Black Cat Blog

For all the latest news about what we are doing...
The Joy of Craft Fairs……for Crafters and the Curious

The Joy of Craft Fairs……for Crafters and the Curious

If you are a crafter, you will at some point attend a craft fair in an attempt to sell your wares. Craft fairs can be good fun, or completely and utterly soul destroying, depending on a)how well you do and b)whether you are an extreme pessimist, like me (you won’t find me filling in a crossword with ink).

How enjoyable is a craft fair?

Craft fairs are a unique experience. If you’re a people-person you are likely to think how great it is you get to spend the day selling the products you love to make, and talking to a whole variety of people who you would just never have met at all if you weren’t there! Win-win. If you are somebody who doesn’t really like to socialise, the thought of strapping a smile with the girth of a small ocean to your face all day probably makes you feel a little apprehensive.

Are you an optimist, or a pessimist….

Whichever camp you fall into, craft fairs are not easy. It may feel easy on the day the sun is shining, you are taking lots of money from some gorgeously, wonderful people and the lid on your cashbox won’t close when you come to go home. However, that just doesn’t happen very often. If you are lucky, you will be able to live off the optimism from that single show for quite a few weeks. But when the weather is frankly, shit, people aren’t buying or worse, aren’t even looking at your stall, and you haven’t opened your cashbox all day, then it’s hard to go home and feel good about yourself, your life and your career choices. Even an exuberant dog who is so excited to see you, and is tearing round the house with the sheer joy of you being home, won’t lift your spirits (especially if said dog expresses its exuberance and joy by carrying one of your slippers out into the pissing rain). 

Bloody Hard Work….even without the Chairs

Fairs are hard work. You’ve usually got up at some ungodly hour to go and set up. It’s often cold. The cheap chairs you bought because ‘they’re only for craft shows’ are so bloody uncomfortable that by lunchtime, you’d sooner sit on your banner pole. The coffee you brought with you in a flask to save you some money is so bitter, you wonder if you actually put arsenic in it instead of coffee (and if it’s a really bad show, you hope you did…). You realise that you actually are the sort of person that eats a family-sized bag of crisps in one sitting. And if one more person says they can’t buy anything because ‘it’ll collect dust/the cat will knock it over/I’ve got too much stuff as it is’ you will drown yourself in the remains of your awful coffee. (Incidentally, the ‘best’ reason I had from somebody to not buy something of mine they loved was that as she was elderly, she would be dead soon and ‘then what’ll happen to it’. I struggled to answer that one. 

The Upside…..yes, there’s an upside

However, this is all the negative. When a craft fair is good, it’s absolutely brilliant. You love meeting your customers who smile when they see the products you have made; your fellow craft fair buddies are funny, kind, and frankly damn good company; your credit card machine hasn’t let you down once; you’ve sold some stuff so can legitimately go and buy a coffee that doesn’t taste like something’s died in it. You’ve ‘earned’ that cake, the size of a small child which you have just bought from a fellow vendor. It’s a wonderful feeling. And no matter how seldom it happens, when it does, oh, it’s just heaven. 

How Do You Assess Value?

When we do a craft fair, we get asked all sorts of things. Things like: this is very pretty but what’s it for? Have you made all this yourself? Have you got another one like this in a different colour? And more. However, the most commonly asked question is: how long did this take you to make?

When someone asks how long something took to make, it seems to me, based on their responses, that they think it should take a long time to make, because it’s expensive. Often it is the case; it has taken a long time but I wonder why that’s the only criterion people use when deciding whether a piece is worth the price tag. 

Let’s break it down. The most obvious things to consider when pricing a piece is the cost of materials and the time it’s taken to make. In relation to glass fusing, you can rest assured that the materials themselves are expensive. But let’s add to this: in addition to those two things, there is the cost of the training and experience that has led to the artist making the piece that you want to buy. 

Training doesn’t come cheap. There’s the cost of the training courses themselves and the time spent in those training courses. There’s the hours and hours of practice in the studio when you return home. There’s the mountains of research done behind the scenes to make things better, to understand why things have gone wrong, to improve on each and every thing you make. 

Then there’s the other things: the electricity for the kilns and the other studio equipment. There’s the kiln wash we use to stop the glass sticking to the shelf, or shelf paper which does the same thing. There’s the cost of the drills we use when making jewellery. There’s the cost of sandblast and polishing materials. The cost of glass cleaner and lint-free cloths, cutting oil, glass cutters, running pliers, diamond hand pads, grinder heads, saw blades – I could go on.

