Monday, November 19, 2018

Glass casting workshop with Max Jacquard and Noreen Todd

Having arrived late, I found a seat at the back of the hall and began listening to the talk that
had already begun. Max was telling the group about his work and the process of using
moulds to create glass pieces. As a ceramicist I had come across mould making but had no
idea that the addition of flint and fibre glass to plaster meant that moulds could be filled with
glass and fired in a kiln. Max showed images of work he had made for a fashion shoot - large
sculptural shapes of solid coloured glass that he had made using moulds taken from rocks.
The results when lit to complement the clothes on the catwalk were truly stunning. I learnt
that Max was going to run a workshop the following day that would provide an introduction
to the process of using moulds to create glass pieces. It wasn't long before I found myself
signing up.
We met at Noreen's workshop and after the necessary talk on health and safety the
information started to flow. Our aim was to make a shape from which a plaster mould could
be made. This mould would later be filled with glass and fired in a kiln by Noreen with the
finishing work to be done at a later date. I had taken a few readymade pieces of plastic that
had simple curved shapes from which to make my mould. I was still thinking very much like
a potter at this point and believed that my glass object would be hollow, as a mould made pot
would be. When others were encouraged to embellish their shapes, using modelling, or leaves
or in one case romanesque florets, I realised that with this process, unlike ceramics, it would
be possible to have undercuts. This is because, after firing the mould would be broken away
to reveal shapes that could be complex in all dimensions. Moulds for ceramics are usually
capable of making many pieces from the same mould but with mould made glass all the effort
of making the mould yields one piece only. So no pressure - the end result has
got to be worth it!
Noreen's studio is very well equipped and when our models were ready to be cast we went to
a separate casting studio. I have always found the mixing of plaster to be a tense time. The
quantities must be precise and the timing is crucial. Luckily Max was shouldering that
responsibility and as we were casting several pieces with each mix of plaster the process was
quick and straightforward.
As a ceramicist I tend to dislike plaster. I find it unsympathetic to work with and it can easily
contaminate clay with disastrous consequences. The only good thing about it is that it sets
very quickly and so it wasn't long before we were working at the next stage of the process
which was to remove the original form from its mould. Easier said than done in my case. One
of my plastic elements had become stuck in the bottom of the mould and needed expert help
to remove it. Then I needed to borrow someone's dental tool with a fine curved prong on the
end in order to remove some clay I had used to create an undercut. All the while I was still
trying not to think like a potter and to remind myself that the final piece would be a solid
piece of glass.
Those that had used the process before were introduced to core casting, a way of adding an
extra element to their mould that would enable a hollow form to be made. I tried to eavesdrop
whilst working away on my mould but soon realised that the complexities being explained
were well beyond my beginner status.
Filling the cleaned mould with glass sounds as if it should be straightforward, once the

displacement measuring technique has been understood. However there were many factors to
take into consideration when deciding which type of glass to use and which colours to
combine. In the end I chose what Noreen described as her 'conservatory glass', largely
because I liked the matt quality but also, I must admit, because the batch available had
already been washed and was ready to use.
The filled moulds were put in the kiln room to be fired, a date was set for the de-moulding
day, I gathered up all my pages of barely legible notes and drove home - rather tired.
For a ceramicist, opening a kiln door is always a mixture of anticipation and anxiety. Getting
the glass out of the mould was a similar mix of feelings. It did seem strange to be literally
breaking up the mould rather than to be treating it with care to be used again. Plaster that has
been fired is a strange almost spongy substance. It is called ludo and can be incorporated in
the next batch of plaster moulds to give additional strength.
I was delighted with the glass that came out of my mould but was fully aware that it was the
result of much help and a few happy accidents. I soon realised that, once the glass is out of
the mould, then the real work begins. We were introduced to a wide range of tools and machinery with which to finish our pieces. I have never been a fan of loud noises and potentially dangerous equipment so was pleased that the only machine work my piece needed was a quick blast on a diamond surfaced spinning disc to make the base truly flat, and Noreen did that for me -
thanks Noreen! I then used diamond sanding sponges and files to remove burrs and to soften any sharp edges.
Others were more adventurous and had used colour to create interesting combinations and depth as the different coloured pieces of glass fused together. Discs were cut from their glass forms and polished using various grades and types of grit. I could see that the possibilities were endless. A final spray of silicon polish added a professional sheen to my piece and I drove home in the rain thinking that the subject of glass making had huge potential - and that I had barely scratched the surface.

CCGG. Glass casting workshop with Max Jacquard and Noreen Todd. September 2018
By Rachel Damerell

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