glass is off the charts.

This is where I should tell you that I sort of hate coldworking.

I know you are probably thinking, “Wait a minute aren’t you a coldworker? Don’t you teach coldworking? Hypocrite!”

Before you light your torches and sharpen your pitchforks, let me clarify: 
I generally hate coldworking for other people.

To me it goes against the general spirit of coldworking, which very deliberate and methodical practice that requires time and patience. The moment you start working for someone else, the “time and patience” bit gets thrown to the curb. All of a sudden you are on the clock, and all the whole zen-thing gets goddamn pricy. ALSO, you’re the work is generally not your own, it is someone else’s and the pressure of coldworking someone work is enormous (and the sort of pressure I don’t enjoy). There is generally a misunderstanding about proportion of time and energy that coldworking entails. When you think of glassblowing your sense of time is compressed. A piece might take something takes an hour to make- if it’s really elaborate maybe an hour and half or two. In coldworking an hour is a heartbeat.  Things take many hours, sometimes days, or weeks even. However, that sense of impending failure of glassblowing that starts when the first gather is take out of the furnace is carried through the process of coldworking. Statistically, every hour spend working on the piece increases the likelihood of catastrophe. That can be unnerving.  To think of coldworking as simply “finishing”, does not acknowledge this reality and the cumulative nature of the glassmaking process. 

Anyway, not to go off on too much of a tangent (rant), let’s get back to Moby-Bell-Jar.

Perhaps I am contradicting myself a little, but this is the sort of coldworking I ACTUALLY enjoy. Yes, it is someone else's glass, and yes it was made by a rock-star team of glass blowers, and yes it probably cost a bucket of cash to make and ship from Seattle, but it’s not everyday you get to cowboy up and work with some big glass. Also I should mention a couple of finer points, I had no time limit, my fee was fixed (and incredibly low), and I left alone to work (except for occasional student poking their head in the shop to take pictures or say “damn that’s big”). All things being equal this is the type of “job” I like: unique, interesting, and challenging.

The nuts and bolts of grinding a crown-punty off are normally completely straightforward. In fact if this piece of glass wasn't enormous, it would be a completely unremarkable task. However, the scale presents several interesting practical and procedural issues. The first big difference is that at this scale you have to bring the tool to the glass, in the normal scale the tool is fixed and the work is maneuvered around the abrasive surface. This requires entirely different tools (a water-fed hand-grinder and diamond-pads) and the coordination different set of muscles. The learning curve isn’t enormous, but it certainly isn’t zero if you are accustomed to the other paradigm. The largest object I had previously ground and polished in this manner was the flat seat of 200 pound concrete/glass stool. Applying the same methods to this glass was marginally successful.  This surface was not flat and to make a feature disappear on a contoured surface you must successively expand your margins of grinding. The higher in the grit sizes you go the wider the area you must work on. You are essentially feathering the edges until you are create a new uniform surface. I use the rule of thumb that the area you cover will be at least 100% larger after grinding, but that's if everything goes according to plan .

The thing about glass is that she is completely unforgiving mistress and no defect is hidden on a polished surface. After about 4 to 5 hours I finished the job, but was so unhappy with the result that decided to start over again with another approach. The funny thing is the alternative method was not only completely successful, but also accomplished in a third of the time. Hell of a way to learn, but a really valuable experience and an all around good time.

I sort of love coldworking.

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