So you see it’s not really just the time it takes to make a piece which gives it its value. It’s all the above. It’s impossible to factor in all of the other related costs so the artist inevitably absorbs a lot of the other costs. 

Believe me, it’s a wonderful feeling when a customer wants to buy a piece of work which you have created. When you buy a piece of art, whether it’s glass, a painting, a piece of jewellery or a handmade bag make sure you really enjoy it. Enjoy the fact that it’s the result of years of work and time which has gone into creating the piece you love so much. It’s more than time and material costs. It’s passion. That’s hard to put a value on. 

Attending a weaving and textures class, at Warm Glass, Wrington, UK

It’s only a tiny dish, yet it’s £14!

When you visit a craft show, what is your criteria for what is an acceptable price? Do you look at what is a small item and think ‘that’s a pretty dish but not at £…., it isn’t’. Or do you appreciate work that has gone in to such an item? Perhaps you don’t even think about it. So here I am going to put across the point of view of the crafter/artist themselves. If you knew the work involved, would this affect the amount you were prepared to spend?

Take this little dish. It is a small piece at 8cm in diameter. You may think it’s pretty or you may hate it – but that’s fine – we all have different tastes. Nonetheless, even as a crafter, I accept that ultimately it is a tiny dish, it’s not made of valuable gem stones, or gold therefore there is a limit on what people will pay for it. Let me show you how this dish is made.

Firstly, I have to cut the circle out of the glass sheet. This isn’t always easy as there’s a definite technique to cutting circles. In addition, the very nature of circles means that there’s more waste when you make something round, than there is when you make something square. To make this dish, I need to cut two circles of glass per dish.

To make a kiln full, I have to cut many circles. After firing and cooling fully, a process which takes around 18 hours in this case, the fully-fused blanks are removed from the kiln.

The next stage is to make the glass decorations, which on these dishes are a mixture of holly, sea shells, daisies and roses. These items are handmade, too. I use silicon moulds and a mixture of powdered glass and water. These photos give you some idea of the process. As to the time involved, to fill a mould with three daisies takes about 25-30 minutes. The powders are placed a small bit at a time into the mould, drops of water added and then the moulds are tapped after each application of water, to get rid of any tiny bubbles. This process carries on until the moulds are full.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I have filled all the decorations I want, the next stage is to put them into the freezer. When fully frozen, they are then popped out of their moulds and put on to the kiln shelf for firing.

 

 

 

 

I have done this technique for several years now, but it still amazes me how a fragile decoration made of powder and frozen water doesn’t turn into a puddle of mush when fired in the kiln. Still, better people than me created this technique and I bow to their superiority!

Now we have the fused blanks and the fused glass decorations. The next stage is yet another firing: a tack fuse to secure the decorations to the dish, without losing its definition. For those counting, this is now kiln firing number 3.

This firing goes to a lower temperature than the full fuse, but it is still nonetheless about the same amount of time taken, including cooling. We now have fully fused flat blanks, with their decoration. They just need their shape to finish.  They are slumped in to their moulds in the kiln, (firing number 4) – this is the final firing.

To recap, the blanks have been cut and fired. The decorations have been made, frozen, then fired. The blanks and decorations have been tack fused together and finally, they are slumped to take their shape.  The finished product looks like this:

 

 

You now have some idea of the amount of work involved in these little dishes.  And you get all that, for just £14.

 

 

A New Piece – and how it’s made

Just over a year ago, I started making ‘drop vases’. A drop vase is where a flat piece of fused glass is suspended over the kiln on a mould with a hole in it. As the kiln heats up, and the glass becomes softer, it drops through the hole, creating a vase or a deep dish. Pieces made in this way can be stunning but it’s a long process from start to finish and as such, drop vases or bowls tend to be more expensive than slumped pieces.

I’ve decided to do this blog to a) show you a new piece and b) give you some idea as to what is involved so you can appreciate the work which goes into making drops.

