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Philosophy, Process and Progress
in developing new glass artworks
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Reverse Engineering Bacon

Glass Bacon Strip 01g
May 1, 2015

As you may have guessed if you read the previous post, Harriet wanted glass bacon to go with her glass fried eggs. Since I'm usually making these projects just for her, she has the luxury of being very specific about what she wants. Harriet said her bacon strips should be 5-1/2 inches long and 3/4 inches wide. She sent me a half-dozen photos showing the exact degree of ”crispy” that her bacon should be. She also had specs for how glossy and wavy it should be.

There are lots of technical challenges here. In order to mimic a non-glass item I need to pay attention to the texture, color, size, shape and surface finish of the item I'm trying to reproduce. If it's possible to use several glassworking methods including lampworking, casting or fusing to make the piece, then I have to decide which method(s) will yield good results in all those areas. Step One: Cook up some real bacon. Lots of real bacon. Set aside the most ideal pieces to study as models. Eat the rest (yum).

Texture

Texture: For a piece of glass bacon to look real the color should go all the way through the bacon strip, not just sit on top. So painting enamel on a base colored strip of glass, regardless of how made, didn't appeal. It occurred to me to make some kind of lampwork murrini cane that could be cut into thick squares and then stretched out into strips. But bacon is meat, so it has an internal cell structure you can see. Using color that's too homogenous would look wrong. The viewer might not consciously realize that the texture was missing but their subconscious mind would know something was off. It's those little things that can spoil the illusion. So that left out lampworking methods unless I wanted to make individual muscle cells as sub-murrini and work them together by the hundreds. A complex murrini is possible but very time consuming, and I put that idea aside in favor of something more efficient. Mixing several colors of powder or frit together can produce a speckled look that loosely mimics the texture of bacon. Working with frit and powder seemed to be the way to go.

Color

Most people make their glass bacon from red and white glass. But bacon is neither of those colors. The lean part is dull pink and the fat part (depending on how much it's cooked) is a light to dark amber color. That color combination is a big problem all by itself. Most pink glasses contain Lead, and most golden-colored glasses contain Selenium. Lead and Selenium colors react chemically at glass melting temperatures and where they touch, the reaction leaves a black line. It took a lot of research and test firings to find a realistic combination of pink and amber colors that did not react to each other.

Size

How to actually make the physical strips? One method would be to layer up the frit colors for fat and lean in a mold box and fuse it together just like a real, uncut slab of bacon. Then use a wet saw to cut off slices exactly as a real bacon slab is sliced. But since I don't have access to an industrial-grade wet saw or water jet cutter I put that idea aside for now. If I ever want to make 20 or 30 bacon slices at a time it would be worth revisiting. Instead I figured out how to lay out the powder and frit in the desired pattern of a single bacon strip and fuse it together in the kiln. Boy, the layout part takes forever. Very labor-intensive and easy to mess up. The good news is that this introduces more serendipity, so each piece is truly unique. But don't forget that glass powder SHRINKS when it's consolidated. Time to get out the old slide rule and calculate how big the powder layout must be so that it will shrink down to Harriet's target strip size. Tricky, tricky! Since the shrinkage is a bit different every time, lots of experiments were needed to figure out the ideal starting size.

Shape

At this point I had strips of bacon that were a pretty good approximation of real bacon colors, texture and size, but they were flat. The easiest part of the project was to make a rippled texture mold so the strips could be slumped onto it and pick up their signature wavy form. The first mold did not produce enough wavy texture for Harriet's liking, so I had to make a second, and figure out the proper slumping temperature to get the most dimension without any sharp edges.

Surface Finish

Then last but not least, the surface. Bacon is somewhat shiny because its surface is oily, but it is not glass-shiny. So the final step was to sandblast or etch the surfaces just a little, and then polish them back to a soft gloss.

Naturally if I had charged Harriet for all the hours of R&D that went into her bacon strips she would have fainted. When trying to reproduce a very specific item like this, I have to trust that the result will be appreciated by more than one collector. So I price the individual bacon strips based on the time it takes to actually make each one. I hope that eventually there will be enough sales to make all the time and materials spent on the R&D phase worthwhile. In the worst case scenario what I learn along the way will be useful in completing another project.



Why the heck would anyone make a glass fried egg?


Glass Fried Egg Number 01a
April 20, 2015

I've had a number of people look at my glass fried eggs and ask the obvious question: ”WHY??” Frankly, I wouldn't have come up with this one on my own. Harriet, a treasured patron of mine who collects glass food, had seen some cartoon-looking glass eggs. She asked me if I could come up with something more realistic. Since the challenges she presents me with are often fun, I was game to try.

It required teaching myself a whole new set of glass working skills. For the first time I began to use my kiln to fuse glass without a plaster mold to control the shape of the end product. It takes three separate firings to make each egg. A ten degree or ten minute difference in any one firing makes a huge difference in the shape of glass that's fired bare to the kiln elements. I needed to get to know my kiln much better.

As always, I wasted a lot of time and a lot of glass on failed experiments, but things began to come together. I found the best types of glass for making the whites and yolks in the most realistic colors and translucency. I learned how to produce the brown crispy edges, and control the size and shape of the broken bubbles in the egg whites. I discovered how to add the final convincing details, like the layer of clear albumin that remains over the yolk of a sunny-side up egg.

It never occurred to me that anyone but Harriet would be interested in glass fried eggs. But when I completed the eggs she commissioned from me, I posted some pictures on Facebook and other social media, mostly for the amusement of other glassworkers. I was surpised to learn that they appeal to many people. Since then the eggs have been ordered by cooks, foodies and glass collectors from all around the world.

Making the eggs appeals to me on several levels. Since I use a hand-forming method to shape the whites, no two ever come out the same. For the first time there is an element of serendipity in my work and I'm enjoying that aspect. And what could be more unexpected than to see a fried egg sitting, without a plate, on someone's desk or shelf? Or more fun than watching a visitor stare, then tentatively sniff or touch to see if it's real? I love the candid-camera moment where they grin and pick up the egg, turning it over and marveling that it's made out of glass.

Trompe L'Oeil has always been my favorite form of art. The artist who can fool the viewer's eye has mastered her materials and technique so well that she can use them to do a kind of magic. So whenever one of my glass sculptures makes someone do a double-take, I get the double thrill of knowing I have perfected the illusion and at the same time added a fun surprise to their day.

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