Project of the Month: September 2021

2. Elemental, my dear kiln

I have to put everything on hold until I get new heating elements to replace my bodged repairs which if you don’t know what you’re doing I wouldn’t recommend trying. Not sure I did really but I looked a few things up after my first diaster of glass melting onto the heating elements.

A typical heating element is usually a coil, ribbon (straight or corrugated), or strip of wire that gives off heat much like a lamp filament. When an electric current flows through it, it glows red hot and converts the electrical energy passing through it into heat, which it radiates out in all directions. Lots of heating elements come as coils be it for your cooker oven, electric heater or kiln.

Coiled heating elements should have air around each coil and not be touching each other as when this happens, controlling the temperature becomes very difficult and this is what’s happen in my kiln now after all my bodged repairs. Any new kiln owner wants to experiment with kiln temperatures and firing times, arguably more so if you’re an artist as we get to grips with what we can achieve but also just to get used to the kiln itself. Different kiln designs yield different result even when you program them exactly the same way, mainly because of their different sizes, shapes and configurations. In some the heating elements are on the side while others have them at the top too. I hope it arrives soon as I’m eager to start on August’s project.

Ever wondered why you should always ensure a coiled extension cable is fully uncoiled before use? It’s simple because if you overload it by plugging in too many appliances or an appliance that requires more current than the cable is designed for, it becomes dangerous. The cable can felt and it can cause a fire. The same is true of any extension cable, but the risk is reduced when cables aren’t coiled.

Despite it glowing in the kiln this glass disc, refused to melt or slump into the bowl beneath it.

The disc above was made out of broken up firings that hadn’t worked or had solidified onto a shelf or mould in a previous attempts and experiments. Most of the pieces where broken down into nuggets of about 6mm to 10mm in size but I left a few bigger pieces in added a bottle bit of freshly smashed glass jars and new some glass frit to add a bit more colour. Glass frit is just smaller nuggets of glass and there’s a range of colours to choose from covering the entire colour spectrum. Glass fusers buy precisely because of the hues and it allows them to build up patterns or pictures it a controlled way. Frit comes in various sizes from course 2-3mm, medium 1-2mm to fine which it more like powder thereby allowing you to get detail into your design.

Some of my old nuggets had bits of clay pot stuck to them, and other impurities which shop bought frit never has. Though you can make you own from old glass jars and bottles and indeed you do whenever you smash them, reds, yellows, most blues are difficult to source from a recycling skip, as the main colours you’ll find are of course clear, greens (quite a range of shades, a few blues and browns. Don’t be deceived if you happen on some colourful spirit bottles such as bright pink gin bottles as many of them are spray painted, scratch the surface to check as the paint will burn off during firing. Also deceiving are glass mosaic tiles for the same reason. Glass marbles are usually made or a far harder grade glass so can be difficult to get to melt but glass pebbles I found do melt down well.

From my experiments thus far, it seems the more firings the glass goes through, the harder it is to get that glass to melt down again. And something else happens… The colour can change and it can loose its transparency.

It may seem irresponsible to experiment as I do, but actually I find it’s the best way to learn. We learn best from our mistakes because we remember them better, especially when what you wanted to happen resulted in a piece of work getting broken or the effect you wanted to preserve has got lost from over working it too much. As one artist put it art is about creation and destruction and repeating that process over and over again. She specialises in 2D art so will paint in layers… Lots over them until she is happy with it.

I think it’s a good attitude to adopt, as it we expect it to be a process that is full of struggle an disappointed, when we succeed it is all the more rewarding. As a student one of my tutors said “All are is a process of correction” which is a gentler way of putting it perhaps. Of course this approach doesn’t suit everyone and I’m glad of that as artworks wouldn’t be quite as diverse if we all had the same approach, used the same techniques and materials.

The disc above wasn’t the only piece in the kiln. I had a larger piece firing and it is because of that piece that I decided not to continue the firing for longer or up the temperature further. The first disc as about 4 inches in diameter, this one is nearly 7 inches. it’s propped up on a candle as light can shine through it. The predominant blue you see is an old Harvey’s Bristol Cream bottle but it’s not a shade I like on its own, so I threw nearly all the coloured glass I had at it except green bottles to jazz it up.

The darker the blue, the more layers of it there were. And it was slumped over a bowl shape. So it is very nearly a bowl. There are two reasons why it isn’t quite a bowl though you might disagree, the first being it has some holes in it, but some bowls do, but the main reason is it’s depth which is about 3/4 inch or 2 cm. So it’s more of a plate than a bowl. The sides of the mould weren’t quite deep enough as I hadn’t allowed for the thickness of the glass once fired. It had just one firing as I carefully arranged all the glass in two layers round the mould to cover it. It was slumped over the outside of the bowl mould I used as opposed to the first disc which was supposed to slump into the mould.

So, I’ve nearly succeeded using these methods and because I like these results I’m doing nothing more to them… But there is another method, which I’ve tried before I bought any moulds… I started with making my own by just making plain pots in the normal way but after several firings they have a tendency to crack or break, so I use other thing now, but I’ll share that in my next installment.