Wednesday, 16 July 2014

What is lampwork?

As I've promised on Emerald Flame Crafts page in Facebook, I start telling you more about myself, my work and items, and lampwork itself. I hope, you'll like this kind of posts here. So first of all I'd like to tell about lampwork and what is it all about, as it's the main technique I enjoy and share with you. :)

Lampwork, or occasionally flamework - is an artistic treatment of a glass in the flame of torch or lamp, a type of glasswork, as well as the process of creating beads, cabochons, figurines, statues, toys, dishes and other glass products resulting from this treatment. Lampwork is also used to create unique scientific instruments and models of various items and biological objects.

Different ways of glasswork are known to mankind for a long time. It's impossible to identify the exact time of the appearance of the lampwork technique, although the first samples of beads made in such way are dated V century BC. Lampwork as a technique received its special promotion and development on the island of Murano, Italy in XIV century (the so-called Murano glass), which is widely spread in Europe. In the middle of the XIX century, this technique allowed to produce a lot of objects: beads, cabochons, pendants, figurines, vases, dishes and much more, including, for example, paperweights, famous products of the French craftsmen. At the end of XX century lampwork "went to the masses" and has become expensive, but extremely interesting form of creativity, arts and crafts, as well as widespread ecological recycling movement.

Unlike glassblowing skill, lampwork does not suppose blowing a glass (except for a few special occasions). The process of lampworking usually require melting the glass rod or in the case of recyclable materials, glass fragments in an air-propane or oxygen-propane flame of a burner (generally, but hydrogen and plasma sometimes are also used), using special tools for shaping the final piece, as well as other kinds and forms of glass and materials (silver, copper, gold, platinum) to fuse in the bead or other final item. Generally after the formation of the piece it should be fired in a special kiln for getting an additional strength. The temperature required for lampwork is 800-1200C, depending on the glass. Craftsmen who work in this technique are usually called lampworkers.

While working with glass, lampworkers usually use such materials:
- Glass rods - of different characteristics and colors, including glass that contains silver;
- Stringers - thin glass rods, usually made of bigger by stretching;
- Frit & powder - glass chippings of different factions;
- Enamel;
- Precious metals (mainly silver, but gold and platinum are also used), and copper;
- Shards - very thin shards of glass;
- Other forms of glass, in particular fragments (when recycling) and sheets;
- Various chemical reagents for particular techniques.
Lots of different tools and equipment are used as well for creating a bead or other piece, but I'll tell about all this later.

Alas, the "barrier to entry" the lampwork is quite high for hobby: equipment, tools, supplies, organization of the work place and materials are not cheap at all. Creating of the simplest bead, besides the glass requires working space with a gas burner, the influx of fresh air, a ventilation system, gas cylinder, mandrels, bead release, as well as a lot of patience. More complicated beads require different kinds of materials mentioned above, and additional tools, such as special mandrels, graphite molds and paddles, a variety of tools for the shaping and much more to make them. It takes 10-15 minutes to make a simple bead; complicated pieces can be worked on for an hour or even few. Thus it is almost impossible to make some part of a bead and leave it to take a cup of tea, for example. You can't be distracted from a glass, otherwise a piece already made may deform, crack, overheat, etc., and you'll have to start everything from the beginning again. You also need a kiln for further hardening and making the items stronger.

When working with glass it is strictly necessary to comply with safety measures and occupational medicine. The process of lampworking is quite dangerous: an open gas flame of 800-1200 degrees Celsius is used during it, and lots of hazardous substances take part in it. But the result is worth all dangers and difficulties.

To take a look at, purchase and order items made in the lampwork technique, please, visit my Etsy store.