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|What it takes to make a flatfish - here's the scoop!|
|When I was first learning to control hot glass, pretty much every other bead was going lumpy, gnarly, and smeary. If I heard myself saying 'Oh Shit' more than a couple times, that bead was squashed with Extreme Prejudice and turned into a fish. They were incredibly varied, because I was messing up clear encased beads with flowers, trees, and patterns inside. I don't mess up so many beads these days, but I'm still making flatfish. Here's how:|
need a steel mandrel coated with Bead Release, a clay compound that keeps
the glass from sticking to the metal Until The End Of Time. I use
Fusion Products (FPI) and FosterFire. Note: I had to wipe it off the
mandrels for the pictures - it was flaking all over the scanner!
First, run the tip of a blue rod quickly in and out of the end of the flame to warm the glass - if you don't it may thermal shock, and pop shrapnel all over you, the table, and the floor. Then heat the mandrel, melt a blob of glass on the end of the rod, and wrap it carefully and evenly around the mandrel, so there aren't any air bubbles. Smooth the glass with a paddle, and make sure the ends are even. This is important - jagged bead holes will cut stringing material. The mandrel makes the bead hole, so the larger the mandrel you use, the bigger the hole will be.
|Then add more glass, till you get a round or oval bead; keep the ends nice. While you're working the bead, you have to rotate it to keep the glass evenly warm - it has to be hot enough that it doesn't crack or thermal shock, but cool enough that it doesn't turn into molasses, lose its shape, and plop off the mandrel onto the table or your lap. It takes some practice to get a nice even base bead with dimpled holes that won't cut the cord you string it on, and to get a feel for how glass responds to flame. A note on flame: try your darndest to keep hair and fingers out of the torch, and *never* pick up a rod by the hot end - and grow a couple acres of aloe vera.|
|Add yellow dots, and heat evenly till they're all melted in. If the shape gets lumpy, it can be smoothed with a paddle, or your best free tool - gravity. And continue to keep it warm... this is particularly important with sculptural beads, where there's lots of surface work that can pop off if it gets too cool. If you rotate quickly in the flame the bead will warm evenly and the protruding surface details won't bank up so much heat that they start losing their shape.|
|Heat the bead till it's hot all the way thru and glows, then flatten it into a thick disk with a pair of large mashers. The bead should look like a fat pancake, and you have to make sure there's at least as much glass above and below the mandrel as the diameter of the hole... if you squeeze it too thin, it may come out of the kiln cracked right down the middle. Even if you preheat the mashers, there will be circular ripple marks (as when you throw a stone into the water) on both sides of the bead from mini thermal shock. Heat both sides until the ripples melt in and the bead is smooth.|
|Holding the mandrel horizontally, apply the flame along the bottom of the bead until the glass droops down to a point; this will be where the mouth is. Turn it over and heat the other side, and droop for the tail anchor (or do it the lazy way, and apply a big blue dot, as I did here - either way is okay). Then apply a big yellow polka dot on the first end, heat it, and stab it with a tungsten pick to make a fat 'O' fish mouth, or cut it across with a razor tool for Kissy Lips. Apply two large yellow dots on each side of the head for the eyes.|
|Apply a white polka dot over the yellow eye-dot, heat, and flatten a bit. Add swipes of clear yellow along the sides, back, underside, and tail for fins, then add swipes of transparent blue on top of the yellow (this will make multi-colored fins). And remember all the time you're doing this to keep the whole bead warm, so the front end doesn't crack when you're working on the back. Fast rotation does the trick!|
|Plop big transparent turquoise dots on the white eye dots, melt them in, then apply black dots for pupils. I used to put the pupil dots directly on the white, then cover them with the turquoise. It looked nifty, but there was a lot of smear, so now I put the pupils on top. Then heat the fins until the glass is soft, and pinch all the way around with needle nose pliers, twisting and pulling the glass to make the fins. Pinch out the fins on the sides, then push against the body with a tungsten pick. I don't leave them sticking out anymore because when the fish hits the concrete, heaven forbid, protruding side fins might break off. Warm the bead thoroughly, pop it into the kiln, and there you have it, the OhShit Flatfish!!!|
|The fish is an easy, uncomplicated design, because it's all surface
work. Go to a bead show and check out the handmade beads with perfect flowers, fish, and
landscapes floating under clear glass, and the amazing patterns and designs that are being
produced! It takes a serious amount of effort, practice, and talent to do
If you're interested in seeing more handmade glass beads, go to the International Society of Glass Beadmakers website (www.isgb.org) and click on the links page to see what some of the 1300+ members are creating. And if you get a chance, try to get to the Bead Bazaar at the next ISGB Gathering. This year (2005) it's in Louisville, Kentucky on Saturday July 30th... it'll be a nice show with over 200 beadmakers participating, and just amazing handmade glass beads!
Note to beadmakers: Get to work! Crank up the torch and make some fish, and remember that this is just the starting point to learn new techniques. Personalize and customize the critters... add your own colors, designs, fin structures, change the shapes, curl their tails, stick on feet in tennis shoes, and make em your own. And I'd love to see them... find me at a bazaar or send an email pic to show me how you've mutated em!
And if you ever take one of my classes, keep in mind that this is the first bead I'll teach you, so if you've secretly practiced to impress me, it'll probably work... almost as much as if you bring Snickers bars.