To begin with, you have to create the ‘blank’. This is the fused piece of glass, which is flat. The design you make at this stage only gives you some idea of what the end product will be because obviously, things look different when the glass is dropped and gravity takes over. For this piece, I decided to make use of ‘on-edge strip construction’ which is using the edge of the glass rather than the flat surface. Here’s what I created:

Now, a lot of people like neutral colours, and that’s great. But I love colour. When you have such wonderful art glass at your disposal, I just can’t resist using the bright colours. This piece is made up of dark blue and a mix of opal and transparent orange.

The next stage is to fuse the ‘blank’. Here it is in the kiln, ready to be fired. The piece is dammed because it’s thicker than most fused glass, at 9mm instead of 6mm. If this piece was fired un-dammed, it would spread out, distorting the design and making the piece thinner.

When it comes out of the kiln, it looks quite dark but that’s fine, because when gravity takes effect, the colours will brighten. I now need to fire this blank over the mould, in the kiln. I had already made the mould previously, using ceramic fibre board. The piece will be elevated off the kiln floor on posts, as you can see from the set up here:

There is the potential when firing drops, for the whole of the glass blank to fall through the hole in the mould. There are numerous ways of dealing with this but in this instance, I have used scrap glass all around the outside of the piece. These scraps will fuse to the edge of the piece during heating and will then hold the edge of the piece to the mould.

This piece is now fired and overall, including cooling, this takes a massive 30 hours in the kiln. When it reaches the temperature at which it starts to drop (called ‘process temperature’), I then open the kiln in 5-10 minute stages to see how far it is dropping. Bear in mind that the process temperature for this piece is 677 centigrade. To open the kiln at this temperature requires special glasses, an apron to protect my clothes, and thick gloves. This piece was dropped sufficiently after 35 minutes. At this stage, I can forward the kiln programme on to the next stage to stop it from dropping further.

When the piece comes out of the kiln, yet more hard work is needed. As you can see from these pictures, the brim needs to come off. As the brim is very heavy with all that scrap glass, if we were to cut it off right up close to where the piece has dropped, the weight of the brim as it pulls away from the bowl could cause the whole thing to crack. For this reason, there are two processes to remove this brim: cut off the excess with a tile saw, followed by more intricate cutting with a cutting wheel on a dremel. You can see both processes here:

I get Rich to do the cutting because frankly, after all the labour I’ve put into the piece so far, I am just too scared to do it myself! And of course if it goes wrong, I can blame him…..

So, with the brim off, you can see how the top is quite rough so it now needs to be ground and shaped on the lap wheel:

Unfortunately, I can’t show you any photos of this because Rich wasn’t around when I did it and I couldn’t hold the piece steady on the lap wheel and take a photo. I’m sure you can imagine the process though. Finally, after grinding, I can polish the piece using cerium oxide – this gives the ground edges a high polish finish. And this is the finished piece:

I’m really pleased with how it’s come out, even if there are times during this mammoth process when my heart really is in my mouth as there is so much which could go wrong. I hope you like it and can appreciate what goes in to what looks like a simple little bowl.

Things….

Hello again

Well here we are at the end of another year, well, almost.  I thought I’d use this blog post to tell you of one of our more unusual commissions which we undertook at the start of this year.

We were contacted by a lady who lives in a lovely flat which is virtually on the sea front.  She lives in the Garden Flat and wanted a house sign.  Our remit was that although it was called the Garden Flat, as it was right on the sea front, she wanted the design to be one of a ‘sea garden’. So with this in mind, we set to work.

As with all commissions, there is a certain amount of experimentation which needs to be done to decide what works best.  We fired several examples of the wording for example: we tried black paint to do the words, which looked alright but it wasn’t very dynamic to look at.  We then decided to make the letters out of glass and fire those onto the piece instead.  We also had to decide whether to do a full fuse, which would make the sign very flat, or a tack fuse, which would give it a more 3-D effect.  We tried both and without a doubt, the tack fuse worked best of all.

I made glass shells and a starfish to tack on to the sign.  We also created a lovely effect of sea foam by using clear glass frit.  We were very pleased with the finished result, which is shown below.  Our customer was absolutely delighted with it, which is obviously the most important thing!

Commissions can be quite testing as you really want to get the best result for the customer as you can.  There is obviously a certain amount of our pride at stake too!  But you can also learn so much from doing a commission.  Since we completed the house sign, we then used a similar theme to create a free-standing piece of art, which has gone down very well at the shows we’ve done this year.  

The photo on the right shows the sign fused, and ready to go.  The photo on the left is of the piece in-situ.  We really love the reflection it creates on the wall as the sun shines through it. 

This picture below shows how we adapted aspects of the commission into another piece of art.

We’d like to take this opportunity to thank Tina for choosing us to make her house sign.  We really enjoyed doing it and in creating it, it has opened up many opportunities to make other pieces of art.

So, if you’re reading this and feel inspired to have something unique made, please contact us!

 

 

 

Difficult times ahead for UK Glass Artists

The heart of the fusing industry seems to lie in America.  All the fusing glass suppliers in this country get their glass from America, the most popular being Bullseye Glass, Spectrum and Uroboros.  There is a reason for this: all glass is fusible however not all glass can be compatibly fused together. This is due to the Coefficient of Expansion (also known as COE).  When glass is heated, it expands and contracts as it heats and cools.  Glasses that aren’t compatible will expand and contract at different levels.  This causes stress in the glass and any items fused using incompatible glasses will always crack.  It may crack in the kiln, or it may crack a few hours coming out of the kiln.  In some cases it can even crack many months later, but it will crack.  To stop this. glass fusers have to use glass which is of the same COE.  Bullseye glasses are always COE 90; System 96 glasses are COE96 – the two cannot be fused together as they are not compatible. The American factories work hard to produce glass with COEs which are always the same and in buying their products, you are guaranteed compatibility.  This is why the glass artist usually only buys from the one factory – it avoids breakages due to incompatibility.

This brings me to the title of this blog.  In the last few months of this year, glass industries in America have had to agree to strict environmental guidelines when they make their glass. Of course environmental issues have to be adhered to in industry and the glass companies in the US have always complied with the environmental guidelines. However, on this occasion, Bullseye Glass has had to instal new filtering systems on their furnaces at a great cost, and this is a cost which has had to be passed on to their customers.  (Sadly, Spectrum have decided the cost of this new filtration system is too great and therefore after 40 years, have closed their factory which is a huge loss to the glass industry). Costs of glass is due to rise by 12% in August this year.

That in itself is a large increase which is to be swallowed by the glass artist however in the UK, it’s much, much worse.  Since this country voted to leave the EU, the pound has crashed against the dollar in a new 31-year low.  There is, at the moment, no sign of this rising. This means that the cost of importing glass from America to Britain has risen massively.  As an indication, let me share this with you: back in January 2016, I made an order from the excellent AAE Glass in Florida.  The cost of that order was $269.64, equating to £185.42.  That same order today would cost £208.18.  This is a rise of just over 12%.  If you add this to the rise in the cost of sheet glass, the UK glass artist is looking at a price increase of over 24%, just to buy basic materials.

Of course, this could be temporary – I am not an economist and wouldn’t pretend to be however there ARE experts in this country and some of them are predicting a parity with the dollar in the coming weeks.  That is not good news and if this continues, the UK glass artist is in serious trouble. As I write this, sterling is currently the worst performing currency in the markets.

I sincerely hope this is just a blip.  Rich and I love our craft and to think of losing it is distressing. I wish all the other UK Glass fusers out there the very best of luck.

In the meantime, we are trying to carry on as normal.  Rich and I have been in the studio and have lots of new things to add to the website in the next few weeks. I have remade some old favourites which have sold well, and created new items using new techniques.

That’s the thing with glass fusing: there is alway something new to try, a new product to test, a new technique and that’s what makes it so addictive.  I am attending a week-long course in September at the fabulous Warm Glass studios in Wrington so I can learn even more.

We are exhibiting in a few places over the next few months as follows:

Forest and Wye Valley Open Studios – from now until July 24th.  We are open every weekend and each Tuesday and Thursday.  Please come and visit our studio in the garden at our home.  There are 39 crafters participating in this year’s Open Studios: visit www.fandvos.org.uk to see the brochure.

3 Choirs Show at Gloucester Cathedral – exhibiting with the Herefordshire Guild of Craftsmen from 23rd – 30th July

h.Art – exhibiting at the Market House, Ledbury as part of h.Art, from 10th – 18th September

Malvern Autumn Show – at the Three Counties Showground with Herefordshire Guild on 24th and 25th September.

We do hope to see you at any (or all!) of these.  Currently we do not know our plans for the Christmas period but I will post them as soon as I know.

Bye for now,

Becci